Could Something That Fabulous Be Real? [Oui.]

Maybe I do have a bit of jet-lag of some kind. I cannot seem to get out of bed any earlier than ten o’clock, but then again, I’m the same way back home so it could just be my natural circadian rhythms. I like that philosophy more–it sounds more scientific and therefore authoritative. Anyway, I didn’t get myself moving until eleven this afternoon–I roused myself at regular intervals from nine to eleven, but each time I made a vague, rather uncommitted effort, to move, my body told me to relax and do a bit of stretching and cat napping. I had left the windows open last night and as I lay in bed, I could watch the people moving about in their apartments across the street. It was nice to spy on them–and I’m sure they enjoyed spying on me and commenting on how lazy that new foreigner was.

Jessica managed to get herself up before me, which is abnormal for this trip, and I must have mumbled something about a croissant because when I finally tidied up my couch bed (which I am in a deep, passionate love affair with–I love couch beds) there was a nicely wrapped, exceptionally buttery croissant waiting for me. I’m going to try and not think about the calories. I walk too much these days to be bothered by a bit of butter. I think back on the old days when I used to believe that croissants were gross. How silly I was–and how wonderful that first true Parisian croissant was. I will have to go back to that bakery sometime soon along the Avenue de la Grande Armée. On our first trip there, we didn’t have any cash and there was a ten euro minimum and I barely understood the language back then, so I ended up with about seven different croissants. They were so good.

As I was prepping for the day, the water pressure kept dropping lower and lower, the temperature was constantly cold and then it finally stopped altogether, giving a few lame drips of water and a sad gurgling noise anytime the taps were opened. This was worrisome. Did a pipe break somewhere–sweet Jesus NO! As Jessica and I contemplated the various ways this could go horribly wrong, she told me that she wanted to stay in the apartment for the day and have a relaxing time. To me, relaxation is wasted time and money when you are on a trip like this. I understand relaxing at home, but I never really do it, the only relaxation I do is sleep. I am constantly preoccupied mentally and physically and I don’t like to relax. I can’t simply sit down–I have to be reading a book, checking my email, watching a television show while researching real estate in the South of France while baking cookies. I don’t like the sedentary life. But Jessica does, so I let her stay after throwing her a look that should have racked her with guilt, but didn’t seem to phase her. I left her the numbers for the real estate agency in case the water didn’t come back on and hurried down the road.

I decided that I would take myself on a walk to the Eiffel Tower as it is really quite a jaunt and Jessica would die if she ever decided to try it. I love walking and the weather was gorgeous, so with excitement, I set off. As I walked towards Notre Dame, I reflected on an article written by Lady Gaga for V magazine in which she explained her thoughts on fashion and the various sources of inspiration that inspire us all. I was really taken by her thoughts and comments and the depth of knowledge she possess about pop culture. And I loved the icon for her segment:

This is simply the single most badass thing in existence. I love everything. When I’m finally a published author I want to have something similar to this for my author photo on the back of the book–not copying it–inspired by it, which I think Gaga would very much approve of. Nothing is every truly original, after all, but based on the idea of another and transformed into something new and unique. All these thoughts put me in a fashion mood and I began to evaluate the attire of those around me. I focused on the men as I wanted to do my best to emulate their style and pick up certain traits that make one Parisian.

French fashion is hugely different from British fashion despite their relative geological nearness. In Britain, one can wear anything and as long as it goes together, and even if it doesn’t, it works. I loved the originality that could be expressed without standing out in a crowd. Alas, in Paris, everybody blends together in grey, black, and brown. There is nothing wrong with these timelessly chic colors, but they become drab in repetition. I adore color–pastels and bright hues and I love to wear them, I find them flattering and endlessly attractive, but here, when I wear my robin shell blue cardigan I stand out more than if I were a midget in a wheelchair. It is evident immediately that you are noticed, which is not altogether unsatisfactory, but it is because of the statement you are making and not because of the beauty of your appearance. In a room of models, we would all look at a clown walking by. When I wear my clothes in navy and brown, I blend immediately, which is both comforting and disappointing. I like to be flashy–I’m like Liberace, except much less sparkly.

Shorts are absolutely demode and anybody seen in them is immediately exiled to fashion hell. I enjoy shorts, but I am in full support of this attitude. The Tommy Hilfiger store and several others along the Champs-Élysées try to convince the Parisians that shorts are in and acceptable, but they are neither fooled nor amused. Capris for men are accepted if not approved of–these are much more prevalent in Britain, I find. In fact the only hint of leg that is desired on a man is a rolled cuff, and even then, this look is becoming more and more passé. You want a slim fitting pant that is perfectly tailored at the foot. Jeans are the norm, but what we would consider dress slacks are also everyday attire in the city.

