NYC really wants to be French

Well, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I get a mite squirrelly up here in the miasma of the great Northeast Urbanity. With the lack of family and partner and kids and all that, it gets downright depressing sometimes, and I think to myself, “You have nothing to live for”, which is about as true and about as false as I’d like to think it is.

I lost my senses of taste and smell in February, likely to an antibiotic I took in a moment of unbridled stupidity. I had a perfect storm of a cold, and someone advised me to see a doctor, which is something I never do. “The flu’s nothing to play around with,” she said. So I saw the doctor, who wasn’t a bad guy at all. He was handsome, too, name of Hersch Bhatia, which to me makes him an Indian Jew (though research says he’s not). There are Indian Jews, and I know that because Cochin, in the Indian state of Kerala, once had six synagogues. I fly there on July 4. I’m bound for the small village called Anandapuram, where I take Ayurvedic health treatments at the Aatma Center.

Kerala is a beautiful place with lush green vegetation year ’round.

Kerala’s billed as God’s Own Country because everyone, which includes Hindus, Christians, and Muslims, usually get on very well together, and there’s a high level of gender equality. You’ll see women driving cars in Kerala, which I did not see in Mumbai in 2013. Kerala sounds like it’s light-years ahead of the much of the rest of the world, and it feels it. The peace that prevails there is palpable. It’s in the air.

Meanwhile, since I can’t taste much of what I eat—and because NY is getting hotter—I decided to take lunch out today. You’d think that would be easy, right? Just walk out the door a few steps and Presto! There’s another place with food inside. So to avoid explaining how fussy I am with respect to organic and non-GMO and all that, I’ll just say I walked down Bleecker Street and ducked into Le Pain Quotidien.

They pop up in many quarters of Manhattan, in keeping with the tendency of NYC to lean toward things French, which might have something to do with this.

Le Pain Quotidien is just one of many French things in the city, most of which I have not examined in depth. There may be other establishments that are far more pretentious than LPQ. A number of places here are suspiciously named “Chloe”, and I’ll bet sight unseen that they can put LPQ on the bottom end of the scale of being French. LPQ is a restaurant, and it has to move a lot of food to pay that rent. But if you’re fancy clothing shop, you only have to sell a few $10,000 ultra-chic cashmere sweaters a week to pay your shyster landlord. I know what my rent is, and I know that there are “sliver” shops on Lexington Ave, tiny little spaces just big enough to turn around in, that rent for twenty-five thousand dollars a month. Incredible. Vacant spaces abound in Manhattan.

Well, to return to LPQ—because right now I can’t afford to become any more serious about anything—on the menu at Le Pain Quotidien is the tartine, a slice of bread with a sweet or savory topping. Now that’s an economical use of language, don’t you think? One word, tartine, says it all. That’s what I had for lunch. The menu billed it as a sandwich, but the only bread was on the bottom, next to the plate. Tiny little pickles lay on top. I did not recognize them and had to ask the server. “They’re pickles,” she said with a grin. I was mortified. She was laughing.

I discovered they also have Fourme d’Ambert. I was afraid to ask them what it was, so I returned home in ignorance. I just looked it up. It’s cheese, all right, a semi-hard French blue cheese dating as far back as Roman times. That’s far too old for me to even consider eating it. It is made from raw cow’s milk, which is OK by me. I think raw milk is a great thing, but why waste it creating some stinky cheese?

Croque monsieur was another mystery. Until I looked it up, which was moments ago, I thought it meant that an old Frenchman had died in the place, and the nervous cook, hoping to avoid legal action, immediately rushed out and stuck his hand on the old guy’s chest and then into his coat pocket, retrieving only a wad of old family recipes, one of which was for a baked or fried boiled ham and cheese sandwich. Ham is off limits to observant Jews, which I am not. Still, I don’t eat ham and never have. It’s very dangerous today. There are too many highly politicized vegans running around loose.

Apparently, croque-madame also exists. It’s the same, only different, because it has a fried or poached egg on top. Why the addition of the egg would render it a female variant is somewhat beyond my French. Maybe it’s the prominent yellow yolk? I did not, however, see it on the menu. Undoubtedly a politically active New Yorker will someday point out this sexist omission, and LPQ will have to print new menus and order more eggs.

Next we arrive at quiche lorraine, which everyone has eaten by now, so we won’t make a big deal out of it. Herbes de Provence rated a brief mention in print. I’ll bet someone grows them in a greenhouse in Newark or maybe Brooklyn. They also have a roasted turkey club sandwich on a brioche roll. Brioche is made with lots of butter and egg, which sounds a lot more like pastry than mere bread, exactly the treat I must avoid, lest I become any larger in the middle than I am. I had to buy new pants recently. I’m up to a 36″ waist. I do not like this situation. I am too short to be this plump.

“Gruyere” appeared somewhere in the print. I looked that up, too, on Wikipedia, but I still can’t pronounce it. The three phonetic spellings offered were indecipherable. It’s cheese, of course, but it is, in fact, a Swiss cheese, named for the Swiss town of Gruyere. Naturally the French and the Swiss began to fuss and fight about whether the French could call their version gruyere. The curing process of Gruyere lasts from three to ten months, but prior to that, it’s salted in brine and smeared with bacteria. Yummy, huh? Way off my itinerary. And I have no idea how to type that first “e” with the proper accent above it.

They had an oven-baked frittata, undoubtedly offered in case any hungry Italians wandered inside. And bread, beautiful bread everywhere. Croissants are so delicious and  so well-understood and so deeply appreciated that they’re more than enough to atone for the excessive pretense.

The check even thanks you en francaise.

And the place is plenty rustic, with lots of wood surfaces, including the floor, that haven’t been refinished since the French revolution. All LPQs are rustic like that. And the community tables are a nifty idea. NY needs more of that stuff.

Please to be kindly avoiding thinking that I’m a Francophobe. I am not. I know a little French. I studied it in third grade and again in eighth grade. French is a beautiful language. I was fascinated with Charles deGaulle when I was younger. And I think that a certain French voiture is one of the most beautiful of man’s creations. A certain French philosopher, Roland Barthes, wrote a fascinating tribute to her. They refer to her as a goddess. Which she certainly is.

I’m just trying to save my soul, to entertain myself and maybe a few others before I take to the heavens on July 4 in a big silver bird to the magical Indian subcontinent. I can hardly wait.

I still ♥ NY…but who knows?

About Russ Wollman

My feet are finally in the water, and I want to keep them there.
This entry was posted in Automobilia, City Center, Humor, India, Loneliness, Love, Manhattan, New York and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to NYC really wants to be French

  1. Beata says:

    Entertaining and, well, downright cute.
    I especially liked the Croque Monsieur story. Looking forward to more tales from Kerala. Happy Trails.

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