We arrived in Paris and were greeted by warm weather and chaos. When we stepped off the train, security was noticeably tight and random people were getting aggressively searched. We joined the cab line and after a quick wait, we were on our way to our hotel. Paris has a refined chaos to it that is hard not to get caught up in. As our cab weaved its way through traffic, we sat silently in the back, in awe of the grander and chaos that immediately consumed us.
I had been to Paris once, for just a day in college. I remember the chaos and I remember the grandeur but I imagine no matter how many times you go to Paris, you get caught up in all over again, similar to New York City. Our room was charming in the way you'd expect a Parisian room to be. We stayed in the artsy and centrally located St. Germain arrondissement, right above an Irish pub and across the street from an oh so sweet crepe place that constantly made fresh crepes in front of an open window every day. Once we got settled in, we hit the streets, ready to soak it all in.
We were really hungry by this point and stopped at a random place that had a fair amount of people in it, considering the awkward hour. We sat and ordered some classics - French onion soup, Lyonnaise salad, beef tartare, and of course, wine. The food was outstanding. The soup arrived warm and full of thin, caramelized onions and a broth that was rich with beef flavor and spiked with sherry and thyme. The cheese melted completely over it and browned until it formed a melted crust to protect the precious onion and beef broth below. It was complex and unforgettable. The beef tartare was soft and seasoned aggressively and enhanced by tangy Dijon mustard, shallots and briny capers. And the Lyonnaise salad. Oh the salad. I can't even begin to tackle this salad until our next stop, Lyon, but I assure you it's worth the wait. We left happy and full.
I insisted on finding a place the buy cheese so we walked until we found the cutest one. Okay, it wasn't necessarily the cutest one, it was the only one we could find, but it was still adorable. Paris, why do you keep your cheese shops hidden and hard to find? We went directly to the cheese counter where there were cheeses of varying shapes, sizes and all different colors of the spectrum stored behind a glass case. An older woman offered assistance and through her broken English and my broken French, she tried to pick out cheese for us. I told her that I like stinky cheese by holding my nose and making a face. She pointed out a dimply looking disk of cheese. I pointed to the ones that I knew had the stink. She looked at me and at Richard, shook her finger and made a light "tisk, tisk" sound, like we were being scolded. "Too strong" she said in her thick French accent. I tried to convince her to no avail, that that's what we wanted. She refused to sell it to us and we left with the dimply goat cheese disk and a double creme truffle. Both were delicious of course, creamy and deep milky flavor, but not the ones we had hoped for. Oh, and we also got a baguette and a bottle of wine, of course. We headed back to our room to enjoy.
The next day we aimlessly walked until we hit the Eiffel Tower. It's such a common symbol of France and its image can be seen everywhere but standing under it, with a stomach full of fresh croissant and a cafe au lait, on an early morning, things look completely different. It's a massive structure, bigger than I remembered, and just giant, impressive, bold, and stunning. We waled in silence, attempting to take it all in. On our walk to the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees, we stumbled upon a quintessential French farmer's market. With all of the chaos of the city surrounding it, it was an oasis of produce, meats, and cheeses so perfect looking and deliciously organized, they were almost too pretty to eat. We made some small purchases and like museum enthusiasts, studied each of the purveyor's stands. We had some raspberries that tasted like no berry I've ever had before. Plump and fat with sweet and tangy juices that exploded when the delicate skin made contact with teeth. It made me long for a better produce system in our own country.
The thing that I remember most about Paris was the grandeur of it all and the flawlessness of the food and how there was a certain and very striking pride in the attitude towards food. Every egg we had, no matter what the style, was flawlessly prepared and executed. In Paris, eating is a form of entertainment. No one is on their phones while eating. There is no food paparazzi (other than myself) and people seemed to genuinely be relaxing and enjoying themselves. The meals were hours long and if you tried to be in a hurry, a confused and offended look would be returned to you. Meals here are sacred and there's unspoken rules that one must follow. I've tried, with more success than I thought I would have, to adapt some of these ideals of looking at the act of eating as a pure form of entertainment, even just at home. More on that later...