Toulouse, Part I
29.08.2009 - 29.08.2009
Friday evening, I took the night train from Paris to Toulouse, where Pilar would pick me up at the station the next morning. Never easy to sleep in a chair, but I did oblige the girl next to me with a conversation in English. She had been an exchange student in the rural NW of the US and was happy to hear American English. A public school teacher, she would be visiting her ill grandfather for the weekend. When we parted ways, she kindly gave me her phone number for the next time I would be in Paris. [Dang, I forgot to call her that last weekend before I took off. Well, next time…]
Pilar greeted me with her smile and maternal warmth. It had been a year since we’d met in the last awful DC restaurant that completed my restaurant phase last year and led me to swear off restaurant work evermore. The only good thing that came out of working in that verbally abusive environment (where two of three managers needed anger management classes, and the third, sympathetic but weak, looked on), at a time when business was excruciatingly slow, was meeting Pilar and her son, Thibault, vacationing on the east coat. Thanks to the lack of business, I had plenty of time to chat with them. Funny thing about French people is they are always happy to speak their language (whereas other foreigners might insist on practicing their English), and always shocked when Americans can, too. I’m not sure why, as it’s one of the most commonly taught foreign languages in the US (being Western European and seeing as how our educational system, at least when I was in school, has such a eurocentric bias). It’s hardly exotic or obscure. Of course, not everyone develops an obsession for it as I did. Nevertheless, there are just as many of us in francophone regions who might blend in as there are those who are obviously struggling. In any case, a year later, I took her up on her offer and she enthusiastically agreed to host me for as long as I desired. (Thus, I will always speak well of Toulousains.) That first day, she insisted on reimbursing me for the train ride. I was touched. My own mother wouldn’t do that, but then again, she’s in a special category all to herself.
After our café-croissant and an obligatory nap, Thibault joined us for lunch in town (delicious by my standards, mediocre by theirs).*
Then, we walked around town along the Quai de la Daurade by the Garonne river, to the main square (Place du Capitole).
Toulouse is dubbed La ville rose (the pink city) because of the pinkish hue of the stones of the older buildings that came from the region. In addition to her Spanish half, Pilar must also have some Japanese ancestry, as her camera shuttered away every 2.5 minutes or so, which would explain Thibault’s impatience. He had to put up with this all the time. But he’s lucky to have such a loving and supportive mother, who herself had a rather difficult experience with her own cold, distant mother. This gives me some comfort and hope, in the off chance that I meet a man during the remainder of my childbearing years who can stand me enough to form a life with me. (And, I admit, I've been doing a pretty good job the last few years avoiding any realistic prospects.) That’ll be the day!! I think the odds are about the same as neoconservative Congress members realizing that healthcare for all is a basic human right. We shall see…
Back to Thibault. Tan, tall, ¼ Spanish, stunning green eyes (a weakness of mine), a chiseled visage, toned limbs, a kind demeanor, and kickass name (of a medieval knight)…needless to say, it was quite nice to see him again. However, no need to be jealous, girls, as it turned out he absolutely swings the other way. Ah well, works of art and other aesthetic pleasures are all part of the travel experience. And luckily, his perfect teeth were just enough of a drawback to help me control myself and behave appropriately. (My fetish for slightly fucked-up teeth—in a way that is just so, and hard to explain—has gotten me in trouble before, namely with a certain Czech fellow. But that is quite another story. I wonder if the fact that my father is a dentist has anything to do with it?)
At the main square, people were playing Michael Jackson music with much nostalgia, as it was apparently his birthday. Later, Pilar treated us to smoothies and dessert.
Smoothies have popped up everywhere in France. Just as expensive as in the US, nevertheless healthy and tasty. Sometimes people are surprised when I mention they came from the US, as if words like this would ever exist in French. Come on—“smoothie”?! Anyway, nice to know we can contribute something besides greasy fast food. At the café, Thibault agreed to read and explain the dessert menu to me. If you want to watch a 24-year-old read a dessert menu in French—here’s the video!
On our way back to the car, we stopped at the Nespresso shop where Pilar bought an insane number of boxes of top quality espresso. As with the Swiss friend that I would later visit, they were part of her daily diet. I like a good cup of coffee now and then, but a miniature cup of espresso doesn’t really satisfy my desire to sip and linger over it. A good café crème, on the other hand, does the job.
I think that night we feasted on artisanal cheeses back at the house. (I realize I forgot to ask if anyone in France is lactose-intolerant. I never met anyone who was. Maybe they sequester themselves away from the rest of the population. Or else they just pop the necessary pills to get through every cheese-filled day.) Pilar’s place is amazingly original—from the use of space to objects of art crammed into every surface area and crevice. Some were done by her mother, grandmother, and husband. Like me, she is a product of strongly opinionated and independent women (except that her family was more artistic—and more communist). She has one innocuous thing in common with my own mother: a fondness for cats. To the point where she has adopted five strays (luckily my allergies were OK with that). Here she is holding the fattest one (how I love fat cats and fat babies!!):
And if someone here didn’t appreciate stinky cheese? Well, I’ve met at least a few French who dislike cheese or even wine. There are always exceptions to the norm. Not all Americans drink pop (yes, I’m from Michigan—you can call it soda, but it will always be pop to me). As for me, just the thought of drinking the stuff almost makes my stomach churn. Who would want to put gassy sugar-water with chemicals and God knows what else into their systems and disintegrate the enamel of their teeth? Thanks to the advertising industry, lots of people do. I guess whatever addictive elements those drinks contain also have something to do with it. I know more and more states are adding taxes to unhealthy items like soft drinks. People debate whether it will help our population be healthier, or whether it’s unfair for those in poverty, etc. I think it won’t make a damn difference. People (in poverty) won’t/can’t change their diets unless perhaps they could find healthier alternatives that are actually accessible and affordable. Pop is always cheaper than orange juice. And people will want options besides water. It’s also, like everything, a matter of education. If we really want a healthier population, those are a few things we need to focus on. But most people don’t.
- Clearly, my avoidance of red meat in the US is abandoned here—not only does everything taste better, but the quality is overall less sketchy. Indeed, after having watched the documentary Food, Inc., I hesitate to eat even chicken.