Friday, February 26, 2010

This Flurry of Paris Posts...

Why am I spending my only Friday night in Paris alone in our hotel room, blogging?

A.  I prefer blogging to all other activities.
B.  I've exhausted all other forms of Paris nightlife.
C.  I'm recovering from a near-death experience.
D.  I'm severely depressed because I miss my cats, particularly Possum.

Answer: C, although D would get you partial credit.

I'm supposed to be at a dinner party in the suburbs with my husband and his colleagues but I was unable to move from our velvet-curtained and canopied four-poster when the cab arrived. I had barely managed to walk to our hotel from my favorite tearoom, La Charlotte d'Isle, after a charming and atmospheric afternoon break with my husband, who finally escaped from his endless business meetings to spend a little time enjoying the city. He had a pot of vanilla tea and a slice of chocolate tart. Feeling virtuous, I skipped a pastry and just had their renowned chocolate chaud. (I will post a photo, eventually; right now I can't bear the thought.)

The chocolate chaud is dark, deep, velvety, and thick; like all of Charlotte's teas and treats, it casts a gorgeous spell over me, making me feel like extraordinarily content, misty-eyed, silly, and optimistic. Since I can't drink alcohol to get this effect, I go to Charlotte as often as possible when I'm in Paris. Her tiny space is full of old bentwood chairs, mismatched tables, and brick-a-brack. It's perfect.

The chocolat chaud is served in a tiny Japanese cup, accompanied by a small pitcher that holds much more. It also comes with a petite, antique carafe of cold water and a shot glass from which to drink it. I think the chocolate alone would be a lethal weapo; the water dilutes its deadly effect.

Needless to say I finished the whole pitcher. Then we sat quietly and got that rosy, dreamy feeling we always get at Charlotte. My husband said he loved his tea and tart. We got up to leave; I felt loopier then ever. And then I realized: the chocolat chaud is made with cream. I can't digest cream. My IBS issues cause me to react badly to cream, alcohol, and lately, red meat. I always make my cocoa with skim milk; I'm not French. And sometimes I don't think.

Walking along the main street on the Ile St. Louis, I didn't feel too, too bad. At first. The Charlotte afterglow lingered. We heard a pipe organ blasting from a nearby church so we went in, sat, and listened. Then I realized I had to make the long walk home before things took a turn for the worse. We managed to get most of the way before I began to feel rocky. I distracted myself with window-shopping, even stopping to quickly buy some tea towels printed with the Paris Metro map. I avoided the windows displaying epic amounts of pastry (for once) and cheese, and dead chickens still in their pinfeathers.

By the time we were over the bridge and back in our own neighborhood, St. Germain,  I felt truly terrible. My stomach was in full revolt and I wasn't sure my legs would carry me all the way to the hotel. Even my purse felt unusually burdensome. I felt weak and very hot. I really tried not think about that chocolate, or any chocolate. But it kept asserting itself. No more chocolate ever again, I vowed. The smells of roasting meat, fresh fish, and desserts wafting from all the shops, open markets, and restaurants along our route didn't help. My legs felt almost as wobbly as my stomach. I kept my eyes down so I wouldn't have to see the epicurean wonderland taunting us from every side. Instead I kept an eye peeled for open courtyards with remote corners, in case I had to dart into one very, very quickly.

The aroma of my favorite crèpe cart on the corner of the Rue Bonaparte nearly did me in. I'd had a cheese crèpe for lunch a few hours earlier, and I felt it reawakening within me, too.

At our hotel, I took the extreme step of using the tiny, ancient elevator to get to our third-floor room. My husband ran up the stairs ahead of it and was waiting, holding open the door. I collapsed on the bed, panting heavily, working hard to keep the chocolat chaud where it belonged. Later, I broke out in chills and drifted off to a restless sleep. Husband wished me well and headed off to dinner without me.

I recovered in a few hours, and even got hungry. We had nothing in the room except a caramel éclair and some warm diet Coke. "It's not chocolate, at least," I thought. And it actually soothed my stomach. But it might be a long time before I'm interested in chocolate again. Like, maybe a whole day.

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