I picked a French name for myself on the first day of French 1 – Céline, because it had an accent in it which made me feel tremendously exotic and française. Within two weeks we’d covered hellos and how-are-you’s in Mme Kelly’s sunflower yellow room. I was already amassing a small collection of Eiffel-Tower-themed housewares.
But it was chapter two of my 8th grade French textbook that captivated my imagination. The chapter on French gastronomy.
A textbook geared towards American students detailed simple translations of cuisine famous in the USA; french fries and milk and hamburgers and hot dogs. It was the hot dogs that got me. Madame Kelly’s curly bobcut bounced as she flitted about the room like a fairie, petite and clad in an ascot like a true American-gone-Parisian. “En France,” she began, “the hot dogs are très delicieuse! They come inside a baguette, so that the ketchup or mustard or whatever you like is wrapped all around the meat! What a treat!”
My parents heard nothing but je voudrais un hot dog, s’il-vous-plaît! for the subsequent month. I talked endlessly of how my first meal in Paris would be un hot dog without ketchup, because i am allergic to processed tomatoes (i am aware that this is really very odd, trust me).
Seven years later, i was with mon amour and we were going to Paris. As aforewritten, our first meal was a collapsing into the first restaurant we could find in Montmartre. Though it was, admittedly, a gourmet pizza place, it was still pizza in PARIS, i am in love, and la vie était belle. The hot dogs could wait.
The next day was gloriously filled with seeing the Musée d’Orsay, red wine, the Louvre, more wine, Notre-Dame de Paris, and a romantic stroll along the Seine (with wine).
But nowhere were the hot dogs to be found.
I wasn’t bothered, really, because the aura of Paris basking in azure sky warmth and sunny day smiles had me totally enamored (the wine may have had something to do with that). I also figured that hot dogs were, after all, really an American thing and the more touristy spots around the Eiffel Tower would be my best bet.
Turns out, i was right.
J and i arrived at the Eiffel Tower, glittering in all its golden splendor against a purpling night sky. I’m not lying when i say seeing the Tower up close literally takes your breath away (asthmatic, remember?). In our haste to get in the queue to the second floor elevator (the top was closed – frozen elevator cables) i didn’t even notice the hot dog stands dotting the massive space beneath the tower. It was only after we had un-frozen our hands from the outer railings and gone back inside the tower that J saw the café on the second floor.
My big moment was here. J was fumbling in his pocket for the 2 Euro fifty as i proclaimed the most practiced phrase i know in French: “Je voudrais un hot dog, s’il-vous-plaît!”
“Désolée,” replied the clerk. “Nous n’avons pas des hot dogs. Ran out this afternoon.”
My look of disappointment must have told non-Francophone-J all he needed to know. They did not have hot dogs, so a pretzel it was. Down the stairs we went, catching sight of the glittering Seine and far-off Sacre Coeur.
Until we reached the bottom, where, not twenty feet from the elevator, stood a sign that read HOT DOGS HERE. I skipped my way over, the words out of my mouth before i could catch my breath. The guy at the stand grunted a yes, and set to work making my hot dog. I was ecstatic, i was elated, i was ready to fulfill seven years of waiting, when the clerk handed me –
a hot dog smothered in ketchup.
For the second time that evening, my eyes were painted in shades of forlorn as i shared a look with half-laughing,-half-sympathizing J. I handed him the hot dog, walking back to the stand to ask for one without ketchup. For whatever reason, the guy refused to make me one. J tried not to tell me how delicious the snack was, and i tried not to let the inner-thirteen-year-old throw an entirely inexcusable tantrum.
I had given up, prevented by my weird allergy and longing for the magic that made Mme Kelly dance in her sunflower-yellow French classroom.
J, however, is not one so easily defeated. The next morning, we took the metro to Trocadéro where there is a large platform from which you can see the entirety of the Eiffel Tower. Lo and behold, where there are tourists in Paris, there are hot dog stands. At his encouragement, i walked up to this stand-man and asked i could have a hot dog gratine (with cheese) and sans ketchup.
His affirmative reply literally made me yelp with glee. At last, in my hands, was a hot-off-the grill hot dog encased in a baguette swimming with cheese. So there i was, overlooking the monument that had adorned the posters of my walls since i first learned how to say bonjour, when i at last had my Parisian snack.
It was scrumptious and cheesy and so worth the wait (in case you can’t tell by the enormous grin). I don’t even like hot dogs all that much in the States, but there was something so magical about remembering Mme Kelly and the first time i fell in love with Paris. And maybe i was always destined to have to hunt for the snack – after all, it makes for an absurd and ridiculous Parisian tale to tell.
current jam: ‘la foule’ édith piaf.
best thing: l’amour à paris!
(also also, there will be a full blog solely on the eiffel tower coming soon!)