Today it occurred to me how much silence has the capacity to alienate. It is true that there is an invisible line — on one side there are those who speak French, and on the other side are those who don’t. After four months of studying the language, preparing myself for this trip, when I open my mouth it’s as if cotton swans out. Fumbling for words, I find myself stuttering, speaking softly and apologetic, until finally the poor waiter takes my order and scurries off. Bakeries are easier because it’s so procedural, whereas restaurants and shops offer one a more mindful exploration. One wants to linger. You might have walked in with an appetite for a particular totem or dish, and then you find yourself pontificating on the origins of a truffle, or the carvings on a piece of unfinished wood. All of this requires a rich vocabulary that I don’t have. I know it in English, sometimes I even think in Spanish (chalk it up to a bilingual childhood), but French aludes me with its irregular subjunctives and gesticulations.
Yet, I’m armed with my apps and prepared phrases and I try to keep life simple. I used to think that I wanted to live in Paris, but being in an apartment, buying groceries, navigating the subway system, has somehow taken the gloss off the city. And while I love it still, it reminds me of an aged New York with its raspy voice, mouthful of smoke and neroli perfume. But I do know this — no city rivals Paris in terms of pastry and blooms, and I’ve had my fill of them both. Traveling between the banks can be exhausting, but I used these Odyssean walks as ways to make the sweets downright necessary for fuel!
After reading the pastry smack-down involving my beloved eclair, I decided to pay a visit to L’ Eclair de Génie, located in the Marais district of Paris. Up until the past year I’ve had nothing but contempt for the eclair, as so many bakers have destroyed the delicate flavor balance with too much sugar, goopy cream, soggy pastry, and cracked chocolate that’s somehow medicinal. One could argue that it’s easy to bake a muffin or a cookie (I could argue both sides), but French pastry is a fine art, and poor technique can make for a crap pastry. But all was changed during my last visit to Paris, and I’ve now become a devotee. So believe me when I say that the accolades for L’ Eclair de Génie are well-earned. The simple, minimalist shop showcases the eclairs like jewels, and you can have your pick of the basics: chocolate, coffee, salted butter caramel, or the exotics: framboise/rose, pistache/orange. I opted for two: the caramel and the Madagascar vanilla dotted with buttery pecans.
You should know that I devoured both, outside the store, within seconds. I didn’t even have the class to walk around the block. No, I ate both of the eclairs, standing up, in plain sight.
After a day of walking, I needed a space to rest and enjoy a sweet treat in front of window. I found my way to Mamie Gâteaux (6ème), and slipped inside and immediately felt like I was in the home I always wanted. Rustic gastronomic accouterments, a proud display of tarts, pies and delicate cakes, and the workshop wooden tables, lent a comforting feel to the popular spot that tends to draw the brunch crowds on the weekends. But on this particular afternoon, it was quiet, and I curled up with a fig tart, fizzy lemonade and lots of coffee. And it occurred to me that I need to do this more often: sit somewhere with a book and a sweet.
The air had cooled and the once bright sun started to slouch a bit, and wouldn’t you know that I got a call from a sweet friend who happened to be in Paris? When I called her back, I apologized for missing her call because I was picking out chocolates at Patrick Roger. Of course you were! she laughed, and we met up for an afternoon coffee/hot cocoa and I shared some of my choice chocolates with my name twin. We marveled over the buttery pralines, the dark chocolate covered ginger, and truffles that ooze oceans of flavor. While the prices are a challenge, the goods are worth it. Shopping at Patrick Roger and marveling over the artistry harkens one to think of purchasing couture.
And while most of the shop owners spoke English (after my wretched attempts at making inquiries in French), I miss the way I am at home, when I have the words to ask so many questions, the words to share how the whole of my body wakes at a bite, but I’m mostly left with syllables and gestures and my sharing this love with you.