Sunday, December 13, 2009

More Than A Bruised Ego...

Was it all worth it???

The alarm goes off. It’s 6:15 am, and I am soooooo stoked and energized. It’s my first full day in Paris, and I am ready to take this city by storm! The fact that I haven’t had the first drop of caffeine hasn’t hit me yet, but there are no worries here. I’m on vacation…and I got dis’! There are things to see…places to go…and I’ve got to do it today! There’s a new city waiting for me…and it could care less if I’ve had my morning cup of java…or espresso, as the parisians do it in their city!

Before braving the streets of Paris, my friends and I make an executive decision to stop at the neighborhood market for a breakfast fit for champions. All we were able to muster up were bananas, apples and pears, but we are OK with that, as we are off brave the 42-degree temperature. It’s now 7:30 am… and not long before our #262 bus picks us up, crams us into it’s belly, like sardines in mustard sauce, and rides all 628 of us sardines, to our destination at the La Defense Train Station. (I exaggerate a bit here…but I think you get the point.) We sardines fall out of our can, and enter the mass ciaos called La Defense. Its rush morning hour, but the sweet smell of freshly baked butter croissants fill the tobacco smoked tunnels leading to this line and that line. Luckily for me…we can all read maps, so we follow the signs and arrows to the R.E.R Red Line, which delivers us to our dissemination… Chatelet Les Halles. But its right about now that we simultaneously begin to notice that our bananas and pears have worn off and caffeine is supremely absent from our temples. A little more breakfast anyone???

As we rise from the underground tunnels of the Parisian subway line, and make our way to a quaint little café known as the La Colonnade on the Rue De Rivoli. There’s no rush here, just a few area locals enjoying a bite, before braving the workday. It looks like a charming little spot, and it appears that the owner is calling his patrons by name. Since my French is lacking…it is quite possible that I imagined it all…but highly unlikely gaging by the lengths of the happy conversations. Anyway, I digress, but the point I try to make here is, that this is quite probably the best café’ crème’ and pain chocolat I’ve ever had. My compadres are quite pleased by their espresso and croissants as well…and it is quite ample enough to allow us the energy to aggressively tackle both the Louvre and Muse’e d’ Orsay.

It’s now 1:15 pm…and our two-part breakfast has long exhausted our eager bodies.

Just a few blocks down, we discover another Parisian find…, which it deems to mention…was not found in my “Edible Adventures in Paris” book, either. La Fre’gate Café Brasserie, was at least on the surface deemed to be what a typical American might deem typical for Paris, based on the movies we may have been exposed to. A glass front corner location, with black and white checkered tile floors, white tablecloths and a mahogany bar in the rear corner trimmed with black leather bar stools and brass footrests. Charming French males servers, decked in white shirts, skinny black ties, fitted black trousers & shoes, wrapped like blankets in white aprons. Typical as it may be… my palette said that that was the BEST CROQUE MONSIEUR (grilled cheese sandwich with ham served in a black wrought iron frying pan) I’ve ever experienced!!! I kid you not…and my compadres can contest! That was some damn good stuff right there…I KID YOU NOT!!!

“That damn good stuff” was clearly enough to get me through more sight seeing and another 10 + blocks of walking along the scenic Seine River over to Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s just before 6 pm…and we are excited because we are just in time for mass. Even more exciting to me is the fact that mass is only 30 minutes instead of the normal 45 minutes to 1 hour. I don’t think that it took me 20 minutes to say a pray, light a candle, and snap a few shots before we whisked ourselves out, took 10 minutes to review a contract for a potential contractor, for emergency work that what need back in SA,TX , then and over to the nearest train station to see the Eiffel Tower. I lose all track of time at this point because all I know is that it is dark… and my compadres and I are hungry once again.

As we surface from the tunnels of the Parisian underground railroad, we walk a few blocks before we stumble upon another few finds… A deli-type panini shop, with a formmage (cheese) shop, and a little dessert store front serving the most delectable deserts, café’, pastries, and crepes with fruit, Nutella, and other concoctions. To complete the picture, there’s even a grassy little gas-lit corner across the street, with a couple of park benches, which I can exaggerate just a bit to call a park. It’s unanimous… this is where we have dinner. We order up a baguette stuffed with feta, tomato & spinach, another with curry chicken, and yet another with a chicken pesto combination. To our surprise, out baguettes are slathered in an olive oil-butter combination before being pressed between two ribbed steel plates, otherwise know and a panini press. We added Parisian Cokes and Water with gas to complete our steaming hot meals in our hands…and you best be sure that my compadres and I had experienced the best impromptu dinner, we’ve had in years. Content, but not complete, we unilaterally decide tackle the pastry shop, just around the corner.

