Monday, January 19, 2009

Earning my Calories and Spending my Luck – Part Dieu

The day’s race was not yet over. With my practical finishing at 6pm, I knew I would not have much time to get myself changed, packed and transported to Gare de Lyon for my return train to Geneva, which was departing just past 7pm.

Given my inability to return to Isabel’s before class to retrieve my suitcase and cake container, I did not have these items with me. So I was still debating whether I should make the trip back to the flat to get these items before leaving for TGV, or just to go directly to the station and leave everything at Isabel’s over the weekend.

I still had no cuisine shoes, and this was the point in the lesson when I especially needed them…as I would actually be in a potentially slippery kitchen lab vs. just sitting in a classroom. Carey had kindly promised to lend me his pair again, but I could not locate him before my practical started (I later learned that he’d been detained in his class but looked for me...and we’d missed each other by only a matter of minutes).

Thankfully that day I was wearing low-heeled, simple brown riding boots; the kind which (much to my astonishment) when worn with checkered trousers and observed from a front angle, could easily pass for cuisine shoes!! I consoled myself for the heinous fashion crime I’d been unwittingly committing; then I debated if I should volunteer information concerning my footwear situation to the chef. I decided I’d suffered enough and that if this detail were observed, I would come clean with a confession and reassure him it would never happen again. Otherwise, I would resort to cheesy tactics like trying to minimize my walking during the practical and keeping eye lock at all times with the attending chef (so he would hopefully be unable to look down and notice my shoes.)

We had a new chef attending the practical – I forget his name at the moment - and he was young, fun and relaxed. Cute too! (Albeit a bit too relaxed and a bit too cute for the type of day I was having).

The class progressed along and I’d been having a great chat to the chef throughout the lab and was enjoying his sense of humor. It was not even remotely difficult to maintain eye contact and I hoped my cheesy plan was working. Nothing was ever mentioned, so I don’t know if my footwear was noticed or not. I certainly did not get kicked out and I was grateful since I would not normally forego this important step of school protocol in any other situation.

Aurore leaned over with a wink and a sly smile, likewise affirming her approval of le chef du jour, whispering hoarsely in accented English over the loud clatter of whisks: "Mmm, he izz not bad, no? Quite cuuute!” I smiled at her in acknowledgment but decided I’d better not tempt fate any further by audibly reaffirming an opinion.

At one stage I caught a glimpse of the clock whilst we were about to start the final glazing/decorating step and it was already 5:55pm. Egad, how time flies with eye-lock on full blast! I blanched a bit paler than the cream we’d been beating for half the afternoon and started to worry about time again. Had it been Chef Cotte, my group would have started receiving marching orders about 30 minutes earlier, followed by a swift discharge from the practical lab by 6:05pm latest. So I was suddenly missing Cotte’s extreme punctuality and discipline…especially since my day had been especially challenged on this front when left in my own hands.

After de-gooking the glaze from my utensils, farewelling Chef Hottie and packing up, it was already about 6:15pm before I actually left the lab. I flew down the stairs into the basement vestiaire and changed out of my uniform (the third fastest change of my life). Although I had no Tupperware with me, I decided the tart I’d made was my one accomplishment that day (and much too nice to leave behind for mass consumption). So despite my timing crunch, I decided I'd take it anyway. I was feeling more or less confident I could get myself back to Isabel’s, retrieve my cake transporter and still get myself to TGV on time.

Julie, a kind receptionist at the school, saw me leaving with an unprotected tart. “Now Lisa… where is your nice cake box today??” she enquired with genuine concern (my extensive Tupperware collection being widely appreciated at the school…;-)) When I told her I didn’t have it and was planning to carry my tart only a few blocks home, she still insisted on giving me a plastic bag to cover it. I guess it made total sense with all the sneezing citoyens, doggie landmines and incidents involving rollerblading youth which could potentially enter my path.

The next part of our little interaction was pretty funny. I was standing before her with the tart in one hand and my arm elevated to just above my waist. (sort of like a Big Boy restaurant sign, just not as fat since it seems I have to RUN EVERYWHERE lately). I expected her to just hand me the bag. Instead, she just proceeded to tie the plastic bag over my hand and the tart I was holding, creating a kind of oxygen tent contraption from the wrist downwards.

With my right hand held completely hostage by plastic, I wasn’t sure whether to revel in the act of kindness, ponder the sheer oddity of my situation or reconfirm the precise location of the apartment keys (which I'd soon be hunting for one-handed). The whole day suddenly took on a Mr Bean quality. But I surely had no time to think of a better solution - and she was so sweet to care about my situation - so I bid her a kind farewell and happy weekend.

And then once again, there I was hauling you-know-what down rue de Vaugirard…this time with a makeshift tart cocoon billowing softly in the breeze on the end of one arm, and my laptop gripped tightly in the other! At this point, I really began to wonder if there is some kind of bad karma that I am working off…I just cannot identify the point at which I fell into disfavor. Had I been a mean, cake-eating sloth in a previous life? Or did I offend my guardian angel and his retribution is to secretly document these incidents for big laughs on heaven’s version of You Tube? Really, if anyone has more logical explanations to my recent plentitude of pay-back experiences I’d love to hear them.

Anyway, I reached Isabel’s a few minutes later, and decided sans hesitation that I would be taking my Tupperware but abandoning my suitcase. The full-on hammam effects of the plastic bag over my hand had made the decision pretty simple. I hadn’t thought about this side effect when Julie was wrapping me up (plus it still was minus something outside) but I had nearly lost my grip from perspiration when opening the apartment door. Spa benefits aside, I didn’t foresee this as an ongoing solution for the remaining journey, which at this hour would surely involve standing travel on crowded metro lines.

Of course, the metro lines (not to mention platforms) were totally sardined with passengers and so in addition to my contentment over abandoning the plastic bag, I was equally happy with my decision to leave the suitcase. But it proved to be another major jogstacle course through the underground corridors to make all my connections. Still, I kept pace, my legs undoubtedly powered by positive thoughts (since those calories from breakfast were LONG gone). The remaining minutes ticked away like a NASA countdown, and I was creatively dodging all the usual meandering commuter satellites who seemed compelled to interfere with all my hyperspace attempts. But I was smiling…sometimes laughing to myself at how silly I must indeed look. Oh la la… quel stress mes amis!!

I reached Gare de Lyon about 7:01pm and in the final stretch of involuntary marathon training for the day, managed to reach my train carriage at 7:05pm. Apart from a displaced passion fruit half, miraculously the tart still looked good… and I’d gotten some exercise, spent part of the day with a hottie and was enjoying exciting international travel…heck, what more could a girl ask for on a Thursday! We departed promptly at 7:07pm and I migrated to the cafeteria car…if still annoyed by TGV dining at least grateful that I had any opportunity whatsoever to buy a little something to eat and drink...even if it was nearly out of date and definitely overpriced.

So in summary, certainly not an Olympic medal performance, probably not even a Corporate Athlete performance…but still a performance. And some days that's all you get. I'm grateful. As usual, no applause was heard although I’ll go on believing the neon signs were flashing above the studio audience as a friendly reminder...for all I knew, karma had probably activated a mute button somewhere.

Meanwhile, I gulped my Orangina and greedily ate what I suspect had once been a ham baguette before passing out in my seat.

(One final prayer as I gnawed the last bite of that dreadful rawhide bread: Dear God: Please, please, please make next week be better! You know I don’t mind exercising one bit, especially with all these sinful cakes I am tasting…but I just prefer to do it without carrying my laptop and cake box…and ideally not while wearing leather riding boots. Amen.)

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