In late October each year, the salon du chocolat takes place in Paris. At the Porte de Versailles expo center, hundreds of chocolate makers, vendors, and artisanal chocolatiers gather for the long weekend to exhibit their tasty creations to members of the public by the ten-thousands who meander through the long rows and aisles of decorated tables. Even with fashion shows featuring haut couture of the slightly bitter-sweet, russet variety, children’s activities and cooking demonstration by famous chefs, one of the most wonderful parts of an afternoon at this heavenly, chocolate-covered expo remains the sampling – chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate – given out freely and with encouraging abundance. Who knew that many types of chocolate exist?!
The salon next week, held between October 31 and Nov 4, has yet another meaning for me this year. It’s been just over a year since I began writing about life as an expat Parisian. The routines of this life are demarcated by certain seasonal truths: food certainly, recipe variations, harvests, all of which I’ve discussed in other posts, as well as les salons. The salon du livres in March, the salon du mariage in late summer, followed by the salon du chocolat in autumn and the salon du vin in late November. Year after year, Parisians assemble in hordes at these various events each marking their own season throughout the year.
A mark that the year is approaching its rightful close is the reappearance of the neighborhood brocantes or travelling antique markets which began again in my quarter this weekend. As the holiday season crawls nearer, Parisians are out in flocks to search for a little something special to mark the occasion.
These sorts of routines were on my mind last weekend, when my husband and I were invited to brunch at the house of our good friends. They live in the distant suburbs of Paris, out east of the city one stop on the train from EuroDisney. The idea of a brunch was in my honor, as a North American treat for the singular North American friend in the group. It was home-cooked adding a French touch, and it was sensational. Five courses of eggs and sausages, green salad, four types of breads & rolls with the accompanying spreads, pain au chocolat and croissants, salmon and fresh cheese sandwiches, small shots of mousse au chocolat, stewed figs in a honey sauce, all topped off with perfectly golden pancakes – made with a crepe pan – smothered in real maple syrup. It was a feast. A Parisian twist to a very North American meal.
Beyond my hostess’ gracious menu and presentation skills (can you believe I forgot my camera!), what struck me was how similar this afternoon in the burbs, despite the geographic distance, the language and the eating customs, was to any one of a thousand I might have had back on the other side of the Atlantic. Without much effort at all, I could have transported myself to a friend’s living room in Oakville just outside Toronto, or in Worcester County, or to Staten Island, chatting, albeit in English, with other smiling faces about work, the commute to and from the city, forthcoming children, and our respective future travel plans. Every bit the same, this afternoon was, almost as if I had never moved to France, never turned my life upside-down to start again.
As the late afternoon sun deepened to an amber glow, I experienced one of those out-of-body moments when everything in the room continues on just as before but you somehow escape reality and look onto the scene from the position of a floating angel. Which is a strange sensation in itself, but even more so if you think about what I saw. I mean, part of me moved 4000 miles away to free myself from those very similarities in life. Many parts of my French existence, don’t get me wrong, are drastically different – the language is certainly a major one – but fundamentally the worries and the stressors of these French 30-somethings living in the burbs of Paris are the very same as those of the 30-somethings conversing around a similar brunch table in North America.
Taking a stroll after our rapturous home-cooked brunch, in an effort to stave off collapsing into a digestive coma, I looked around at the perfectly aligned houses with their gates and the two cars parked in the drive way. I saw the tricycles and the plastic baby pools in the side yards. It reminded me that most of the people In France don’t live the Parisian life, just as most Americans don’t live in the Big Apple life either. Parisian life is a particularity, a passing phase for some, a family tradition for others.
Then a certain truism hit me for perhaps the third or fourth time since moving to France: not that much differentiates people once you strip away the language and perhaps a few cultural particularities. Something very human, very basic, exists in us all.
Somehow this thought was comforting, this sameness that has followed me into my new life. There was a time not too long ago when I thought I was running away from this very type of monotonous existence – routine. I thought I was seeking adventure. And perhaps I was. What I might not have bargained for, however, was the peace that befalls a person once we’ve embarked on that quest, concurred the challenge, captured the change, relished the prize. What’s left is just life – here, there, wherever.
The adventure eventually leads back to our comfort zone. Or maybe we recreate our comfort zone wherever we go, expanded however significantly to include the geography of our new surroundings, wherever we eventually call home.