Frehel Diaries: Laissez Faire-The French Art of Eating and Parking
At five, the Sauvage gathered up all of us girls, and we schlepped to the car. Or rather they walked briskly, and I schlepped rather inelegantly behind in my bikini. We dropped off Chunk and after a round of kisses, we were off to the hotel. The Sauvage told me he was going to drop his daughter off and return a bit later. I took time showering, changing, and making myself the little trollop we all know and love. The Sauvage returned and whisked me off in the car.
It has been noted that the French have a fairly creative attitude about driving. While many complain about the French driving on the sidewalks, there are actual sidewalks in Paris that are designated for driving.(Another example of French logic.) Still, outside the city attitudes about what constitutes a road or a parking space are even more casual. Spaces that no American driver would even contemplate, like say on some stairs, do not phase French drivers in the least. This behavior is accepted and not even remarked upon. It seems that in the same way that colonists decided that "landing" on a country was "discovering it", even if there were people alreayd living there, the French have decided that if a car stops on it, it is "parking." While the Sauvage was not one of the more outrageous parkers, I don't think we ever parked in one legal, designated parking space during the entire trip.
After redefining a small raised cement embankment as a parking space, we got out of the car. We were by the water, and the street was filled with tourist stores selling "sailor" tops that reminded me of the one time I saw Marcel Marceau in person
**and salt caramels 1 as well as some cafes busy selling both Breton food and "American" cocktails like a Long Island Iced Teas and "shooters."2 The streets were crowded with tourists and for the first time in days I heard English being spoken by a couple of drunken British tourists. They were just college kids having a good time waving around plastic cups, but the Sauvage shook his head. "Tourists" he muttered.
The Sauvage had a deep dislike of tourists and ranted about them at once or twice a day, whether we were in Frehel or Paris. While I understand his attitude living in a city that has a fairly booming tourist trade myself , I don't complain about them that often. But more disturbingly, I wondered what he thought of me. As the guest of a "local", I guess I wasn't really a tourist, but I certainly WAS a tourist when he met me. The way I rationalized it at the time was his disdain of tourists was really about legitimatizing his own marginal existence. His friends didn't consider him a local (living in Paris-and clearly indicated by their jokingly greeting him as the "Parisian"), by disdaining the tourists he was affirming his identity as a Breton rather than as a visiting Parisian. (The reverse would be true in Paris. Rather than wanting to be seen as some twit who came from a little beachtown, he would prefer to be seen as a Parisian.)
Maybe I was thinking too much, but always feeling like an outsider is something I understand and I was looking for all the common ground I could find.
We walked down the beach for a bit in the twilight and finally settled on a little cafe by the water looking out at the boats and the lighthouse. We ate, and the Sauvage smoked leisurely and profoundly, not the hurried, hidden smoking I see in NY. For dessert, he informed me, he had brought us a treat. Out of a bakery bag, he took three large pretzel-like pastries. They were thinner, crustier and sweetier than a croissant, but fairly close to the same type of dough. Because much of Breton cooking is based on epic amounts of butter even by French standards, I was filled by half a pretzel. But when the Sauvage took out the pastries and put on the table, I felt a wave of anxiety. We were going to get yelled at, scolded, insulted in French. It's one thing for me to be insulted in English, it allows me to vent some of my rage and cut the person down to the size of a well used pencil eraser, but in French I wouldn't even be able to understand the insult nevermind defend myself from it. And yet...nothing happened. Waiters walked by, they saw us, yet no French obscenities were exchanged. I tried to explain that in the US, you would never be allowed to bring outside food into a cafe or restaurant. He seemed to regard this as "typical American insanity." And I have to say that on this count, I think the French are right. It is infinitely more civilized not to get all hissy over a contraband pastry or two.
We sat by the water, with our bellies filled with butter, too tired yet to fight our way through the energetic flow of tourists. Instead we smoked slowly watching the smoke swirl out onto the ever darkening beach.
**The link is not to the show I saw, but rather a youtube link to his appearance in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie. Marcel died last year, and I miss him. If you want to see a bit more of Marcel's work, check out this youtube link
. And yes I really did see Marcel Marceau perform, but I was five years old at the time so about the only thing I remember about him was his outfit.
1 Brittany is known for its salted caramels. I love caramels, even more than chocolate. I can attest that the caramels are the best I've ever tasted.
2 American cocktails and shots are catching on more and more all over France, which is shame. Brittany is known for its cider (which is alcoholic) as well as its apple and pear eau de vie (which I am bitter I never got to taste).
Labels: dining in France, parking in France
Bad Bunni posted at 1/25/2008 11:42:00 PM