Cinéma en Plein Air

While vacations can sometimes feel like the maximum amount of fun packed into the shortest amount of time, traveling is not all flowers and cupcakes. Growth and challenge are commonplace, but that doesn't mean you're always going to like it. Sure, you'll learn something from getting ripped off or a bout of diarrhea, which can make for an interesting anecdote of this culture or that cuisine, but I, for one, don't seek out challenges like these. I'm more in favor of learning new languages, making conversation (and enventually, friends), and trying out new experiences. I'd prefer to leave the street meat and too-good-to-be-true deals to those out there who actually enjoy them. Still, pain and frustration do comprise the bulk of many good experiences. 

We're in Paris for a couple of months, but we're also going through the intro of the GAPS diet to rehabilitate from this year's ailments. For those unfamiliar, I'll spare you. But basically, we're in France and we can't eat raw milk cheese, anything with gluten (or any other grain, for that matter), pastries, wine, vinegar, charcuterie, raw fruit or tomatoes. Not because of strict adherence, but let's just say, these foods do not agree with us. For now. Are we masochists? I guess we're just confident there's more to France than bread, wine and cheese.

Still, we do get frustrated by it all. Tonight, for instance, we decided to catch Half Nelson at the outdoor film festival, Cinema en Plein Air. I vaguely understood online that it started at 7:30pm, not too long after we decided to go. We walked the 25 minutes to Parc de la Villette in the far northeast. Once in the park, we made for the large swath of lawn with a blow-up screen and huge red letters spelling C-I-N-E-M-A and hoped for the best. We picked a choice spot and plopped down on our red bath towel along with a surprising few other groups. I chalked it up to being August and went about undoing my sneakers. Matt popped open his laptop, immediately distinguishing himself from the leisurely picnickers around us. I laid on my back and stared wondrously at the sky, struck yet again by how beautiful bad summer weather looks in Paris. Large, grey cumulus clouds were mostly obscuring an eggshell blue sky, except for a corner near the screen where the low sun was blasting everyone like a strobe. Oh, I realized, stupidly, the movie can't possibly start before the sun goes down.

Still, I stared up at the screen, watching one of the park employees dose its face and the surrounding grass with a generous helping of hose water. The groups all around us were chatting and smoking, some setting up the lawn-chair-and-blanket combo that could be rented for 7€.

As the sun wound down, a constant trickle of people came through. They laid down blankets and sat in circles, each producing a foodstuff to add to the pile, and seemingly uninterested in the giant screen. I was inspired to see so few people using phones. Save us Americans, who had brought along no food and three Apple devices for two people.

I was also excited to finally get an up-close look at the Parisian picnic spread. We've seen little glimpses near the Seine, along Canal de San Martin, and in Paris' less manicured parks. But in those locales I was surprised to find most people sharing Pringles and convenience store dip, Rosé and deli salami.

Sure enough, this crowd had splurged a bit, but most of what I saw came from a supermarket and not from home. Some brought their provisions in plastic, some brightly colored tupperware, while others toted an actual basket. But the quality — or appropriateness — of the vessel did not give away its contents. Many people seemed to have ravaged the local Monop' outside the park, stripping it bare of Lay's potato chips, dips, cherry tomatoes and cheap beer. Others had brought wooden cutting boards to spread out their charcuterie, cheese, and fruit. Some had portable foods, like bagels and sandwiches. Most were breaking bread around us. Only one industrious couple in their 40s pulled out cutlery and china plates, smoked salmon, mesclun greens and a puy lentil salad.

Everyone around us seemed to be drinking Rosé out of those slightly more elegant dixie cups you find at a gallery opening. I lay down and gazed up at the sky. But all I could do was smell the sour, pungent scent of aged goat cheese, the nutty fragrance of toasted wheat, or bursts of fresh basil from the group next to us.

I sat up again and surveyed the crowd — all young, lithe, and able to eat. It was enough to make you want to cry. I had visions of a movie montage of people in succession opening their mouth's wide, their eyes closed ever so slightly in anticipation of each pleasurable bite. After what seemed ages — and was probably around an hour — the air filled with post-picnic cigarette smoke. People had taken to reclining, balancing cups on bellies and propping heads on hands as they inhaled slowly. The conversation continued at typical French murmur volume, broken by the occasional wine-soaked giggle. 

Matt continued typing this whole time, happily oblivious. It's a wonderful thing, a picnic, and the French take their spread quite seriously. I finally broke down and went to look for any provisions. Sure enough, the Monop' was completely gutted, with not even a spare chip bag. I walked back sullenly, but sky and crowd got the better of me, picnic partaking or no.

Matt offered to look and headed off towards the bar, returning with a sad face and a Pellegrino. A couple beats later two bags of potato chips materialized, with nice, loopy French lettering about some ancient potato on their front. My face lit up. We tore into the two bags, each relishing the crunch, that's so absent in slow-cooked food! For as long as it lasted, anyway.

Well, it lasted all of five minutes before Matt excused himself to use the toilet and I started to feel my stomach doing little flip-flops. It was getting on 9pm. People were putting on extra layers, hugging their blankets tightly around them. Still, no movie preparations were being made. Matt returned some minutes later, looking slack-faced and pale, and curled up in my lap. So much for potato chips. But we knew that, of course.

Funnily enough, after all that second-hand picnicking, I felt somehow rejuvenated. Or at least slightly more relaxed, if only through osmosis. Yes, we completely missed the movie and felt somewhat horrible, but I don't think I missed the whole point of the exercise.

Place: Paris Tags: food, Food, film, park, picnic

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