I set out with only a vague recollection of which direction I needed to go, yet felt at ease that I would either find it or it would find me. As we strolled along the narrow sidewalks in the St. Germain district, I breathed in the crisp autumn air eager for my first taste of Paris. On this day not just any spot would do, I was not seeking a place previously visited for nostalgia nor was I seeking Michelin star quality. Mine was a journey to connect – with the philosophical and literary big wigs of my world.
On a quest to absorb the intellectual air of those who came before me. Though probably considered a tourist trap by some, to me it was where Sartre contemplated existentialism at nauseam and where Nesto became Hemingway. All over simple drinks and uncomplicated food – Café de Flore was always there for them and I hoped it would be there for me too.
After only a couple brief views of the map a week prior to boarding our plane, I walked us directly to Café de Flore – as though I knew exactly where I was going.
Looking over the menu I regretted not revisiting the food section of my French 101 class and found myself in a predicament I think many Americans fall victim to. Knowing that if I ordered “the club” (clearly spelled in English), I would have a pleasant and familiar meal. Fortunately, it was 4.50€ more than any other sandwich and my wish to save euros coupled with my curiosity for something new overruled this potential misstep. Resisting the urge of familiar cuisine is step a strongly recommend when traveling, after all, how can a new world present itself if travelers only ordered what they already know. With this rational in mind, I ordered the jambon de bayonne sandwich. Casually sipping on biere (beer) we watched the city go by and awaited our first French meal.
Watching my food approach I knew I had made the right call, cost aside, this was exactly what I wanted. Nothing more than delicious fromage (cheese) and perfectly sliced red pig (for Soprano fans, think French cappicola “gaba-gol”), with a little butter on a fresh baguette – this was Paris. So simple and so right, it would be impossible to eat this well from such simplicity and not be inspired.
While I may never go on to reject a Nobel Prize like Sartre (for the simple fact, if ever offered I would never say no) or go on to become the next best thing to happen to American literature, in this moment I was connected to those whose work I immensely admired. Perhaps that is the best part of Paris, their proud roots in their classic cuisine preparation, allow their food to bring a connection that transcends space and time… which is pretty incredible.