A Wine To Settle By

When does a place finally start to feel like home? Is it when you can laugh with a stranger at another person wearing no pants? Is it when you have ingested so many fermented grapes that you start to feel very happy and fuzzy? Is it just when you become comfortable where you are? I think it has to be a combination of these things, because for the first time, tonight, Paris began to feel like home. And maybe I had a bit too much to drink, but I don’t think so. Tonight, something finally clicked, after a month of wandering, I felt as if I belonged, and that was nice. But before all of that happened, I woke up in my apartment with the sun blazing down on my face,  making me feel like a lazy kitten–which I rather enjoyed.

I happily stretched and turned over to look out the window. Slowly, I opened my eyes, and screamed. Everything was white, the buildings, the cars, the people, the air itself was alive with millions of snow flakes. I was horrified, I thought I had come to the end of this madness, but it has come back to haunt me. This has been the worst winter in Europe since 1991, somebody told me today, and even though I wasn’t here in 1991 (and even if I had been, I doubt I would have remembered it) I believe them with every fiber of my being. The snow was so bad in England today that almost all of the schools were closed.

Thankfully, the excessive amounts of Hellish snow didn’t cross the English Channel, but rather, stayed up and froze England over, while we had a light dusting and froze with the winds.

After the bleeding in my throat had stopped (from all the screaming and crying) I rolled out of bed, pulled on some clothes and went downstairs to fetch a package, which had come for me while I was in England. Unfortunately, when I made it to the Guardian’s office, she was gone for the afternoon. So, I decided to just make some lunch with some food in my refrigerator.

I had two chicken hindquarters, so I stuck them in my Le Creuset and let them cook for two hours while I caught up on my Craig Ferguson episodes. That man is the funniest comedian in all of America, I don’t care what you may think. If I ever choose to move to a foreign country, I think after my pets, The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson would be the thing that I would miss the most. It may not look it, but I feel that this show is a very sophisticated comedy with a very smart host. I can’t stand any of the other late night shows, aside from David Letterman, but even he gets tiring after awhile with all his accounting jokes and obvious gags with that bald guy who plays the keyboard as if he is having a seizure.

Anyway, anyway, anyway, by that time, it was three in the afternoon and Madame Santos, the guardian, was due in, so I went and collected my box. It was from Granny and had everything that I needed: Cheerios, tortilla chips, popcorn, chocolate, chapstick, and even a few wash rags. Yeah! I ate my chicken and badly burned my middle finger on the pan. Super…

I don’t know how the rest of the evening passed, but it went by in a flash. Soon, it was six o’clock and it was time to get ready. So, I took a shower and put on my suit. I was horrified that I had forgotten how to do a simple tie, so I sat for probably a half hour experimenting until I recalled how to do it properly, that was embarrassing. By that time, I noticed that my shoes weren’t all too comfortable with my thin socks, they rubbed painfully against my ankles, so I put on another pair of socks underneath the dress socks and everything was fine.

Now, it was time to head out. I thought I would make it there in just enough time, but the trains were running especially efficiently this evening. So, in no time, I was at the stop for the restaurant. Upon exiting the Metro stop, I had that sinking feeling of, “God…where am I?” By the sheer will of divine providence, I managed to walk straight to the restaurant, even though there was no Google Street View version to use. I was shocked.

I was ridiculously early by French standards (ten minutes) so there was nobody there. I treated myself to an evening stroll along the Seine to pass the time. Notre Dame is particularly lovely when she is illuminated in the evenings. After I had been lightly drizzled on by the clouds above, I made my way back to the restaurant. I met two others, and together we went inside. Even though we were on time, we were still the only three there.

Finally, though, Daniel came and then Chef and then Nicolas. Daniel, Nicolas, and I moved to a round table in the center of the room and were immediately given champagne by the very attentive waiting staff of L’Atelier Maître Albert. I don’t usually like champagne, I think the carbonation is awful and it tastes of a barrel, but here, it was very pleasant and non offensive. This was just the beginning of my discoveries with French alcohol, though.

As more and more people showed up, I realized that I was one of very few males who had made an effort to look attractive. I don’t mean that rudely, but some people didn’t even try. Maybe they didn’t know how to make themselves look nice, but a few just annoyed me. For instance, Chef didn’t even wear a suit! He wore jeans and a fleece sweater, to a $100 per person restaurant. I would have died of shame. (To top it all off, he was wearing those headphones I told you about in a previous post, this just made me laugh. One of my classmates told me that he DJs on the side. I don’t know if I believe it, but I wouldn’t be surprised.)

While we dined on champagne and choux pastry and fancy sausages, Nicolas told me all about Milan, where he is from. I’ve always wanted to go there, it’s the fashion capital of Italy. It all sounded very interesting.

