Saturday, September 4, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love..and then some

“Do you think colored toilet paper will color your ass?”

Internet, meet Rachel. College educated (yes, I promise), 5ft (5’1 on her better days) and full of spunk and sass. She frequents good restaurants, is soon to be married (to a chef) and can be found spending her Sunday mornings in a sweaty, overcrowded dance class, strutting and pirouetting to every Britney and Lady Gaga infused jazz routine.

The thing is this: I’m not sure if Rachel actually chose to be my friend. From what I can gather, once upon a February ago in that sweaty, overcrowded dance class, our dance teacher expressed his worry about my health and asked her to take charge. She’s like that. She takes charge of situations; creates a strategy; and then invites you to her place to dine with her and her boyfriend over Curry vegetables and brown rice.

She’s frank; she’s authentic and what started out as an altruistic invitation, expanded into what is now a balanced and genuine friendship. I convinced her to give up her Saturday mornings for Company dance rehearsals and in return, she convinced me to give complex carbs a second chance. She stays true to her word, so I knew that when she promised to visit me in France, that I would be seeing her sometime between January 2010 and 2011. She finalized her LAX to Paris airline ticket and took off the end of July.

Dear Ms. Elizabeth Gilbert, I realize that your traveling was about eating, praying and loving. While that is all good and well, and I really loved your memoirs, our ten day adventure was slightly different. We ate baguettes and goat cheese on the go. We prayed that we wouldn’t contract Typhoid, Hepatitis, or worse, Stupidity, from the seemingly contaminated home of our Couch-Surfing host in Provence and lastly, we loved the fact that whenever a French local provided us with directions, the place we were looking for was always the opposite way of what they said. But just like you Ms. Gilbert, we learned, we were mindful, we repacked our backpacks more times than I can count and yes, above everything, we did love the journey.

There are two types of love. (Okay yes, being the commitment phobic, a-bit-too-cynical-when-it-comes-to-relationships type self that I am, I may not make the most qualified to speak on this particular subject, but what the hell, therapy over the years has taught me a thing or two). The first type of love is patient; it’s honest and it’s attentive. It takes its time, stresses the importance of communication and it’s a pattern of devotion. This is the type of love that good relationships and marriages are founded on. You risk everything you’ve got; you give it your all; open up your heart and cross your fingers that you’ll live happily ever after.
Paris isn’t like that. It’s the other type. It’s dirty, it’s blunt, and before you know it, you’ve been harassed, belittled and left with a drained bank account all while wanting more. Paris is sexy, it’s rushed, it’s lustful and it’s the only reason I believe in love at first sight. It never agreed to reciprocate feelings, but you keep coming back and you keep loving it anyway. Rachel, like me circa 2006, also fell hard for Paris.
We didn’t spend time appreciating the art in the Louvre. No, we didn’t wait in line to admire the views from atop of the Eiffel Tower and we didn’t marvel at the gardens of Versaille. However, we did France the Locals’ Way: We had our patisserie and café (avec juste un petit peu du lait, s’il vous plait!) every morning. We packed a lunch and spent the afternoon sitting on the dirty cement next to the Eiffel Tower discussing current and past relationships. And being the good Jew that Rachel is, we spent an obscene amount of time in Le Marais quarter (which is my favorite, favorite, favorite quarter of Paris. Did I mention it’s my favorite?) getting lost in conversation about life over a plate of hummus and pita bread with an overflowing glass of Bordeaux. We mastered the metros, argued with French Police and when it was all said and done, we packed our jazz shoes and spent the afternoon heat taking a dance class.

As the cliché goes, “Quit while you’re ahead.” So after four short days in Paris that could’ve easily been ten, we packed our bags into the trunk of our rented Peugot and impulsively set out for the South of France.

“Avignon. Ever been?” Rachel asked as we approached the turnoff sign.
“Nope,” I replied. “The only thing I know about Avignon is the French children’s song. Do you know it?” I asked, as I attempted to sing it.
“Sure don’t. But let’s stop anyway.”

