I was really looking forward to going to Paris. I hadn’t been out of this country in more than a year. I missed the familiarity of a place that feels like home to me, where I have my bakery, my “house”, my movie theater, with shops and streets and food I like and that are not, by any means, Italian. I didn’t want to splurge on a ticket to NY which would also involve another one to Florida plus figuring out where to stay and whether or not to rent a car to get between various far-flung friends and parents and my go-to Paris hotel got out of reach when it was renovated, so €15 airfare each way plus a one star hotel in my favorite city was where it was at.
I was going to eat sushi and croissants and baguettes and snails and foie gras and ham, cheese & butter sandwiches, falafel and more croissants. Maybe get a real cheeseburger, too. I was going to get American-sized cups of coffee. To go. And warm my hands on them as I walked past the Stravinsky Fountain outside the Centre Pompidou or across the Seine on the Ponte des Arts. I was going to drink over-priced whiskey and watch Italian league football with English commentary and join the pub quiz at a friendly Scottish bar where one pays when one orders, as one should. Where I could speak English with other native speakers. I was going to see a movie.
And I did do those things. Well, some of them. I met some lovely guys from the UK and a couple of sisters from NY and spent a few hours chatting with them. I listened to a Canadian bartender tell me she couldn’t make me a vodka martini because she didn’t have vermouth. They just had Martini. When V. and I pointed out that that the extra dry Martini perched on the shelf was in fact the vermouth that went in the cocktail, she was astounded. Even though she’d “made them all the time in Canada.” She also informed us that she really likes “gow-da” cheese. I didn’t risk it. I ordered whiskey. New favorite: Bowmore—Very Cloudy.
I didn’t eat any sushi, from either my usual Japanese restaurant or any of the eight thousand other spots that have popped up on every street corner but I did try the phõ at various noodle shops tucked between sex shops and trendy bistros.
I got the trots from the steak tartare at Bistro Eustache.
Or maybe it was the escargots. I don’t care. The food was good while I was eating it.
I got foie gras and blood sausage and venison stew served by an adorable English speaking French waiter about to leave for a business course in Manhattan at Chez Mèmè, an equally adorable restaurant in the still semi-seedy rue St. Denis.
I was shocked by the abundance of English, both spoken and written all over the city, on shop signs, on flyers, in ads, in conversations between people who all ready shared a native tongue but slipped easily between the two languages when talking amongst themselves.
I was asked directions three times, in French, and caught myself answering in Italian.
I did not get bagels from any of the now numerous outlets nor a burger from Le Camion Qui Fume. It just seemed wrong to get an American-style burger from a food truck that tweets and facebooks its daily street location. I can always make my own here, even if I can’t find cheddar cheese.
I got made fun of only once for my attempt to speak French and I delighted in the opportunity upon my return to speak my limited Italian, to both understand and be understood by the natives.
I did get a cup of coffee in a familiar paper cup with a sippy top and a cardboard cozy. But only once. Most mornings, I stood at the bar on the corner and just ordered a café normale, which is a bit taller than an Italian coffee but nowhere near the size of an American one. The barman asked if I wanted it “ristretto”. I didn’t give in, taking my opportunity to have a coffee that was just a bit bigger than I can usually get.
It seems that while Paris is becoming more international, I may just be becoming a little bit more Italian.