Summer is here in Paris. It arrived without warning last week and was brutal. It was hot, and it hit around 31°(about 88°) and so humid, I faced a real-meltdown of chocolate. And just about everything else around here, including me, suffered the same fate. Just when no one couldn’t bear it anymore, it stopped. Then we had rain and cool weather. It’s so other-worldly (hey…am I back in San Francisco?), but summer arriving means a lot less clothes, and since I’m now European, it’s obligatory that they’re much, much tighter. Damn Europeans and their fine-tailoring. So that means it’s time to pay for the last 8 months of eating too many pastries, tasting too many chocolates, snacking on too many macarons, and drinking perhaps a bit too much vin rouge. I don’t know if I can hold my stomach in consecutively for the next three months, but I’m going to try. I’ve unpacked my shorts for summer and they definitely are un peu serré.
Speaking of tightening my belt, last week I got to spend the morning at my favorite place in Paris, getting rid of a few excess US dollars I had lying around. My favorite place isn’t the Eiffel Tower nor the Louvre (they don’t take dollars), nor was it the Museé d’Orsay or the Jardin du Luxembourg. Yes, I got to go to the American Embassy, my favorite place in Paris! I like hanging out there, since everyone there understands me, unconditionally, and without judgment. There’s no raised eyebrows or startled expressions, like last week when I recently ordered ‘Big Turd Jam’ (confiture des grosse selles), when I meant red currant (confiture des groseilles). Luckily they were out of the first one.
But the American Embassy is great: I can argue back with impunity and get huffy with them. Hey, why not? I’m on equal turf, and I’m an American and my English is just as good as theirs.
And I can argue with anyone all I want and make perfectly-formed sentences with correctly-placed pronouns and not worry if this verb is masculine to I need to match the adjective to the gender as well, or decide if I need to decide which of the gazillion French verbs I need to conjugate correctly, unlike I have to do at the Préfécture.
What are they going to do if I screw it up my English at the US Embassy? Kick me out? Or in?
So there I was, on the rue St. Florentin, where I waited, stood in line, got scanned, went through the metal detector, then had my water bottle confiscated (I guess it’s a threat to national security), then headed to the IRS office. Being a foreign resident you get an automatic extension for paying your taxes, which comes in handy when the mail isn’t very reliable. I guess somehow they caught on and give us expats a break.
So in my bid to help fight the war on terror and make the world a safer place (though things don’t quite appear to be quite heading in that direction) I sat under the over-sized, overly-glossy, and over-polished pictures of George and Dick (whose has a rather curious smirk on his face for an ‘official’ portrait), and wrote my checks.
And prayed things wouldn’t get any worse.
And in fact, for me, they were about to get better.
A whole lot better.
Since I was in the neighborhood (well, not really, but since I left my neighborhood, I’m gonna stretch it), I decided to visit chocolatier Jacques Genin. A lot of people talk about M. Genin with a hushed reverence and most of it is directed at his terrific chocolates. But one bite of his Passion Fruit Caramels and I’m singing a different tune. And you’ll be too.
I had stopped at a bakery down the street for bread and noticed les palets Breton, delicate buttery cookies made from salted butter, so I bought a stack. Four was the minimum for some reason… this from the country where you can buy half a baguette for 42 centimes, and when madame wants to buy one fig, madame will be given the same courtesy and service (and take as much time) as, say, an American pastry chef trying to race through the market buying a flat of figs or a few kilos of nectarines to test recipes.
So I bought four, but M. Genin was happy to relieve me of half of them. In exchange, he swooped his hands into the tray he was wrapping of caramels and stuffed them in my bag (and those caramels are as precious as gold, since you can’t buy them in stores.) As you can see, each caramel is buttery, tender, and keeps its shape just long enough to get it into your mouth, where it dissolves into an explosion of creamy-smooth sweet goo, slightly tangy from the passion fruit, with exactly enough of the tropical pulp to offset the restrained sweetness of the caramel.
So I can’t say I’m going to get any thinner, or my shorts will soon fit better, or when I hit the beach in August, I’ll be turning any heads. But when you have a guy like Jacques Genin feeding you chocolates and handing you caramels, who cares if your belt needs to be loosened out a notch.
133, rue de Turenne
Tel: 01 45 77 29 01
NOTE: This post was updated in 2009, and now M. Genin has his own boutique in Paris, at the address above, which is open to the public.