Getting re-acquainted with a dear friend

June 14, 2009 at 6:53 PM | Posted in Paris 2009, Wanderings | Leave a comment

I’ve now been back in Paris for about seven hours, and as soon as I stepped outside I remembered with full force why I love it here.  We are staying at a hotel in the 12th arrondissement for 1 night, since our apartment won’t be ready until tomorrow, and our hotel happens to be not too far from where I lived last year.  So after a MUCH needed post-flight shower, I took a walk to visit some of my favorite spots in the city and ease into my way of life here (forgetting my camera, which was actually kind of nice).  By the time my walk started it was 2:45pm and I was starving, having eaten neither breakfast nor lunch (Air France’s food has really gone downhill, to put it lightly!). So I took myself to my first favorite boulangerie-patisserie in my old neighborhood, (the one I claimed as my favorite bakery on my second day here last summer. By now I have lots of favorites, but this one holds a special place in my heart), La Tradition de Pain on the corner of Rue de la Roquette and Rue Saint-Sabin right near the Bastille.  I got a breathtakingly amazing sandwich: jamon de pays (thinly sliced cured ham), chevre, and oven-dried tomatoes, on a baguette.  And a petit macaron chocolat, the perfect three-bite dessert (sometime in the future there will be a whole post on macarons, I’m sure–but as a preview, it has absolutely nothing to do with coconut).  I somehow resisted eating until I got to the Place de Vosges, which has been called one of the loveliest squares in the world and I don’t disagree–between the architecture, the landscaping, and the whole atmosphere of people picnicking and reading and suntanning, it was the best setting I could have picked for my first meal here.  I found a shady bench and even though I was super hungry, I resisted the urge to inhale the sandwich because I wanted it to last.   It was the perfect example of how when the ingredients are really good, the preparation can be simple.  Starting with great bread and adding salty ham, tangy cheese, and these dried tomatoes that were so intensely flavorful that when I bit into the first one, I almost couldn’t place the tomato taste–wow.  Sometimes sandwiches here can be a disappointment, but La Tradition de Pain really delivered.  Plus, the setting was pretty much unmatched.

I then wandered through the Marais to the Seine, and took a long meandering stroll on the quays of the left bank. As I walked past Notre-Dame, I noticed such an interesting cross-section of people here: a group of very well-dressed Parisians having a beautiful picnic with real plates and glasses, teenagers making out, art students sketching, tourists posing for pictures, people just going about their business. I eventually made my way to the Luxembourg Gardens, where I sat facing the fountain and savored my slightly crushed macaron.  On my way back, I walked down one of my favorite streets on the left bank, Rue de l’Ancienne Comedie.  Not only does it have an Eric Kayser bakery (another one of my favorites–the Baguette Malsherbes is one of the best loaves I had all last summer), but it’s one of those tiny winding streets that feels so typically Parisian.  And also there was a gigantic religious parade that stopped all the traffic from Blvd Saint-Germaine to Pont Neuf outside of Notre-Dame.  After about 3 hours of walking, the jet lag hit and, against my strongest willpower and judgement, I had to take a quick nap before dinner.

I have (intermittently) worked really hard on my French during the past year, and I have to say that it’s made a big difference.  In particular, my listening comprehension has improved, which I first noticed on the flight over when I could get the gist of the in-flight announcements and speak only French with the flight attendants.  Grace (my colleague who speaks excellent French) and I took a taxi from our bus drop-off point to our hotel, since we had so much luggage, and not only could I understand the conversation, but I could actually add to it.  In my interpersonal interactions, from the bakery, to the hotel front desk, to the guy selling bottles of water outside the Luxembourg Gardens, I can get away with speaking only French and not reverting to English (nor have the other person revert to English).  In fact, several people today asked me if I was Spanish.  I start my formal French classes tomorrow, and I’m hoping that the class will build a strong foundation under the somewhat shaky command I have over the language (my grammar is atrocious) and help me continue to improve.  I have a VERY long way to go, but it’s nice to know that the work really does make a difference.

It is so good to be back.

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