Belt-Tightening

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.

jacquescaramelswillis.jpg

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.

caramelsjacquesgenin.jpg

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.

Or two.

Jacques Genin
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.

18 comments

  • ‘Big Turd Jam’

    This HAS to be the BEST blog quote evar!!! I might need emergency medical help tho, as I laughed so hard that the lemonade I was drinking shot out my nose.

  • say – i missed the bit where you tell us why we’ll be singing a different tune too? Are you going to send a sample caramel to the first 3 commentors or something?

  • Are you saying that you never became a fashion victim and that you still wear chinos and that you dare walk in shorts in les rues de Paris? Aha! How big is your belt?

  • Oh how can I resist a post where you talk about fitting your american buns into a pair of tight shorts? That mental picture will stay with me forever. Im not sure if thats a good or bad thing though. Just dont keep any of those caramels in your pocket when you’re wearing the tight shorts. People might get confused.

  • …mmm perfect shiny caramels!

    (nawm, nawm, namw)

  • Okay, STOP whatever you’re doing and quickly package up all remaining passionfruit caramels for immediate shipment to Scotland. For the sake of your figure I’m happy to sacrifice my own, which is just as well since up here we don’t have any need for swimsuits or summer clothes anyway.

  • I’m an every-posting reader, fellow San Franciscan, and your musings about language broke me up. I’ve been studying Japanese. Talk about an undecipherable language. But at the end of your sentence, you don’t get those delicious caramels, you get fish eggs.

  • Hi David,

    I love your blog and tune in all the time! This was a terrific entry–from that very special jam (I can just picture the facial expressions on that one) to those Passion Fruit Caramels–I’ve got to book a trip to Paris very soon! Thank you for really brightening up my afternoon!

  • Kevin: It was only 10am, and that’s a little early for me…even in France.

    Kung Foodie: Now there’s another image to go along with the jam. Unfortunately I don’t know the word for that particularly bodily function, although I’m sure I’ll hit that one someday as well.

    Sam: Send my precious caramels?

    Uh, okay. You go out and wait by the mailbox for them to come. That’s right, my dear.

    Keep waiting, and watching…you are getting very, very sleepy…now you will marry me

    Bea: Everyone in Paris wears shorts now, not just us tubby Americans. It’s de rigeur.

    Melissa: If you think there are any more of those caramels left, you’ve baked your brain too-long in that Jamaican sun.

    Michele: The waistband is too tight, not the shorts. And I don’t stick caramels down there either.
    Geez you Canadians are kinky.

    Now go stroke your goat.

    GP: Nothing wrong with fish eggs. Just make sure you don’t order fish turds, and you’ll be fine. (Do fish even go #2?)

    Martha: Yes, her expression was classic. It makes us realize that no matter how close we think we get it, we don’t. Or at least I don’t.
    But its funny to make Parisians crack up. At least they’re laughing with me, not at me.

    Or so I like to think.

  • At what point in time have you ever been able to pinch and inch????? Perhaps your shorts shrunk in the wash! :)

  • A delicious and delightful read as always. You crack me up. Thanks! (And gorgeous photos of the caramels. Obviously you are already showing great self-restraint–I seriously doubt I would have taken the time to do a photo shoot before gobbling them up.)

  • Just taking another little peek at the caramel photos and this time I noticed that there’s a dish in the first one. I think I own its cousin! Love the crackle finish.

  • david, if you feed me those caramels and chocolates, i’ll marry you. :)

  • I thought you didn’t have to pay taxes if you were out of the country for a certain amount of time each year?

  • Hi David, this is a very timely post; I wish I had seen it before I visited Paris last week (because then I would have visited the pastry shop down the road; I did notice it but didn’t go in). I made the trek out to Jacques Genin because I had heard his caramels were sublime (had someone at my hotel call first). They saw me through the window and opened the door and let me inside. I couldn’t communicate (I don’t speak French, they don’t speak Mandarin or English). Anyway, bought a kilo (the minimum purchase) and they came in a tin box (keeps them fresh, I guess). 50 euros well spent. But next time I know to buy even more! They’re lovely – perfect texture and taste, with no graininess. I wonder what makes his caramels so sublime?

  • As an American who’s been living abroad for more years than I care to mention, it always saddens me to read or hear articulate/well-educated/professionally successful Americans write/talk about sitting American presidents with a lack of respect…

    Whether for or against, I don’t see why it’s cool and chicly snarky to refer to the current president as ‘George’ and his vice president as ‘Dick’… President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Is that so hard to muster? At least a ‘Pres’ and ‘VP’?

    As for VP Cheney’s ‘smirk’…if you look at his photos or watch him on TV, you’ll see that one side of his mouth is indeed a little upturned…even when he isn’t smiling. He isn’t smirking.

    But I suppose you and many of your readers find it cute and drole to refer to our leaders in this way and I’m just the exception to the new rule… I’m not lacking in humor but I guess my upbrining has stayed with me even though I live abroad…

    So be it.

    Adios.

  • I love your posts – I’m been remiss and not visited in a while. The caramels look awesome and you made me laugh with your reference to mispronounced French.

    Growing up in Montreal,and being an anglo meant I did it often, but my favorite screw up was when I wanted to know if the “matelot” (sailor) was comfortable to sleep on. I meant to say “matelas” (mattress) – you can imagine the reaction.

  • David……….I want the caramels…….
    ((*))¦((*))…….
    They look so fresh and buttery*……
    OMG..
    I wouldn’t even care if all my fillings fell out…..well NOT completely true*…..
    BUT thats how good your camera shows them……..
    I want this recipe……
    smiles,
    Andi*