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Christina: New little love

February 12, 2010

Stories of origin, wine glasses full of amber, strange words in a dictionary, and this woven between:

“Il n’y a pas loin de l’amour à l’haine.”

Love is not far from hate.

My new French friend explained this saying to me, and suddenly things were no longer so bad. Being lost, hating something I love, stumbling—finally it all feels near perfect. Today I will begin falling in love with this place again, only this time I will do it a little more slowly and with a little more thought.

When I take the train home from school at the end of the day, all the city is frantically preparing for that single endeavor in which the people here exceed all others: the deliriously long and perpetually fascinating French dinner.

French women wobble along old cobblestone streets in three-inch stiletto heels while balancing a still steaming loaf of crusty baguette in the crook of their arms; men and women stop at the open markets after work and fill their baskets with earthy carrots, bitter onions, and firm potatoes still damp in their skins. Street cafés open wide their doors and the cool air mixes with the endless desserts inside: oozing chocolate wrapped in buttery croissants that flake off on my fingers; cold apple pie topped with brie and crème chantilly; tiny ginger cookies sprinkled with powdered sugar and shaved chocolate; moist crêpes smeared with Nutella and strawberry jam; ebony coffee pirouetting with steam that makes me want to die, almost. One look at the wonders to be found here and my six-year stint as a vegetarian has taken a little hiatus.

At night my host mother Collette serves me a dinner that creeps long into the night: hot, comforting soups that look like home; fresh salads and cool glasses of water; rich, salty quiches. We eat an entire loaf of French bread, spread thick with three types of soft cheese, cumin, and olive oil. Collette’s friends come over for dinner, and they argue over politics, the weather, Collette’s food—anything really—while I furiously look up the words spewing from their mouths in my French dictionary. I’ve hardly finished a dish when Collette asks, “un petit peu plus?” and before I have a chance to answer she fills my plate with boeuf bourguignon drenched in wine sauce.

A meal isn’t a meal without a glass of red or white wine—usually both—so two and a half hours later I finish dinner in a contented haze, so feverish I can’t remember what time we began eating. The meal is done and I’m hungry again from the effort it takes to finish it. I stumble to bed while Collette and her friends lounge in their chairs, the smoke from their cigarettes blanketing them in a warmth that keeps out the night.

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