Monday, June 4

The Awkward City Guide To Paris

I'm back in America and re-acclimating myself in the only way I know how — by eating bacon and catching up on Sister Wives as the memories of classy Parisians picking at their foods and riding bicycles recede towards the "Travel Memories" folder of my brain organ.

In the past week, I've seen the Eiffel Tower with my own eyes, mastered the French subway, eaten a fuckton of cheese, climbed to the top of the Arc de Triumph, and had someone pass out drunk onto my restaurant chair. And it was fantastic.

I did a lot, saw a lot and ate a lot, so much so that a separate parade of everything that danced through my esophagus is coming later this week. As for everything else, here's what I learned:

Everything is more beautiful there. The buildings,the streets, the flowers, the teeny-tiny quintessential Parisian women, the names of things, the bebes, the cafes on every block, even the department stores too, with their ornate glass ceilings and centuries-old architecture. We walked past a line of people waiting to enter a stunning, ornate gold-flecked gate on the Champs-Elysses that we thought must be a billion-dollar hotel or a side entrance to the Royal Palace. It was an Abercrombie & Fitch.

Don't force yourself to eat traditionally Parisian meals. I somehow went an entire week without eating beef bourguignon or steak frites, never saw a single cassoulet listed on a menu, and the closest i got to it was a Salad Nicoise and Mille-feuille-inspired super-fusiony tuna entree. Yet, I had still happened to have some of the most unbelievable cooking and ingredients I've ever tasted — I'm talking butters and cheese that my brain could actually not comprehend and pork that I'm positive will never be trumped. But, even after ordering it everywhere it was served, the best foie gras I've ever had is still from the restaurant five blocks from my apartment. 

There are so many museums. So many museums! Too many museums!! We walked so much that I injured my hip, my knee and got dehydrated like an old hag with a sack of worn organs twice, and even spent two hours in the Musee de l'Armee and didn't see everything. And most of it was war outfits! Either the country of France is full of really good packrats, or they just really like showing off all their shit.

Most things people suggest will be pretty good, some will be great. We stuck to friend's tips and the weeks of restaurant recon i had done through blog researching, and save for a few mishaps, it worked. Cafe De Flore? Cute outdoor breakfast, even with its small pool of tourists. Poilane croissants? Fantastic. Eric Kayser's pan au cereales? So good. Secret jazz club in a downstairs cavern? Fucking awesome. Dinner at Hotel Du Nord across the city on two people's suggestion? Wonderful. Getting famous hot chocolate at Angelina's hilariously fancy restaurant while schlubbed out in cutoffs and running shoes? Perfection.

French people like weird things. Everyone was drinking this green drink that we assumed was an absinthe cocktail, but found out was "une menthe a l'eau," or mint syrup in sparkling water. My feeling is, if Coca-Cola hasn't cornered the market on a type of soda yet, it ain't worth drinking. Tab is still in production, for Christ's sake, so if they won't sign on for mint soda, there's probably a reason.

Eat everything that's served to you. My favorite snack became these bits of fatty meat skin, which I still haven't been able to figure out what they are. Ben never used to hate sweetbreads; by the end we ate so many that he claimed the bit at Le Chateaubriand were the best he's ever had. And, as a self-proclaimed "non-dessert person", I've long considered rice pudding to be, well, a food of the goyum, considering no one in my family, neighborhood or any restaurants i visited before the age of 22 ever served it for dessert or even discussed it as a real food. Until this happened:

Devoured two cupfuls and the waiter still made fun of me for not being able to finish it. A small puppy could have drowned to death inside that bowl, and my best effort to eat my way out wouldn't have saved him. Madness.

Plan your picnics out. Contrary to my self-held belief, there is not wonderful cheese, meat and bread on every corner with people spouting "Bonjour!," helping to send you off through a dairy river in a Lactaid boat until your next meal time. Actually, shit closes early and often and is spread out, leaving me a whiny mess at 1am when all i wanted was (insert Parisian baked delicacy here).  The super-good fromageries here close between 1 and 4pm, are hard to find (we only randomly walked past one during our entire trip) and will make you feel like an American doofus for trying your best not to ordering generic-y slabs like you're at the Whole Foods. But, searching and conquering was delicious and well worth it — we made it to the cheese shop and the bread store in time, but the butcher we planned? Closed for lunch. Let's just say grocery store jamon ain't makin' the Best Food I Ate list. If you're ever heading there and are hungry, plan to pop by any of these cheese castles.

Shit is expensive. Real expensive. My family gave me envelopes of cash to buy myself one huge, special, exciting birthday gift in Paris, and i waltzed into Colette, picked up a purse, saw its $2350 Euro price tag, and promptly decided i wasn't going home with anything nice besides a few bags of Haribo gummies and a chocolate bar if I was feelin' crazy. Even those wooden fruits I wanted at the flea market were upwards of fifty buckaroonies. When Sandro and Maje are all over New York, Isabel Marant is crazy-expensive on either coast and a trenchcoat at The Kooples costs $500 after the cash conversion, i'll only be taking home the memories. And lots of pastilles.

Touristy stuff is actually kind of awesome there. Musee d'Orsay is inside an old Hugo-style train station (dope), every garden everywhere is beautiful (doper), and the Eiffel Tower fucking sparkles at night like a firecracker of historical worth (dopest).  I thought the three months I lived across from South Street Seaport would make me sworn off boat tours for life, but the one we went on was actually kind of rad. And The Louvre? I considered not going since it would cut into our eating time, but that museum is like the russian nesting doll of cool shit. Not only do they have the family jewels, Mona Lisa and a fucking mummy, it's all within an old castle with high, painted ceilings and gold-flecked doorways. A MUMMY inside a CASTLE. Can you BELIEVE IT? 

Oh and here's a totally stupid photo of me with a sphinx. You know, normal everyday chillin' shit.

Go on a food tour. As someone who spent a week in Israel seeing a handful of sites but mostly just listening to Spoon on repeat from the freezing cold insides of a coach bus, I've offically given up on group tours. I hate people, I hate being told what to do, I hate being given slots of time to pee — you see where I'm going with this. But, after finding out the brilliantly helpful restaurant site Paris By Mouth does food tours, Ben booked one near-immediately, and it was by far one of the best parts of our trip. We went to a candy shop, ate sausages we picked from farmer's market, had bits of goat cheese that were inside the animal five days earlier and brought over on a high-speed rail (!) and found out all about how to order the best baguettes instead of the (literally) crumby ones.  I think i learned more than i did during an entire semester of college, which when you realize could have meant $8000 spent directly on Brie de Meaux instead of on an education in southern Illinois, kind of makes me want to cry globs of creamy cheese tears. 

There is a cafe in France, inspired by a cafe in New York, which was inspired by cafes in France. On the Ile Saint-Louis lies Le Saint Regis, a cafe that reminded us of home. So much of home, in fact, that we realized that it is an exact copy of Keith McNally's Lower East Side bistro Schiller's, down to the magazine rack, the mirrors and the numbered bottles.After a broken english conversation with the owner, ends up it's not a coincidence — they opened in 2011 and look like, "Schiller's, no?". Yes, looks JUST LIKE SCHILLER'S. Fingers crossed the Parisian one didn't rip off the shitty food, too.

Bring a cheese plate on the plane. Hey, customs has no form for transporting unpasteurized goods inside your lower intestine, now do they?


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