Monday, March 24, 2008

Buckets and Buckets

My tummy has a problem.

Last night, before it got too dark and cold (and before Sunday's 2nd round NCAA games started), I went for a walk. This seemed like a perfectly sensible thing to do on Easter Sunday. The streets would be empty, the atmosphere serene, and I would own my little corner of Paris, with all the usual denizens off in church or with their families or otherwise not in my way.

Apparently, everyone else had the same idea. It was not unpleasant, though, with families and couples and other solos out for a petite promenade. Without any work to go to, without any bakery to buy bread from, without any school to attend, everyone was going along at that leisurely pace to nowhere in particular.

I made my way up the Boulevard de Voltaire. Along the way I passed many of the clothing wholesalers who make clothes in gros and demi-gros sizes ("fat" and "half fat"), which always give me a chuckle. The French do not mince words.

I passed by a store window filled from top to bottom with gold-wrapped chocolate bunnies. Having lamented the fact that you only see chocolate bells here - and not bunnies - I was elated and wanted some, if only for sentimental reasons. But, of course, the store was closed.

There were some businesses open, though. Approaching the din of tour bus engines and cameras snapping and English being spoken, I knew I was coming up on the Place de la République. For some reason, all the Places in Paris - giant six-way intersections with a towering monument in the center - are littered with shrines to the American lifestyle. Not that I'm complaining - the fact that all of these places are open on Sundays have been a lifesaver. But as a non-tourist, it's a disappointment to find that almost every Place has been homogenized by the presence of a Buffalo Grill, Indiana Cafe, Pizza Pino, and McDonald's. Hell, even the Place de Léon Blum by my place has a Mickey D's (or as they'd say here "MacDo") casting a shadow upon it.

So in the French tradition of surrender, I waved my white flag and walked into... KFC.

Ok, so this move was premeditated. First off, I have this morbid curiosity of trying fast food places in other countries. (You can see a video of my foray into a Japanese KFC, if you like.) Secondly, in my utter loneliness and desperation to capture a little piece of home, I figured I'd use this weekend to take me back all the way to my college days. Where I could watch basketball all day and eat either an entire pizza or an entire carton of Shakey's fried chicken & "Mojo" potatoes, and still be ready for a liquid dinner later that night.

The shock of the French KFC to the American diner isn't what's on the menu, but rather what's not. There are no mashed potatoes. No gravy. No potato wedges. And... wait for it... NO BISCUITS! The only sides offered are fries, the corn cobette, and a caprese style salad of tomato, mozzerella, and basil. They also seem to be having some sort of promotion right now where they're offering baked beans. Not barbecue baked beans, mind you, but Heinz-style English baked beans.

All that aside, I was here for the chicken. Like I said, not for the quality, but to sentimentally recreate my college glory days. And so I ordered the 10-piece bucket combo (which includes four orders of fries and a 1.5l soda) called "Tasty Friends." Partially because I wanted a big bucket o' chicken. Partially because I found the name so morbidly cruel and funny. I just imagined a bunch of our avian friends - all friendly and jovial - being sent to their slaughter to end up in my bucket. Not unlike the classic SNL Cluckin' Chicken commercial. (By ridiculously tight-fisted copyright laws, that video link only works on US IP addresses. Spoof if you must...)

Back to where we were... Ah, yes. I proudly walked down the boulveard with my big bag of KFC, with the proud poise of De Gaulle coming back to Paris. I marched up my building's stairway with purpose, turned on the ol' March Madness on Demand, and prepared for my bacchanal of basketball and fried chicken and enough soda to keep me wired through the night.

And then something went wrong.

No, not Davidson beating Georgetown. As many brackets as that busted, that's one of those things that's terribly right about the tournament.

No, no, I'm referring to my beloved bucket of chicken. As I lifted a third piece of crunchy, greasy, life-curtailing goodness to my mouth, I took pause, thought for a moment, and put it down. Whereas in the glory days of my youth in the 90's, I could've easily put away an entire bucket of chicken without even looking to see exactly what I was even eating, I couldn't even get past the second one. My gustatory life had suddenly become one with the stories of Georgetown and Duke - former powerhouses that are now just another story of two-and-out.

In the 90's, that bucket would've been cleaned out by the time Western Kentucky and San Diego played their improbable game, and everyone who'd penciled the Hoyas or the Blue Devils or even the UConn Huskies in their bracket would still have a good shot at the office pool's $60 jackpot.

My unfinished bucket, however, isn't a sign of the decline of the Big East or ACC. It's a sign that my body is becoming more French. After just four weeks here, I'm no longer able to eat like an American. My portions have become more controlled. I'm much more finicky about the quality of what Im' eating. I already saw this happening from one week in, but my body's rejection of the Colonel's secret blend of 11 herbs and spices was the proof.

I spent much of last night reading. Because that's what I do when I'm doubled over on the toilet. I spent much of this morning... reading. In fact, my stomach didn't stop bothering me until - in the course of writing this entry - I had my morning coffee, yogurt, confiture and baguette. Then all of a sudden, everything seemed right.

My gut has surrendered. To the French. How's that for irony?

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