Friday, January 22, 2010

Paris, France

Walking up the Rue Dancourt as it turns into Rue des Trois Frères, I am transported back in time. I am excited but open the door with familiarity. A tiny door, by standards, and I need to watch the step. Crowded as usual and to my delight I am allowed to forgo the spotlight seat for the tucked away corner table. Deux personnes? Non, une. Thumbs up. I stare at the chalkboards, the same illustrations, slightly more expensive and I whisper my order over my shoulder and the shoulder of the male of the couple sitting next to me. The server corrects my French with a smile, repeating what I want to make sure he and I understand.

First course, fois gras with salad and toast. The foie gras is cold and is a perfect circle of the most perfect color of pink and brown I have ever seen. I stare at an iris from my dreams that looks back at me, a warm earth brown ring fading into a creamy coral center. I almost curse how rich it is and the small pieces of toast and the petit salad offering, but mostly I savor it. Taking breaks to be in transported to India by a woman's words which could have easily been my own, except for you can tell she was not born in the Bay Area. I am too conservative in the beginning and am left with one-fourth of the foie gras which nearly makes me faint because I know what comes next. A sensational assault. My entire sense, my only sense now is taste. It has the texture of silk mousse and a savoriness (is that English?) of all the things I was ever meant to eat. Salty, but not too much, rich... I close my eyes and make a sharp decision to learn more adjectives as I realize I am ignorantly imprecise. No thoughts past through my head for a while, just sensation.

The next course is Tartiflette Maison. A dish introduced to me by Gavyn, my French/Welsh flatmate of study abroad past, it has been the cause of many bathroom trips and a number of pounds. Stomach and body rebelling against Reblochon cheese, but my mind runs the show and it says you will habituated. And habituate, I did. A decent portion sits before me now and I know I'll finish it, but I know it will be a challenge nonetheless. The pieces of bacon, pancetta, pork belly, add the perfect saltiness to an otherwise creamy (again, must expand vocabulary!), soft and firm layers of potatoes and cream and cheese. I try to make the experience last as long as I can letting waves of memories, good and heartbreaking, wash over me. Wales, Steven, New Years, my inexperience, past innocence... and here I am. At the same restaurant, craving the same flavors, content to be alone as long as I can still taste.

I look over at the ignored wine glass of white wine, with it's thin layer of frosty condensation oozing from the inside out. In food drunk state, I make a mental compromise with the wine that I'm allowing it to become more flavorful by staying in the glass. As though through some crude semblance of osmosis, I'm allowing water to escape, but flavor to stay in. Chill, be cool. I think the white wine bought it...

The crème brulée and café crème elevate me from savory to sweet and the mix of sugar and caffeine leave me in heightened state of sense. I don't know how else to explain that I am a series of sounds, smells, and taste. CRACK. Spoon to caramelized crème. INHALE. Roasted earth. CRUNCH. My mouth exploring the bitter brown of brulée, the silky texture of the crème. I realize now, more than ever, why babies always put things in their mouths... Think about it. One of your only goals is to eat and this you do a lot of, this is the sensation that, for lack of better terminology, is exercised the most. You can barely hold your own monstrous head up let alone control your entire body, and you are dying to make sense of this big, bright interactive glob of moving shapes and sounds. So what is your most sensitive tool and skill you have? Your mouth and taste. Both have gotten a work out this afternoon.

I must have been there for one and a half, two hours. The lunch rush, gone, and I'm thankful no one is rushing me out. I am literally floating on air, I don't think I hear my boots click on their stone tile floor as I pay. I'm out the door with a merci beaucoup (I didn't have the wherewithal to say "Miam!"). But before I can reach the tiny opening, the people that leave before me open the doors to brass music.

La Paname sits upon a slight, windy incline on the way up to the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, so the view is somewhat obstructed. You don't preside over all of Paris, but you're on your way either up or down. Not a bad place to be. I walk out unto the street to trumpet players flanked on each side of the narrow street blowing some sort of traditional French folksy number, the trumpet player on the other side, the one the westside of the street lugging a cart with the beat. He's got it. Older men, but light and still smiling, taking turns turning their flat caps upside down and right side up, blowing air into music. I donate the contents of my coin purse, ,30€. I would have gladly given more, charged by food experience and my guilt for not donating to the tuba and trumpet player in the Metro on the way over.

I stop at the square at the bottom of the hill, wink at the closed restaurant on the corner that Lindsay and I fled to after the incident in the artist's square / British pub. But I turn my back on it and look up at the incline, at the older men with their backs to me slowly making it up the street with alternating blows, at the smiles and taunting of people they pass, up past them all at the overcast sky.

Throwing on my hood I decide not to leave until those men make it up the street and leave me because I refuse to leave them. The acoustics are amazing and am reminded of the scene in La Môme and how she raced up the stairs to where her voice would carry. As these notes carry - they carry any thought I had out of my head until I am those notes, those feet propelling them up the hill, the smiles on people's faces and the light trickle of rain that has begun to think about falling in earnest. It never really does, but it hovers. The sound begins to mingle with cars over cobblestones, children's razor scooters that sound like train tracks, strong but gathering distance.

The men pause at the top of the street to applause, I hope, but cannot tell as if there is any, it is quiet and private. I only see the scattered, swift coming together of hands . The music continues as I know it will long after I have turned on my heels and begin the slow decent to the Seine.

No pictures, just this memory of Montmarte. I don't know why I am drawn to it as such.