French food is wonderful. It's decadent and dripping in delicious, creamy, butter sauces. There's tons of duck and pork with melting fat and crispy skin sitting atop a mound of mashed potatoes. There's tons of foie gras and lamb nestled next to buttery and garlicky haricot verts. The fact that the food here is delicious is without debate. But eventually you want to sink your teeth into something that isn't, well, French.
While I was still working at Pain de Sucre my angel from upstairs, Irina, recommended a pizza place for me. Since most of the pizza in france is more than disappointing, I was desperate to find the wayward piece of paper I had scribbled this crucial information on. I scoured through my bags and desk and bookshelves looking for the tiny notebook I used to keep in my chef pant's pocket in the Pain de Sucre kitchen. After creating a disheveled mess, I finally uncovered this little book and was happy to see that the page hadn't fallen out. There in the back in Irina's chicken scratch was written Briciola, so I typed it into google and numerous pages touting its excellence immediately popped up.
I was pleased to see that not only was it recommended but that it was also within walking distance to my house. If fact, it's just around the corner from Jacques Genin. We took the crooked path to Briciola and were happy to see that it was packed. Well, happy because this was a sign that it was tasty but a bit concerned that we would have to wait. We put our name in and even though it seemed like the waiter would forget about us in all the commotion they did, in fact, have a system. We only waited about fifteen minutes before being seated and as we did so were able to feast our eyes and noses on the beautiful plates that the other patrons were eating.
Not only did everything smell tantalizingly delicious, but there was no doubt that this was the most beautiful looking pizza I'd seen while in France. I know it isn't Italy, but considering the proximity of the two countries to each other, I would expect a bit more from French pizza. But in reality it often falls so flat it leaves a crater of disappointment in its wake. But this pizza had a beautiful paper thin crust with large blackened bubbles blistering around it. There was a nice skinny layer of cheese as opposed to the gobs and gobs of chewy mozzarella so many other french pizzas are afflicted with. Large leaves of basil, big thin slices of saucisson, and a beautiful array of vegetables topped pizzas to and fro and I was more than anxious to order and dig into my own slice.
I went for the caprese, which was good and though my stomach was begging me to stop I finished the entire gigantic pie. Elze, Camila, Sandra and myself took our time eating and continued to drink wine and cluck away the night while our fellow customers finished their meals, paid their bills, and went on their way home. Before we knew it the entire place had cleared out and the poor waitress was sweeping around our table and overflowing pile of purses and jackets. Her male coworker kindly asked us if we wouldn't mind moving toward the bar where we joined the only other patron still in the joint. We were more than happy to oblige. We certainly didn't want to leave since it was one of Camila's last nights with us and we were hoping to savor it as long as possible.
The stranger at the bar was clearly friends with our male waiter and the two chatted while the stranger pulled his own personal bottle of red wine from behind the counter and helped himself. He had obviously been here multiple times before. Being the only people left in the place it didn't take long for us to strike up a conversation with this man at the bar and it took even less time for us to be completely enthralled by him.
It just so happened that he was a food journalist and knew everything there is to know about great places to eat in Paris. As with most writers he certainly loved to talk and considering that we are not at all a quiet crowd he was able to compete with us brilliantly. We hung on almost every word and I even pulled out the same little notepad I had previously been so desperately looking for so that I could scribble down all of the restaurants he mentioned, knowing I could not trust my memory to store them securely for future reference, and when he gave me his business card and told him I could email him whenever for recommendations, I practically burst into tears of joy.
We chatted the night away with our new found friend until, sadly, it was time to go home. By this point in the night Sandra had already departed because she was trying to be somewhat responsible and make it home by a "reasonable" hour for she had to work the next day. But Camila, being the miniature, energetic bolt of lightning that she is, insisted that we go to a bar. Elze, however, had to work in only a few hours and certainly was not in any position to indulge Camila in such a request. I, myself, was suffering from a formidable headache, or what is better known as a hangover, and was not in the mood to be dragged by tipsy Camila to a bar about to close just to shell out ten euros for a cheap beer and watch as all the men trampled over me just to speak to her.
The entire walk home she shouted at the rooftops that she just wanted, "ONE BEER!" and to go to a, "Baaaaaaar!" I tried to reason with her, I tried to empathize with her, I tried to ignore her, but none of it was doing any good. And then, without warning, she tripped on the curb as she crossed the street because she had either had one too many glasses of wine or was focusing too much on trying to guilt me into escorting her to a nearby bar to think about walking. Either way, she was now a crumbled giggling mass on the ground which Elze was trying hard to scoop up. I, at the very least, was happy enough that we were now all laughing at Camila's wipe out (and the fact that I now wasn't the only one of us this week to drunkenly fall in the street) and not talking about the beer, or the bar, or how un-fun I am. But this distraction was minimal and short lived and Camila was quickly back to demanding I show her a good time.