By that time, Illaria had shown up and we had a conversation about languages and cats and Nazis and Tuscany. She lives in Tuscany and works in a fish restaurant. It all sounds very nice. She has two cats, one with long hair, and the other with short hair. The short haired cat had been abandoned when it was just a few days old when she found it after a storm in her garden. It had the kitten flu, but she brought it back to life. Even today, four years later, it sucks on her fingers. I was beside myself with the adorable images in my head.

I learned that in Italy, higher education is free (why don’t we do that?) healthcare is free. Even though America is unarguably one of the most advanced countries in the world, it sounds awfully backwards looking at it from a European perspective. Kind of horrifying and depressing, really.

One of the people at our table lives on a boat. I had looked at an apartment on a boat once on the Internet. She said that it was very nice and that if you didn’t know better, once you were on the inside, you wouldn’t know it was a boat. I was fascinated. The other people at are table were two women from Canada, Illaria and Nicolas from Italy, and two of the chefs. It was a nice group.

By that time, the appetizers came out. They were some kind of salad and a crab cake. Before any of the food came out, I made myself promise myself that I would try everything no matter how revolting it may appear, and I stuck to it. The crab cake was very nice. There were things in it, but I don’t care to know what they were. The salad was just gross. I don’t care if I’m in McDonalds or in the Ritz-Carlton, a salad is always going to be disgusting rabbit food to me. Where is the fun in eating a leaf? Anyway, they had put honey on the plate and then put the leaves on it. On top was a parmesan cracker, which is shredded cheese, then melted, then dried. That was tasty!

Then we had soup which came with white wine. The soup tasted like cream and butter mixed with pureed garlic. Kind of like potato soup. In the middle, were two poached scallops, which were very nice, and as a decoration was the oddest thing ever. It was extra virgin olive oil blended with the stalk of a sunflower. It was so bizarre. It was pretty, but weird. Now, I don’t usually care for white wine, but this was really good. Back home, most wines have the awful tendency to taste a bit acidic and burn, but French wines aren’t like that, they are very smooth and nice.

The next course was veal with a gratin of mushrooms and spinach. I’ve never had veal because of the obvious moral issue, and after eating the poor baby cow this evening, I probably won’t eat it again. It just tastes like meat, only ruthlessly slaughtered and with extra fat. I wasn’t a fan. The gratin was very nice, mushrooms aren’t my thing, but they were pretty tasty. We had a red wine with this.

Now it was time for an artful dessert. I was both impressed and disgusted with the first desert. It was basically a square of grapefruit…that’s it. I mean, they had the gaul to charge people for it, so I was impressed, but the lack of effort that went into it astonished me. I mean, it was a square of grapefruit covered in reduced tea and baked. It tasted nice and simple, and maybe that was the idea. I don’t know.

The second desert was a six inch strip of chocolate and praline. Both were very tasty, I think the chocolate was a very hard gelato. I enjoyed that a great deal.

We had an espresso at the end to cleanse our palates. I was surprised by how tasty that was. Maybe I should start drinking coffee.

The dinner had lasted a little over three hours. I appreciate how the French eat. They care a lot about what they are putting in their mouths, but they care more about the experience of the meal. It is more important to have a conversation with friends than it is to stuff your face. Nothing is rushed whatsoever. You could sit in a restaurant for as long as you’d like chatting away, drinking a glass of wine. It is very relaxing.

But, now it was approaching eleven and I needed to leave, we were all waiting for somebody else to leave first, so, when somebody at another table left, we all started to go for the coat check. I took some pictures with friends and then left.

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I was heading to the Metro, but then looked over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of Notre Dame. I’m a sucker for that island, so I turned around, crossed the bridge, and walked around for awhile. At eleven o’clock, it was finally the warmest part of the day, so I just lazily strolled around the square until I realized I needed to pee, so, I headed for the Metro.

All the wine made me feel very relaxed and comfortable. I wasn’t drunk, but I’ve never been drunk, so I wouldn’t know, but I don’t think I was, I was just a little tipsy. I found everything funny and I noticed I was blinking rather slowly with a perpetual half grin on my face.

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There was a man playing saxophone in the Metro, he wasn’t very good, but he seemed to be enjoying himself. In the station, there was a man who wasn’t wearing any pants. I don’t know if he didn’t own any, if he had lost them in a bet, or if he just didn’t like pants, but it was odd. A stranger and I took pictures of him and laughed for awhile. It was very funny.

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As I got off the Bastille Metro station, I was struck by how familiar Paris had become to me. The city was no longer a destination or a trap, somehow, over the course of a dinner, it had become my home. Where just yesterday, I was over the Parisian lifestyle, longing for a Wal-Mart and colby jack cheese, today, I think I finally settled. I don’t know if this feeling will last, I hope that it does, because when you finally make peace with Paris, you are lucky indeed.

Well, I have to wake up it five hours, so, I’d better get to sleep. (Ironic, after all the alcohol I’ve ingested, I’m not even tired. Tant pis…)

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