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From St. Germain to CDG

February 24, 2011   Today I tasted heaven, wrapped in up egg whites and almond powder. At first, it didn’t look like much: two beige macaroon wafers, dusted with pistachio and sunflower seeds, bits of magenta poking out between them. But I was buying croissants for Lauren, determined to show her the superiority of French baking when I came to Scotland to visit, and decided that the longing I felt for the flaked, buttery, gluten-filled pastries was ample justification for a five Euro splurge of my own. I paid, was handed a small, salmon bag with pastries, and opened it to discover my “Amaryllis” encased within a smaller, pink box. I opened it as I walked down the street, bound for the 96 bus at Odéon, measured the heft in my hand and marveled at the slight give of the wafers as I raised it to my mouth, and bit in. The subtlest crunch of the almond macaroon gave way to a cold, thick layer of cream, mixed with fresh raspberries sandwiched between the wafers. As soon as I had taken in this explosive combination, however, I was back to the macaron again, dense yet light wafers of egg that spread apart with the kind of elasticity I had not seen since the last time I had a real sandwich, nearly two years ago. I finished with the dark and slightly salty undertone of the nuts, raised my eyes heavenward, and sucked in the breath I had been holding, tasting raspberries in the air. Instantly, I understood why the French do not eat while walking down the street. I could barely stand. Somehow, I made my way down the two streets between Gerard Moulot and the Rue St. Germain, pausing every few moments to stare at the incredible confection in my hand, smiling so widely it hurt. In perfect keeping with my life in France, I looked like an idiot and felt like a queen. 

The past week and a half has been chaotic, stressful in a way I had not experienced since leaving Hamilton, and delightful. Last week my classes at the Sorbonne began, and I spent a rather confused few days boarding metros and wandering down crowded corridors, asking everyone in sight where mysteriously-labeled classrooms were. I am enrolled in two literature courses, both of which are fascinating and way over my head. One, Penser La Littérature Médiévale, is partly in Ancienne Française, the equivalent of old English and pretty much nonsensical, while the other deals with issues of twentieth century autobiography and involves a great deal of theory. The rate at which my French is improving will need to triple within the next few weeks, but somehow I am not terribly concerned, and the fear with which I entered the first TD session was remedied by the surge of joy I felt when I walked out of the stone entrance of the Sorbonne, past the Musee Cluny, and realized I go to class in one of the most beautiful buildings in Paris! Surely this should be motivation enough to plough through pages of medieval French poetry. 

Friday and Saturday were spent in the 13th, near Place D’Italie, where I met girls from Barnard and a boy from Paris I (one of the French universities—we met in a conversation hour hosted by Columbia several weeks before) for Pho and cassoulet, respectively. Sunday I made my way through the rain-washed Tuillerie gardens into the Museum de L’Orangerie, where I stood awestruck in front of Monet’s enormous, Nymphaeds panels, walking around and around the oval rooms like one possessed, swimming in the pools of waterlilly pastel. On Monday night, Emilia came over to my apartment (newly vacant, as my host mom spent the past week in the south of France visiting a cousin who lives in a Yurt and gleefully making homemade confit du canard!), and we made Greek food and planned our spring break, which ends (on Greek Easter!!) with a visit to see Professor McEnroe in Athens. Our dinner was delicious, and we attributed the fact that the lamb caught fire somewhere along the way to culinary boldness, laughing as we opened every window in the apartment and tried to fan out the smoke. Tuesday and Wednesday were consumed with my first French paper, an art history essay on a Matisse painting, which I finally finished this morning, before returning home and packing my bags. 

As I write, I am seated aboard an Easyjet Airbus 319, somewhere over England (the captain keeps telling us to look out the windows for the views of the Thames, London, and the countryside, but it’s pitch black and no one can see a thing!), seated next to two Scottish farmers who have spent the past ten minutes talking about Haggis! I cannot wait to see Lauren, to climb the hill to the castle, to eat cheddar and speak English gleefully and without apology for a full four days. However nice it will be to get away for a weekend, however, my journey here reminded me how very much I love my new city. I rode the metro to Gare du Nord and switched to the RER, watching the sun set majestically over the suburban high rises as I pulled away from Paris. I climbed flights of stairs, got on moving walkways, and walked down the long, glass corridors of Charles Du Gaulle terminal 2. I paused halfway down the terminal and gazed up at the departure boards, a habit I learned from my father and in which I take great pleasure. My eyes scanned the yellow lights, reading out city names and envisioning myself on board the flights. Air France constitutes the majority of flights from CDG, and my eyes fell upon the various destinations: Bordeaux, Oslo, Bristol, New York JFK. I stopped, scanned to the right, and read “Boarding” in flashing letters. In two months and four weeks I would be on board that flight. 

My love of France is only matched by my nostalgia for Hamilton, and there are moments, such as Tuesday afternoon, (when I used strange imported cheddar and gluten-free bread to make a cheddar apple Panini), when I wish for the ease of life back home, for feet of snow and afternoons in the writing center, for Amanda’s wry humor, Preetha’s accent, Nick’s laughter. But in that moment, I realized, with a rush of love for Paris, I was not yet ready to get on board that flight. I slung my over-packed blue duffel over one shoulder, hoisted my croissants with the other, and turned towards the gate to Edinburgh.