Tonight I had a Madeleine. I wasn’t reading Proust and I wasn’t munching a the French butter cookies from the pâtisseries of France.
The Madeleine comment is best explained by comparing it to a déjà vu (itself a French expression). The French author Marcel Proust wrote Remembrance of Things Past in which he explained that our memories are linked to events that happened earlier in life. He found that whenever he smelled Madeleines, he was brought back to his childhood when he fondly awoke to the aroma of Madeleines baking in the oven at his Aunt Léonie home. Thus when someone “has a Madeleine”, it can mean that memories are being illicited as a result of some strong smell, flavor, or happening. I find it a great image and I did have a Madeleine tonight.
I had a trip to Paris before dinner. I nibbled it a bit and delighted in my vicarious trip.
My friend Elena just returned home from Paris. Elena is my very special octogenarian neighbor who possesses more energy and zest for life than all of us put together! She rather defines the fabulous French expression joie de vivre and I love her dearly. It had been over a decade since she’d been to Paris and she spent the holidays with her daughter and family in St. Cloud (a very lovely suburb in western Paris pronounced St. Kloo).
We got to meet and greet her at the shuttle when she arrived back in Bellingham last night (having flown all day from Paris to Seattle and then having taken the shuttle to Bellingham). Her body clock told us it was 2:00 AM, but her energy and enthusiasm radiated a sunny afternoon sparkle. As to be expected, we chatted nonstop during the 20 minute drive home and encouraged her to go to sleep (but I was not at all surprised when at 11:30 PM, she zipped me an email telling me that she’d loved the dinner we’d made for her, had unpacked and done two loads of laundry, and read 68 emails…but was off to sleep!). That’s Elena!
I digressed there, but now back to my vicarious Paris story.
This evening, the bell rang and my husband said “I’ll bet that’s Elena!” Yes. She came across the street bearing my dinner plate and goodies for us (gotta love it when someone returns from Paris with gifts for you!). Dave got chocolat noir (like that was a surprise…she knows Dave!) and I got some most splendid Roger Gallet soaps and for us both -- a very big bottle of Grand Marnier (is that redundant?!?! Anything else would be Petit Marnier, right?). What followed was my vicarious Paris story.
It was a brief account of her trip, but as usual, it went to food (I like food, as anyone who knows me knows to be undeniably true!). Elena spoke of the wonderful apéros that her son-in-law created each night (think of an apéros as an appetizer but done well). I asked if she had eaten foie gras during her trip and she said bien sûr…why of course! She had me there and the back and forth after this was almost too tantalizing for I was with her in Paris! I adore foie gras and when she described the special jam (probably an oniony, slightly sweet flavored and subtly mouth-watering delight to accessorize foie gras…adding to its beyond-belief-superb-nature already…okay, so I really like foie gras!), I wanted to get on the night flight to Paris. Instead, I snapped back to reality.
She said that we’d have to try to make la salade au chèvre chaud (warm goat cheese salad). My mouth was watering as I remembered this delicious so available salad in French restaurants. Elena spoke of the wondrous baguettes that she had each day and how she spoke to the baker in the local boulangerie in St. Cloud learning that she make the wondrous baguettes three times a day (morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon) and those last ones would be bought out for the apéros and to accompany the dinners in Paris homes. Oh and just to torture myself, I needed to ask about cheese. I mean why not complete the voyage to Paris this evening.
“Did I have cheese? Mais oui!” It was then she virtually laid out the cheese boards that she had enjoyed each night whether at home with her family or in the homes of people she visited. It’s an art (one of the many that the French have mastered!) and a science to learn to properly combine the various colors, textures, and flavors in balance (cow, goat and cheese milk varieties). I personally have never met a cheese that I didn’t like and Elena’s enthusiasm told me that she shared the same affections!
We were just starting to cover wines when she remembered her roast was in the oven and being European (Elena was born in Romania), she appreciates meat saignant (rare), so we knew we could not keep her longer and that with the promise to return to this vicarious Paris to further taste more Madeleines, we bid her adieu with bisous, those most wondrously affectionate displays of affection with little cheek kisses.
I floated to the kitchen to prepare our dinner and felt so refreshed, so well-traveled, and so happy! What a joy and privilege is travel whether doing it ourselves or sharing in the vicarious Paris of another.
I think this calls for un petit Grand Marnier! Santé! Cheers!
In case all this talk of food has made you want to experience food, A Paris Travel offers a Decadent Gourmet Tour to visit a Paris cheese shop, an award-winning baker, and a renowned chocolatier.