It isn’t Hermes scarves or miniature Eiffel Towers that call out, “Take me home” when we’re wandering around Paris. That’s too bad as they’re easier to shlep back to New York than the Quimper pottery, Provencal tablecloths, café signs, escargot plates, ceramic Calvados set and other vintage brocante I’ve squeezed into a suitcase, leaving behind jackets and sneakers to make room for my purchases. Bringing back memories of Paris and giving our Greenwich Village apartment the ambiance of a French bistro involves sacrifices.
My husband (Martin in New York, Mar-taan in Paris) and I have adorned our walls with posters — advertising Ricard, Pastis as well as products I’ve never heard of — and stocked up on Sancerre, Lillet and cornichons. In Rome, we’re fine to do as the Romans do, but in New York, we do what the French do, starting meals with an aperitif and serving salad after the main course, often accompanied by a cheese tray and baguette.
“Do you wish we lived in Paris?” Martin has asked me. My attempts to learn the language have made that impossible. The way I function in France could be called assisted living. I’m able to shop and order in a restaurant, but for everything else, I depend on Martin, who can direct a taxi driver to a particular street, knows how many meters make up a yard and is able to negotiate with a plumber. Even before I ask, “Ou sont les toilettes?” with a distinct New York accent, I have never been mistaken as French. I’m comfortable visiting Paris, but living there is not an option. New York, where I belong and am part of the fabric, is like our marriage. Paris, less familiar and sometimes daunting, is our affair.
My fascination with France may explain my passion for pique assiette, the French style of mosaic that uses pieces of plates.