Where else would you begin your day by being mistaken for an Italian and end it having whiskey shots with your new Irish friend? A garlic and basil festival, of course.
Earlier in the week we had seen posters advertising a garlic and basil festival in Place du Monstre, which is basically in our backyard (front yard? side yard? I don't know). We went, if only to satisfy curiosity; we could not fathom how on earth a fair devoted to garlic and basil could possibly last from 8 a.m. until midnight.
We had set out to grab lunch - what we call Sunday Funday - which is a big deal here. But we started too early. The restaurant we were aiming for didn't open for another 30 minutes, so we decided to go check out this festival while we waited. It turned into a 5-hour long party.
For starters, it was crazy packed at first - people pushing and shoving to get to the best garlic and basil. I have never seen any such thing in my life. This is when we realized this wasn't just your ordinary garlic and basil festival (although, what is an ordinary garlic and basil festival?). It was, in a nutshell, quintessentially French. I hadn't planned on doing a blog today, but I kind of had to after this.
As we meandered, killing time, we ran into a stand selling a dozen hot escargots with a piece of bread and glass of wine for 6.30 euros. This is possibly the best use of garlic and basil we could imagine, and as I'm sure you can guess, we had never seen snails served at a fair before (in America, things tend to run toward corn dogs and turkey legs). We decided to have a dozen as a start to a progressive Sunday lunch - the whole boring restaurant idea was quickly tossed out the window.
As we ate our snails, a French couple at the picnic tables beside us asked me if I were Italian. While I wished like hell I could've said yes (inwardly basking in the inadvertent compliment they had just given me), B overheard them talking and saying they couldn't believe an American liked snails. Obviously they've never met us before. We snarfed down our dozen (because what's not to love about "buttery gummy bears," as Lorelai from Gilmore Girls so eloquently puts it?) and were soon back on our way.
Our next stop was a wine tent that boasted 1.50 euro glasses of wine. They were very small, but still. Um, hi. Sold. Haaaaaave you met us? We each had a petite glass of sparkling rose wine, then I had a glass of red and B a glass of white. We begin to meander back through the festival because between the merchants and the people-watching there was no shortage of entertainment. Then it began to rain. It had been spitting off and on, but this was a heavier, longer-lasting rain. So we made our way to the sausage sandwich tent for a little more sustenance and some dry space.
The sandwich was a bit of a disappointment - two thin sausages on one very large French bread roll - and B had put mayo on his half (quite possibly the best Emily deterrent ever). But, the tent for the sausage sandwich was right beside the Indian food stand, so B got us each a samosa. These things were ridiculously good. It was like an egg roll wrapper - very thin and crispy - and the filling was SO good and spicy. The French do not do spicy well, which is a big frustration for us - we're the "let's just add another shake of red pepper flakes to the recipe" couple. But this - amazing.
But it was rainy and getting cold (hell, it was cool to start with), so we decided to go back up the street to Bar Tourangeau, my favorite weekday haunt for cafe (aka espresso) and a good place to sit and read. Being a bit reckless and a lot cold and wet, we decided to order an Irish coffee each. The bartender (one of my two favorites) had a field day with this. He couldn't believe we were ordering an Irish coffee at 1:30 in the afternoon, and he was calling out to the other bartenders and laughing about it. I still maintain that in this cold, rainy weather (in July!!) an Irish coffee was justified. It was certainly delicious.
After we left there, we went to get another 1.50 glass of wine, because at this point we were taking Sunday Funday very seriously, and then we decided we wanted more escargots. When we sat at the picnic tables near the escargots stand this time, we sat across from three dudes - who happened to work at the bar about 100 yards (or less) from our apartment. One of whom was Irish and spoke perfect English. They were hilarious, and invited us to their bar for a drink after we finished our snails.
Well...we're never ones to turn down that kind of invitation, especially after the Irish guy, Mark, gave us all sorts of tips for our upcoming trip to Dublin. So we went to Les 3 Rois (the three kings), and in the spirit of Irishness everywhere, we each had a Guinness. Dear Mark took a liking to us (he recognized fellow boozers, no doubt), and brought us a little taste of some kind of Irish whiskey that was ridiculously smooth. Even I, who don't like liquor, liked this. And we got another pint of Guinness. And as B went to pay and I went to the bathroom, Mark told B to bring his wife and we each had a shot of some other kind of whiskey.
What started out as a way to kill time before lunch turned into a 5-hour party, making all kinds of new friends (seriously! They thought I was Italian!!). It was crazy and fun and rainy and delightful, and generally whimsical. A festival devoted to garlic and basil? We'd never been to one before today, but we totally understand the appeal now. We do love the French's ability to make a fair out of anything - we can totally get behind this. And as usual, we are immensely grateful we have the opportunity to attend these things.
xoxo from the fake Italian,
E (and B)