I’ve been in Paris for 4 days. The wine is cheap, the coffee is thick, and in the mornings I wake up to a view of the Seine. Right now, I’m staying at St. Christopher’s hostel in the 19th arrondissement of Paris while I look for a place to live. I chose this hostel because it was the cheapest I could find that didn’t have complaints of bedbugs. Cheap was important, sans-bedbugs was essential. I even signed up to stay in a 10-person male-female mixed dorm to save a few bucks, which is a decision I’m beginning to question due to the Scottish retiree, who can be found in our dorm at all hours of the day without a shirt on, ardently cultivating his beer gut.
This extreme budgeting has extended into my eating habits as well. I eat the continental breakfast provided by the hostel, and buy a baguette later in the day, which I split between lunch and dinner. If I really feel like splurging, I might buy a can of mystery pâte for €1.50 at Monoprix (CVS meets SuperWalmart, but not as cheap). In other words, I exercise an enormous self control every time I pass a café, crêpe stand, or pâtisserie. This isn’t easy: if you’ve ever visited Paris, you know there is literally one on every block. And boy do those pastries look good.
Anyway, as well behaved as I’ve been, I am still me. When I want something, I want it now, and I won’t be happy until I get it. That being said, I’ve had a hankering for falafel since Monday, when I caught a whiff from a vendor I passed whilst half-starved and lugging the equivalent of my bodyweight in broken luggage. Since that moment, falafel has been the ambrosia of hungry Virginias: a golden, fried chickpea-ball gleaming in the center of my mind. I know I should rejoice that I am eating fresh baguettes in the country of their origin, but instead I spend most of my meals wishing my baguette was falafel, and my chèvre was tzatziki sauce.
Well, today, around lunchtime, I broke down. I was quite pleased with myself for having held out for as long as four days, and decided, quite naturally, that it was time I rewarded myself for exercising such monumnetal self-control. So, around 1:00, I stuck my head into the computer lab office at my University (where I’ve been spending most of my days apartment hunting) and inquired about falafel. The technology geeks took a break from arguing about wifi configuration, and instead began arguing about where I could find the best falafel in the Eiffel Tower district.
Ten minutes later, I found myself at Apollon, a hole-in-the-wall Greek restaurant, standing in a line which had extended itself out the door, onto the sidewalk. As I caught the scent of moussaka and garlic in the air, my heart began singing the praises of my Mediterranean ancestors. I was soon planning a trip to Greece during my school break, imagining all the cheap food I could eat in Athens, the economy being the way it is…
It took everything I had not to start eating the pita once I got out the door. Since I hadn’t yet seen anyone walking and eating at the same time, I took this as an indication that it was probably not acceptable to do so. I scanned the sidewalk, and then it occurred to me: Paris did not have benches on it’s sidewalks, save for a few select bus stops.
I was downtrodden, but not completely discouraged. I decided to find the nearest park, which was, as it so happened, the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. I walked a good 15 minutes West, navigating through traffic, tour busses, and street vendors sprouting Eiffel Tower keychains from every imaginable appendage.
There, on the lawn, I found an open spot with a good view of the Eiffel Tower immediately behind me, and plopped myself down, taking one tiny bite of my sandwich before pulling out my laptop. I was just about to adjust the webcam so that I could take a picture of myself eating lunch in front of the Eiffel Tower (which I would post on facebook and use to brag to my friends about how it was no big deal that I was eating lunch in front of one of the world’s most recognized architectural structures, ‘cause, you know, I live here now) when a hefty, olive-skinned woman wearing a head wrap and circle skirt approached me. She was everything you’d imagine a gypsy looked like, right down to her furrowed brow.
“English?” she asked me.
Before my mind could process what she was most likely going to ask after that, I said, “Yes.”
She immediately handed me a piece of paper, which was a 2-sentence statement about how she was a Bosnian refugee with 2 children and needed money. I glanced up at her, giving her a suspicious look, and told her I didn’t have any money, at which point she glanced down at my laptop and gave me an equally suspicious “oh please” look.
I shrugged, expecting her to move on to the next person. Instead, she pointed to my sandwich, and then pointed to herself.
I looked at her incredulously. “You…you want my sandwich??”
She nodded again. Despite the fact that the woman was mammoth, and I was likely hungrier than she is, I began having visions of her two starving Bosnian children, sleeping under a bush somewhere near the Eiffel Tower. At this point I sighed, cursed my Catholic upbringing, and handed her the sandwich.
She snatched it up, and walked away as though it was hers to begin with. I hadn’t even gotten a picture, let alone a “thank you.” A minute later, I glanced back to see if by some marvel she was telling the truth, and had made her way toward two starving Bosnian children. Unfortunately, she’d only made her way over to a trash can, where she was picking off the onions as though she had a right to be choosy.
I let my anger stew for a minute before I marched right back to Apollon and ordered the same thing. I may be eating my baguettes plain for the next few days, but boy, was it worth it…