Thursday, January 27, 2011


The first couple of times I was in Paris there were tour busses full of Japanese tourists going to all the places that bus loads of tourists go to.

When I got here at the beginning of the beginning of this trip there were bus loads of Chinese tourists going to all of the places that bus loads of tourists go to.

Between those two apparently symmetrical statements of tourist demography lies a gulf of change.

When Mysti and I spent our first month in Paris we quickly discovered the traiteurs – the food shops that had a vast and unbelievably enticing array of importer food – takeout food.  In our arrondissement, just around the corner from our apartment was, what in later trips I started calling “The Pig” because of its happy pig’s head sign hanging over it.  There were many others but The Pig seemed to be the best.

So we frequently acquired key items for of our dinner at The Pig.

We bought galettes, which were what I would have called shredded raw potato pancakes.  These were cooked to a deeply, crisply, deep golden brown. 

We bought quiches of wonderful, imaginative  variety and wonderful, unbelievably edible  quality.

I bought cold cooked trout with the skin partially removed at an angle to the axis of the fish.

Being vegetarian, Mysti bought a wide variety of salads. I eat salads too, so she bought enough for two.

And for both of us, we bought choucroute.  We bought wonderful choucroute.  I always thought that sauerkraut was some sort of ethnic joke.  The kind that I had experience with in the United States was, by my standards, inedible.  Bud Clark, the pub master of the Goose Hollow Inn in Portland had for years a standing offer n his menu:  “all the sauerkraut you can eat – $5.00”.  Apparently Bud had similar feelings about sauerkraut.

But this thing that they have in France, this choucroute, I discovered on first eating, starting with the thinness of the strands of cabbage, is a thing apart.  It has no resemblance to its American cousin other than that it is made of cabbage.

The French version – actually it is the Alsatian version -  has juniper berries mixed into it.  It often has had just a little white wine added to its magical preparation process.  It is only mildly sour, being more savory than sour.  And it is good eaten cold, room temperature, or warm.

So, early in out times in Paris the traiteurs ran what an American would probably have called an upscale delicatessen with a pan-European selection of food. 

Somewhere in the very early 2000s that changed.  Sushi appeared in one of the traiteur’s shops.  Then it was soon in two. And in almost no time its presence in the shops had gone geometric.  And it wasn’t that the traiteurs  had decided to go eclectic.  Traiteurs who had all been native European stock had changed somewhere while we weren’t paying attention into Asians.  The European heritage traiteurs seemed to have all, or mostly, been replaced.  And soon the sushi had full show cases of other Asian foods to accompany it. 

Choucroute wasn’t in every deli anymore; sushi was.

These new Asian entrepreneurs all spoke French, but even I could tell that it was French with a strange accent.  French was clearly not their first language.  But they were integrating at least to the point of learning the language.  But where Mysti and I went, we didn’t see them.  We didn’t see them, that is, unless they had happened to have taken over a shop in the areas that we habituated.  And then we only saw them if we did business with that shop. They weren’t in the general population of the streets walking hither and yon, stopping at boulangeries, boucheries and poissonneries, or having a café in the brasserie of their choice and chatting gaily in animated French as their European heritage fellow citizens are all wont to do.

But a beach head apparently had been established.

And on this trip French people of Asian heritage are everywhere that I go.  They are in the general population of the streets walking hither and yon, stopping at boulangeries, boucheries and poissonneries, or having a café in the brasserie of their choice.  And they all speak French that sounds to me to be what is taught in school as properly accented, articulated, pronounced and grammared.

In just  twelve or so years there has been, at least so it seems to me, to be that much change to the ethnicity of the typical Frenchman, or typical French woman on the street.  Lots of them are Africans and lots of them are Asians. But that is merely an ethnic fact.  The important thing, the fact of their nationality, is that they are French.

Pretty impressive progress it seems to me.

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