Rain fell lightly and coldly, grazing the top of my head. The sky was grey, the people were greyer, and my feet were aching after a long day of walking around Paris. I was visiting the city for the weekend, staying with some family friends who lived in the 16th arrondissement, a clean, upper-class neighborhood close to the Eiffel Tower, the Seine, and the crème de la crème of Parisian society. For the better part of the last hour, my host Annette and I had been traipsing around the neighborhood in a mysterious and relentless quest. We walked down street after street, each lined with seemingly endless gilded apartment buildings, expensive-looking cafés, and hurried, smoking Parisians. I didn’t know where we were going; Annette had developed a sudden and serious sense of purpose earlier when I pointed to a pastry shop across the street and asked if I could get macaroons there.
“No,” she had responded firmly and gravely, offering no explanation beyond a solemn shake of her head, as if I was crazy to even suggest it. She gazed into the distance for a moment, considering something, looked at her watch, then without any further comment, took off.
For what felt like 10 miles, I struggled to keep up with her long strides, muttering to myself about the cold and the rain and her inexplicable determination, before she made a sudden stop. I nearly crashed into her.
“Voila,” she said, gesturing at a cream colored shop whose sign read “Pierre Marcoloni: Chocolatier.”
We walked through the front door and I found myself inside a formidably dark and quiet room, like we had accidentally walked into a church, not a sweet shop. The walls were lined with commanding displays of colorfully wrapped, expensive-looking chocolates that were lit from below like statues of saints, and shoppers spoke in hushed and serious tones. Annette brought me over to the macaroons, which were arranged on dark velvet in a long glass display case. A hundred shades of pink, yellow, violet and brown, each with a little nametag I couldn’t read that described the flavors in French. A shopkeeper, dressed in a starch white apron and hat, faced us grimly from the other side of the case, bearing silver tongs like a priest holding a chalice at mass, giving us a look that clearly said, “Hurry up and order or get out.”
“Deux citron,” Annette old him, “Two lemon.”
The man used his fancy tongs to place two lemon macaroons in a delicate paper bag. “8 euros,” he said briskly.
My jaw dropped—back home, you could get a whole box of macaroons for that price. Annette didn’t seem surprised, though, so we paid, left the store, and she handed me the bag.
“Bon appetite,” she said.
I took my macaroon gingerly out of the bag and observed it. It was an unappetizing brownish yellow color, and with its three layers it reminded me a bit hamburger. Not expecting much from this mustard-colored McMini, I closed my eyes and took a bite.
Immediately it became clear to me why we had spent almost an hour trying to find this shop. This was not just a cookie. It was not even just a macaroon. This was pure joy and enlightenment. It was a flavor I previously could not have conceived of. When I heard Annette ask for “citron,” I had imagined the cheap tanginess of lemon drop candies, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This macaroon was sweet without being sickly sugary, tart without biting my tongue. In one bite of perfectly layered pastry dough and filling, I forgave the rain, the long walk, my aching feet, and even the unfriendly shopkeeper.
I slowly swallowed my next bite, smaller than the last one, hoping to make the delicacy last longer. The top and bottom layers of the macaroon managed, somehow, to be crispy, chewy, and fluffy all at the same time—a magical, unexplainable combination of textures. And then the middle layer was a whole different experience—a gooey, somewhat gelatinous filling of lemon and sugar. I took my last bite slowly and deliberately. Together, the three layers formed an overwhelming experience of perfectly complemented textures.
“Was it worth the wait?” Annette asked as I sadly swallowed the last crumb.
“If I knew how good this was going to be,” I replied, “I would have waited even longer."
Madeleine is a junior English and Spanish double major. She loves reading, writing, playing her ukulele, and doing pretty much anything that will get her outside!
She wrote this piece while she was studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain, after taking a weekend trip to stay with some family friends in Paris.