I’m not a fan at all of the shoes men wear here. Almost all are made of brown leather. I do not support wearing leather for many reasons and there are no real alternative sources that could emulate this look, which is a bit of a downer. Canvas shoes are tremendously popular for the Spring with the main colors being, of course, grey and navy, although I have seen the occasional rebel sporting pink and lime green. All in all, I find the mode of fashion for men to be quite uninspired–women are free to play with color and all sorts of different garments, but I won’t get started on that as I have already written quite a missive.

Once I was on the île-de-la-Cité, I immediately made my way over to the Flower Market, one of the most peaceful, and friendliest places I know in Paris.

It was wonderful to wander about the stalls looking at all the blossoms and gardening tools. The lupines were stunning and I’m sad that the photos didn’t come out well enough to share with you. I meandered and perused and darted into little niches full of herbs. I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

The people who work here are simply some of the kindest vendors I know in Paris, they are quick to smile, to chat, and to say hello, all of which is a wonderful respite from the brusqueness of the rest of Paris. I think it’s the flowers–it is impossible to be unpleasant when you are surrounded by such loveliness all day long.

I bought myself a few postcards and a musicbox, without a box, that plays the Édith Piaf classic ‘Hymne a l’Amour”:

The elderly woman, probably in her 70s, who ran this shop was a joy. As she wrapped my purchases we chatted about the weather, what I was doing in Paris, she complimented my French and my determination to make it all the way to the Eiffel Tower. We communed about our mutual adoration of Édith Piaf, her favorite was:

another masterpiece. I do find it odd how I get along with elderly women more easily than anybody else…maybe I’m an old woman at heart, and the more I ponder that idea, the more I think it probably has some merit. I said my goodbyes and headed back out of the market. I was stopped when I saw this:

It was a sensitive plant! I love these! When you touch the leaves or if they get to hot or cold, they close tightly, like they are in the picture. I used to have one at home that was enormous and tall–not bushy like this one–but it died. I still feel bad about that. I don’t think I killed it–hope not anyway. I was happy to buy one to keep in the apartment and give it some greenery for the next month. I hope the next tenants will take care of it and appreciate it they way I do.

As I crossed back towards Notre Dame, I noticed that there was quite a commotion going on–hundreds of people darting in and out of various tents. I asked a police officer what was going on. He smiled and said “La fête du pain,” as he gestured towards this enormous sign that I had somehow missed:

My eyes grew huge in anticipation. “The Festival of Bread.” Could there be anything more delicious? I mean, I am a professionally trained pastry chef. What could be more fun? Joyously, I leapt across the street and darted into the first tent where so many breads and pastries were on display that it made my head spin.

There were bakers everywhere, in their pristine white clothing and tall hats and the pastries were each perfection. I stood for a long time in admiration just gazing at how good everything looked. I try my best when I do my baking, and I often succeed in making beautiful products, but I am inspired by those who can quickly and easily transform raw ingredients into gorgeous treats like these above. It makes me want to whip up a batch of croissants just to practice rolling.

In France, there is still a kind of apprenticeship system. I was fascinated by the young men, some no more than thirteen, and even a few young women (a rarity amongst French bakers), that were easily more skilled at forming baguettes than I am and could do everything with speed and dexterity. I wish that in America we had a system like this where we could really work at a trade instead of only having a vague idea about what the job we pursue might be. For instance, I wanted, for quite some time to be a French teacher, still do for the most part, but I don’t know if that will ever come to pass or even if I want it to come to pass. If I had been introduced to the basics in High School or even before of what it entails to be a teacher, the vagaries, the inconsistencies, the wonderful moments when you can make an impact on a person, my life might have been considerably different. Instead, I had no idea and still have no idea about what I want to make out of my life. I want it to be decadent and thrilling and productive, but how do I take the skills I have and apply them to a trade? I am not the kind of person who will happily attend and pay for higher education for four years or more to have a paper telling me that I have passed a class and am qualified to do something. I want to try a job and see if I like it and then work to become a professional. But, many of the things I want to do require more education and therefore I cannot leave this vicious circle.

I was most impressed by the area where raw dough was being transformed into bread. There was an entire area on bread sculptures and I was completely mesmerized as I watched the bakers twist and slice tiny pieces of dough until they resembled grains of wheat. I watched as they made bread masks–I don’t know a better way to explain it, so I’ll show you the picture.

All of this is unbaked bread dough, the braided wheat and roses were applied to the mask with egg glaze and then baked. I didn’t wait to see the finished product, but I have no doubt that it was spectacular. It was absolutely an amazing thing to see.

In yet another tent, samples were being handed out by men and women dressed in traditional peasant hats that looked a bit silly.

