Trini in Europe - Two Trinis in Paris

Arc de Triomphe

By Natalie Williams

It is with sweet anticipation that I report from the City of Light at this time of year.
April in Paris is beautiful. If possible, it seems that this city becomes even more stunning. 
Movies have immortalised it and whole songs have been written about April in Paris. You know the one? The Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong version is my favourite.
Come on sing along…
April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom 
Holiday tables under the trees 
April in Paris, this is a feeling 
No one can ever reprise

So marauding the streets of this great city is a romantic tradition that the Wise One and I try our utmost to uphold when spring has sprung and this stunning part of Europe sheds its cold winter magic.
Especially in these gloomy economic times, when every little change in scenery helps.
Yes, iconic
I’m so buoyant about our break for myriad reasons.
For starters, April in Paris is when the iconic Eiffel Tower shakes off its dusting of snow and dazzles onlookers with millions of twinkling fairy lights – a sight not to be missed for sure.
Then there are the smoky, dimly lit jazz clubs where we will enjoy French jazz music in the city’s red-light district (yes, Paris has one), a perfect combination of jazzy vibes and new melodies inside and ladies wearing garish lingerie in shop-window fronts on the outside.
After all, one has to immerse oneself in all types of culture to get a true sense of a city.
We’re hoping to catch the Paris Blues Festival and some of the art exhibitions that crowd the magnificent Louvre museum.
And, over at the Grand Palais, our eyes will be feasting on modern and contemporary art from 20 countries around the world, all in one space.
Pastry and chocolate heaven
Easter in Paris is also a significant haven for people with a sweet tooth (like the Wise One).
At this time, the already beautiful Parisian patisseries and chocolate shops up and down the Champs Elysees and its surrounding arrondissements work round the clock, turning chocolate and fluffy bunny decorations into stunning works of art. 
And if you have never tried a sweet, crunchy macaroon before, this is the time to do so.
In Paris, they are legendary (and inexpensive) at the Pierre Hermie shop – a man famous for his macaroons.....
Then there are my personal favourite reasons for visiting Paris any time of the year, but more so when, baby, it’s cold outside: the brilliant cafés that ply their wicked, decadent hot chocolate made with real “good for you” dark chocolate and pure vanilla essence.
They’re served with buttery croissants and the laced Irish coffees you tend to crave after blissful hours spent in the Latin Quarter, discovering the weird and wonderful delights of these bountiful food markets and gourmet shops.
All experiences which will help ease me out of my culinary hibernation of staying warm indoors, and too close to dry goods in the pantry, before reluctantly deciding one must drag oneself to the supermarket for fresh fruit and veg in cold weather, too.
Two Trinis and some couscous
Then there is Lisa, my Trini cousin who has lived in Paris with her kids for the past 11 years and of whom I wrote lovingly in this column before.  
The anticipation of discovering first-hand her foodie paradise within Paris’s delicious sub-culture of ethnic vendors, food stalls and supermarkets is literally lifting me off the ground every time I think of these new memories we will have with Lisa in Paris.
I have rhapsodised in this column before about the wonderful transformation of the French food scene as a result of years of migration from the former French colonies, stretching from the Middle East to the Caribbean.
The process has elevated, in my opinion, this already brilliant food destination to even greater culinary heights.
And you may already know that couscous, what we West Indians call coo coo or polenta, is now the national dish of France.
So it is with glee in our spirits and under the watchful eyes of the gargoyles atop the Cathedrale de Notre Dame that Lisa and I shall happily hunt down saltfish and okra for the coo coo dish we shall lovingly churn together.
We shall indeed part take of French-farmed pig tail souse and we will conquer all to cook French frogs’ legs with authentic Jamaican jerk seasoning and fat red-and-yellow scotch bonnet peppers.
All with a side dish, real callaloo, cooked with the real taro leaves imported all the way from French Africa.
In to our laden baskets will go goods and produce direct from her vendors from Tunisia, Senegal, Morocco and Algeria, all plying their trade in the heart of Paris. 
Prep time
Without fail, the Wise One will cringe when we haggle with the Laotians and Cambodian vendors (but one must) to knock down the price of already cheap green bananas (for the salt fish buljol).
And I could just see my husband slinking away when the haggling gets heated, because Lisa and I want to buy every last fat, verdant avocado from the poor seller who’s only just offloaded them from the docks and was still enjoying  their flawless green beauty on his stall for a mere 15 minutes before we Trinis in Europe came along.
The Wise One has already declared that the reunion of we Trinis in Europe is worth a “fly-on-the-wall experience”.
Weeks before, we have been bringing the Caribbean to Paris happily and willingly, in a culinary adventure which begins in London.
Lisa is a legendary visitor and when she lands on our doorstep in far-flung places around the world, it is memorable on every level, but particularly during the ritual of unpacking her suitcases.
They are always bursting with the most incredible gifts – all food and drink and music-related – and every single item is deeply appreciated and rapidly devoured by my household.
When Lisa visits, it is like “Christmas come early”.
So, for our visit to Lisa in Paris, the stockpiling begins weeks before departure, as does rehearsing and refining the script in time for the sometimes vexing exchange with French border control.
“Roti skin is not real skin in any shape or form, officer, it is something you eat Sir. OK, you can scan it but please keep it as flat as you can.”
“This black pungent substance, sir?  This is Kutchela. It goes with the Roti. Steups.”
Yes these are the famous Jamaican patties, Sir. Sorry, don’t think I could spare one, officer, I didn’t pack extras. Steups.”
“Honey, stop steupsing so loudly. And just give the Frenchman a pattie and get the pace moving,” the Wise One whispers (make that “grits through his teeth”).
Later in Lisa’s kitchen, we’ll be catching up and enjoying the children’s raucous laughter and dancing.
And, in between arguing how often one must stir the pot of callaloo and keeping an eye on the water level of the pelau, my mind reflects on why so many parts of the world remain war-torn and strife-ridden, or are fast becoming mired in political and social unrest of one kind or another, while Trinidad and the Caribbean as we know them remain largely stable, economically sound, tolerant of all religious beliefs and skin colours, and generally a happy civilisation.
I throw this out to everyone assembled and having a good time in Lisa’s warm home ambiance.
The reply comes with no hesitation. 
“It’s because God is a Trini.”