You Know You're Obsessed with Your Favorite Food When…
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Somehow, despite yearly trips to France, I’d never tasted a French macaron. The colorful pastries in Parisian windows were candy to my camera, not to my taste buds — or so I thought. I loved taking pictures of the little jewels, but thought they were a frivolous nibble for the Marie-Antoinettes of the world, nothing for a lover to take seriously.
But as a winter twilight fell over Paris one February day in 2010, I made a pilgrimage to Pierre Hermé, one of the gourmand's nirvana places I keep on a mental list. I strolled from my hotel near the Eiffel Tower to Saint Germain des Prés, chilled through by the time I arrived an hour later at the small, glowing shop more reminiscent of a jewelry store than a pastry shop. Inside the bright, warm store people queued up to select their precious treats. Precious indeed — I chose the macarons because they were the only thing in the shop that wouldn’t cost more than I’d budgeted for dinner.
The clerk waited patiently for me as I carefully considered my options, selecting rose, wasabi, salted caramel, and balsamic vinegar flavors. He carefully wrapped my treasures and took my euros — the four small macarons cost about €7. I left the store and perched on a nearby bench by the cathedral St. Sulpice and bit into my first macaron. And exclaimed out loud.
As I bit down the thin shell shattered into a cloud of intense flavor. I was in love. It took three bites to reach heaven. I meant to only eat one so as not to ruin my appetite for dinner but I couldn’t help it. I reached in the bag and plucked one more — this time I knew what to expect and closed my eyes the better to savor the rapture. I saved the other two for dessert, which I partook of like a religious ceremony back in my room that night, each one three bites of bliss.
I obsessed over macarons the rest of my time in Paris. I had to bring some home to my husband — how could I know that joy like this existed and not share it? The epicerie inside Publicis drugstore on the Champs-Elysées boasted a Pierre Hermé counter. On my last afternoon in Paris I chose a box of seven to take home. After the clerk packaged them and rang me up my resolve failed. "Et une autre, pour moi. Un petit cadeau," (And another for me. A small gift.) I said, smiling already with anticipation. And in this chic shop on one of the grandest avenues of Paris, the young man grinned and handed it to me. No charge. Paris, je t’aime!
I didn’t even have the decency to make it back to my hotel room. I stood outside the store in the late afternoon sun and savored my last three bites of heaven in Paris.
The macarons I hand-carried home didn’t even last 24 hours. Bereft in a gray, macaron-less world, I dreamed of those bites, only very occasionally able to find macarons at home.
My obsession reached such proportions over the next couple of years — I begged a local French chef to teach me to make them; I returned to Paris in 2011 and embarked on a citywide exploration of all the grand macaron-makers; friends brought me macarons home from airport changes in Paris and gifts like dishtowels and calendars started coming emblazoned in macarons — that I realized my next tattoo (to join the world map on my back) must be a macaron.
I was headed back to Paris in a couple of weeks. It was only fitting on this, my 10th trip (macarons aren't my only obsession), to get the tattoo there. I reached out to artist Sailor Roman, who says his "tattoos are made for travelers, sailors, wanderlust seekers, adventure junkies, and hedonistic dudes."
Though it would usually be quite a wait to see him in his apartment where he worked at the time, in the magical way that trips to Paris have he could see me the following week, when I’d be in town.
My friends and I lunched for hours beforehand where I fortified myself with a little champagne, a little white wine, a little red wine, and lots of bread. Running late, we had to pedal our bikes furiously up Blvd. Voltaire to get to the apartment. Fittingly, Sailor's rooms were on the top floor, where his windows overlooked heartbreaking views of Paris rooftops.
With Serge Gainsbourg playing, a cold glass of Orangina at my side in case I got woozy, and my good friend Tracy letting me hold (read: crush) her hand while my other friend Julie kept me distracted with running commentary and questions, Sailor worked with a sure hand and light touch. At various times I counted in French, insisted he tell me jokes, took breaks to sip my drink, and bit my other hand to keep from letting the threatening tears slip.
At last it was over and all was well. My forever reminder of Paris had me beaming even before Sailor, who told us he comes from a pirate family, poured me a celebratory shot of spiced rum.
Afterward I found a macaron shop a couple of doors down from his building but was fresh out of cash. And because this is what friends do, Julie unstrapped her purse from her bike after she’d spent several minutes securing it for the ride, and gave me some euros. And in one of the enduringly blissful moments of my life, we stood on the street, fresh macaron on my tummy, and macarons all around to share.
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