The best thing about Paris? For me? No doubt the Eifel tower is glorious, the cathedrals and architecture stunning, the history, artwork, literary gems– (I took a picture of Victor Hugo’s writing desk!) all amazing. But if I’m really being honest? The best thing about Paris?
I know. I’m a Wisconsin girl. I know cheese. But this cheese… how do I sum this up… I wanted to gobble it up, all of it, and I didn’t care about the digestive repercussions. Sheep cheese, goat cheese, cow cheese. All of it. When the dessert choice presented was Apple Tart Tatin or cheese, I took the cheese. (and snitched from dear husband’s plate.)
The bread came in at a close second. Glorious, golden, crusty on the outside, nooks and crannies on the inside yeasty mounds of wonder. Baguettes baked fresh that day. Flaky and multilayered pain au chocolat. One evening, our gracious hosts, Rich and Rachel, were hosting a dinner party for a group of Canadians that were helping with the construction of their new church. I insisted on a least bringing the bread: three baguettes.
After a full day of sightseeing, Doug and I found a boulangerie that was just pulling out fresh baguettes. Doug ordered in French and the baker handed me three piping hot, meter long loaves. We hadn’t really considered how’d we transport these beauties from the heart of Paris to R&R’s suburb, especially amidst the after-work hustle and bustle of the Metro. I strapped my backpack on front-ways, like an infant Snugli, and stuck the ends of the Baguettes that were wrapped in tissue paper inside, zipped the pack halfway, and cradled the feverish babies in the crook of my elbows. That’s what they become- my babies, as in we-have-to-get-these-babies-home as soon as possible. We hopped from train to train to train to get back to R&R’s and the stations were packed. The trains themselves, even more so. The kind or packed where you grip the metal pole with a dozen other hands. Where you’re are so pressed into the stranger next to you that making eye contact would be downright creepy. The kind of crowded were when the train stops at a station you can’t fathom how the people waiting are going to get on, especially when no one gets off. But somehow all the people squeeze in, pressing and pushing, and it gets stifling hot and no one smells very good and all I could think about was protecting the babies. (The Canadians were waiting!) I cradled them with my arms and inhaled their calming scent and telepathically told everyone Do Not Touch The Bread. Do not cough on the bread, do not even look at the bread. (In reality I’m sure nobody noticed or cared, but I had morphed into an ultra-protective mamma bear. A mamma bear of bread.) About twenty minutes later, we finally arrived at the final train station, where R&R would pick us up.
Except we didn’t arrive. Because we’d taken a wrong train. The triplets were growing cold and it was starting to drizzle and it was now past six, the time of the dinner party, and we really didn’t know how to get back. I tried to shield the babies from the rain as best as I could by holding my green sweater over them without letting it touch their golden skin while Doug called Rich. As we waited for Rich to graciously pick us up, we spotted a boulangerie, not a block away, with fresh, warm, dry baguettes waiting in the window. But these babies in my pack were the ones I’d committed to and I had to get them home. (The Canadians are waiting!)
That night around the table was warm and sweet, the food lovely, (did I mention the cheese?) the conversation rich. Paris has many wonderful sights, so many interesting things to see, but when it comes down to it, it’s the people around you that make it good. Hosts who serve with kindness and joy. Pleasing aromas wafting from a tiny kitchen. Rooms thick with love. Husbands who plan surprise adventures. Canadians who give of themselves to build a church. Because The City of Lights, Paris, while lovely, also feels dark. Cynical. Even oppressive at times. And breaking bread (and cheese) with folks who quickly move from stranger to acquaintance to friend in a home glowing with love, satisfies the soul. Country lines blur (among us we had French, American, Canadian, and Korean) and you get a teeny-tiny taste of that grand international feast yet to come, that big homecoming celebration that will be the end all be all of all celebrations. It was the love of Christ that drew a line from ours hearts to their hearts, and this, this sweet communion, just makes the bread and wine and cheese taste even better.