Friday, May 07, 2010

Paris: intrigue

Still awake--(since Weds?) but about to let myself go drift into dreamland. I am home, dazed, realizing how much I adore Paris, friends, stuffing colloque folders at Les Deux Magots with Stephanie as if it were our office extention. Then, down through the belly of the city: ligne 4, always hot even though it is only 40 degrees out tonight. The train wends its way up to Marcadet: for a cheap beer. It is crawling towards 11. I come out to see the boulangeries are closed, just two gyros stores flash their wares under white and blue fluorescent bulbs, and an Africain hairdressers has its last customer. I turn up serpentine rue Marcadet, despairing, thinking dinner is out.

But I stop into a hole-in-the-wall shop, a little couple-owned Alimentation Générale, with so much dust on the window that it'd almost looked closed on a grey afternoon without any internal lights on. But it is night, and late, and its bare bulbs are blinding, revealing every crack in the linoleam, the walls, the ceiling. I stand there looking at the peculiarly bare shelves--a few bags of chips sit along on one, and way up high behind a spluttering glass-fronted fridge sporting a few cokes a small row (half dozen) liter bottles of Lion Stout beer stand watch over the room. Besides that, there are mostly a bizarre array of condiments on offer: mustard, red and white vinegar, pickles.

A small, older woman stops halfway through her sentence to look away from her towering but quite docile-looking husband to wait for me to make a decision. There we are. I look around. There are a few browning bannanas on some beige paper, and perhaps other items that fall into the literal "food"category, but not the advisable-to-eat one.

Just as I am about to leave, the owner asks if she can help. I glance around once more at the yellow bags of chips, bottled beers, and rows and rows of VCR tapes without labels which line most of the shelves, interspersed with a grocery item or tow, espcially on the wall behind the register or back to the far wall at my right--about an arm's length away.

"I was looking for something to eat, not fried"--I wave toward the street and the boulevard with its fries and euro shops, "but not chips, you know? I guess I'm outta luck."

I look directly at small, dark-haired woman for the first time, away from the peculiar sales mystery of these shelves.

"What about a samosa?" She offers, waving a hand towards a case in the window at her right (my left). There I see a family style tea set set out with 5 miniscule, white, empty porcelaine cups, each with a ring of pink roses painted delicately round them. Next to it are two plates covered with saran wrap.

Before I have assessed anyting, I say, surprised both at the presence of anything food-like in this room, and by my immediate leap of faith--believing fully that an edible item originating from here will not poison me.

"Sure." I take two, shrugging, admiring the handwritten note scotch taped to the till. It is in a language I have seen in newspapers, a language which looks more like lace decoration.

"It's Tamil," she explains, and nods. I see her husband nod out the corner of my eye.

She heats the two samosas up on a hidden microwave down low behind the register and I pay a euro for each as she hands them to me in a small but sturdy ziplock baggie, adding a paper towel for a napkin. I nod thank you, and head out, thinking this could be dangerous, or dangerously bad. But as I bite into the first while crossing rue Simart I feel my eyes widen. They are the best tasting treat--spicey, just hot enough, full of a mix of potatoes mashed with some green veggies. I feel excited by this accidental encounter, one which feels so Parisian--unexpected survival, pleasure, meeting, cultures.

That shop door has closed shut behind me, and soon the grate is pulled down over the entire inside. Meanwhile, I turn left and I wind up along ratty rue Marcadet towards les Chiffons. Life reserves the oddest treats and surprises for us.

The buildings at my left are falling down or being rebuilt, but the beer is cheap so as I sit down in one of the lopsided lumpty leather couches in les Chiffons and settle into the conversation I interrupted between some old friends, I feel like I could stay here all through the next century.

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