how i ate my paris vacation

Cathèdre de Macaron
Théâtre Macaronet

APRIL 28-MAY 3, 2013



The trouble with guidebooks is that they get old—as do their readers, restaurateurs, and desk clerks, and airlines' phone numbers. Before too long, they're all useless.” That was the first line in the particular guide I was looking at, given to me by the typesetter of The New York Review of Books who typeset an elegant little printout that was used by various folk lucky enough to possess it over the years.

I haven’t been to Paris in a long time and was worried that I had lost the hang of walking around beautiful streets, window shopping through chic neighborhoods and eating delicious food. After reading a towering stack of guidebooks in the months that led up to my flight, each one assured me that no I was not prepared, and that there were several more books that I should indulge in unless I wanted to gambol around the streets like the savage monkey from Murders in the Rue Morgue.

Fortunately, I had this printout which captured more of the spirit of what I was looking for—investigating the city out of appreciation for it, not just checking off boxes. After turning my closet upside down to find my passport, just hours before my flight, I eventually found it hidden underneath the Scrabble board, with a 5€ note. Good thinking, Myself from the Past! Those five euros could easily buy a macaron or two. . .

Macarons in New York City are a colorful but inessential, something you might find in a place that also serves tea or coffee. But french pastry brings formality to dessert, and in Paris, the macaron is one of the most formal exercises in sweetness you can find. At confectioners like Pierre Hermé and Ladurée Bonaparte you are waited on by attendants dressed in fine livery who patiently explain the colorful array of sweetness that awaits you. That, dear reader, is dessert: it's an escape and an actual treat instead of a daily calorie challenge.

I’m fascinated by the macaron because they are as bright and colorful as flowers in spring and just as tempermental. You have to eat them quickly while they're still soft, you have to find an immediate destination because they don't transport well. You never find coffee at macaron confectioners because adding a bitter jolt would ruin everything. But if you follow this protocol you’re in for one of the most sublime eating experiences.

So it was with some mistrust that I first regarded the description of the savory macaron at Complète, an exercise in fusion and our general contemporary fascination with, and this is a french word, "re-jiggering." Why can't we just have a great macaron instead of a novelty one?

Because life and art demand it. The impressionists were re-jiggerers; art deco was a re-jiggering. Life is constant re-re-jiggering. So bring on the savory macarons, you mad jiggering geniuses!

To my surprise I discovered that these savory macarons were miniature vietnamese buns, colored by various means and then filled with stewed short rib; chicken with lemongrass; a pork paté, each one pleasantly tart. In creating this new macaron, chef Henri Gustavehas created something hard to find in Paris—a light meal, and one that you can actually pay for in advance instead of the Long Wait for the Check. So many arms have fallen off, waving for that check. Let us have a moment of silence for them.

. . .

Thank you.

For dessert, there are sweet, or erm, well, let’s just call them macarons. Without my glasses, look almost exactly like the savory macarons. How the attendants could identify the glazed duck macarons from the coffee macarons if they were forced to wear clothespins on their nose might make a compelling YouTube clip.

Still, although I wasn’t hungry, I found myself wanting more macarons, and if I could not eat them, I was content to look at them, at the Cathèdre de Macaron.

It's not a real cathedral. In the 19th century, a sculptor whose father was a pastry chef fashioned small macarons made out of plaster, soapstone, brass, marble. While these are fine works, he refused to sell them and instead created the Cathèdre de Macaron in the storeroom of his parents' former bakery.

The bakery is now a Monoprix, but a polite inquiry and a trip down a secret stairwell leads to a strange world of inedible and beautiful pastry. As I gazed, quietly, at these strange works, my fellow americans wandered down into the space and announced their americanism by loudly exclaiming in voices as loud as their foreign policy, “I HOPE YOU BROUGHT A GLASS OF MILK, THESE COOKIES SURE LOOK TASTY!”

Pardonez-moi?” I responded, hoping to pass for Parisian. “I SAID, I HOPE YOU BROUGHT—” but it was at that point that I just started running, upstairs, into the Monoprix. “Help me,” I asked a clerk, “Just find me something that will put my fellow americans off the scent.” She nodded, silently, and handed me a very affordable bottle of wine. “What will this do?” I asked.

“It should calm you down,” she replied, “I mean, it works for me.”

After a few glasses of wine at the checkout counter, I headed off to the to the Théâtre Macaronet, in the Luxembourg Gardens, which offers maracon-themed puppet shows, and has a modest selection of macarons for sale at intermission. I was in time to catch L'histoire de Monsieur Macaron, in which Monsieur Macaron awakens one day to discover that everyone in his little village has a macaron head. He reacts as anyone would, by knocking the macaron people unconscious and devouring their skulls with glee.

That was a bit much for me. I'm happiest eating french pastry when it doesn't contain a guignol element to it, no matter how surreal. I left the show early to go eat my macarons near the pétanque court. And this is where Paris snuck up on me. In stopping and doing nothing, in forgetting about the guidebooks and the movies I've seen over the years, I suddenly found myself there.

Naturally, in this moment, I had only ten hours left before my return home.

And that is when I realized that while there are hundreds of thousands of books that tell you how to visit Paris, there is probably only one way to leave: preferably being dragged away while gripping onto the Eiffel Tower, a baguette clenched between your teeth, your pockets stuffed with macarons.


Back: Sab Back: Index Next: Do Not Ask for Whom A. Pontious Tolls