Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ou est le Starbucks?

I am in France.

This means I am in a country with a world-renowned museum, cathedral, or monument on nearly every street corner.

Even more, I am in Paris.

This means I am in a city with more light, more love, more taste, more hair, more smells and sounds, and more people than anywhere I've ever been before. Bustling with rich history, diverse culture, and alluring, mysterious beauty, Paris, France is truly one of the greatest places in the world (and that's not just my opinion. It's fact).

Despite the grandeur, the wonder and awe, and the countless unimaginable experiences I've had thus far, it is only natural that I, Rachel, begin my travel journal with my favorite (and arguably the most important) topic.


When I initially declared my decision to study abroad in France, nearly everyone I knew expressed serious concern for my health.

“Rachel, have you ever eaten a French meal?” Followed by, “What on earth are you going to do?”

My overwhelming response:

“No. And that is a very good question.”

In between visits to the Musee d'Orsay, Le Jardin du Luxembourg, and le Sacre Coeur a Montmarte, I often find myself wondering to what lengths I would go for a Chipotle burrito.

I can tell you with confidence that it’s not as far as I'd go for a Peet's large iced lowfat latte machiatto with 2 Splendas and a dash of half n half. To go, please.

Speaking of iced coffee, there is none in Paris, France. Speaking of “to go” coffee, there is none of that either. This, needless to be said, has been a serious obstacle in my daily routine.
As hard as I have tried to fully immerse myself into French culture and blend in as a true Parisienne, at around 1pm on Monday the 14th, a whole 9 days into my 4 month trip, I found myself doing homework and listening to my pink iPod in a booth at Starbucks. And yes, that large iced latte was heavenly.

But despite my minor slip back into American comfort, I have done quite well so far. I sip hot, black espresso out of tiny tea cups at the street cafes in my boots and peacoat, gossiping with close friends while watching passersby, and can’t help but think, Ahhh life is good.

After living in Paris for about 2 weeks now, my eating habits have already significantly changed. From growing up on homecooked meals by my mother, whose motto is, "Most people eat to live. I live to eat," to living in a dorm about 200 yards from my university's cafeteria, I am conditioned to having plentiful amounts of food readily available at all hours of the day, everyday.

When I sat down for my first French dinner at my homestay and saw the first course (which I thought was the entire meal), I thought seriously to myself,

"Oh my God. I'm going to starve."

Beatrice, my host mother, cooks simple, heathly, traditional French 4-course meals. For dinner, which I eat at home nearly every night, we typically start with a small vegetable dish--a fresh tomato or mushroom salad, or dark leafy greens dressed tossed in a light vinaigrette. Last night we each ate an entire avocado...with a spoon. Then she clears the table and brings out the main course--either beef and seasoned potatoes, a baked tomato and cheese tart, or an egg and ham quishe, etc. Then she clears the table again and brings out a baguette, an assortment of cow, goat, and sheep cheese from northern, western, and eastern france, and a variety of "pates" or spreads--usually either a type of mustard or a green olive, garlic, and onion spread, or sometimes a mysterious brown substance that looks like a thin block of butter.

*To note, it is respectful and polite to try everything your host mother puts in front of you. If you don't like it, you don't have to continue eating it. Also, you must clear every morsel of food and sauce on your plate. What do you think all that bread is for?

Upon seeing this particular pate for the first time, I hesitantly spread it over my sliced bread as I eyed Bridget curiously. As I lifted it to my mouth I asked, "qu'est-ce c'est?" Immediately after the bite entered my mouth and I began to chew, Beatrice timely responded, in English,

"Ground up liver."

Our eyes locked and I tried with every ounce of my politeness not to spew the mangled liver and bread out of my mouth and onto the table and throw my arms up in disgust.

I swallowed with a smile, and continued eating everything but the mysterious brown substance that looks like a thin block of butter, that I now knew and will forever know is an animal's organ.

These are the types of things you learn when you live in Paris, France.

And finally, dessert. We'll have either yogurt, a fruit salad with fraises, framboises, and peches (strawberries, raspberries, and peaches), or some sort of pastry.

So although in the United States the French have a reputation of eating very small portions and of eating very gross things (i.e. snails, or liver), it seems to me that this perception is not entirely accurate. They don't normally eat gross things and though they don't eat as frequently as we, when they do eat, they eat A LOT. Which for me, feels just like home.

Except for breakfast. In the States, it is not uncommon that approximately 30 minutes after waking up, I've already devoured a three-egg omlette, bacon, a bagel and cream cheese, and a large iced coffee. In Paris, continental breakfasts are slightly lighter.

I'm still learning to adjust on this one.

Despite my intitial pre-judgments and skepticism, indulging in authentic french cuisine is not only healthy and delicious, but also teaches me to learn to appreciate the taste and quality of simple foods. In fact, in Europe, France is known for its unique gastronomical culture. To the rest of Europe, and to me, the French seem to have perfected just that: "the art and science of good eating."

In case you were wondering, yes, i do eat the notorious baguette sandwhiches and pastries. Frequently.

And let me tell you, nutella crepes taste a whole lot better when you're walking along the Seine.