When you move to Paris, you don’t assume that you’re going to miss a lot of things back home and never in a million years could I have possibly forseen just how much I would be willing to pay for pre-packaged gravy. I certainly didn't think I'm be having dreams of Kraft Dinner or that I could crave Maple Syrup in my coffee and it never occurred to me to pack a few cases of black beans and spicy salsa, that's for sure.
Saturday morning, I woke up relatively early. Kettle on. A bigger than normal dose of Carte Noir plus an extra couple scoops of the Kraft brand French coffee I love so much. My machine broke so I’ve gone back to a no-fail classic: plastic filter, hand-pouring boiling water over the grinds myself into an old-fashioned bowl. A bit ghetto but man, does it ever make a good cuppa Joe.
While enjoying the rare quiet of rue St. Maur, I got to list-making. What am I going to need for this Thanksgiving dinner? Twenty people have already RSVPed ‘yes’ and I’m still waiting on answers from ten more. I’ve got a gas range and a microwave oven. I’m going to need a lot of ready-mades if I’m going to be able to feed all these people with my minimal kitchen equipment. No worries. Turns out there’s an American grocery store in Paris called THANKSGIVING and they sell all kinds of stuff: stuffing, cranberry sauce, turkeys, gravy, cheesecake pans.
When Michael woke up, we rented a vélib, otherwise known as Paris’ practically free bike rental system. I should have guessed that things weren’t going to go smoothly this morning when the first two stations we checked out were out of service. Eventually we found one and off we went, weaving in and out of traffic down Richard Lenoir towards the Bastille and then up Rivoli to St. Paul. I still can’t believe after all these years in Paris that this store exists. Driving past the window of the Thanksgiving store, I’m flooded with flashbacks of Canadian visitors I’ve begged to bring me my ‘special requests’ from home: used English novels, glass bottles of Maple Syrup and endless cans of black beans. All of which have hampered the travel plans of my friends – heavy, space consuming, dangerously sticky. They’ll be thrilled to know that I’ll have no more requests, that Paris can finally fill my every request and has everything I could ever need or want.
My first roundabout in the store I’m like a kid in a candy store. They’ve got everything from Pop Tarts to Philadelphia cream cheese! I’m ooing and awing over Old Tyme Ginger Beer and A&W Root Beer and gummy bears when I see the cans of cranberry sauce and know it’s time to get serious. I’ve got more lists to make.
Ocean Spray. Perfect. Sachets of powdered gravy mix, PERFECT! How much? 6 euros each. WHAT?! To give you an idea, cans of cranberry sauce go for - $1.19 – making the markup on this stupid low-quality grocery (with the exchange) +85%. Sure, there’s the cost of importing or the hassle of asking one of your American buddies down south to bring a few extra cases of the stuff for his next pilgrimage to Paris but walking around the store I’m starting to wonder if I’m in the wrong business. Maybe I should just be importing crappy groceries - I could open a store that sells only Belmont Milds and cheddar cheese and make a killing. That's when I see it. Betty Crocker Devil’s Food Cake mix. Done and done. 7 euros! That's a bit much, no? Well, whatever, it’s a one shot deal and at least I get a whole cake out of it, not just a tart side dish or powder. I grab a chocolate icing to later on top knowing that in the past, I’ve never been able to properly ice a birthday cake without at least 2 cans of the stuff. At 7 euros a can, that would bring this homemade cake to a whopping 21 euros and that’s not including the oil and eggs I'll have to buy on the way home. I can’t get over how expensive this store is.
They have French’s mustard, so I grab a container because it’s only 3,50 euros. Pick up a can of Black Beans and set them right back down because 4,50 is just too much, besides, I’ve recently found some dried beans at the Oriental markets up by St. Ouen so I’m all stocked up. I hum and haw over the cereals and syrups but realize that a small bag of groceries at this store is going to cost me a month’s rent so I’d be better off sticking to filet mignons, ducks and fresh chèvres than splurging on shitty American products I’ve grown up with and gotten used to. Just because they remind me of home doesn’t make them worth any cost, though I’ve gotta say, the price inflation has made even Dr. Pepper look like a bright and shiny object that I need. But I don’t. I don’t need it. I’ve got Orangina and Gini soda. I've got better stuff, it's just not the same.
So back to Thanksgiving. I revert to English when addressing the owner of the Thanksgiving store and I’m a bit shocked to hear he’s got a thick French accent. I tell him that with Thanksgiving coming up in a couple weeks, I was interested in ordering a turkey and all the fixings to feed the twenty to thirty of my closest French friends I’m expecting on October the 10th. He calls his wife out from the back who seems to be American and reveals that they aren’t really equipped for Canadian thanksgiving, it being so far in advance of American Thanksgiving. That being said, it will consist of a special order, may or may not be able to get fresh yams, might not have all the stuffing and cranberries I’ll need. The turkey, well, I’m looking at 12,50/kilo minimum. 5 kilos/10 people. I’m looking at 187,50 euros JUST for the turkey. If you factor in enough cranberry sauce, the stuffing and the gravy, you can add at least another 100 euros, taking this traditional family meal of your average staples to a staggering 350 plus euros! Unbelievable.
Needless to say, I’m a little discouraged and unconvinced that I’m going to be able to pull this off. I wish things could be easier. I wish I could drive on down to Loblaws and fill my mother’s large fridge with fresh veggies and butters and cakes and pies, pick out a couple nice Butterballs or even be fortunate enough to find one big bird to feed the whole table. Instead, I’m going to have to send an uncomfortable email to everyone cancelling the day because it’s WAY out of my price range, because I couldn’t possibly fit everything in my university dorm fridge, because I don’t have enough chairs for 5 people in my teeny tiny place and because there’s no way I can cook three separate birds in my mini toaster oven. What on Earth was I thinking?!
So once again, Canadian Thanksgiving is going to roll on by without too many loud voices in my house, without tablecloths loaded with candles and maple leaves, without stretched-out sweat pants, without leftover sandwiches on hot buttered rolls with cranberry sauce. Without gravy.
But that’s okay. I’m still going to organize something for the day. A game for all of us to play together, a bar for us to gather in so we can all have a place to sit and be together. In the meantime, I’ll take the cake mix and the icing. It’s overpriced but 21 euros,(as opposed to 350) is a small price to pay for a bit of home this holiday season. And besides, I’m going to need something to wash down my one-millionth frickin’ ham on the 10th of October.