The cheese lady wasn’t having it.
I asked if she spoke English (“Parlez-vous Anglais?”) and she told me “Oui, mais—“ followed by words spoken too quick to be deciphered by my high school level French.
Les Enfants Rouges, the market right near my Airbnb apartment in Le Marais, was at the end of its bustle. It was shutting down in about an hour and most Parisians it seemed had come and gone, finished with their shopping for Sunday evening. I already had my Moroccan food, the anxiety of speaking in another language surfacing when they asked what I wanted to order. But, the proprietors had been kind, wrapping my meal to go with care. Now, all I needed was wine and cheese.
“I’m just not sure what I want,” I told the cheese lady.
She gave me no sympathy, only all the French attitude she had complete with curled lip and side-eye. There would be no ebullient recommendations like when I’m in line at Trader Joe’s and the cashier gets very enthusiastic about my choice of chicken samosas: “These are fantastic!”
“Camembert,” I finally said.
She packed it, resenting the motions and then my motions to pay her.
Back in the apartment, I sliced into the camembert. My wine was poured into a glass, getting a chance to breathe. I ate the first piece of cheese and…heaven. The cheese lady’s disdain had been well worth it. On the second slice, I considered going back the next day for more of her side eye and much more of her cheese.
The entire trip, Paris and my weekend jaunt to London, was a culinary wonderland: the best falafel of my life, a gin and tonic tasting, an English breakfast, Mediterranean of the highest order. But, food was just a part of a larger way I felt: I was for a few days living just the life I wanted.
And no, that doesn’t mean I’m moving to Paris. I missed all the people I love here. But, good food, time to read and write, walking everywhere, and beauty, beauty, beauty–in the red lipstick of the women, in the pages of a book I love, in the pages of my own work—was just what I needed.
I told the cheese lady that I wasn’t sure what I wanted and in the midst of all those cheese. In the midst of a city I didn’t know, that was true, but going away reminded me that I do know exactly what I want.
I went to the Picasso Museum while I was in Paris and wandered through floors of Pablo Picasso’s work. I tried to take pictures of a few pieces I loved only to get the reflections of the windows from the museum or myself in the frame. But in one picture, I saw that the overlay of me and the real world on the paintings made for an even better image.
My father asked me what my favorite moment was from the trip and I couldn’t give him one. I suppose that’s what a vacation usually gives you, one moment to return to when you’re back to your normal life. I’d rather remember that trip as a part of my real life, me surrounded by all kinds of beauty.