This is an excerpt from an email I sent my mom while Greg and I were living in Paris during his Stage at Guy Savoy. Sadly, this story is quite true, and fortunately in time I did learn to shop for more than fowl while we lived there.
Good news! Tonight we ate something different than roast chicken for the first time in thirty days! I’m not at all sure how it happened. I set out on the metro after work, just as I have each evening for the past month. Battling my way through the turnstile, squeezing into the train car, eventually I made my way to a seat to hide behind my book, away from the "musicians"... armed with harmonicas, tambourines and accordions, they prey on innocent, weary commuters pre- and post- work. Finally, my moment of escape arriving, the doors open as we reach Joules Jofferin and I push my way through the remaining passengers to dash for the escalator. (By the time we reach my stop, there are really not that many people left on board and they all have the same dull stare I do, just craving to be home.)
As the escalator ascends from the metro tunnel, I meet the chilly air of an early spring evening. Fortunately no rain, which has accompanied every evening for the last thirty days. Standing at the street light in the shadow of the Mayor’s office, I wait while the rush hour traffic creeps by on its way to the preferique. At last it is my turn... crossing the street, carefully navigating through the parade of small French dogs being walked by their larger owners, I arrive at my destination, the Rotisserie. I squeeze into the line that flows from the narrow storefront and outside to the even narrower sidewalk. The locals are taking advantage of the turn in weather and sitting outside the bouchon sipping beers and eating peanuts while puffing away on their French cigarettes, leaving a smokestack behind that always reminds me of the pictures from the storybook “Little Engine that Could”. For a minute or longer I’m jealous, to be honest. I want to sit with Greg and sip a beer or glass of wine and digest my day with him. But as I’m lost in this daydream my turn suddenly arrives and ends, leaving the Rotisserie man with a huge smile!
How exactly that transaction went I’m not sure because it seemed to have happened at hyper warp speed (as I’m learning most things do in Paris that surround grocery shopping.) Moments later, a bit dazed, I am standing outside the Rotisserie being nudged and mumbled at by people actually trying to use the sidewalk for walking. One thing is for certain, the weight of what is inside the bag in my hand is VERY different from the weight I’ve been carrying each night for thirty nights and I begin to wonder – why was the Rotisserie man smiling at me like that?
Finally, I begin walking back the way I came, past the beer-drinking smoke stacks, back across the busy street, down the avenue along side the Mayor’s office – whose architecture has the look of a brooding 19th-century dwelling that knows the pigeons roost on its eaves every day, leaving their droppings along its walls, and that the soot from traffic hasn’t been cleaned off it since before Chirac ran the city. As I turn into the Baker to pick up our daily allotment of baguette (you remember him – the one that refuses to let me speak French in his shop because his bread is in the oven and he’s afraid it will fall at the sound of my accent or lack thereof?) At this point I am very aware of something different in my parcel from the Rotisserie and I am conscious that perhaps the Baker and his wife know too, that something is very different. Armed with my baguette I continue the walk home, up the hill and past the Tabac – where betting is being placed, on what I’m not quite sure – and the morning coffee drinkers have been replaced by beer guzzlers and again the smokestacks billow from the doorway out to the sidewalk.
Quickly, with all my stops now made, I race home to see my new conquest, a bit afraid of what I’ve done. Up the winding staircase whose stairs creak at every step, asking you to walk lighter upon them. Finally, at the landing and our door! A quick turn of the key and pushing hard, and I’m in the safety of our little sanctuary. My feet echo along the dry wooden floorboards, and I’m struck by the aroma of something new! Dropping my bag and kicking my shoes to the corner, as if in 250 square feet there is much of a difference between corner and middle of the room, and I place the new parcel on the counter and with wine opener in hand, head to the foot of our bed to retrieve a bottle of wine from our wine cellar – a rack which lives in the hearth of the fireplace, the coldest spot in the room, making it ideal for wine storage. It was not as if we would use the fireplace, only a loony would build a fireplace in a 200+ year old building with no ventilation, and besides the pigeons roosting in the chimney seem to have more of a right to live here than us. At least they are French pigeons while we are merely Americans in Paris, and at this point in time, we are not entirely certain that we are any higher on the food chain than they are.
Sitting alone at the counter, glass of red French table wine in hand, mystery bag in front of me, I open it to discover not the familiar roasted chicken but a roasted duck! How exactly that happened I am unaware. I play back the event in my mind seeking a clue. I didn’t realize that I’d learned a new word or even if I had, that I had gathered the courage to share this newfound word with the ever-impatient Mr. Rotisserie. Forgetting for a minute that I have something different to sample for dinner, I begin to celebrate adding one new word to my vocabulary, “canard”! Of course, I am questioning whether or not I actually physically said the word “canard” or whether Mr. Rotisserie man said to me "Ce qui vous aimez Madame, Canard?” and I merely replied back “wee, wee”, as I seem to find it impossible to say “yes” only once in this country, or perhaps I nodded my head up and down like the mute I’ve become since moving here. Regardless of how it came to be, it happened, and the result, we are eating duck not chicken tonight. Never mind that I hate dark meat and since Greg’s rare cooked duck event of Thanksgiving 2002 I’m not a huge duck fan, because really at this point that is hardly important. What is important is that it is not chicken, again!
That alone is reason to dance.