Many of the samples were decent, but there were a couple that were truly remarkable. There was a group of Japanese tourists, and I’m not going to say anything rude, but there is nothing worse to run into when you are trying to look at something…

As I left the festival I wondered if David Lebovitz was anywhere in there? I would very much like to meet him sometime. I feel like he is an older, meat-eating version of myself. Plus, we’re basically best friends already since we have tweeted each other–not just once, but twice.

Upon leaving the festival I continued along the river towards the Eiffel Tower and amused myself for hours looking at the vendors installed on the sidewalk selling books and prints and knickknacks. I was excited to see a medical encyclopedia from the 18th century that had been cut into individual pages and put up for sale by the page–unfortunately all the unusual images and nasty stuff was gone, so all that was left were pictures of individual muscles and bones. No skeletons or spleens.

I found a book about Édith Piaf that I had intended to buy on the same walk two years ago, but had decided against. I regretted that decision for quite some time, so I remedied it today when I found the same book, in shabbier condition, but still perfectly fine.

One stall that was particularly interesting and particularly expensive was devoted to cookbooks. There was one from 1836 and I desperately wanted it, but it looked like it would fall apart when you opened it and it was fifty euros. I also wanted this set of original engravings of flatware. I have a huge collection of forks and spoons and such and I would have loved to put this collection in my future kitchen, but I didn’t feel comfortable spending three-hundred euros on the lot of them. I hope that I can find reproductions someday or something similar because they were truly quite lovely.

If I ever do open up my own bakery, I will most certainly be coming to these vendors to buy up art to fill the walls–tastefully done of course. I am already looking forward to that day.

There was a statue of Thomas Jefferson along the way and I remembered that he had been America’s ambassador under the Presidency of George Washington. I wonder if his townhouse is open to the public? I think that would be a very interesting thing to see.

This building was alive!

And then, finally, I made it to the Eiffel Tower:

I had brought my notebook along with me to do some writing, but I was feeling uninspired and decided to go straight on to the House of Japanese Culture, one of my very favorite places in the whole of Paris. After passing through their very careful security I was in the shop and happily browsing the collection of plates and maneki neko (lucky cats) of which I have an extensive collection of both. I ended up with one dessert plate and one maneki neko. It was expensive, but worth it as I truly treasure my purchases made there.

I thought that it would be fun to go to the Champs-Élysées for an espresso at the Nespresso bar, so I hopped on the Métro and was quickly walking that famous avenue.

I was disenchanted by the Nespresso shop immediately. Now, I love fancy things and luxury more than most, but I was totally irritated with how pompous the whole place was. It was like a secret club and you were looked on as if you were a Soviet spy with every step you took deeper into the store. They took themselves way too seriously, Nespresso is supposed to be fun. High quality, but fun. The shop was sparse, filled with attendants dressed in suits, and had all the charm of a concentration camp. I was beyond disappointed.

I left with a flourish and walked along. I spotted Ladurée up ahead and thought I would look in on their products and maybe pick up a few things, but I was overwhelmed with that same irritation. It is a beautiful teahouse, but they take themselves far too seriously, too. Besides, their macarons are just acceptable, they aren’t life-changing. I looked at their pastries, admired the courage they had to charge such prices, shook my head in disgust at the eager patrons who were eagerly buying, and left.

The Métro was packed, I had to wait for the third train before I could squeeze myself in. I was standing next to an old man and a girl about my age and we pulled each other on and were all packed tighter than sardines. I have never seen the Métro so full. It was quite unpleasant–breathing in all that used air and body odor. My stop was quite a distance and the crowd never relented.

I wasn’t ready to go back to the apartment yet as I hadn’t done any writing and the day was still gorgeous, so I made my way back to the river and stopped for a cone of ice cream at Berthillon’s. I had chocolate noir this time and it rivals my own double chocolate gelato. It was delicious. As I walked slowly back, admiring the view and appreciative of the cool breezes off the Seine, I went down along the quay with the rest of the population of Paris. It was jam-packed with half naked people. The French are hardly concerned with showing themselves off and they did so with aplomb up and down the river. It was quite a beach-like atmosphere, so I rolled up my pants and soaked up the sun with the rest of them. After a while I did some writing and when I realized how late it was getting, I headed back home.

I stopped in Monoprix because I suddenly remembered seeing ceramic cocottes (the cookware, not a prostitute!) in the housewares department. They were fifty percent off so I treated myself to one in each color. A really big trend right now is cooking individual portions in cocottes. I approve of this immensely.

Just before heading to the apartment, I stopped by the bakery on the corner, Miss Manon, to pick up the sesame/poppyseed baguette that I am addicted to. It should be a controlled substance because it is a drug. I am addicted. I have already eaten three of them and I haven’t been in Paris a week, yet!

I made a potato gratin in one of my new cocottes and then spent the remaining hours reading before finally falling, with complete exhaustion, into my almost unbelievably comfortable couch bed. I really best invest in one of these.

Good evening.

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