The main reason I yearned to return to France was to appreciate—and learn from—their culinary prowess. In my opinion, the country has the best cuisine in the world, meticulously presented and flavoured to perfection. Now that I have been learning how to properly cook, I wanted to test my evolved palette further and explore flavour pairings I might not be exposed to on the Canadian prairies. I also wanted to see the difference terroir made; how the land, nourished by a different sun, soil, rainfall and hand, influenced the taste of common ingredients compared to my end of the world. On several occasions prior to the trip, I asked my friend and travel companion to not judge me on how excited I was to try the local garlic (spoiler alert: I was really excited!).
But cooking was to follow in the days to come. Upon arrival on April 14, I needed to make my way to a houseboat I rented.
After a bumpy flight landing in which I genuinely thought I’d be exiting the craft via an inflatable slide, I made my way to central Paris via the RER train exiting at the station near my favourite site in Paris, Notre-Dame Cathedral. Notre-Dame is the most visited attraction in Paris, moreso even than the Eiffel Tower. It is a place of living history, site of both Joan of Arc’s beautification and Napoleon’s crowning as emperor amongst other prestigious events. It was also the start of holy week in Paris, a time in which the church would be extra busy. The lines outside of it certainly indicated increased activity. After marvelling at it’s familiar exterior, I took the first selfie of my trip standing in front of it. A full visit was planned later in the week:
The Paris Marathon was happening as I made my way towards the houseboat parked near the Louvre on the River Seine. Notre-Dame to this location was roughly a thirty-minute walk (lugging a suitcase) through some of the most scenic parts of Paris. I was surprisingly energetic; after most long-distance trips, I crash in my hotel room for the remainder of the day catching up on sleep. It always feels wasteful, even though the body desperately needs it. But not this time. Paris brings me to life. I almost don’t want to sleep at all when I visit, for fear of missing out on some of the splendour. There is no comparable place in the world.
Arriving at the boat, the Bateau Johanna de Paris, my host warmly greeted me and invited me for coffee. With brief introductions, we realized we had a lot in common; she was a British national of Indian descent married to an Englishman, while I was an English/French Canadian mutt coupled with a man from Kerala. Despite the shrinking nature of the world, it is certainly not common and conversation flowed to the challenges of this particular type of interracial courtship. “You will never understand the societal influence,” she seemed to warn, although I already understood. “It takes a strong individual to counter it.” I felt my rebellious instigator of a partner would have appreciated this. His bold nature, and desire for experience and exploration in contrast to firm (and seemingly unnegotiable) cultural boundaries, seemed to mirror hers.
Our well-rounded discussion also fell upon the ongoing Yellow Vest Movement protests that have taken place since the fall of 2018. With the goal of pressuring government to implement economic reform measures to improve the standard of living for all, the mass demonstrations have (so far) resulted in the death of twelve citizens and historical sites, like the Arc du Triomphe, being vandalized. Not fully comprehending the situation, I didn’t really have an opinion other than historical sites should remain off-limits for preservations sake. My host didn’t agree. “The only way to get their message across is through disruption. The past is the past; these people need help today.”
I love bold people.
The French spirit for revolution lives on.