Paris: 6:00 AM
It’s been years since I’ve seen 6:00 AM from either side of the clock. Let’s face it, it’s too fucking early to get up, unless you’re a fisherman or a soldier, and even then it’s still too early, and it’s too late to be up, unless you’re 20 or snorting meth, and then it’s still too late. But lately, I find myself in a time-warp jet lag that’s so bad I’m afraid I’m going to run into myself sitting in front of the EURO FRIED SNAILS BISTRO and create a disturbance in the time space continuum which will all cause us to be enslaved by our smart phones, or a black guy to become president causing mouth breathers to show up at health insurance rallies with light arms to intimidate him, despite his commanding the mightiest military force to ever menace the planet…
Hey, wait a minute…
Whew, it was just an Iphone app alerting me to send a Facebook update about brushing my teeth. No worries.
So anyway, Paris: 6:00AM
The rose sky is streaked with purple clouds — the perfect backdrop for the stone guardians of the Gothic cathedrals, St. Jaque’s, Notre Dame, St. Eustachian’s, St. Severins and so forth. The streets have just been scrubbed slick, the steps by the Seine steam-cleaned,of urine, blood, and wine, and the traffic is so light that the gray choke of exhaust hasn’t yet risen in the air. Most of the traffic, in fact, is pedestrian, out early, and yes, they do make eye-contact and say bon jour, and smile, and it seems, very unlike what you would think you’d find in an enormous, ancient/modern city. At the bolangeries, (the bakeries of bread, distinct from the patisseries, makers of pastries, although some do both) the baguettes are coming out of the oven and that warm, yeasty smell that almost seems to carry comfort and carbs wafts down the sidewalks, drawing in nearly everyone by turns.
Cops pull up, step quickly in, and emerge with baguette under their arms, one has his tucked in a leather portfolio. The dog walker, the amblers, the hipsters coming back from the clubs, the rasta man, the gay couple, the painter, the street sweeper, the wedding couple out early to get their photos done in front of the Cathedral: they all check in, get their baguette – one euro – and move on. You really have to have one to be out there, to be on the street at that hour. Legend says, that the man who walks the streets of Paris at dawn without a baguette, risks attack by the gargoyles come alive. They swoop down, take you, do unspeakable things to you, and the next time you are seen, you’re turned to stone, perched on the corner of an ancient tower, watching, waiting to swoop down on the next breadless victim. I would not risk it, being unfamiliar with Paris, the French language, and having a mid-level fear of heights. I take my baguette, walk to the cathedral, and tear a warm swath of it, eat it while I watch the wedding couple pose and the gargoyles scowl above.
The happy couple, out early to get the photos in front of Notre Dame sans people.
The proper French baguette is about two feet long, about two and a half inches wide, and the crust has a leathery, crunchy, flaky texture that’s not to elastic, nor too hard, nor too tough–perfect to the tooth: it resists and gives in like a teasing lover, just in time, just enough to make it more than worth your effort, to heighten the taste and satisfaction. That crust can only be achieved with the exact balance of moisture, heat, air and amour. There are variants, of course, rustic, speckled with raisins, currents, olives or chocolate – double, triple, quadruple the size, giant brown barges of yeasty flour, waiting to ship off a load of meats and cheese, but the classic, the baton baguette, that’s the best frantic hungry fuck of French bread you can buy, and I have. I do. I shall.
When I’ve finished this trip, I may have what I need for a book, but I’ll be as round as as tick, a turgid torso man, my tiny limbs protruding from my bread bloated body like toothpicks from a Peep. Already the apartment floor is beginning to drift with crumbs, like a flaky edible beach, and there’s a satisfying crunch when you walk. If you drop a chicken leg it will be breaded for frying when you pick it up. Unfortunately, so are my socks.
Alas, it is my destiny, unless I find the French cure for this ongoing spasm of breadgasm. Because it’s true, there are few fat people in Paris.
American woman growl at their French sisters seemingly effortless slim. And I must admit, I’m not quite sure how the balding French hipster is pulling off the high-carb cool with so much thin, but it is so. There’s something they know.
No pain, no gain.
I saw this vigilante across from the Louvre yesterday. There’s someone out there fighting for the right to be round. God bless you, scary cape lady, God bless you.
(All this dialogue was in French, of course. I’ve translated for your benefit.)
God Bless You Crazy Cape Lady!
I will carry on for you, my noble readers, to test the limits of baguette consumption, even if I’m forced to endure a cloud of stinky cheese to do so. Even now, our tiny fridge reeks with the fumes of a Camembert, which tastes great, and is mild and creamy and cheap (I mean really cheap, like cream cheese cheap), yet smells so ripe-feety, that if you open the fridge door, you can smell the fumes down the hall, and after one day in the fridge with the cheese, a baguette is so infused with the aroma, that you don’t even need to spread the cheese on it to get the flavor. (I’m not kidding.) And as the Buddah said, “with stinky cheese may come friends.”
There are two boxes of something called Rat-Soris under the sink in the kitchen, and I’m pretty sure, without checking my French/English dictionary, that that means Rat Smiles*. Who can blame them? I expect to awaken any morning to find a half-dozen smiling rodents surfing the fumes of stinky cheese from our fridge to mystic breadcrumb dunes of rat nirvana – not to worry, you’ll hear my scream in the States, and wonder how such a rotund fellow can sound so impossibly feminine.
Next time, I really will visit the mannequin store and show you some public sculpture to be found around the city.
* I’ve since looked up souris to find out it means mouse, but smile is sourire, so an understandable mistake, I think.
Growing up, I never understood why we had French bread with Italian food.