I always seem to have the supreme misfortune to draw the letter W when playing Scrabble in French, as there’s barely one-quarter of a page in the French dictionary devoted to words that begin with that letter. People use “Wu” for Chinese money; although I allow them, it’s not in the French dictionary so I’m not sure that’s in the official rules. In spite of their high-value, I always am irked when I pull that dreaded W tile.
But I’m not a Scrabble expert, plus the fact the French have all those gazillion verb tenses, which is another reason that I never win. And my request to play in English is still pending.
When I lived in the states, I used to wonder why all the people who lived in New York City would go out of their way to proclaim that they could never live anywhere else, that New York City was the best city in the world. That they could only live in Manhattan, etc..etc.. Then they’d spent three months of the year, during the summer, bailing on the city they claim to love.
Like New Yorker, Parisians flee the city after le 14 juillet for les vacances, and the city is pretty much cleared out until the end of August. What visitors to Paris don’t realize is that everyone leaves.
Bakeries stagger their vacations so that there is one open in each neighborhood, although the three closest to me just happen to be all closed. And visitors coming from out of town ask me which chocolate shops they should visit on their vacation, in August, and they can’t believe it when I tell them that practically all of them are closed. Fermé. But I am sure when they get off the plane at Charles de Gaulle airport and feel the blast of heat, they quickly understand that chocolate doesn’t stand a chance in this heat, and neither do we.
One thing the French excel at are vacations. While it’s the source of plenty of jokes elsewhere, it’s actually nice that people here take a real vacation and relax. (A variation is when people say, “How lucky, such a long vacation!” Take it from me, we’ve earned it.) When I’ve been a guest at a French resort, if I go to a hotel frequented by mostly French guests, the rooms don’t have clocks; the managers there tell me that mostly the resorts frequented by people from North America, all the rooms have alarm clocks. Otherwise, people complain.
When the French are on vacation, they don’t answer e-mails, work on their bronzage, and basically shut down everything else. I have to say, it’s something that I’ve adopted, except for the extreme tanning, which to me makes the older women look like deflated footballs—except with their stitching hidden.
I’ve learned to wind down in late July and August, and dial back what I do to practically nada. It drives people I work with in the states nuts, but when you’re surrounded by a city virtually deserted for vacation, it’s hard not to follow suit. Plus I came back from this weekend away to find my rubber gloves melted to the side of the sink. And although I spend a majority of my life washing dishes, the idea of being fused there for eternity isn’t especially appealing.
Those aforementioned French words that begin with W, are mostly English words that have been co-opted into the French language. (There are 22 words under W in my French dictionary, out of 120,000.) Under that small section, words like Walkman, water-polo, wok, and whisky appear, as does week-end.
And during the summer, for those of us that don’t clear out entirely (because in spite of the heat, Paris is actually quite pleasant when it’s nearly-empty) le Week-end has far more importance that it does during the rest of the year.
So during the summer, when the mood strikes, we hit the road for the country and relax, filling the car with food and wine before departing. I always stock up on bread, too, since oddly, it’s hard to find good in the countryside—it’s usually disappointing when you cut into a big, deep-dark loaf and find the inside is that fluffy, cake-like stuff. In Paris, you can find dense, grainy loaves, the hearty kind of bread I like. And I don’t like to be too far away from good bread (or food, in general) if I can help it.
So we relaxed and ate well. And our digestive tracts were healthy and happy as well. (Although after all that grainy bread, the word ‘relaxed’ doesn’t come to mind.) But of course, being American, it isn’t a vacation unless I buy something. So we headed over to my favorite antique store, hoping to score big. Again.
It was tough work, but I spent nearly two-and-a-half hours sorting through things, like giant copper pots (most needed retinning), café au lait bowls (I already have about sixteen, and I don’t entertain that many people in the morning, so I think I have enough), some adorable little tartlet molds that I knew I would never use, a whole mess of enameled ladles (which I will never use either, but I couldn’t help it), a mess of glassware, and a miniature desk and chair from the 1950s that I’m going to put on my vintage desk at home, to keep me company when I’m working. Because, you know, I get lonely over here sometimes.
I came home with four full bags, packed with stuff. How excited was I? I was so excited that when I got home, the owner called to tell me that I forgot to pay. But as you can see, it was so overwhelming being in there with anything and everything. Now I just need to find a place to put it all.
I may not have the time to find room for it all when back at chez David, but there’s always time to eat in France. Especially out in the countryside, where there’s not much else happening.
We had a fabulously super chocolate-rich gâteau Thérèse (from The Sweet Life in Paris) which Romain’s mother makes without ever looking at the recipe. It’s so good, and unpretentious. Just a simple bittersweet chocolate cake.
I’d also brought a tub of Raspberry-Red Wine Sorbet, which is my all-time favorite sorbet because it is always is just the right ending for any meal. It’s one of those things that I’m always in the mood for.
So now I’m back in Paris, sitting by the fan, thinking about unpacking all my purchases. It’s 12:06am and hardly any lights are on in the buildings across the way; most of the folks have departed for their vacations and won’t be back for a month or so.
Those of us in town are enjoying the tranquility. I went to a government office today and instead of a mob of people waiting for their turn, I went right up to the desk and was helped in less than three minutes. I could get used to that, easily.
Still, I think I do need to get away a few more weekends before the end of summer. And the next week-end is just five days away…