It should hardly come to surprise anyone these days that, in times of personal austerity, I whimper and bemoan my ‘Europe starvation’ like a wailing woman in the chorus of a tragedia. Hashtag #firstworldproblems. Unless I’m duly distracted, I’ll feel the full immenseness of my soul, deplete of its vital minerals such as European accents and espresso. My life is so hard!
I jest. Except not really. Once a place gets under your skin, it lays its eggs like a parasite and then you’re fucked with jungle fever for the rest of your life (not that jungle fever, though). That is what Europe is to me: a conglomeration of distinct and borderline xenophobic identities that have histories and traditions of which I exist apart, and I really like it that way. Through the slow process of diffusion I’ll eventually assimilate (sink or swim, they say!), but I always enjoy my outsider’s perspective.
I haven’t quite made it back to Europe just yet, but here’s my halfway house, complete with amenities and moments that remind of my beloved land across the Atlantic.
First up, Petite Jacqueline, 190 State Street, Portland, ME. In French flair, this place makes Mornings in Paris on Exchange Street look like a gas station (Parisian café my ass—the only thing Parisian about it is the rude staff). Since I’ve been forced to take vacation time to keep my head above water as the company I work for struggles to stay afloat this summer, I find myself stopping into this bistro more often just to feel like I’m somewhere else, divorced from my current circumstances that have unfortunately imprinted themselves onto my image of Portland. But never underestimate the power of association, nor of intelligent interior design, for that matter. Petite Jacqueline certainly reminds me of a familiar culture and lifestyle, which is reflected in its décor, food, and employment of space. Though, it has France beat with the charm of good ol’ American hospitality. Aside from the soupe a l’oignon, steak frites, champignon à la grecque, and their “Attitude” burger, I love the airiness of the place. They have large, eclipsing windows that look out to the street and flood the interior with natural light; the ceiling is high so your thoughts have room to float above you, and its blueprint gives a quaint but uncongested feeling of an authentic French bistro. Can I even say that, not having lived in France myself? Well, I’ll just use my intuition as authority on this one; it just feels familiar and comfortable to me somehow, and that’s why I have no problem flying solo there for lunch. Today was only my second time in for lunch, the first being a week ago, and as soon as I walked in, the same waiter, Steven, told me, “Let me just get your table ready for you” (the same table where I sat the time before). He also remembers which wines I tried and which ones I preferred over the others. That’s very characteristic of Portland, as I’ve previously noted. Everyone in the service industry here treats you like you’re an actual human being, rather than another faceless patron. Either that or I stick out like a sore thumb and they can’t forget me if they tried.
I took one of my girlfriends there one night—just to sit at the bar and experience something out of our normal rotation of Sonny’s, The Armory, In’finiti or The Grill Room—we had a blast, like two old bitties in gaudy makeup and clothes, poured over the bar with our cigarettes and sherry. I wish we were that glamorous! Instead we were just two silly girls who had ventured into the dim moodlighting for some wine and fries, and eventually a dessert crepe. It was one of my favorite nights in Portland. I imagine I could easily go in there alone one night, sit at the bar, have a glass, and head home (it’s nestled at the foot of my street, so one or two downhilled cartwheels and I’d be there!). It’s one of the few places in town where I feel comfortable in my loneliness. I can be artistic and broody, or I can be that little Asian bookworm with her Dan Brown book who comes in for a quiet lunch in the middle of the workweek. Who cares.
Anyway, long story short, I get more out of this place than just food and drinks. Maybe you will too? They also have Sunday movie nights when they play a French/France-set film off a projector for an added ‘something special’ to your dinner. Especially now that the weather’s warming up and the sun is shining for longer, it’s worth exploring. Bring a friend, bring a book, bring yourself…whatever your petit coeur desires!