I’ll Always Have Paris

The dog shit scene did it for me.

When Emily, in Netflix’s new series – “Emily in Paris” – steps in the do-do, her immaculate pink shoes squishing with that “Oh no, ugh!” sound, I laughed out loud.

You see, that happened to me as well.

Rounding the corner one gorgeous late fall morning, headed toward the boulangerie a block from my rented apartment, salivating over thoughts of a pain au chocolat, I stepped wetly into a warm pile of excrement left by some pampered Parisian mutt. Only, unlike Emily, a pair of skimpy sandals barely covered my feet, leaving ample room for a thick coating of oozing brown stuff.

Never mind the rest of the saga. But suffice it to say that despite the horror of the moment, years later it DOES make a good story in the telling.

Woman walking her dog, Paris (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

Paris – and by extension France – left an enduring mark on my heart, if not my feet. I haven’t been back there for almost 10 years. And given the state of the world right now, with the COVID-19 virus out of control in the United States and surging once again globally, it’s anyone’s guess if I ever will walk along the Seine again, gazing at the water rippling and envying lovers kissing.

But I will always have Paris. The city wended its way into my memories, much as the river Seine winds through it.

Elaine Sciolino, former Paris bureau chief for The New York Times, reacted to “Emily in Paris” much the same way I did:

To be overly “familiar” is to invite scorn; to laugh too loudly is to solicit disdain; to take seconds on the cheese course is to jeopardize future invitations. Then, of course, there is the historical fear of the stranger, which penetrates deep into the French soul. At my local café, after months of haughty silence from the server, who barely tolerated my presence, I was finally greeted with “Bonjour” and a smile. The secret? A French friend at my side. I needed a local to fit in.

Sure, clichés and stereotypes abound in the film, both French and American.

I cringed at the judgmental attitudes on the part of the French characters in the film. A lot of déjà vu there.

Take my experience with a French maid in the tiny, dank hotel off the Champs de Mars where I stayed while attending classes at the Cordon Bleu cooking school. It was June, hot and muggy, and it took me almost 30 minutes to walk from the school to the hotel. Sweaty and thirsty, as soon I opened the door I grabbed a bottle of water off the bureau, uncapped it, and chugged. The maid reprimanded me in a very stern voice in French, “Ici, en France on ne fait pas ça!” (“Here, in France one does not do that!”)

Not pouring the water into a proper glass apparently ranked high as a cardinal sin.

So was eating on the street, croissant in hand. Or pain au chocolat, as Emily does on her first morning in the City of Light.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, I dredged up many long-ignored and forgotten memories, including many associated with Paris. Those memories offer me a great deal of respite these days. And they comfort me every much as any favorite childhood food might.

And speaking of food! French food in all its many nuances still intrigues me, even if I don’t cook much of it these days.

Tiny onions for Bœuf Bourguignon (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

Ambling through Paris’s open-air markets always brought a heady mix of aromas, sights, and sounds. Meat, cheese, vegetables, flowers. And fish, freshly caught only hours before, reclining on ice, eyes wide and clear.

Fish on Ice, Paris Market (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

These days, food shopping is nothing like that. Not just because I’m not in Paris, of course. But because the mere act of walking into a grocery store these days could mean trouble, depending upon the compliance of fellow shoppers with common-sense public health recommendations. For me, and other avid cooks, not being able to amble through the produce section or examine the cuts of meat available on any given day is one of the most trying aspects of this whole COVID-19 pandemic.

Granted, there IS one thing I don’t need to deal with right now.

That dog thing, you know.

One thought on “I’ll Always Have Paris

  1. Ah, oui, clichés always remain at the forefront. I am half French, and ça suffit already with these passé Hollywood stereotypes about Paris and the French. Berets basques, tu rigoles, they look great on tourists. Can’t movie makers find a new destination?

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