Paris is the city of light. It is also the city of bread. You can’t throw a cell phone without hitting a bakery or pastry shop. Baguettes are tucked under arms wherever you go. In fact a baguette and an espresso is the breakfast, de rigueur, for most Parisians. Croissants, Tarts, Macarons, Palmiers, Langues de Chat (“cat’s tongues”), Madeleines, Brioche, Beignets…the list is endless.
Traveling in a city where wheat abounds is well and good unless you must dine gluten-free. Or, as in the case of Big Papa, have a rare and potentially life-threatening allergy to wheat combined with exercise, otherwise known as exercised-induced anaphylaxis.
One Saturday afternoon, when I was first dating Big Papa, he was out mowing the lawn when I arrived at the Urban Cabin. Unbeknownst to me, he had also just polished off a burrito for lunch. A few minutes later, he announced he might be having an allergic reaction. Barely fifteen minutes passed and we were on our way to the emergency room, his lips so swollen that he looked like he’d had collagen injections gone bad. His tongue was swelling and his entire body was covered in hives. We lovingly refer to that incident as the “Monkey Face” episode.
Then there was the time when he had a pizza at work before walking home. I got a call from a nice paramedic who told me he was O.K. but in the E.R. once again. This time, his blood pressure dropped so fast that he passed out on the street corner mere blocks from our house. When he would come to, he’d sit up and then keel over again. I’m sure passersby figured he’d had one too many to drink. He was completely pink from head to toe and the medics asked him if he’d “been at a tanning booth recently.” For anyone who knows Big Papa, this is pretty funny. We lovingly refer to that incident as the “Human Shrimp” episode.
Ironically, if exercise is not involved, Big Papa is a very pro-wheat sort of guy. He is able to eat pasta for dinner most every night with impunity as long as he doesn’t feel the urge to do a set of jumping jacks. It took several years and half-dozen trips to the emergency room to put two and two together as most of the offending meals consumed before each trip where foods he’d eaten problem-free on more than one occasion.
It should also be mentioned that aspirin is an additional complicating factor as it apparently speeds up wheat absorption. We found out about this very recently when Big Papa had a headache, took two aspirin and followed that up with a lovely meal of chestnut pasta with mushroom cream sauce (made by yours truly). He then proceeded to wash the dishes. Twenty minutes later, my dear husband was lying on our couch hooked up to an EKG machine and IVs while being attended to by the paramedics. The things guys will do to get out of dish duty!
Needless to say, after we finally figured out the culprits, Big Papa became very careful about ingesting anything with wheat in it if he planned on getting his heart rate (and body temperature) up even the slightest. This allergy is manageable when you’re on home turf and can choose from a wide range of food sources. On the road, it’s another story altogether.
This brings us back to Paris. Most cafes serve baguettes or croissants for breakfast. Finding a cafe that offered eggs or omelets proved to be something of a challenge. We asked at several places if they offered eggs ala carte or even at all. “Mais non” was a common response.
The looks we got at a few cafes were priceless. The cultural divide became very large indeed when we’d ask for a “doggy bag” to take our bread home with us. How can you explain (particularly with only two years of high school French) that later in the evening, once safely ensconced in our hotel room without plans for walking about the city, Big Papa could safely consume these delectable goodies. However, if he eats them now, an ambulance should be called “tout suite.”
Most of the time, even if we told our waiter to “hold the bread, sil vous plait,” bread was delivered, and we either left it sitting on the table or surreptitiously snuck it into our napkins and out the door. On several occasions we had to politely excuse ourselves to find another café when the waiter announced, “Je regrette…our chef is out sick today and we only have baguettes” or “Je regrette…we are fresh out of eggs.”
All in all, leaving the pastries on the other side of the patisserie window is probably a good thing for both of us. Big Papa stays out of foreign hospitals and I stay at the same size jeans. That said, as we passed by window after window filled with flakey, buttery, wheat-laden treats, I confess I felt a little wistful. C’est la vie.
Want more to chew on? Check out Wanderfood Wednesday!