Natalie and I were hungover again in Paris. We had been drinking Champagne at the Moulin Rouge the night before. This trip would mark our second rendez-vous in the French capital in four years. Maintaining an international friendship with Natalie is easy, we pick up right where we left off. As visits are few and far between, when we're reunited it's always cause for celebration.
Paris was moody that day; overcast and wet. Departing Stalingrad metro station we picked our way through cobblestone streets to the lip of Canal St Martin. This was my third time in the City of Lights and I hadn't yet paid a visit to the neighbourhood. So unique from the other districts, I was immediately enamored by St Martin's charm. It was an urban oasis among Paris' maze of imposing boulevards flanked by six storey apartment buildings. The canal was lined with trees, whose broad leaf canopy reminded me that without nature there would be no beauty.
It was Wednesday and the streets were vacant. There were just enough boutiques open to fix our interest. A bookstore, the likes of which was quintessintially Parisian, beckoned us in. A mélange of beautiful coffee table books blanketed every available surface. They were arranged haphazardly; the shop was chaotic yet indescribably chic. Glossy pages transported me into bourgeois-bohème living spaces, the high fashion life of heroin-chic Kate Moss, and world of typographic design. I would have brought a stack home to Canada with me if I could. (Despite being written in French.) Looking back, it's clear I thought a stack would somehow recreate the ethos of the Parisian bookstore in my own home. It was naïve to imagine a part could capture the whole, that I could cut off an appendage and admire it as an entire being. I think they call that a souvenir, and nobody would blame me if I had.
In a way we were killing time, waiting for a dinner reservation with a friend I hadn't seen in years. The rain was intermittently spitting now and we took refuge in cafe La Marine. It was painfully French, with burgundy velvet drapes, deco mirrors and a molded ceiling. I adored every square foot of it. I'm not sure how it's possible in today's interconnected world, but the espresso in Paris is divine; unlike anything found back home. I'm addicted and the five euro price tag does little to dissuade my appetite. I sink into a mocha, topped with rich chocolate whipped cream. I fight it with my lips until I'm hit by the warmth of the beverage waiting below.
Natalie and I are joined by Ana, a friend I made while au pairing in Germany. She's the sweetest person I've ever met, adopted from an orphanage in Russia at age ten. She speaks in measured lengths, the accent of her mother tongue bleeding through years of English picked up in California and Texas. It's intriguing, intoxicating even. Ana lives in Germany now and it's a long overdue reunion.
We've made a dinner reservation just down the canal at Sur Les Quais, at the recommendation of a local. It's a small restaurant sitting no more than 30 patrons and a large chalkboard advertises the menu. We lean heavily on our server - who may be the proprietor - for our wine selection and an English translation of the menu. Natalie lives in Switzerland and has picked up a sort of colonial French from her Africa-born friends. You can tell her colloquial diction piques the interest of (or puzzles) the Parisians she converses with. Our server describes the finer details of the entrées and varietals that Natalie can't quite translate for us.
I'm selfishly delighted when we all order different dishes so I can sample them all. For me it's scallops with a side of risotto, lamb for Ana, and duck for Natalie. We split a bottle of wine and I find myself satisfied by a meal as I've never been before. Tonight's not the night for counting calories and I make no hesitation when the dessert menu arrives: crème brûlée.
Night has fallen by the time it comes for us to part. Soft light dances on the still, inky water of Canal St Martin. I fly back to Canada the next day, wrapping up my short nine day Paris trip. It seems cruel to reconnect so briefly with Ana. She's driven all the way from Essen, Germany for this meal, for which I am eternally grateful. When will I see her again? Will I ever see her again?
This story is without a dramatic plot line. It's just a moment suspended in time, stamped into my recollect. What's more is, I see that Sur Les Quais has since closed its doors. I can't even recommend that you pay a visit, but I do encourage you not to overlook Canal St Martin against the backdrop of Paris' glittering sites.
Have you spent a lazy afternoon in Canal St Martin?
Let me know - comment below!
More content written by Jennifer Larsen