An Ice-Cream Love Story

An Ice-Cream Love Story

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Last weekend, still sniffling from yet another blasted cold, I put on layer upon layer, wrapped and wrapped and wrapped my fuzzy purple scarf around my still slightly sore throat, buttoned up my red coat, perched my bonnet* upon my head and grabbed my mittens as I headed out the door. After clumping down six flights of stairs, crossing the small cour and heaving open the two-tonne door of the immeuble I was outside breathing my first fresh air of the day.

And what was this weather?!?! What happened to the cold gusts of wind from the north and the shrill chill from the west? As I walked to the end of the street, breaking into a fine sheen of sweat in the process, I noticed that even the mannequins in the boutique windows had abandoned their winter woollies for pastel minis and neon halter-tops. Luckily, a bargain shopper extraordinaire like myself is never without a super-duper expandable bag to stuff stuff into. Off with les couches, sorties les lunettes de soleil. I couldn’t very well go for a frothy cup of steaming hot chocolate on such a gloriously warm day. Change of weather, change of wardrobe, change of plans. No worries. I had the perfect place in mind.

During one of my first visits here a friend dragged me to a little ice cream parlor on a side street in the 5th arrondissement. He was completely fed up with my inability to fall in love with Paris at first, or even second, site. “Sit down, stop complaining and eat some ice cream!” were his exact words. Well! Never one to turn down ice cream even when being ordered to eat it by such a rude Parisian, I promptly grabbed a cuillère and helped myself. The artisanal glacier had taken ice cream to a superhuman level. Instead of the usual boul de chocolat it was served with three other flavors that made the taste of the chocolate explode. A big scoop of heaven for less than 5 euros. I dragged my friend back to that little place two more times during my five-day visit, before finally boarding a plane and promising to return soon.

I guess that was the start of me falling in love with this city. But like any good French love affair, the seduction process was as drawn out and complicated as possible. On my next visit to Paris I dropped my bags, grabbed my friend and headed back to the ice-cream place, only to find it gone, closed, disparu, no forwarding address. I sat on the curb and pondered my plight. Love lost just like that.

While I continued to visit Paris over the next few years, I never regained that sheer pleasure again. Until one day I was walking through the Tuileries on my way from the Louvre and I saw some familiar lettering on one of the carts set along the path where merchants sell treats and trinkets to the flood of passing tourist. I stopped in my tracks, sending up a cloud of dust. There he was. My ice -ream man. Anger and anguish filled me at once. Where had he been? Why hadn’t he left me word? How long had he been here, where any indiscriminate tourist could just go up to him and demand, “A cone Of C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E, See Vou Play.”

I ordered a simple. He didn’t even recognize me. I took my cone and walked away, but before I could get very far I had already finished it. I could continue sulking or go back and face the traitorous ice cream man, and demand another cone, of course.

“Where have you been?” I asked as a pudgy pink tourist shouldered past me and shouted over the counter, “Don’t you have any Pepsi?”

“No,” he said to her then directed at me “L’autre place ne marche pas. 2 euros, Mademoiselle.”

And that was that. Just like that he popped back into my life. All summer long I was content and in love again. I passed by the stand as often as I could. The ice cream man didn’t seem to notice my visits but that was OK. I understood. He was busy with the hordes of people crowding his cart, shouting out orders faster than he could scoop. Then one day there were less tourists filling the park and the weather started turning cooler. The summer was coming to an end. When I stopped for my cone that day I asked what he was going to do during the winter.

He leaned against the side of the stand and crossed his arms over his chest. I never noticed before how blue his eyes were.

“Je pars bientôt pour le Brésil. Peut-être que je ferais des glaces là bas.”

He was kidding, right? When I went to look for him the following week, the cart was gone and not a trace of him was left in the sand. Boy, love hurts. I wasn’t sure if I could make it through the winter without him but I was heading back to the States soon and there would always be next summer. He was indeed back the following spring. Tan from his days in Brazil but looking sadder and sadder in his little ice cream stand.

Then the next summer he wasn’t there. I was heartbroken and sure that was the end of it. But unlike most French movies this story has a happy (and understandable) ending. A few days ago I was crossing the Pont de l’Archevéché behind Notre Dame. I turned right on the Quai de Montebello and there, just opposite the artists with their easels overlooking the Seine and the street musician playing for “lunch money,” in the heart of a small square, was the oh-so-familiar lettering.

Dammann’s Glacier!
No rinky-dink cart and no small store buried on an obscure street. The prince of ice-cream men has a proper castle with tables crowned in violets on the terrace and a soothing gelato-colored interior with plenty of space to welcome true admirers. I was so excited that I babbled for 10 minutes straight about how glad I was to see him again. And I openly confess, the more excited I am, the worse my French gets. Finally he gave me a scoop of almond sorbet to top off my cone of chocolate—no doubt to shut me up—and leaned back against the counter and smiled.

Love is good in Paris.

Good (and relatively cheap) glaciers

Locations Throughout Paris 
Some of the best Gelato shaped as rose blossoms

Dammann’s Glacier
Quai Montebello
1, rue de Grands Degrés, 75005
Phone: 01-43-29-15-10
Great little place, PLUS they have some of the cheapest scoops!

42, quai d’Orléans, 75004
Phone: 01-43-29-88-27
Métro: Sully-Morland and Pont Marie
Touted as the best ice cream in Paris, this brand can be found at classy cafés all around town. However, the main location is here at Le Flore en l’ile. You can’t miss the long line on sunny afternoons. Luckily the place is open to 2AM. Still, I prefer Dammann’s which I think has better flavors … and it’s cheaper.
After you get your cone at either location you can stroll along the Pont St. Louis and watch the street performers or sit on a bench in the park near Notre Dame.

Le Bac á Glaces

109 rue du Bac, 75005. Métro: Sévres-Babylone
Phone: 01-45-48-87-65
Great flavors plus a selection for calorie conscious ice cream lovers.
Glacier Calabrese
15, rue d’Odessa, 75014. Métro: Edgard Quinet
Phone : 01 43 20 31 63
Maybe it isn’t fair to include an Italian glacier in this list, but Luigi Calabrese has been making ice cream for over half a century so I figure he has earned the right.
Pascal Le Glacier
17, rue Bois-le-Vent, 75016. Métro: La Muette
Phone: 01 45 27 61 84
Flavors made with seasonal fruits will tempt even the health conscious.
I only mention these last two bastions of Americana because you can indeed find them around town if you are craving something a little more familiar.

5 place Victor-Hugo, 75016. Métro: Victor Hugo and other locations.
Keep in mind that the origins of this brand have nothing to do with Europe despite a marketing image to the contrary. Like most good things, Haagen-Dazs was started in NY—the Bronx, to be exact.