Sixty in September, autumn of your life. You think, What if I die without seeing Paris? Like that meme making the rounds some years back, a middle-aged woman in a business suit, her hand over her mouth in an expression of horror, saying “I forgot to have children!” You go to Paris. You record every sight, every step. The art, the gardens, the food. You stroll along the Seine with a pain au chocolat buttery-fresh from the oven at a corner boulangerie. Sip Beaujolais in the land where the grapes are grown. At Le Flore en L’Ile on the Ile Saint-Louis you taste your first soupe a l’oignon gratinee. Bliss in a bowl—rich bay-and thyme-scented stock, sweet-smoky-slow-cooked caramelized onions, a blanket of nutty gruyere that cascades, bubbly and crusty, over the side of the bowl, atop croutons that absorb broth from below and cheese from above. You’re a vegetarian, and that pungent base is beef stock. You feign ignorance. You’ve happily ordered vegetable entrees and fish, not tempted by cassoulet or duck a l’orange, boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin. But this is different. You sample the soup everywhere, like Goldilocks going from bowl to bowl: “This one’s a little bland,” “This one doesn’t have enough cheese,” “This one’s just right….” The first bowl remains the gold standard. Back home you resume your meatless ways. And you treasure your secret—what you do in Paris stays in Paris.
Alice Lowe’s flash fiction and nonfiction have been or will be published this year in Hobart, JMWW, Door Is a Jar, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Sleet. Her essays have been cited in the Best American Essays and nominated for Pushcart Prizes and Best of the Net. She writes about life and literature, food and family in San Diego, California and posts her work at www.aliceloweblogs.wordpress.com.
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