This morning I woke up missing Paris to the point of near-physical pain. Specifically warm pain au chocolat from a tiny boulangerie with orange awning in Montmarte, where I spent one of the most blissfully strange weeks of my life. Just as we entered the security line at JFK I got word that my grandfather was dying. “We don’t have to get on the plane,” my boyfriend said. But I had waited twenty-nine years to go to France, and I wasn’t about to trade my opportunity for a week of mourning in New Jersey.
The Gastrognome talked a big game about his seven years of high school French on the plane, but when we walked into a nameless bar around one in the afternoon, desperate for coffee, he came up empty. From somewhere in the recesses of my brain I pulled out enough of the language to order deux crème from the gray-haired woman behind the bar. She chatted rapidly with her husband in between serving red wine to locals amidst a thick cloud of cigar smoke.
This was the Paris I’d hoped for, straight out of Orwell or Sartre. We searched for the address of the apartment we’d rented, inhabited by the owner of a local bookseller. I ordered plain croissants from a boulangerie down the street, unfamiliar with the machinery at every cash register that dispensed change without human contact. It was my first experience in a place that really felt foreign — I’d only every traveled in the UK before going to France. I felt alien, in a state of incessant discovery; I loved it.
My longing this morning took the form of an insatiable craving for pastry. I had been up all night reading Ruth Reichl while GN sewed floral pillowcases in the library of our Brooklyn apartment. While my desire manifested in the physical what I wanted most was to embark on an adventure.
The G train skipped my usual stop, so I rode it down the line to Bergen Street where I could at least get a croissant from Bien Cuit, the closest thing to real French pastry you can get in Brooklyn. It came lacquered brown with brittle, petal-thin layers and coffee better than anything we had in Paris. Walking down Dean Street, past brownstones and Japanese maples in varying shades of red and gold, I felt only grateful that taste has the power to merge the streets of distant cities.