Paris to Pau: A world of difference

Bonjour à Pau! If you have never heard of Pau it is the capital of France’s Pyrénées-Atlantiques department. It’s near the mountains and near’ish to Spain. It’s beautiful. And it feels like another world compared to Paris. In actuality, I am very grateful to be in Pau now. Paris was great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a very “big” city (it’s

not really in size, but a lot is going on) and sometimes it feels a little intense. Sooo needless to say, it is nice to be in the country for a little while. For example, I slept in until 8:45 this morning. WHAT? Yes, a rarity and a much needed one. Haven’t got that much rest in quite a while.

And I almost forgot….Joyeuses Pâques! Happy Easter : ) The French LOVE Easter. And they s

how it through their chocolate. Yesterday I accompanied my Pau homestay siblings, Nicolas, Melissa, and her boyfriend Xavier, and their friend Pierre (they’re my age which is a lot of fun) to buy enormous chocolate “Kinder” eggs (“Khin-dhaire” si tu es français….) at the local mall. And of course Easter wouldn’t be complete without a few handles of whiskey to go with your giant chocolate eggs. It’s so foreign as an American to watch your

peers (and younger) taking their sweet time picking out their favorite brands of alcohol in the supermarché and then, no problem, carrying them to the car in broad day light without a second thought. Oh wait, this is Europe. Interesting to note though that the attitude towards drinking is generally different in France than in the US from what I have noticed. I have been asked by the French siblings in my home stays in both Paris and Pau if the college I went to was like American Pie or Animal House. Uh, well, not really. How reassuring that this is the international image of the American college experience (though the stereotype gets perpetuated for a reason, as all stereotypes do….) Quel dommage.

Now let me tell you about the Easter lunch I enjoyed. Or rather, let me explain the equation for a perfect dimanche Pâques (Easter Sunday):

1) Begin with sleeping in. Oh la la.

2) Have your home stay sister tell you she’ll make you a little breakfast before church: add toast, café, confiture, and then when she asks if you would like some jus d’orange, watch as she whips out a few oranges and squeezes out some fresh orange juice before your eyes. She’s so sweet! And it’s like no big deal for her. When I asked what she’d do when I was at church she said she’d probably go back to bed. Basically, she got up to sit with me at breakfast and make sure I got fed well. Merci bien Melissa!!

3) Go to church. Or however else you worship. Maybe go on a run, meditate, whatever. Do whatever makes you feel still, receptive, held, precious. Maybe you wouldn’t use the same words, but we all have those experiences in our lives. Whatever it is, do that. I myself went to church in Pau at the 1st Church of Christ, Scientist. The congregation was so precious and the Easter story is something that’s become very meaningful to me. Great.

4) Return home and realize you’re going to have an awesome marathon lunch. The neighbors come over. Enter Antoine and Maggie. Chat up a storm with Antoine. YES! You are conversant in a foreign language now! Hang out with the whole fam in the kitchen while French mama Natasha (she’s actually from Belgrade but her parents emigrated when she was young) cooks amazingness. Sit down to, first, a giant bowl of shrimp and…something else (really BIG shrimp with scary ass pincers and too many legs) Ok, quick story. There were way fewer giant “things” than shrimp in the bowl (PS none of them are decapitated or shelled) and so naturally I’m curious about what is attached to the giant pincer held high above the sea of shrimp like a Jaws fin. I pick it up by the arm and set it on my plate. It is practically as big as my hand and has big bulging black eyes and very long feeler-things. EW. Since we are eating these with our hands I have to touch it….a lot….to rip its head off and split its exo-skeleton and tear off its legs. The whole time I carry the irrational fear that it’s not actually dead and it’s going to start moving at any moment. So, heart beating, I try to de-everything it really quickly however the process takes much too long for my liking. I eat its white innards asap to rid myself of its memory and vow never to pick a giant shimp-thing out of the bowl again (I forget the French word). I am doing well until I accidently grab another one. I take one look at it and impulsively toss it back to the bowl before I can think of how not-okay it is to touch your food and then fling it back into a communal dish. Natasha asks me if I don’t like them. Being the guest that I am, I try and avoid explaining to the entire table why our lunch frightens me. It’s probably not the best way to make new friends in a foreign country and plus, I don’t have the vocabulary. Instead I just ask what they are, as if I don’t know. As if I want to know. They tell me. They’re not shrimp (I knew it) and that they’re very good. “Oh, here. Try one. You’ll like it.” Oh…tu es très gentil. And this is the part where I just have to suck it up and stick my hand into the seething bowl of claws and legs and fish one out, crack it open, and eat it while everyone watches. I do it. I do it without conveying that I might as well be handling a live tarantula as far as I’m concerned. I down that sucker so fast to get it out of my sight.

And then I realize it wasn’t that bad. So I eat another. And another. My, my, the things you can prove to yourself when put under a little pressure. How did I express grace today? I ate mutant shrimp on Easter Sunday in southern France.

5) Continue your long leisurely meal with conversation, pomme de noisette (French fries shaped like hazel nuts), beans and carrots in this amazing white sauce and the best magret de canard I have had yet! The meat was tender, just the right amount of oily, aromatic and as brown as a good chocolate. So simple, so good.

6) Toast to champagne aka take a sip because it’s fun to toast and then ask your French bro Nicolas if he wants the rest.

7) Watch a movie, The Untouchables (French version), with your French sister Melissa and have her explain everything to you. She was so great! She said, ok ask me to explain anything to you if you don’t understand. And then even when she’d stop for a cigarette break she’d stand just outside the living room in the garden with the door open so she could listen and answer questions. The whole family is like this! I love them!

8) Eat delicious cake and tarte that Natasha brings in with coffee. While it rains outside. And you’re warm, on a couch. Watching a movie. With a fun new friend. I have not done something like this since…..August. I was so content to rest today.

And there you have it. A darn good Easter Sunday.

And in a nutshell, I spent the rest of the night chatting with Natasha and ate toast and drank tea for dinner because lunch really had two full meals amply covered. Note the difference already between my Paris posts and this Sud post. France is such a diverse country! Each region has its own distinct character. And I am liking the one I’m in very much.

Et voila. A lot of other good stuff happened today, but this is enough for now. I am about to take full advantage of another early night! Pictures to come. None today. Too busy running from shrimp or eating cake to bother.


PS Found a picture of the "lagoustines" (I asked my home stay mom what there were called) that I ate with the shrimp. You know, the things that scared the poo out of me during Easter lunch.


6 thoughts on “Paris to Pau: A world of difference

  1. I read this to your mom from my iphone while we were waiting for our flights in the denver airport. Love how adventurous you are in trying new foods, especially ones that scare you. Your mom and I had some wonderful meals in Denver/Boulder while she was visiting. She kept talking about how you would enjoy them. Keep writing about your food adventures.

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