"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Monday, March 28, 2005
Tastes Like Chicken
lago-morph Function: noun Etymology: ultimately from Greek lagOs hare + morphE form 1 : any of an order (Lagomorpha) of gnawing herbivorous mammals having two pairs of incisors in the upper jaw one behind the other 2 : Easter dinner, 1977
It was my second trip to Paris in the Spring, and it was as beautiful as ever.
There's just something about that particular city. Sure, that Spring was rainy, cold, sometimes even snowy, but that city just glistens when it gets wet. Every step, every glance was filled with magic.
One of the neatest parts was that I was going to be able to be there during Easter.
I had travelled there with a group of high school students from all over the country. We were all staying at a youth hostel in....well, I have no clue where exactly, but it was one of those old suburbs of Paris where everything looks like, well, France.
I know, I'm at a loss for words. France'll do that to ya. It is filled with the exotic and unexpected, from cars to people to stores to experiences. There's no way I could describe the whole trip here, so I'll just boil it down to the high points.
The first trip to Le Printemps was one of them. This was shopping on a grand scale that this boy from South Carolina had never seen. Matter of fact, the scale was so grand that I ended up walking underneath the street somehow and coming out on the other side, and promptly heading the wrong way and getting lost. So I bought a postcard of a church where we were all supposed to meet and kept asking directions until I found it.
Oh, a word to the wise here. All the beginning French classes and the phrasebooks will teach you how to ask "Where is the church?" Unless you learn how to understand "Walk two blocks north, then take the second street on your left until you see the statue of a peacock, then bear right until you get to the switchback and a drugstore, then go six blocks west," you'll never get anywhere.
Another thing I remember was a group of us going to the Moulin Rouge. Now, for a guy in high school to go to this place where they had not only topless dancers, but pretty ones, hey, I was there. And lo and behold, every single admission included a small bottle of champaigne!
Imagine my joy when only I and one other guy at my table drank! Between us, we made sure the other four bottles were put to good use during the evening, while naked ladies sang and glided above us on magical wooden horses and kicked their legs on stage in the can can.
Funny thing about drinking champaigne. You can sit there all night and sip away at it, and not feel a thing. Until you stand up, that is.
And that's when the world leaned WAAAY to the left, then WAAAY to the right, then started this wobbly rhythym that was kind of unexpected but definitely intense. The other guy and I staggered to the curb while everyone had great fun at our expense, and we leaned on the wall while we waited for our bus. Of course, by the time it arrived, the other kid had gone tottering after a hooker and they had to go get him.
When we got back to the hostel, it was well after midnight and the doors were locked. Knowing they left the doors to the courtyard unlocked, I climbed up onto the stone fence to see if I could get back there.
Down below me was a garden shed. It had a corrogated tin roof. It was maybe ten feet from the top of the stone fence to the roof. Maybe if I hung down from my hands, and dropped gently...
Of course, you understand I was still rather sauced. It made sense at the time.
Thank God the proprietor came to the door just then and let us in. She let us have it in French, and we most likely deserved every bit of it.
One of the uncomfortable things to me in France was their lack of modesty of the human body. They seemed mostly unconcerned with the social mores that I had learned all my life.
For example, there was only one bathroom on our floor, although both young men and women were staying there. It was disconcerting to say the least, although I won't go into any more detail.
And the showers too. Same situation. One room with three or four tiny curtained stalls.
But I think the worst was the girl flirting with me on the metro. Huge dark eyes, just smoldering, burning a hole right through me. She was about as sexy as it gets, wonderful figure, full lips, long dark hair. But when she reached up for the strap on the Metro, lifting her sleeve, I saw that her head was not the only place she had long dark hair...
My favorite thing there by far was the food. Except for one single instance, everything I ate was incredible. And that one instance was my fault.
It was early morning. I was walking by myself to the metro station to ride into town, and stopped by the local Patisserie to get something for breakfast. I was in the mood for something decadently sweet, so I quickly settled on a really fat pastry that was filled with a creamy brown Bavarian Cream. It was labelled "eclair crème de champignon." Yum. Champaigne! Bavarian Cream! How continental is that?
They wrapped it up and I headed out. As soon as I hit the sidewalk I opened it and took my first joyful bite...
And had one of those shocking moments you never forget.
It was one of those "I thought it was chocolate but it was licorace" moments. This wasn't Bavarian Cream. Champignon doesn't mean "champaigne."
The eclair was stuffed to the gills with cold thick Cream of Mushroom.
Which of course is fine, but not when you are expecting the taste of a sweet doughnut that has died and gone to heaven! No, this was an assault on my senses, a cold water shower of gustatory shock that almost brought tears to my eyes.
I looked at it in abject betrayal. I threw it away and went back in, paying more attention this time. I got strawberry, I knew that word.
But Easter, my Easter in Paris is the one memory that will come back to me every single year without fail until I die.
That day was cold, and it snowed on me as I crossed the bridge of the Seine River, big clumpy globs of snow. Bells were ringing everywhere that morning, and I spent the day just enjoying the city since not much was open. I was able to pick up a good bottle of wine for dinner.
I got back to the hostel early and sat it outside my window to chill to the perfect temperature. At dinnertime we all headed to the dining room.
There were about forty of us or so in there that night, from all over. Some of us were from the United States, but others were from Norway or Sweden, and some other countries. Everybody was in a good mood.
The chef at this place was incredible. Every meal so far had been gourmet, and I was excited to see what she had in store for us. We opened my wine and poured a round for the table.
When the food came, it consisted of a vegetable and a piece of meat. The veggies were Brussel sprouts or something. The meat...well, I dug in and it was very good. It was sort of like chicken.
But the bones were wrong.
There was something odd here.
I flagged the waitress. "Qu'est-ce que c'est?" (What is this?)
"Lapin," she said.
"Merci," (Thank you.) I smiled and she left
"OK, anybody here have any idea what the heck a 'lapin' is?"
Blank looks all around. I headed to our teacher's table, who being a French teacher would know such things.
"Mrs. Cottone, what's 'lapin' mean?"
You could see the realization dawning on the people at the table as the all stared at their plates in rising comprehension.
They were eating, had practically finished eating, rabbit.
We had all just eaten the Easter Bunny.
I guess the chef had heard the Americans had this thing with rabbits and Easter, and did her best to be accomodating and make us feel at home. And it was good. Being the enterprising person I was, I made sure everyone knew what the meat was, and anyone that had not touched their portion was welcome to pass it on to me, who would dispose of it with great respect.
And a bit of salt.
It really did taste like chicken, believe it or not.