And FINALLY, I’ve decided to write about France.  You know, I’ve been back in the US for a month now, and I somehow made myself too busy to put aside time for writing; moving into a new house, finding a job, gardening, doing nothing, and spending time with friends and Meren have been enough to push my travelblog into the shadows.  But alas, the travels will continue and the writing must go on.

So let’s see…

I went to France, yes that’s it!

I needed France like a diabetic needs insulin. Really, though, I was desperate for a change of scene, and most importantly, for some good food.  I arrived in Paris, walked out of the train station, and saw a lovely cafe just across the street.  Look no further,  I said to myself, you’ve found what you’d been seeking.

I’ve never had better food in my life.  Yes, it is slightly pretentious, the whole culinary perfection thing they’ve got going on, but they’ve certainly earned their position on the holier than thou pedestal.  It blew my mind.

1-DSCN8976

Raw beef and egg is a standard lunchtime treat in Paris, and freshly baked baguette and spicy mustard are basic daily essentials.  I really have never eaten better food in my life.  I could go on.  Maybe I will.

Escargotpâté, pommes de frittes, cafe, brie, foie gras, creme brule, filet mignon, the list continues…

These things exist in their most delectable form all along the streets of Paris.

Well, that’s the primary message to get across about France…the message about the food.  It was indeed everything I had hoped for and more.  Yes, the people are a bit more cold than your average smiling-and-waving-at-a-stranger American, and the wait staff at any given restaurant makes it obvious they are not interested in your presence whatsoever.  But, nothing can take away from the adventures of the tastebuds in Paris because the tastebuds have never experienced such purely refined heaven.

France is elegant and mystical.  I could see how Paris enchants its visitors with romance; as Vincent and I strolled around the tour de eiffel, we giggled at the men trying to sell us roses,

“Unfortunately for him,” he said, motioning towards the man with the bouquet  “we aren’t on a romantic date.  Sorry.”

Vincent is a family friend, and a dear one at that; romance is not really our thing together, as he is like an older brother to me.  He had been living in the US for the past 12 years with his partner and his career all settled in the town where my parents live, until the US revoked his visa this year for no apparent reason.  So for the past 8 months, he has been effectively exiled to France. While my parents were working arduously  in the US, trying to get him a visa to come home, Vincent and I shared laughs and stories in Paris.  But always, there were the subtle undertones of sadness between us, over the frustrating and seemingly impossible process of arguing with US immigration.

To say the least, it was a pleasure to spend time with him.  He took me all around Paris each day, and showed me the sights.  One night, we cooked a meal together at his apartment because I was curious about the items I saw in the grocery store.  Well, the most curious thing, I’ll say, was the “American Sauce” that I found in the condiment isle.

1-DSCN9342

Upon inspection of the ingredients, I realized that this was what we Americans call “French Dressing.”  How on Earth did that happen, I wonder?

Speaking of dressing…

I was in a library with Vincent in a wealthy suburb outside of Paris.  Interestingly enough, Paris is the worst place I’ve ever been to when it comes to wifi accessibility.  It is SO hard to find free wifi hotspots in the city, and equally as difficult to find good wifi that you could pay for.  Vincent’s apartment doesn’t have wifi, so every time he wants to check his email he needs to hop around the city on train, bus and foot to get to a place that connects him to the inter-world.

Anyway.

So I was standing at one of the computers checking my email, when I couldn’t help but notice a heavyset man next to me breathing violently and making sounds that I had to assume were related to disappointment as he read through his emails.  Trying to ignore this display of strange behavior, I kept my eyes on my screen.  But when Vincent and I exchanged some words in English, the man next to me turned and said,

“Oh! You speak English.  Wow, you don’t hear that every day!”

After some small talk, I learned that he was from Florida, and had been living in France for the past year with his wife, who mothered a child with a Frenchman.

Well, soon the conversation took a turn that I have to say, I never saw coming.

He told me he was an inventor, and that I should remember his name because one day he’ll be famous, and I could say I shook hands with “that guy” in a library outside of Paris.  I asked him what he invents, in particular, and he said all sorts of things.  But he said most recently he was trying to introduce a new product to Parisians that he was certain would land him the big bucks.  As the conversation moved in this direction, the next thing he said surprised me.  He said,

“Do you think people in Paris like lettuce?”

“What do you mean?” I replied, not sure where this had come from.

“Well, like, do you think they eat salad?” he responded.

What? This guy has been here for a year and doesn’t know that Parisians eat salad?

“Um. Yeah, they do eat salad.  I had a nice salad for lunch actually..” I said.

“Great,” he said, getting excited about disclosing his plans to me, “you see: I’m going to bring something here that will change the market forever.  I know I haven’t seen it in the grocery stores here, so I am going to make it big.”

“With what,” I said, now intently interested in where this could possibly be going.

“Salad dressing.  I’m going to show the French buttermilk salad dressings.  I’ve never seen it here, and I have a great recipe   Do you think I should go to grocery stores with a sample?”

