Posted by: Madeline's Plate | June 19, 2010

Paris

Breakfast of champions: black fig roll from Le Grenier à Pain, goat milk yogurt with raspberries, hard-boiled egg.

One of the widely accepted Wonderful Things About Europe is that so many countries are compressed into such a small space. In late May I took a 2-hour flight from Bologna and found myself surrounded by chic people speaking an incomprehensible chic language, all in the same time zone.

Paris was my first big city – before New York, before Rome, even before Boston. I first visited in the midst of what my family now calls “The Lost Years” (due to the fact that all photographic evidence of the period has been destroyed). At age 11, painfully awkward and unattractive but blissfully unaware of the fact, Paris was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I returned when I was 15 and again at age 20. Every time Paris was its same expensively elegant self. But this would be my first trip to Paris after having fallen for Italy. By now Italy has become my point of reference for all things European and glamorous. I was curious how my first puppy love would look in the shadow of my first real relationship.

After living in Rome, Paris seems not only elegant, but also efficient. The metro runs on time. The buses appear when they say they will. The French still do that whole “strike” thing Europeans are so enamoured of, but at least the strikes are announced on the transportation system’s website rather than relying on word-of-mouth.

My hosts were French and for the entirety of our friendship had been faintly insulted by the fact that I had done a project on Italian cuisine. They gently probed: But perhaps I had Italian ancestry that drew me to the subject? Or I was one of those American women constantly on a diet? Or, they murmured, shaking their heads sadly, I had suffered an unhappy romance with a Frenchman and now avoided all things French? When forced to confront the fact that I had the audacity and bad taste to prefer Italian food, they reacted sensibly and immediately set about trying to change my mind. The result was that in 7 days I visited only one museum. Otherwise the trip was a buttery blur of pain aux raisins, baguettes, croque monseiur, macaroons, and boeuf bourguignon. Vive la France.

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