Friday, February 04, 2005

The Break-Up

It was just one of those things, something that had been building over time. It was nice while it lasted, really. He was the ultimate gentleman, witty in his own way, and always genuinely warm, truly happy to see me -- but ultimately I didn't think I was getting out of the relationship what I was putting in. So it was time to break it off. I know, I know it is awkward what with him outside the door everyday except Sundays and I considered that in my decision to go my own way. This was two years ago and everything now seemed fine. He'd gone through all the stages of the break-up. Incomprehension, bitter, hopeful, stalking, resentful, pretend to ignore me and finally, I thought, acceptance. I even detected a new person in his life a while back. Then last week, as I was crossing the street, I had the distinct impression that he was trying to run me down. Had he not moved on? Was he still harboring feelings for me? I subconsciously noticed that the new person didn't seem to be around anymore. Was he taking out the new rejection on me?

I caught out of the corner of my eye his familiar little white camionette half way down the one way street one day. Of course if it wasn't for the construction on my side of the street that has been going on for ages I would not have been walking in the middle of the block. The streets of Paris are filled with little obstacle courses that force you to step aside, change you path or block you all together. This construction is particularly bad because either I risk my life by walking in the middle of the street along the fence of the "chantier"/work site or I have to walk on the other side of the street and right by *him.* His vehicle seemed to speed up and pass me just a little too close for comfort, although I could have been imagining it. Maybe he didn't see me? I looked back as he parked his car, but he just jumped out and never looked my way. Phew.

When we first moved to Paris, we were thrilled with the little boutiques, specialty shops, small grocery stores and service personnel who were all within short walking distance. We have a wonderful cheese store run by people who adore our children and always have a little candy at the ready. We used to have a dry cleaner kitty corner to us who would melt when the kids would hang out the window screaming good bye to daddy on his way to work. While the standard waiting time for clothes was four days, she could, with a little twinkle in the eye, have them done in two if we needed. We have achieved standing at the boulangerie. While very formal and somewhat humorless, the owner carefully selects the fresh warm baguettes for us passing over other older ones that are given to less privileged customers.

Finally, at the boucherie we frequent and where we single-handedly keep them in business by buying many poulet-roties, we achieved legend status by buying a turkey out of season (during Thanksgiving) and then telling our American friends about it. We always get a hearty welcome there. But they weren't always our butcher..

See we have one much closer -- right across the street -- and we, well, we had to break up with him. He is just a one-person operation. The store was handed down from father to son -- apparently many years ago. He still has the same awning from when it was still "et fils" (and son) and in those first few days we thought this was so quaint, so useful, so Paris. This was the experience you were supposed to have. He watched us move in and in those first few days when we were taking the baby steps of our French experience, he was one of the first to welcome us to the quartier. Naturally when we needed a roast or a cut of meat we went straight to him. Admittedly going to him was painful, we knew that right from the start. Being a small store, he doesn't need much traffic to make a go of it and the few customers seem to be prized for breaking up the monotony of the day. He loves to talk. You couldn't get out of there in under twenty minutes and we, the expats with a bad accent and a limited vocabulary, were a special project, an opportunity to teach French and indoctrinate in the ways of the world.

The steep price we paid for the meat, we reasoned, was just the price you pay for the personal attention and the *experience *. But beyond the steep prices, we started to question the quality of the meat. One particular roast lead us to cheat on him. At first we felt bad. We would hide the bag as we fumbled for the keys to open the door. And we would go back to him from time to time -- we did like his steak hache (hamburger) after all. But we soon found our needs and wallets being taken care of better elsewhere. Our relationship was over for good during one of my father's visits. We bought one more roast from him and my father confirmed what we knew in our heart of hearts -- the meat wasn't very good and it was ridiculously over priced. (My father also wondered if the guy was running numbers, but that is another story.)

