I am not a religious person. Just the same, I’m surprised that it took me so long to become aware of la Chandeleur, the French term for a Christian holiday on the second of February.
My father crept up the semi-circular driveway, gravel scattering beneath the weight of the tires as he parked. The pebbles crunched underfoot as I walked towards the front door of my best friend’s house. It opened to release an intense feeling of familiarity, the result of the many years of friendship our families had shared. I could visualize the floor plan of their home almost as easily as I could picture the magnolia walls of our three bedroom rental in Knaphill.
In high school I joined the swim team. After years of weekly lessons, it only seemed natural to keep up the tradition when my family moved from England to France and I signed up enthusiastically, though my excitement quickly dwindled.
As on most grey days in Paris, a deep internal conflict was taking up most of my energy. I looked up from my book and watched the raindrops pile up on the living room window of our apartment. Swelling and colliding with each other, they grew unsustainably large before rolling down the pane of glass and dropping to the slick, grey streets below.
I have inherited a few Norwegian instincts from my mother: a biological compulsion to put myself in the path of the sun’s rays, an absurd love of shrimp and an instinctive acceptance of the janteloven. I am embarrassed to admit I have also taken things from Norway that genetics did not entitle me to.
“T’as les mains chaudes?” Chef yelled from the main kitchen. I stood staring at the thick slab of marzipan in front of me, calculating the likelihood of “warm hands” being either kitchen slang or sexual innuendo and weighing the corresponding level of embarrassment an answer would yield.
Paris is a city of moderation. Her inhabitants skip dinner to atone for the morning’s croissant aux amandes, limit their wardrobes to shades of black, grey and blue and rarely have more than three rounds of drinks on a Saturday night.
Parisians flee the city in late July and early August. The change is striking in our neighborhood, where the natives are never replaced by the selfie-sticked summer tourists perpetually gathering around I.M. Pei’s pyramids and filling the narrow streets of the Marais. With few remaining locals and even fewer tourists to serve, local bakers, butchers and restaurant proprietors have joined their fellow Parisians on the beaches of Corsica and Provence. But I’m still here with a bowl of the most beautiful cherries of the season in my lap.
Sometimes I walk around Paris with cake. But I prefer to take it on the metro. Unwieldy plastic cake box in hand, the strangers of this city’s public transportation system relinquish a tiny portion of their private space to me. Though they tend to ignore soon-to-be mothers or cane-wielding grandpas, Parisians respect the rights of a dessert to reach its destination unharmed. This luxury comes at a price.