Food First, First Things

After a long day flying, and given the “food” served on the airplane, the first order of business when I arrived in Paris included real food. I needed to drop my bags in the apartment and seek sustenance. Quick. (Actually, after taking the RER from Charles DeGaulle airport to the center of Paris, through the banlieues that François Maspero wrote about in Roissy Express: A Journey Through the Paris Suburbs, I snapped a picture of my “new” (and  quite decent) kitchen. Then my head hit the pillow and I knew nothing but oblivion for three hours.

Efficient galley kitchen typical of many Parisian apartments (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

Fresh and energized by the sandman, I dashed over to the Place Maubert and dug out my few Euros with indecent haste.

What’s easy and fairly inexpensive and quick after 12 hours of being crammed into a flying metal tube? Why, bread and cheese, of course.

I also bought 6 eggs, butter, yogurt with mango chunks, some Gruyère, sliced ham, arugula, a tomato, a big chocolate bar studded with hazelnuts, and a big bottle of mineral water. A 50 Euro note fell out of my pocket (they’re shallow pockets in the jeans I wear) and a young woman about 23  saw it happen and ran up and returned it to me, thank goodness.

There’s  cumin, thyme, sea salt, and fennel that I bought from a Moroccan vendor at the Bastille market early on Sunday morning. The vendor patiently packed each of my spice choices in small plastic bags. He also sold white beans and red beans, couscous and bulgur, grains of all kinds. But I was the only customer, although several people stopped to see what I was buying.

And the big slices of pumpkin (potiron) just demanded soup, even though temperatures in Paris have been hovering uncomfortably around 80 degrees for days. Ginger root, Scotch bonnets, banana peppers, all scrunched up in little piles reminded me that French cuisine possibly faces a fiery future. Pumpkin soup with a few slices of hot pepper transports me back to Haiti, …

The carton of orange juice features the word “exotique,” because mango juice enlivens the flavor of oranges.

Now my larder makes me feel secure. When I open the cupboard door or peer into the refrigerator, I see the foods that speak of home to me, foods that ease the sense of exile that overcomes me from time to time.  I imagine immigrants from all over the world trying to make their way in unfamiliar cultures, perplexing languages, forced to seek sustenance somehow. How they did that makes for quite a story, or a number of stories.

I see part of the story in those Scotch bonnets, that gingerroot, the spices redolent with fragrances reminiscent of cuisine around the time of the  Renaissance and before, the cinnamon and ginger and fierce black pepper.

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