Excerpts from a book I hope to write some day
Journey of Reflection
After a rather rough and long lunch service, one where the chef stampeded down the line to the designated Bulgarian fish cooker slapping a freshly finished but slightly overcooked fillet of rouget on his back along with the entire plate, I get to see Momma. You could tell she was happy to be in Paris. First-timer’s eyes.
It was a nice break from the chaos of a stagiaire’s life. The wonderful thing about having Momma around was that we could share in adventures around Paris and chat about life. The big chef gave me a little more time off so I could be with her. Though a professional monster when it comes to business, he’s still a guy. And seeing as I wasn’t getting paid yet and all, he didn’t hesitate to tell me to spend some time with her. “NOT PAID!” are you saying? Traditional cooking rites of interns ladies and gentlemen, like initiations. Interning and also getting your butt kicked, for free. It is old school.
When I arrived in Paris for the first time, I didn’t know what was going on. All I had were my bags: one suitcase of “chef-ing” gear, one of clothes, a backpack with some books and journals, and my necessities. I didn’t speak French, was low on money, and I did not have any clue as to how I was going to find a permanent place to stay close to work. “Where to start?” I had not yet even been to visit the restaurant where I was going to work. But it all seemed to add to the adventure. I am used to moving by now, and am acquainted with European culture after some years in Italy and Austria. So, I made my way to a hostel home in northern Paris, Hotel Le Montclair, of which the trusty Lonely Planet suggested. Lots of other young foreigners and couples were roaming around so it felt more comfortable. The journey from the Charles De Galle airport into town was a face-smack-awakening. I took public; getting a feel for the “real Paris”. To say it clean and straight, the outskirts tell you a lot about the Paris not written about in the tourist books. I’ll leave it at that. See for yourself.
Lonely Planet, as in many real-life travel stories, came in handy. After making my way through a few youth group associations, churches, classifieds, and embassies, I gathered information about what was available and also in my price range per month: around 400 Euros. After many inquiries with various businesses, owners, renters, and rich aristocrats who owned property and rooms throughout Paris, mixed with roaming around, and trying out my luck, something came up. It had been a miraculous two day scavengers-hunt. There, at 122 Avenue Victor Hugo, was a loft attic apartment. Each floor apartment of the 19th century building had their own garret room located in the topmost section. Because it wasn’t “in the books” and he had a soft spot for newbie Americans in Paris while also respecting what I was doing, he offered me the room right away. He even lowered the price to 400 Euros a month, my budget. The best practical spec of this place was that the location gave me a beautiful 15 minute stroll to work. There was a bus stop right across the street, I had a view of and ten minute walk to the Eiffel Tower, a two minute strut to the nearest Victor Hugo metro stop, and both a laundry-mat and supermarket within 200 meters. I felt it was right. I moved in and the next day I started work.
This is how Paris and I first started.
Momma and I voyaged up and down the Champs Elysees, were served espresso while waiting in line to enter the Louis Vutton store (now that’s service!), snatched falafels at L’As du Falafel in the Jewish district, toured the Louvre, walked the magnificent parks, toured to cathedrals, had ice cream at Berthilion next to Notre Dame on the Île-de-France, saw Jim Morrison at the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise with the rest of his remaining fans, dug through the metro systems, visited the new library Bibliothèque Fr. Mitterrand, and sat on the beautiful panoramic white steps of the Musee National de la Marine across from the Eiffel Tower at night to admire the lights and grandeur of Paris’s refined yet omniscient encompass. Of course, we were accompanied by cheese and fresh bread. Wine as well. There is no place like Paris. It is one of a kind. Since we were there during the holiday season, the decorations were at their heights. The air was fuming with Christmas spirit and cheer. Everything was alive and joyfully bundled up for the cool Parisian weather. It is unforgettable, powerful, yet soft and elegantly dreamy at the same time. It must be the flair and finesse of Parisian panache.
Since Chartres cathedral is one of the old seven great Gothic cathedrals (of Templar initiation) in Europe and it was so close to Paris, it was an obvious choice. Of course, the “famous tour guide”, Malcolm Miller, thinks that all this esoteric knowledge is poppy-cock and moreover that Dan Brown doesn’t know his backside from his elbow. We aren’t particular super-fans either but decided to make T-Shirts with “WE LOVE DAN BROWN” in bold letters just to flash Malcolm and get a rise out of him, not to mention plant a seed for an egotistical reality check. Arrogance has always been a pet-peeve of mine I suppose. However, the architecture and stained glass windows took my breath away. They are indeed a spectacle to behold. Originally constructed in the 12th century, the massive size of the building with its two contrasting spires, flying buttresses and peaked arches, really made the whole structure appear to hover above the wheat fields and other buildings in the town. Never have I seen anything so ornate, strong, and spell-bounding, at least in Christian style. The way the light streamed through the glass and filled the cathedral’s interior with such a deeply mystical and anciently regal aura gave me my own reality check. What is it really that draws me, or even others for that matter, towards living a more morally inspired and wholesome life? Like the monks in the sculptures around the Church. What feeling and pull inside is there that would inspire, even cause, someone to want to experience something greater than their present paradigm and social existence? I was reminded of that just then, and sat for a moment to take it in so that I could attempt again at getting past the fuzziness or confusion of “what is it that I really want with my life?” Something that I frustratingly have yet to answer.
It’s like the angel on one shoulder and the demon on the other. Positive reinforcement. Practical denial, analysis, and criticism. Where am I to go? Who am I to learn from? Securities and expenses? Five year plan? All these questions confusticate and confound me yet at the same time clarify me. Deeper in there, beyond my conscious awareness, are the formations of a direction, a barring. And in essence, that’s what this book is about.