I messed up. Pretty badly, actually. My sister Kristin and I arrived in Paris last Sunday night at 11pm. I had booked a charming flat in the 7th arrondissement, just a short walk from the Eiffel Tower. After dragging our bags over the cobblestone streets, we located the building, but the host was nowhere to be found. (I discovered later that I had made our reservation to begin the next day. Whoops.) Without a working phone, and midnight just around the corner, our options were limited.
A stranger crossed the street, offered to help and mentioned his cousin just happened to have an open, available flat . . . for that night only. What a coincidence. Wary, we walked to a hotel down the block and discovered everything was booked for the rest of the week.
We went back, found the stranger and accepted his offer. I recalled the moment I had told my mom, “Don't worry, I will never do anything stupid like get in a car with a French stranger” (cue scene from Taken). But stay in a stranger’s vacant flat for the night? Heck, pourquoi pas?
I created disaster plans for all scenarios --Fire? We could easily jump out the window. --Intruder? There was a block of kitchen knives. And Kristin is pretty strong too. I slept with one eye open till morning.
We awoke, alive and well, and discovered these two gentlemen are from Morocco, where hospitality is a cultural anthem. A couple of days later, we invited them to a picnic at the Champ de Mars, the large park bordering the Eiffel Tower, to thank them for rescuing us from the streets of Paris. They were two of the nicest, most generous people. And that’s how I made my first two French friends.
My French is coming along, but it’s pas parfait. I get a little lazy, words start to look similar to one another, and I assume I know what somebody is talking or writing about. At a cozy restaurant, my sister and I ordered a prix-fixe three-course dinner. I asked for the terrine de campagne because a mushroom tart seemed a safe choice. But then the waitress set a plate of raw meatloaf in front of me. I almost told her that she had gotten my order wrong, but I wanted to be sure before I offended anybody. I read the menu again.
Hmm…campagne…champignon...country…mushroom….terrine…tarte…. pâté…tart...I had ordered a slice of pâté made with meat from the chef’s livestock in the countryside, not a tarte aux champignons. We left that evening with a purse full of raw meat.
In a few days, I take the train up to Louviers to spend the week learning from Susan Loomis. She’s an award-winning journalist (New York Times, Bon Appetit) who has published a shelf full of successful cookbooks and teaches cooking classes out of her French countryside home. This should be good.