Friday, July 24, 2009

Food of Life Fridays: A New Weekly Entry

Welcome to the first "edition" of Food of Life Fridays. A few months ago I was overtaken by a sudden burst of energy and wrote over a dozen stories in 3 days. They just poured put of me. These are stories of my life, many from childhood, and what they all have in common is food and the great impressions it has made in my life. Sometimes the food is startling and new. Other times it is simple, yet so meaningful. The stories describe travel experiences, first tastes and observations that I hope you will enjoy. Our first installment:


Paris and Champagne

Ah, Paris and true French champagne. They will always go hand and hand for me, and for good reason. My first visit to Paris was June of 1979. I was eighteen. My father attended the Paris air show every year at this time and he and my Mom decided that I would accompany him as a high school graduation present.

We were met at the airport by our dear friends, Pierre and Francoise Kostic, who whisked us away to their Parisian apartment. Within an hour of landing, with my head and body still reeling from the flight and jet lag, we were sitting down to my first local meal.

And what a way to start my love affair with Paris. Francoise handed each of us a glass. Well, maybe a goblet would be a better term. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that each one held an entire bottle of champagne. A whole bottle! She is one of those chic French women who know how to wear silk scarves and perfume without pomp or circumstance and the champagne, as indulgent as this was, was poured with similar insouciance. This was my kind of town.

I don’t recall much else about the meal. I remember watching the tennis open, on television in the background. I remember the cheese course as there were a few I had never tasted before. But that’s about it. After a bottle of champagne, I’m amazed I remember that. Yes I drank the whole thing, as did everyone else. The last thing I recall was all of us drifting off to nap-land right there on the couches. It is such a comfort to be with such good friends that you could fall asleep in front of them without concern.

The trip was to last about a week, and that was certainly not the only time we had champagne. In fact, since my dad had lived in Paris for years, and this was the first time all his friends were going to meet his daughter on their home turf, the red carpet was rolled out at every turn. We had champagne every day. Usually two times a day.

One night, Dad said he wanted to take me to one of his old haunts. We went to a club that featured live entertainment, settled into a table near the stage, and he ordered some champagne. We were sipping and chatting and all of a sudden my Dad asked me if I noticed anything unusual. I glanced around. “Not really,” I replied. He pointed out to me that the chanteuse that had been serenading us was in fact a man in drag. I looked closer. Yup, a guy. In sequins. No biggie. My Dad had asked me if I had noticed anything unusual. In that blasé way that only a self-important 18-year old can muster I reminded my father that I had grown up in the East Village of New York City. A man in drag was not unusual. Remember the movie The Crying Game and how it was such a big secret? I knew that was a guy the moment he came on screen. Being jaded at 18 when it comes to the ways of the drag community might seem unusual to you, but for me this was an almost everyday manifestation.

We were staying at the Hotel Napoleon on the avenue de Friedland, very near the Champs Elysees. We had a suite and I got the bedroom. It was a sumptuous room with white walls and white linens and all sorts of intricate molding on the walls edged in gilt. And a balcony from which I could see the Arc de Triomphe. I got to order room service for the first time in my life and requested café au lait and a croissant. I felt like a princess receiving the tray, and yet, at the same time, I don’t think I was as appreciative at the time as I should have been. I am sure this all cost a pretty penny.

One night we headed back to the hotel and Dad said he wanted to have a drink in the hotel bar before we went upstairs. I seem to remember that we were not at the bar proper per se, but in a small room where there were a few tables. It was much more private than the bar, and a place where you could have quiet conversation. I think it was the evening before we were to leave for home. He ordered each of us some champagne, and then, he started talking to me about my current boyfriend. It was no secret that he and my Mom did not like him. This had been mentioned before. But there was something about this conversation, with champagne at hand and the sophisticated surroundings that made the words easier to hear. I felt like he was talking to me as an adult. No patronizing tone, no parental prejudice, just genuine care and concern. It was a watershed moment where I realized that my dad was “for me” and not “against me” in those ways that teenagers think. It worked. I heard him. It all made sense. He was right; the current beaux had to go.

The Air France stewardesses (they were called that back then) offered us champagne on the way home. I passed. Is there ever such a thing as too much champagne? I don’t know about that, but the ambiance was just not right.

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