I didn’t quite know what to say.  I looked over at Vincent.  He was holding back a hysterical outburst.  I encouraged the man as best I could, while inserting bits of honesty about how the French probably already have their salad dressing market pretty well established, and that the reason he doesn’t see salad dressings in the grocery stores is that most French make their own vinaigrette at home.   He didn’t seem deterred.  He was certain that this would hit the French market with a boom.

Vincent and I walked away from that library rather bewildered, and stunned with the irony: American travels to France, a place of supreme culinary sophistication to introduce…well, an American salad dressing that even most Americans aren’t enamored by.  Oh America, how I love thee.

But anyway, this was what I had seen in the grocery store that piqued my interest:

1-DSCN8962

And with Vincent’s incredible cooking skills, we created the most delicious dinner ever that night.

1-DSCN9004

It was like a sausage but made of blood.  I can’t think of anything more uniquely delicious.

Ah, another story.  Unrelated, sorry.

One day, on the train there we sat in a cabin with a man using the seats as a drum.  Vincent told him he liked the music, which prompted the man to ask for money.  Vincent turned back to me and spoke in English, expressing his disappointment that the man wouldn’t continue playing unless we gave him money.  The drummer stopped and addressed us in English.

“You’re American, huh?  I hate America.”

Vincent and I shrugged.  This guy was turning out to be rather annoying.  He continued,

“I’ve never been there, but I know I don’t like it.  I’m from Algeria.  I bet you don’t even know where that is.”  He was challenging me at this point.  I was on the spot.  I had to respond.  And unfortunately, I wasn’t sure.  My first thought was North Africa, but he had a very European accent and very fair skin, so my second thought was that I was confusing Algeria and Albania.

As I sat quiet for that minute of pondering, he jumped at my indecision,

“See! You don’t even know.  Stupid American.”

Vincent said nothing.  He wanted to give me a chance.

“North Africa.”  I said.

The train stopped, and it was ours.

“North Africa,” I repeated.  ”We’re not all stupid.”

He smiled, apparently surprised that I knew some basic geography.

The next couple of days in France were enchanting.  Along any street you can find a brilliant boulangerie, grab a cheap baguette and stop at a fromagerie for some cheese that is unlike anything else I’ve ever tasted.  I went to one fromagerie (cheese shop) with Vincent and I was overwhelmed by the options.

1-DSCN9108

I decided, what the hell, I’m in France right now.  I can splurge on some cheese, it’s why I came.  Without looking at the prices, I selected 5 different cheeses–from the stinkiest blues to the meltiest bries.  When she added it up at the register  my jaw dropped in amazement as I simultaneously began salivating and trying to figure out the logistics of me moving to France.  The grand total for this cheese binge was 10 euro…12 dollars!  In the US, these cheese would easily be 10 dollars each.  I couldn’t believe it.  This was Paris.  It was majestic.

Day after day I ate cheese and bread until I could feel my digestive organs moaning in protest.  I saw the sights with Vincent and made a point to try something new and exciting at every meal (even though I often wasn’t hungry since I had been eating very sparsely in Asia, and in France I was eating cheese every hour).

I visited a gorgeous cemetery, which was more like a mini-city.

1-DSCN9038

Some of the memorials were just beautiful.

I ordered a “Shiraz” at a bar and learned, when the bartender gave me a 12 euro glass of Chivas, that not only can you not return bar drinks in France due to a misunderstanding, but you also should order wine by the region like Bordeaux, instead of by the grape, like Cabernet.

Lesson learned.

I was amazed by the number of things to do in Paris.  There are so many beautiful sights to see, and things to marvel at.  I was there for 8 days and I hadn’t seen it all.  There are just too many beautiful places in Paris.  One day, Vincent and I walked along the canal where Picasso used to prop up his easel and paint.  We walked for 2 hours without realizing it.  And then our legs were sore.

1-DSCN9081

Goodness, it was a beautiful place to culminate my journey.  My aunt and cousin ended up coincidentally coming to Paris on my last night there, so a nice family reunion was the final farewell to my journeys abroad.

After a week in Paris, spending as much money as I had spent in a month in Asia, I boarded my flight to the US via Iceland with mixed emotions.  It was mostly happiness and excitement.  I had decided to come home for the summer, to live on Cape Cod with Meren and give my ‘love life’ a chance again.  There are any number of ways my trip could have ended, but this way seemed like the only reasonable one I could pursue.  I felt I had to return to take the time I needed with him, as it didn’t seem like we had much time before I left.  This my friends, is one of the most mature decisions I’ve made in my life.  I used to think I’m strictly motivated by self-interest, and to a large extent that is still very much true.  But now, I think I’ve grown to the point where I understand the value of making a compromise and being fine with that.  No, I’m not currently hitchhiking around Australia trying to find work and I’m not whimsically exploring the world with zero plans day by day.  But I am finding that I can go and be anywhere and be happy, because happiness is something I’ve developed within me and something that I want to share with a person I love.

So what do you know: here I am, on Cape Cod, MA, USA, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.