After a month in a place where everything and everyone is new, a week of vacation in Paris felt comfortingly like a homecoming. After taking good old Bus 91 to Boulevard Port Royal I was very tempted to stop in at the Alimentation Générale to see if the propriétaire remembered me, but my impatience to put down my heavy backpack and see Elisabet and Gérard won out. And anyway, I knew he wouldn’t remember me without Kayla at my side. As usual, the three flights of worn wooden steps up to Elisabet’s apartment were dark and smelled slightly damp, but they contrasted nicely with the warm welcome I received in Elisabet’s cheery kitchen, where pasta with red pesto and salmon awaited me. The only visible change in décor were the photos of her 9 month old granddaughter Fantine, taped up above the basket of organic bananas.
The next morning’s porridge made me remember how hard it is to get going at Elisabet’s house. I finally wrenched myself out of my pajamas and ran up the street to meet Lauren, who is doing the assistantship program in Paris and who has been living in a nunnery while looking for an apartment. I was able to see Lauren’s room, but I couldn’t stay very long because the nuns believe that there’s not enough oxygen in the monastery to sustain visitors! Since we had no plans until dinnertime we spent the damp afternoon wandering around the 6th arrondissement, and eventually met up with a fellow assistant at a café where artists used to pay for their drinks with paintings.
As dinnertime approached we let the irresistable pull of Chez Gladines draw us into the “Butte aux Cailles” neighborhood in the 13th. When we got to the restaurant we fought our way in to put our names on the list, and then waited outside for our Wesleyan classmate and fellow assistante de langue Mollie to arrive. Though we spent the wait agonizing over which potato-heavy meal we would order, I of course ended up ordering confit de canard. Luckily, the scene was so lively when I returned to Elisabet’s that I was able to gloss over that unhealthy choice. Her husband Gérard, their son Erick, and her two current resident students were all still around the dinner table when I got back, so she didn’t have the occasion to ask me about my nutritional foibles, but instead made sure that Erick poured me some wine.
Though I reveled in the familiar, I also tried to do some things I’d never done before. So my objective on Monday was to see the Cinémathèque Française, where there was an exhibit about women’s hair in the movies. The exhibit was interesting, but all those film clips made me long for the afternoons I used to spend with Kayla, Andrés, or by myself in the revival houses of the Latin Quarter.
Tuesday’s activity, on the other hand, was a success unmitigated by nostalgia and enhanced by Lauren’s company. Mission: Pain des Amis had been percolating in the back of my mind ever since Aaron invited me to an exceptionally gourmet party in June of 2009, where I first tasted the thick-crusted meter-long loaves that come out of the ovens at Du Pain et Des Idées, a bakery around the corner from the Canal St-Martin. The integrity of this “Bread of Friends” should be inspiration to friends and bakers everywhere. But even though we came for the bread, we couldn’t resist the extraordinary-looking pastries laid out before us, so we each got an “escargot.” Mine, a pistachio and chocolate snail, was still warm. Even after my 6 months living in Paris I used to have a hard time naming my favorite place in the city. Well, after a hiatus from the city of almost a year and a half, I have my answer!
Finding ourselves much enamored of the neighborhood, which Lauren termed the Brooklyn of Paris, we sought to prolong our visit. I asked the friendly woman behind the counter in the bakery where we should go for a hot chocolate, and she recommended the funky bistrot Chez Prune, right next to the canal. We were on a winning streak, apparently, because we proceeded to have what I think is the best hot chocolate in Paris. I believe Mission: Pain des Amis concluded with a pact to try one of Chez Prune’s salads or cheese plates some day in the future. Beware Chez Prune, we will be back!