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Report 2040: Paris au Ralenti (Paris in Slow Motion)
By Doru from Canada, Fall 2012
Page 8 of 19: Thursday, 20 September - Izraël-Le Monde des Epices; Mr. Pickwick sells Marc de Bourgone?
Half of the frontage of Izraël-Le Monde des Epices
There are two schools on rue du Petit Musc, one elementary and one secondary. During school days, at each recess, the air fills with the bright voices of children. It is like a choir sounding every hour or so in its own unique harmony. At the end of the school day, the smaller ones are greeted by parents, grandparents or nannies who have come to pick them up and walk them home. The older ones gather at the corner of Petit Musc with Saint-Antoine, cigarettes appear; teenagers unconsciously group themselves and fool-around for a few minutes, then walk away, dissipating in the surrounding streets, taking over the bus stations. Beautiful youth. Josette and I never tire of the old joke about how well educated these kids and youngsters are that they all speak so well French...
By mid-morning we walk over to rue François Miron, to visit “Izraël-Le Monde des Epices”, at no. 30. This is a wonderful old style store, where one can still buy small quantities of just about everything related to spices and prepared foods and preserves. The store’s aroma is one of older times, and so is the service. Clients wait patiently while the lady clerk weighs 100 gr. of this and 200 gr. of that, picks a small package with saffron, or cumin, or weighs pickled olives or pickled herring. There is no point hurrying here; the server knows the order in which every client stepped in and lined in the narrow aisle left unencumbered in the middle of the store and she will never serve you out of order; jostling for position to draw attention is politely ignored. One will be served when one’s turn comes. All of them receive the same attention, whether they buy three empanadas to take home and warm up for lunch, or present a list on two pages of items required that could be found only here.
I am a very dull client here; I always ask for the same five packets of Madagascar pepper (“poivre de Madagascar”) and, invariably, I am asked whether I want “le classique” or “le aromatique.” I always ponder with gravitas and I always answer “Le classique, Madame, merci.”
Supplied with Madagascar pepper for the next couple of years, I head to no. 16 where the mission is to buy a good quality “Marc de Bourgogne.” Marc is what French call their version of grappa. In English we unromantically call it “pomace brandy” or even... marc! I have at home a modest collection of grappa, and I was looking for an artisanal marc de Bourgogne to keep the grappa company (By the way, that is a very active collection; it is consumed and replaced with some frequency. The member products better come already aged, as otherwise there is no chance that they will age much in my cabinet...).
The door of the store is closed. We step in anyway; nobody there. I say a loud “Hello!” and a voice responds from somewhere below us. A gentleman, looking exactly the way I imagined Mr. Pickwick, appears and I explain to him that I want some marc “artisanal”, not “industriel.” Of course he has exactly the thing, an “Appellation Marc de Bourgogne Réglementée par Décret”, produced by Domaine Joseph Roty. The Rotys are very independent and standoffish growers, I am told, and the store has an exclusivity contract with Mr. Roty, so it seems. Then I am told how much the 70 ml. of Marc de Bourgogne imprisoned in the bottle costs. I grab the counter to keep myself steady; Josette pales. “Bien sûr”, I answer bravely, calculating that it costs no more than a good seat to the Rotterdam Philharmonic concert, and that the bottle will last somewhat longer than the concert... The prosaic matters of business now out of the way, the gentleman asks us from where we are, we tell him the stories of our lives, somehow we glide to Napoleon, the Napoleonic wars, Bernard Cornwell and his Captain Sharpe, Marshals Ney, Jourdan and Soult. He wants to speak English; we want to practice our French. After a while, we agree on an armistice, admitting that Napoleon was a great general and no less great a thief of cultural treasures, that Wellington was probably available at Waterloo with a much fresher army than Napoleon and, as we leave cordially the store, I almost forget there the precious bottle of marc.
After these expensive incursions, we had better go back to the jambon and cheese on fresh baguette in our room instead of the projected three-course lunch at “Le Temps des Cerises.” We will eat there tomorrow.
The big question: will I have the strength of character to wait with the opening of the bottle of marc until we return home? (P.S.: I did!)
Tonight: to the opera!
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