Little did she know but shenanigans such as these really wasn't warming me up to the idea of going out with her. For just one beer I didn't see how the hassle of supporting this little and excited drunken guatemalan would be worth it. But she was determined and though she may be small she most certainly is not lacking in spunk. It took both Elze and myself to wrestle her into our apartment building but somehow during this altercation she had managed to wriggle my keys from my hands. As she threatened me with putting them in our mailbox (which would have been horrible indeed considering they had the only set of the mail key on them), I held her back and Elze scrambled through her bag for her own keys and opened the door.
Threats, wrestling, and prying uncomfortably ensued at the bottom of our apartment stairs until, eventually, we were able to have both sets of keys and begin on our way up to our apartment. I cannot imagine that climbing Everest would be more rewarding than when I finally reached the top of our complex and walked through the door to my home. We were all tired, panting, and sweating. And even better, it seemed that the physical altercation had drained Camila of a sufficient amount of energy for her to at least only quietly plead to be taken out. And when we pulled a cold bottle of beer from the fridge and handed it to her, I knew that her excited glistening eyes were a sign we had won the fight.
Just as I had pulled on my pajamas, however, round two of the melodrama began. Camila was looking for her little red purse and it, unfortunately, was no where to be seen. As with most women in this predicament, she began to panic which, as we know, never helps the situation and if anything means that it is less likely you will quickly recover your precious bag and other goodies contained within it. Camila's gasps of concern, her exasperated huffs of worry, and her tiny coos of sorrow followed her as she looked from point a to point b for her purse.
"It's lost!" she said with such a convinced and defeated tone that I could tell her eyes were welling up without looking at her. "It's gone! And I don't...whimper...have time...whimper...to have my dad cancel my card!" She dragged her feet and drooped her head and shoved her arms down pathetically at her sides.
"It's probably just downstairs from when I wrestled you to the ground on the stairs." Elze said trying to hold back her unsympathetic chuckles.
"No! It's NOT!" Camila cried back, "and it's not funny Elzaaaah," she finished sharply. "I dropped it in the street when I fell and it's probably gone." And as she said this she went and pulled her shoes and jacket on which both went beautifully with her pink cupcake pajama bottoms. And then I knew it was time for me to do the same. I felt guilty for not giving into her request to go to a bar and knew that I couldn't let her go out to aimlessly scour the streets of Paris for her bag. I also was fairly certain that it was, in fact, at the bottom of our stairs.
In the elevator I hugged Camila and told her that it would all be ok, we would find it and even if we didn't it wouldn't be the end of the world. She sniffled sweetly and when the elevator reached the ground floor its doors opened up and reveled a bright red bag with beautiful caramel colored leather handles slumped at its sides. At such a sight I couldn't help but say, "Can we laugh now?"
"Yess..." Camila admitted and the two of us giggled and went back upstairs. As we ascended in the elevator Camila went through all of the belongings she thought she had lost. And then it really became hilarious. "I would have lost both my credit cards, and my...sniff...sniff... memory... sniff...card on my...sniff...camera, gasp...my camera! Sniff... sniff...I would've lost my camera too!" Tears were sprinkling down her face and I hugged her and laughed and said, "Yes Camila but why are you crying? You didn't actually lose them! They were here the whole time."
She shrugged her shoulders and laughed a little bit and we then went through the whole hilarious song and dance a second time when we got into the apartment and Camila told Elze about all she could have been without. I know that most of her overreaction was probably because, in her slightly drunken state, she had worked herself up so much that crying seemed to be the only way to release any emotion at that point. I also think the sadness of her upcoming departure from France, from us, and from her adventure abroad was looming so close to the surface that it was more than happy to take this opportunity to squeak through.
And today, as we all gave tearful, sad goodbyes to Camila before her departure from Gare de Lyon, I, myself, cannot help but be filled with the same slight depression that this journey is almost over. We may have two months left here, to long months, but it seems like practically nothing. We have all become so close and I know that these will be friends I will love and cherish for a lifetime, if not longer. I hate to think that they will not physically be there with me every other step of my life. I am only lucky to know that in this modern time of technological magic that we can still keep in touch easily and often. And I also know that my life and my heart will always be fuller for meeting these incredible people from all over the world. Pastry school was incredible and I learned so much. Paris has been beautiful and revitalizing and I know I will miss my time here. But I know, without doubt, that I would be happy to sacrifice everything else here for the friends I have made. They, by far, are the greatest thing I have gained from my year abroad.
* This post is dedicated to Camila, the petite, gregarious, animated girl from Guatemala whose energy I am envious of, whose spirit is unstoppable, and who will always be one of the best people in my life. I love you, you little thing, and can only pray that it won't be too long before I am lucky enough to have you bouncing circles around me again.