06 February 2007


Many of the earth’s marvels are buried beneath the dust of habit, gentle reader.

While living out of a backpack or a suitcase, habits cannot be formed; one must be ready to cope with just about anything, from noise pollution to absence of unfamiliar foods, from having to sleep on buses to doing without sleep altogether, not to mention doing without sex. All routines are sacrificed without a word of complaint because one recognises there is a price to be paid for living in the moment. But whenever settled in one place, there is an irresistible tendency to compensate for an erratic, ever-changing lifestyle by allowing day-to-day habits form.

Arriving in Paris last year, with so much to discover and rediscover, with so many joyous memories of the place (for one had visited with family, friends and with all of my former partners… so many occasions that one has quite lost count) there seemed no danger of losing sight of the fact that one lived a charmed life in the most beautiful of cities. It seemed quite unimaginable, and yet one must confess that lately, it has all been taken for granted.

Allow me to illustrate.

My first humble apartment in Paris was located on Rue de la Roquette, in the 11eme arrondissment, and having visited all of the boulangerie-patisserie nearby, one became a regular customer at the best. Every morning, after a vigorous swim at Piscine Georges Rigal, followed by a delightful run in the Jardin de Plantes (where the city’s firemen exercise between 9am and 11am… a stimulating sight, for those who lack motivation to get in shape) one stared longingly at the freshly baked treats on display.

Understandably, for the first week there was experimentation, and then one discovered croissant aux amandes.

From then, it became difficult to choose anything else. For while there was always the possibility of discovering something even more delightfully delicious, why take an unnecessary risk? Why not continue to indulge in what satisfied quite perfectly?

Before one realised, it was a routine.

Swim, run, croissant aux amandes Swim, run, croissant aux amandes and one was perfectly unaware of being watched until one day upon my arrival, a frank-mannered and talkative girl behind the counter, her grey eyes with a shade of wicked green in them, glanced at her watch and said:

‘Sorry, no croissant aux amandes, Monsieur.’

‘Excuse me ?’

‘No croissant aux amandes

Distracted by her companion’s playful laughter, it took a moment to notice a tray of croissant aux amandes on display.

‘What are those?’

Croissant aux amandes… but not for you.’

‘I see... Tell me, how do you know that I wanted croissant aux amandes?’

Both girls made a sound, one of those wonderfully expressive sounds that the French so delight in making, a sound suggestive of truths universally acknowledged- that the earth moves around the sun, that France is the greatest country on earth, that La Cicada is a talentless wench… that I was already anticipating how one of those croissant aux amandes was going to melt in one's mouth.

Gentle reader, if this little exchange had taken place in my native tongue, no doubt one would have responded with something brilliant and witty, but in the moment it took to recover one’s composure the taller girl, looking quite stunning with her dark brown eyes and her parted lips, stepped into the fray.

‘So you don’t want croissant aux amandes?’

‘Er… no, that’s not what I meant…’

‘In any case, you can’t have any. Look at all those pave au bastille, brioche, pain au chocolat, pain au raisin, sable chocolat hmmn, delicious. Look at all of those poor neglected tartes... Go ahead, try something else! Surprise yourself.’

Well, one was quite taken aback! Never had it crossed one’s not-so-innocent mind that the pretty girls noticed any of their regular customers (it was the last time went to the boulangerie-patisserie without showering after my run, let me tell you!) and it certainly had never crossed one’s not-so-innocent mind that they needed a little attention from a gay gentleman to distract from the monotony.

A little harmless flirtation to brighten their day? A little frivilous conversation? Needless to say, one was only too delighted to oblige.

One became quite attached to my little tete-a-tete with the girls: for six months, one sought advice on gourmet patisserie and offered compliments in return, delighted by the taller girls fabulous collection of hoop earrings and her companion’s habit of threading feathers into her hair; usually a brightly coloured selection, but bright white on a particularly good day. We discussed French men, we discussed the weather, we discussed whatever strike was taking place at Bastille that week… and they laughed at my bad jokes, made worse by my perfectly flawed French.

Whenever in the neighbourhood, one returns for a visit… and a croissant aux amandes. Best in Paris, and I should know.

Is there a moral to this little story, gentle reader? Probably, but one can't quite work it out. To my mind, all it proves is that you can take an Irish gay boy out of the village and put him in a city, but he still turns into his mother.

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