Pediatric Alliance — Arcadia Division
They say that Paris takes far more out of you than it gives. I believe the “City of Lights” tampers with the mind and deludes one into the intoxicating conviction that life can be lived backwards and does not need to be understood. However after some months of mental detox, I came to conclude the following: Paris and Pittsburgh are as alike as no two other cities on the planet.
While one is the City of Lights and one the City of Bridges, both can rightly be called the “City of Churches.” While we do not have the spires of Notre Dame pointing to the heavens, we do have the confluence of our three rivers at the “Point,” which directed our American Civilization to the golden gates of the West. The River Seine divides Paris into the Right and Left Banks, much like our rivers separate the North Side and South Side — much like the North Hills and South Hills — our equivalent of Montmartre and Montparnasse. Paris has the Eiffel Tower; we have the Cathedral of Learning. Paris, the Arc d’ Triomphe; Pittsburgh, Heinz Field. Baguettes versus pierogies. The Louvre versus the Carnegie Museum. Monet versus Warhol. The French Revolution versus the Immaculate Reception (both history-altering events). Pittsburgh has been awarded the distinction of the USA’s most livable city; Paris was more recently declared the most exciting city to live in the world. Both cities love children and accordions.
It is all a matter of scale and perspective. But Paris does have something we do not. I discovered this as we as weary tourists left Montmartre having been underwhelmed by unglamorous Moulin Rouge. Disappointed, we turned to food for a mental lift. Mindlessly, we stumbled upon a “petite” unpretentious chocolate shop by the name of L’Etoile d’Or (The Golden Star). Instantly, we were embraced by the ebullient proprietress Denise Acerbo, a petite figure herself appearing about 50 or 60 (I guessed 59) with golden Heidi-like hair braids. Her French was frenetic, even volcanic, and she gesticulated wildly as the sales pitch continued for the next hour or so. I learned through our tour guide/translator, Kim, that Denise’s family had owned the store for over a century, and that she had run the shop for 40 years (just about every day I suspected). She was effusive in her description of her repertoire, which included everything but chocolate-covered cockroaches from Madagascar! Although I could not understand a word of her French, I perceived an explosion of positive energy in every piece of chocolate she tempted us with. “This plum nugget was the favorite of Meryl Streep.” “Johnny Depp (from the movie “Chocolat”) spoke little to me but I sold a lot to his wife at that time.” I learned that her fame was storied in French culinary magazines and that she had samplers from the far-reaches of the country. “Taste the best of France.” I came to understand vicariously the passion within her soul—-the powerful enthusiasm of a simple life—-the excitement of the Parisian mystique. As we ripped ourselves away after making some meager purchases, I promised that I would try to make her famous in Pittsburgh. She laughed as if to say, “I need neither fortune or fame—only chocolat!”
Before he committed suicide at the age of 59 by putting a bullet in his head, the famed American author Ernest Hemingway described his experiences as a poor, struggling, and little-known literary novice. The book was essentially the memoirs of his formative years in Paris as a “card-carrying member of the Lost Generation.” The card was alcoholism. The book was titled “A Moveable Feast.” When, after a week in Paris, I had to “move the feast” back to Pittsburgh, I wistfully imagined that I could take, in some concrete way, the memory of Madame Chocolat back with me, if only to restore my spirit. But with the burden of life’s considerations at hand and much having been taken out of me by Paris, I knew that it was wishful thinking.