The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Things They Carried (Or Checked As Baggage)

I've been doing a lot of back-and-forth across the ocean lately [photo, I need one of those buttons], and before taking a flight in either direction I do some stocking-up with things to cram in my suitcase, either because the items in question aren't available on the opposite continent, or are merely very expensive. A quick list of some things that I've shlepped at one time or another:

West to East, US to France:
  • Crisco - not sold in France but necessary for some of V's recipes
  • Bourbon - available but very expensive, and limited variety.
  • Zatarain's mixes - remarkably good with saucisses de Montbeliard.
  • Callard & Bowser's Original Celebrated Curiously Strong Altoids, Cinnamon flavor - not sold in France; the tins are extremely useful as well.
  • Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup - ancient healing secret of the Caucasian peoples.
  • Clothes, especially jeans - Levi's cost the equivalent of $90 here.
  • Food Coloring - for V's baking. I've since found a local source for this (Bahadourian) if we're in a pinch.
  • Birthday candles - You know the ones shaped like numbers? Terribly important for small children.
  • Girl Scout cookies - There are Girl Scouts in France (with very chic uniforms) but they sell boring calendars and stuff.
  • Baseball gloves - I saw an American football at a sporting goods store once. Once.
  • Maraschino cherries - for making Manhattans, obviously.
  • Chex Mix - There's no Chex cereal, either, so I can't even make my own.
  • Non-metric measuring spoons - French recipes are often remarkably vague, as if they expect you to already know how to do everything. "Add some olive oil and herbs. Stir to the proper consistency. Bake until ready."
  • Q-tips - I really have no idea what they use instead of these.
  • Hall's Mentho-lyptus - You actually can buy these in France, but I had already brought over plenty before realizing it. That's because, get this, they're sold here as breath mints. I believe this is because if they classified them as medicine, they could only be sold in pharmacies. So Hall's are in the breath mint section, right next to Fisherman's Friend (every salty-dog fisherman I've ever known has prided himself on his fresh minty breath)
  • Hidden Valley Ranch mix - Putting creamy goo on one's salad is regarded as barbaric. I'm fairly sure what we call "French dressing" has never existed in France.* So if you want some ranch to go with your buffalo wings--you'll have to fake the wing sauce, too--mixing these little packets with good French mayonnaise is the only way to go.

East to West:
  • Chocolate - If I don't get off the plane with at least a half-kilo of Bernachon's, V will leave me in the baggage claim and let me walk home
  • Scarves - always a good gift
  • French handicrafts (pocketknives, pottery, fabric, etc.) - ditto
  • Saucisson - when I can get it past customs
  • Books in French - for my bookshelf at home, to read later
  • Wine - Usually 3 or 4 bottles per trip
  • Monster Munch potato chips - they're shaped like little ghosts, the boys love 'em
  • Felafel mix - the real-deal Arab stuff. Once I bought 3 boxes and got a free felafel-baller, one of my prize possessions

*Much in the same vein, many French sandwich shops offer something called a "sandwich Américain", which is hamburger and emmenthal cheese slices served on a baguette, and is utterly unlike anything actually eaten in the US. Also, what we call a French press is known in France as a cafétiére brasilien. Go figure.


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