I spent more time staring at the cheese at the window display of the fromagerie at Rue Cler than at the paintings at the Grand Gallery of the Louvre. I have never seen such a festival of mold. It was beautiful. The way the light hit the rough textures and the varying shapes of cheese reminded me of Goya’s brushstrokes, which I experienced up close and personal just two days earlier. The smell inside the cheese shop was strangely reminiscent of the odor coming from the mummy at the Egyptian exhibit at the Denon wing of the Louvre. Actually, I didn't really see much of the mummy since it was so dark, but I knew it was there because I could smell it. You need humidity and darkness to preserve relics, and you also need them to grow mold worthy of Parisian taste buds.
At Rue Cler, I did not feel insecure, self-conscious and bitter as I always do when I go to the supermarket back home. Why should I? I am in a foreign city, thousands of miles away from California, and no one knows me here. I am not looking for the latest, not-from-the-frozen-section, new pathetic food, I may be able to concoct quickly and easily given my culinary limitations and disdain for food shopping. I will be merely perceived as a tourist beholding works of art and curiously taking in the culture around her; investigating the Parisian habit of living well. At least in Paris, I am not that pathetic woman who cannot cook and buys Lean Pockets only when they are six for ten bucks. No, this was not Albertson’s two-for-five bucks-take-your-pick from cheddar, Monterey, or pepper jack cheese. (Now that I think about it, I never saw an orange piece of cheese in Paris. Blue, yes.)
I was not feeling self-conscious, as I should have been. I was surrounded by Parisians carrying chic basket weave bags, making their way from store to store buying fresh produce, fresh bread, fresh meat, fresh fromage and the perfect wine to go with it. No, I was not self-conscious because days before I had decided to embrace my status as a tourist. I got tired of trying to read my guidebooks and maps without anyone noticing: by keeping them open inside my bag while trying to figure out where I was going or by hiding behind large structures and out of the way alleys to consult them in private. Being incognito was too stressful and so what! I am a tourist and I don’t know where the hell I am going and I need maps to find Shakespeare & Co., which happened to be just under my nose. Now, where was La Maison du Jambon? I proudly took out my guide book, took a sip from my cafe crème and consulted it without shame. According to Rick Steve’s book, right across from la pharmacie, two doors down from the beautiful, smelly mold.