When Ava arrived in Paris at age 19, she couldn’t walk past a pastry shop without going in. Fifteen pounds later, she decided she needed to take control of her food choices. It was a gradual process. Parisian women proved attractive role models to Ava, with their love of pleasure and careful attention to eating small quantities of delicious, high-quality food. They knew something Ava didn’t. It took her ten years to find out. You can find out faster by picking up Paris Adieu and skipping directly to Chapter Seven, p. 114.
Although she admired Parisian women from afar, she couldn’t study them at close quarters, because she didn’t know any. It was Ava’s British girlfriend, Charlotte, whose eating habits tripped the switch that put Ava on the right course to gaining mastery over how she ate and how much. The following scene is excerpted from Paris Adieu:
We took our coffee at the counter, where Pascal introduced me to a new custom. I’d often wondered why eggs were displayed on a vertical stand on Parisian café counter tops, especially in the mornings. Now, I watched as he plucked three eggs from the stand, peeled, and salted one then handed it to me. The hard-boiled egg was fresh and delicious.
My English girlfriend, Charlotte, came to mind. I’d met her in Tokyo, where I taught English the summer between sophomore and junior years. She was ten years older, wildly sophisticated, with a penchant for black American Japanese major league baseball players; a male genre which enjoyed superstar status in Japan. Pretty, tall, and willowy, her complexion was as delicate as an English rain shower.
Her eating habits had been as carefully controlled as her love life had not. She was discipline personified. I’d soaked up everything she did, worshiping at the altar of her self-control. Every morning, she’d eat either one hard-boiled or soft-boiled egg with a piece of unbuttered whole wheat toast. She’d wash this down with a few cups of tea. I never saw her vary from this routine once. After we’d parted ways in Tokyo, she came to Yale one spring to visit me. At breakfast in the chaos of my residential college dining hall, surrounded by undergraduates wolfing down doughnuts, bowls of granola, plates of pancakes, eggs and bacon, she maintained her strict regimen by carefully peeling her hard-boiled egg and toasting her lone piece of bread. My girlfriends and I were in awe.
A good number of the girls in my class were anywhere from five to fifteen pounds overweight, except for the ones who were anorexic, bulimic, or naturally slim. My female colleagues and I sucked in our breaths as Charlotte rose from the table after breakfasting, her stomach flat, hip bones jutting out fashionably under her thin, flowered dress, with long slim legs ending in ankles you could wrap your fingers around. Everything about her showed us up. After dark, she was capable of drinking like a fish, another British character trait my Yale colleagues and I found impressive.
As I stood at the counter, enjoying my salted, hard-boiled egg, I connected up the dots. Pascal was showing me how to do something Charlotte had known how to do her entire adult life: carefully control her blood sugar in the morning so she didn’t become enslaved to it for the rest of the day.
Finishing the egg, I washed it down with strong coffee with foaming milk in it. Suddenly the display case of flaky croissants farther down the counter had no power over me. If the counterman had slid it down to my end, taken off the top, and wafted the tray under my nose, I wouldn’t have flinched. My one hard-boiled egg with coffee was enough. For the first time in my life, I felt like a Frenchwoman.
Excerpted from Paris Adieu by Rozsa Gaston © 2012, all rights reserved.