With a fresh strawberry concoction with crème and yellow cake, and two yummy crème Brule’s in hand…the only thing we could have to complete our Parisian food fantasy, was decaf espressos. It’s not he best we’ve had on this day…but fully satisfying nonetheless, even without room for the Nutella crepes, I was determined to try before my French connection was concluded. It’s 8:45pm…and we have yet to see the Eiffel Tower!

As my compadres and I are leaving our café brasserie., we venture over to the nearest street corner to orient ourselves. There are three train stations in our vicinity, and we need to be clear on which line will take us to our next destination. Spread out but still within shouting distance… I remembered hearing a loud groaning, followed by a sharp, stinging jolt emanating from my right arm. The moaning still loudly my ears…it’s really close by. It’s behind me… and my first reaction is to raise my right arm, form a fist, and turn to strike the moaning I hear at my rear. Angry, yet stunned, I feel pain shooting up my arm and into my shoulder socket. It's not enough to deter my instinct to strike full force and full fisted. As I turn, fist in the air and ready to strike, I am able to focus on the empty eyes of a scruffy, homeless male, still groaning at me. It is at that moment that GOD himself must have prohibited me from taking that next strike. I want to defend myself, but I am now saddened. Arms raised to protect his head, those empty eyes, now filled with fear, he is clearly limited in his speech and mental capacity. I lowered my arm, and urged this stranger to walk away, and leave me be. He does. My compadres rush to my side, to make sure that I am not injured, and yet surprisingly I feel blessed that I am not homeless, nor mentally challenged. This man I nearly struck, needed help. Clearly crying out for help he has surely done this before. And yet, I walked away to leave him to the next victim. My compadres urged me to file a police report. Make sure that this man never commits this violation again. I didn’t call the police. I didn’t file a report. I did nothing and I am now disappointed in myself.

We continued on…and we braved the streets of ‘The City of Love.” I completed my task list for the day. After that horrific moment…I still got to enjoy the beauty of the Eiffel Tower lit at night. But more than four weeks later, the empty brown eyes surrounded by the scruffy, dirty beige skin that charged at me almost four weeks ago…still haunt me. Not out from fear…but from the humility of humanity and that yearning question…is there anyone out there that will stand up to help those that need us??? Was it worth it???

Friday, December 4, 2009

Things That Make You Say...MMMMM!!!

Just 4 short weeks ago... I returned from a mesmerizing excursion of a few of GOD's great treasures. I was fascinated by the architectural beauty in "The City of Love," and immeasurably stirred by "The Gift of the Nile." I was blessed to witness ruins left behind by Egyptian ancestors, contemplated the mysteries of the Great Pyramids, and swam with some of God's most colorful creatures, in the magnificent blue waters of his Northern Red Sea. Truly, it was one of the most captivating and stimulating treks I've ever taken.

When I think back to the planning process of such an adventure as this...I can't help but to confess... my first revelations were... of course... the food! While most will research guides and various internet sites, one of my first purchases when starting my research was..."Edible Adventures in Paris" by Clotilde Dusoulier.

Surprisingly, none of my friends would be shocked by this. I've often said..."the best way to explore any city is through its food!" Surely, I am not the only traveler out there who starts out by asking,"...what kinds of food are available???" Am I the only one who wonders about the food specialties of the area??? You say France... I say wine, croissants and escargot. You say Peru... I say pisco, cuy and chicha. You say Egypt... I say couscous, lamb kabobs and karkaday. You say Texas...I say Tex-Mex food, tequila and BBQ. You say East Orange...I say Italian hot dogs, Italian cheeseburgers and potato chip sandwiches. I love food and I think you get the point...

And it's to this muse that I ask the question..."Could there be a correlation between food and lovemaking?" Please take a moment to notice that I did not say...SEX! I really did mean to say...lovemaking! Is it such a stretch to equate the shopping for a great meal and wine to foreplay? Or the act of preparing and cooking an extraordinary meal, to the act of making love? Or better yet, sitting down and enjoying that remarkably magnificent meal to a climactic finish??? Laugh if you will, but I think I may be on to something here!

I now understand why Paris is nicknamed "The City of Love," and Egypt, "The Gift of The Nile." Paris has well known reputation for offering some of the best food and wine in the world, yet little is said about the emerald lushness that is birthed from the Nile. It gives me great pleasure to assure you that EVERY EFFORT was made to partake in all of the lovemaking that both Paris and Egypt had to offer me!

You say food... and I say... MMMM, MMMM GOOD!