Avignon, I’m convinced, is the Fairly Tale Funhouse of France. Think New York City Broadway, the performers of Hollywood Boulevard and France’s Belle of the Ball have a love affair together that produces a baby which is this city. A bit ostentatious, a bit jazzy with spectacles and people swarming at every step, and all banded by four kilometers of preserved stone walls. There’s nothing to do but sit down with your French baguette and goat cheese lunch and observe the madness.
The next few days were a winged, whimsical and whirlwind tour of the Provence region, from St. Remy and Les Baux de Provence to Aix, Fos sur Mer and Marseille. It was the most delectable blend of French countryside and French cliffs; fields of sunflowers, rows of fresh lavender, endless lines of olives trees and enough wine vineyards to inebriate all of France while they lay on the beaches of Marseille. If that’s not enough to woo you, every single backdrop involved a chateau and every single village housed a kickass chocolate shop. Welcome to Provence. When it was all over, when we felt like we needed a vacation and detox from our present vacation and sugar high, we set out for the final leg of the journey.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Let me start by admitting that there’s a whole lot of stuff about France that I don’t know—Enough to fill all of the Boulangeries of this country. I don’t know how to speak French fluently, how to use those simple-looking-but-not-so-simple-when you-try-to use-them French Presses and I still don’t understand how Steak Tartar (a fancy word for completely raw hamburger meat) is safe to eat. I don’t know how to correctly pronounce the word squirrel in French and for that matter, how to correctly pronounce most of the vocabulary. I don’t know how the Patisseries make their Flan Nature so much better than mine (although I have a feeling that it involves full fat milk and extra egg yolks) or why all French Administration find gratification in being miserable to the world. And in full disclosure, I barely even know where the keys are on this French keyboard, which reminds me that I really really don’t know why my Macbook continues to break only in this country.

But there is something that I do know: Thanks to our road trip through France, I have discovered the most beautiful, the most stunningly gorgeous, the most fill-in-your-adjective-of-choice place in France that I plan to use from here on out for every mindful and guided imagery exercise. It’s a local secret; a place not yet swarming with tourists. It’s a place that only a literary genius (which coincidently, I also don’t know) could detail accurately with words. However, thanks to a nifty portable invention, I can present you with these:

And well Ms. Gilbert, that’s my version of a three part vacation—Some love, some chaos, some pure beauty and relaxation. We did what you said and asked locals for the best pizza in town and I think we found it in Aix en Provence. We followed your lead and treated ourselves to gelato. We even did some Yoga on the lake of St. Croix. But Ms. Gilbert, I think I had an advantage because I got to experience all of that with one of my best friends and when I forget a detail, she’s there to remind me. We talked, we exchanged stories and we analyzed every aspect of our past while dreaming the future. We got lost—in conversation, in the streets of Paris, lost on the highways of Marseille but we never lost our patience.

With the vacation drawing to a close, it was time to say an Au Revoir to the most beautiful place in France. But, just when we thought we had seen it all, we woke up from a morning nap in our Peugot (looking sleep deprived, in desperate need of a shower and hair that hadn’t been washed in three days) to a note on the windshield that read:

Bonjour Sleeping Beauties—If you’d like a café or a drink later, call me.

We wiped our smeared mascara, looked around and were a bit flattered until we anxiously realized upon departure, wait, what kind of weirdo watches people while they sleep?! Add that to my list of things I don’t know about France. Time to go.


  1. Jealous and missing France and of course Miss Migliore (I didn't know that means best).
    There I was pointing out the Jewish quarter and all the Jews to you in North London and you have your very own pint-sized one!

    Can't wait to see you again, hope you got my email cos I can't get you from the airport.

    And why are you only coming for one day?

  2. What a beautiful post about friendship and France :) I miss you so much! It's awesome that you two had this time together!

  3. Two words: black lips.

  4. Hey Lauren,

    I have followed your blog since I was confirmed to become an Au Pair in Lyon a few months ago! I love your blog it's really entertaining, funny and heartfelt! I am writing one for my friends back home too. I just arrived in Lyon a week ago so was wondering if you are still in Lyon? If you're ever in need of another english-speaking friend be lovely to have a coffee!


    Clare :)

  5. WOW!
    I just found your blog through Taste of Garlic and I'm so happy I did. This is one of the best posts I've read in ages. You have a wicked way with words :-)

  6. I love this post! And I have to find that lake this summer! Gorgeous!

  7. Such a way with words. Love your blog - so entertaining! Don't know where you find the time, but you are definitely fully grasping life with such energy. I'll be reading more as I can & forward to my niece who is studying and traveling in Italy for the year. Enjoy your holidays! - Joy