Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I Repeat, This Is NOT a Vacation

Sure, this trip has all the hallmarks of a vacation.

An all-expense paid trip to Paris, the luxury of WiFi, the feeling of pride when I successfully communicate in a foreign language...

But once again, it was nearly an 11-hour day in the office.

Sure, I got to take another leisurely lunch, this time finally going in for the kill on a plate of steak frites, washed down with a bottle of Badoit and some warm chocolate cake bathing in creme anglaise. And don't forget the obligatory coffee.

That may sound extravagant, but such fuel is a necessary evil. Meetings. Punctuated by a protracted product launch. More meetings.... get the picture? This is work, people! If you told me before this trip, "Have fun in Paris," and caught me rolling my eyes, surely now you can kind of sympathize.

I actually did make it out before 8:00 pm, in time to get to the pharmacy to pick up one of those wondrous only-in-Europe ointments for my mom. You know, the kind the FDA won't approve because it'd rip the bottom out of the market for the major players.

And that was about the highlight of my night. I got back to my hotel in time to put some mild fires out on the homefront, exchanging instant messages, shooting off emails, and updating servers like a madman. A product launch is a horrible time to be away from the desk. But things eventually calmed down, and my boss urged me via IM to try out the restaurant he'd recommended.

A Bonne Table. About 10-15 minutes' walk away, this place has anachronistic maritime decor - part old schooner, part ultralight yacht. I politely asked the lovely hostess/waitress/busser if it's ok to dine alone. My last trip having been to Japan, that's the norm. She looked at me like I was crazy for asking such a thing, but politely replied with, "Mais bien sur!" Or - "Of course we're willing to take your money, you poor bastard from a country whose economy is in recession, thus making any meal short of a kebab about equal to half a week's salary."

I sat down and made my selections, and the hostess recommended a delightfully smokey Saint-Véran. I sipped on it delicately as I ate my amuse-bouche of fried salted-cod potatoes, feeling extra self-conscious because I was dining solo. When you dine alone, it feels like everyone's eyes are on you. In fact, one of the other diners in the restaurant kept looking over at my table, wondering if my dining companion would ever show up. But who cares when you're eating little morsels of deep-fried fish-n-potato when they're being washed down with such an incredible wine? My appetizer sealed the deal, though - foie gras imbued with langoustine tails. It was a combo I'd never even imagined, and each forkful was made extra special with the variety of garnishes, each bringing out a different dimension of the fattened duck liver and mini-lobster tails before me.

I could hear my main course sizzling on the grill as - BZZZT BZZZT - my phone vibrated. It was the office. No matter. I'm in the middle of dinner. They can wait. BZZZT BZZZT. One new message. Whatever. BZZZT BZZZT. Incoming call - the office. I glanced up at the waitress and politely excused myself to the front vestibule.

"Hello. What's up?"

It was one of my coworkers.

"I think something's wrong with the installers."

"Umm, what? I'm in the middle of dinner here, but I'll be done soon. I can be back at the hotel pretty quickly."

*sound of the phone being handed off*

"Omid - we've got some customers screaming. Please get back to the hotel now!"

So much for my boss telling me to go to his favorite restaurant in this neck of the woods...

The waitress was kind enough to box up my dinner (amazing in a country where doggy bags are a sin punishable by flogging), and even put a plastic stopper in the remainder of my bottle of wine.

I felt so tacky. So gauche. So... American. I apologized for my sudden need to leave.

She apologized for my need to work.

So I've been back at my hotel, scrambling to see what's wrong, and things are calming down. In the meantime, I've eaten my dinner out of a box and drank my wine out of a tiny plastic cup. And the scary thing is - it's still really, really, amazingly good. The scallops are seared to perfection. The mashed artichoke hearts and fried artichoke leaves are like something from another planet. Planet Ecstasy. And I needed this wine now more than ever.

Somehow, despite consuming it out of plastic and skipping out on a proper dessert and coffee, I had a fantastic meal. One worthy of tonight's megadose of stress.

I need to get to bed now. I have to wake up at 6:00, catch a cab by 6:45, and be at the airport by 8:00. Luckily, there are no scheduled strikes. But traffic on the Périphérique can be a bitch, so I have to start at an ungodly hour.

Unfortunately, I may not be able to sleep. I just caught the story about Mike Huckabee wanting to put more God in the US Constitution. Hell no!!!! I'm gonna pray he can't do it. And yes, I realize the irony of that statement.

Thank you, good night, and God Bless... fancy French food.

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