We have friends who buy their baguettes from one place and their patisseries from another, because the baguettes from the good patisserie taste like communion wafers, but the crusts of the tartelettes at the baguette store are always soggy. They have to hide the pastries when entering the baguette store, lest their patisserie people get insulted. If I ever buy cheese from the grocery store and then pass the fromagerie/cheese store, I never look in to the store, lest they realize that since I haven't been to their store, we must be cheating on them. Just today I was in line at our local supermarche that is a few doors down from the cheese shop and, horrors, the cheese shop owner was in line just ahead of me. (Quick! Rearrange the basket, hide the milk, slide the babybel cheese out of the way.) So, living and shopping together is a bit of a double edged sword. French society runs on strong relationships and neighborhood commerce, it seems, is the same way. Yes you are allowed to shop around at the beginning, but at some point you have to invest a little time and effort into the relationship especially if you want the little extras that are denied the outsiders. At the same, since it is a little more intimate, breaking up is truly hard to do. But let me tell you, a warm baguette outweighs maniacal butchers with big knives any day.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
1:23 AM



I feel like a cheat whenever I walk past the little epicerie on my street clutching a big bag from Monoprix. But what can I do, they don't sell Pataks Curry Paste!

# posted by Daniel : 2:29 PM  

ahhh-- the other side to the joy of personalized shopping .. this was such an intersesting post! ~bluepoppy

# posted by Anonymous : 2:36 PM  

and to think...people here in the states picket against Walmart!! All that shopping and running around seems romantic...but perhaps not! sheri in columbus, Ohio

# posted by Anonymous : 3:12 PM  

yeah, it's really difficult to switch without them looking. One time I went to buy some wine at Nicolas, before running to party, and I ran across my wineseller at the Repaire de Bacchus, and he sooooo gave me a dirty look. But, I don't care really. The butcher, the baker the candlestick maker, the lichee guy and the man who only sells eggs... They know I come back, even if it's not all the time.

# posted by NARDAC : 4:36 PM  

Good post! I once thought it strange that my French husband tried to hide the baguette we had already bought somewhere else when we stopped into another bakery to get dessert. (Hey, if they have bad bread let them be insulted, I say.)
Personally, this is what I hate about small town shopping where owners run the store (I'm surprised to hear that this problem also exists in a big city like Paris). I feel guilty if I go in too often to buy too many products and then like I'm cheating on them if I just go in to browse but don't buy. *Sigh* Just have to learn to lose the guilty conscious while living in France, I suppose.

# posted by Anna : 5:12 PM  

Sometimes I wish for a life where I can go to various specialty shops for my various gastronomic needs. But after reading your (very good) post, I am quite content now to shop at my one large (boring) supermarket for all that I desire. No feelings to hurt. No politics.

# posted by pismire : 7:44 PM  

In my hometown (500 people), there are 2 bakeries right next to each other-- and I ALWAYS have to go to a specific one for my baguette... Always a pain, because THEY know... and look at you weird!!!

But, I miss going for a run in the morning to get my baguette... Can't really do that in the US!

# posted by Magabe : 7:49 PM  

Daniel, I love Patak's stuff. I'd cheat for that too.
BP, It's best to be loyal and get the special treatment.
Sheri, Generally I really do like all the shopping at all the different stores. You really feel like you're getting high quality stuff if they only focus on one type of food.
NARAC, Exactly, sometimes you are just in a hurry. Otherwise I always go to the same people/stores.

# posted by Auntie M in Paris : 8:28 PM  

i dont have your problem, i buy everything at the grocery stores! enjoyed the drama and thrill of reading todays blog!!

# posted by Anonymous : 8:29 PM  

Anna, It's hard to lose the guilt, I think.
Pismire, It really is nice to do this speciality shopping, but there are days...
Magabe, On the rare days when I go to the bakery on Sunday morning it is such a pleasure to walk down the sleepy streets of my neighborhood to get some really delicious baked goods.
LB, Where is the fun in that??

# posted by Auntie M in Paris : 9:42 PM  

You had me going for a while with this post. For a moment, I thought you were being hassled by the construction workers. LOL

# posted by BohemianMama : 5:37 AM  

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