31 May 2015

Past Pieces of Paris

A. Before ...
The pre-teen years. Evening in Paris. Remember that? A gaggle of entranced little girls in grade five overdosing with the same scent. 

Eartha Kitt purring "Sous les ponts de Paris ..." was the rapt epitome of an enthralling city that attracted eons of artistic and literary figures.   

B. Then ...
Back when life was still young and travels in France were plotted with Gourmet Magazine firmly in hand we liked to stay at Hotel Montalembert on the Rive Gauche, mainly in the company of gourmands focusing on restaurants with multiple stars and fine wines (who's complaining?). What a rush, aspiring to perfectly-accented, luscious French. Except one time the mental dictionary failed me. After the order for two was enunciated, kidneys appeared instead of beef medallions, a lapse for which I was never forgiven.

At Le Grand Véfour, a Michelin two star, I nearly choked on my Gateau St Honoré when I sneaked a look at the wine prices (menus for female companions, bien sûr, protect them from the sordid side of life).

Another memorable meal was at Vagenende 1900, a brasserie of acclaimed art nouveau decor on Boul' St Germain. Eight of us breathed in reverence as each new course appeared. And led to a lifelong obsession hunting for rhum baba and crême brulée.

C. After ...
The world of budget living. A drop in my bucket: Père Lachaise Cemetery. The Palma Hotel is near a side entrance to the cemetery; it's a quiet, mostly residential neighbourhood in the 20th arrondissement.

A couple of days to admire tombstone architecture and commune with the long-dead artistes. Molière, Chopin, Hugo, Bizet, Wilde, Delacroix, Colette, Daumier, Modigliani, Signoret, Montand, Proust. Abélard! Jane Avril!

What about Eartha, that icon of international flavour, whose song was to me the embodiment of a seductive, starry Paris? "There won't be a burial," she said to her daughter at the end. Santa Baby: she died on Christmas Day 2008. She was cremated and the location of her ashes is unknown.

© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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