On Sunday morning Eugène invited me over for brunch. I was to bring desserts, so I stopped off at a nearby boulangerie to get a couple of fruit tarts.
Unexpectedly, I encountered the most stressful French language moment of all my Paris stays! The clerk was an older French woman. She said, « bonjour » and I said the same. I then said, « Je voudrais deux tartelettes. » This is not a complex phrase; while I apparently have an unmistakable American accent I can’t imagine how I could failed to say this clearly enough. However, the woman professed not to understand me at all. I then said, « Je voudrais une tartelette fraise et une tartelette framboise. » She still expressed complete incomprehension, as if I were speaking Greek. Finally I got my sweet little tarts through a combination of sign language and English. I honestly cannot understand what was going on here. There are many things in French I have trouble saying or understanding. Ordering in a bakery isn’t one of them. A definite travel adventure!
I was a bit frazzled by this, but I soon relaxed in Eugène’s comfortable and luminous apartment. I was upset all over again, however, when I noticed that the rose that I had brought him earlier in the week had already withered! It still had a bit of color but I really should have thought to bring another one.
Eugène’s brunch was in four courses! It started with pain au chocolat, thé des impressionists, and two choices of juice.
Followed by scrambled eggs, smoked salmon wild-caught in Alaska, and toast with a choce of two types of butter and two varieties of home-made preserves.
His brunches at school were famous for including truffles from his family’s land in southwestern France (where they hunt with a trained dog rather than the traditional pigs, since pigs tend to eat the truffles). He had no family truffles ready to hand but the cheese course did include a truffle-filled variety.
Topped off, of course, with dessert.
Among the topics of conversation was an idea I had mentioned of a trip to Venice to see the Biennale. Eugène referred to a French song, “Venise n’est pas en Italie.” At first I didn’t understand, since Venice is in Italy, but when I looked up the translated lyrics it made more sense:
Venice isn’t in Italy
Venice it’s at anyone’s place
Make love to her in an attic
And make fun of the gondoliers
Venise is not where you believe it is
Venise today is at your place
It’s where you go, it’s anywhere you want
It’s the place where you are happy