The food. If for no other reason, visit Paris for the food culture.
The Paris lifestyle encourages connections while sharing a meal. Friends, family and strangers sitting hip to hip at a community table bring their own stories to flavour the eating experience.
And it can change your life . . . or at least your definition of living.
Before heading to Paris, and on a whim, I booked an experience through the popular AirBnB website. As part of an extended trial, the company that specializes in the YouEconomy, turning homeowners into hosts, have branched out into a new area. Now, local residents in select cities can offer their expertise and passion to people looking for a richer travel experience. (AirBNB Experiences)
The experience I booked was with author Anne de la Forest to learn how to make the Jambon-Beurre (ham and butter) Sandwich — a French Classic. The only ingredients are in the name. There are no lettuce, tomato or mustard additions. Ham and butter. Simple. Classic.
I was intrigued.
I will admit that booking this experience was a bit out of my comfort zone. I was going to have to travel to a different part of Paris by myself while Mike was at work. I would have to meet a group of strangers and go to one of their houses. By myself. In a social situation. That involved sharing food (one of my quirks).
There was nothing in the experience description that screamed it would be a great choice for me to do on a Tuesday afternoon. In fact, everything about it said I should just stay home.
What was I doing?
Wendy, the first woman to arrive at the artisan bakery we were scheduled to meet at, walked up to me with a look of relief to see someone else lingering out front. Turns out, she got lost on the Metro and thought she missed us. Wendy was from Australia and this was her first time traveling solo. Until her husband died, she always had someone there to follow, to guide and to help. Left up to her own devices, she was learning that it was not easy to get from point A to B. She was getting lost and often found herself in problem-solving mode.
But, she said, you have to live life.
Our hostess showed up and was warm, gracious and chatty. She talked about what makes French breads amazing (super long proofing/holding time before baking) and that the classic Jambon-Beurre sammy’s secret is in the quality of the ingredients.
Nothing distracts the nerves like the talk of food.
She sparked our curiousity in the baked goods and conversations with the butcher. She inquired about our vacations, cooking experience and poutine (one of her cookbooks is about fries!). She encouraged us to taste the store smoked meats and revealed tales about food in Paris.
Back at Anne’s home, we made butter from 40% French cream and a pickle sauce (relish) from her condiments recipe book. We constructed our sandwiches and climbed the stairs to her rooftop overlooking the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris (known as Sacre-Coeur Basilica or Sacre-Coeur).
Over the lavish and decadently simple fare, we shared stories of our journey to this moment. The death of a husband. The transfer of one’s career from a journalist to a French cook. A person who went to school for law but is seeking a different career with animals. And an American living in Canada who hopes to publish her first book.
“It’s why I love what I do. It’s not about running from one trend to another. It’s not about trying the lastest thing. It’s not about filling our time. It’s about the simple things in life. Simple meals. Simple atmospheres. Simple friendships. Simply living life.”
When I booked the AirBnB experience with Anne, I knew I would leave her rooftop with a better appreciation for ham and butter sandwiches. I figured I would learn something about French food and culture in her kitchen.
I didn’t realize I would leave her home with a better definition of the life I want to live.
Step outside your comfort zone. It’s where life begins!
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