Friday, December 5, 2008

French Roast

Most kids want to be doctors or lawyers or movie stars when they grow up. I wanted to be a 1950s-era French ingénue. An unfortunate aspiration for three reasons:

1. I was born 20 years after the 1950s had passed
2. There’s a demand for doctors and lawyers. Not so much for French ingénues. Even in a strong economy.
3. I’m not French. Je suis americane avec un mal accent francaise. (I am an American with a bad French accent. At least, that’s what I think I just wrote. I was never very good at French.)

But I tried. Oh did I try. As a teenager, I walked around in flirty full-skirted flouncy dresses and white high heeled shoes, carrying a weathered notebook which I looked up from with theatrically wide, heavily-mascaraed-yet-innocent eyes, as if to say, je ne sais quoi. I eventually found within the city limits of Philadelphia one single authentically French café, Caribou, owned by one authentically French café owner who made my heart go ron-ron-ron.

And I moved in there. More or less.

When I was not in school or sleeping, I could be found seated upstairs in the dimly lit café, below a Toulouse Lautrec print, across the table from my best friend Kelly, who also was a 1950s-era French ingénue type (but she had a much better accent), hoping to get noticed by the French café owner. (In case you are wondering, he did not in fact notice me. Even with my white shoes and flouncy skirts. Even when I spoke to him in stilted English, like the subtitles on a French film. Le batard.)

Of course to pay the rent on my tiny table, I was expected (I assumed) to order lots of coffee, which I did. Espresso, cappuccino, café au lait and iced coffee. But I didn’t really like coffee, so I didn’t drink very much of it.

But then I grew older, began college, and faced with no other options, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was an American writer and not une fille francaise. It was a bittersweet departure, but the one silver lining was no one expected me to drink coffee any longer. No more dark, bitter stuff lightened with heavy cream (it hadn’t seemed very French to request skim milk or Land O Lakes Fat Free Half and Half) to choke down as I read expensive imported translations of Aimez Vous Brahms and Rose Mellie Rose. I joined the college newspaper and switched to Diet Coke as my caffeine source—and haven’t looked back since.

Until recently, that is. Let's fast-forward a few decades. I’m now so far beyond my fake-French ingénue days that I can remember them tenderly, without even slightly cringing. I actually think to myself, “Aww, wasn’t I a cute little pretentious thing!” instead of blushing at the thought of myself saying to the French café owner, “I want you to, how you say it, age me”—that’s how long ago all this was. Now I have two very American kids, am married to a very American doctor, and I work as a writer in the marketing department of a company that, while it is based in Madrid and Nice, has not employed me for the purpose of looking fetching while pretending to write poetry at a café table (if there is staff charged with that responsibility, they probably work out of the French headquarters.) And for the past 15+ years, I’ve had Diet Coke by the gallons, but coffee sparingly.

Then a few months ago, my department decided to purchase a Keurig. If you’ve never experienced coffee from a Keurig before, even if you are not a coffee drinker, it might be fair to say you are missing one of life’s greatest pleasures. Next time you're getting your oil changed or are waiting to get extensions put in at your favorite salon, please give it a try. It's easy. You choose your favorite flavor (I like butter toffee, Magie Noire and Fall Harvest), pop in the K-cup, and within moments you have a steaming, perfectly prepared cup of coffee so divine and so that you’ll be crying out spontaneously, “Mon Dieu! Oooh la la! C’est si bon!” in ecstasy. You may not know what “Mon Dieu! Oooh la la! C’est si bon!” means, perhaps you usually speak Spanish when you’re not speaking English. It doesn’t matter; this coffee is so exquisite that just drinking a cup makes you a little bit French.

So of course I had to get myself my own Keurig, to enjoy Magie Noire from the privacy of my home, where my kids and husband, who are used to me being a bit eccentric, aren’t nearly as off-put when I begin shouting out expressions of bliss in a foreign language. If only I felt this way about the French café owner’s comparatively crappy coffee—perhaps we would have gotten further than, “Miz, are you reh-dee for ze check?”

Random bit of trivia: did you know Keurig is a Dutch word that means excellence. Dutch. Huh. And the Keurig corporation is American. Still, their brew makes my heart go ron-ron-ron all the same…


Cammie said...

darnit Jorie. I wish you would write another book....

kellyioki said...

"Zhurie," begged Bruno, "please speak English!"