Ah, Paris! The romance of it all. On my first cheap excursion to La Ville-Lumière with my cousin Miss J. (innocents abroad!), I donned my sneakers and jeans at 6 a.m. and read the Michelin guidebook aloud.
The very sensible Miss J. “raised” up halfway and plucked at the threadbare chenille coverlet on her spring-squeaky twin bed. She squinted. “At this hour, only my pillow excites me.”
“How can you sleep?” I exhorted. “Just beyond our window is a city chock-full of ancient bricks, chocolat, paintings, chic scarves, and tombs loaded with famous dead people.”
Ah, Paris! Where Sartre wooed Simone. Where Rodin poured his passion for Camille into sculpture. Where Abelard suffered for Héloïse. Where 500 yards from our hotel the Musée de Cluny housed the most orgasmic tapestries in the world.
Miss J. grunted, turned on her stomach, and pulled the pillow over her head.
No man romanced me. However, I had a love affair with the cuisine. Crusty bread, more cheeses than the population on Île Saint-Louis, fresh crudités, delicate sauces, crisp salads, delectable seafood, aromatic coffees, Berthillon glaces et sorbets. . . .
Finally, I understood why Hemingway’s characters smacked their lips a lot, analyzed every morsel on their plates, and sipped glass after glass of heady wine.
If asked to invite a disparate gang of five to dinner, I would stage a private party in Le Caveau de la Huchette, every jazz lover’s paradise since 1946, and order à la carte.
1. George Orwell. It is only polite to invite a starving artist: “It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick you.”—Down and Out in Paris and London
2. Earnest Hemingway, well, because he is Earnest Hemingway. Moreover, oysters are my favorite: “As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”—A Moveable Feast
3. Julia Child because one is dead meat if one lacks the good taste to invite her. Besides, she always brings a lot of food to the party: “I opened the school’s booklet, found the recipes from the examination—oeufs mollets with sauce béarnaise, côtelettes de veau en surprise, and crème renversée au caramel—and whipped them all up in a cold, clean fury. Then I ate them.”—My Life in France
4. Marcel Proust because his obsession with a madeleine launched a thousand+ dissertations: “I raised to my lips . . . a spoonful of the cake . . . a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place.”— À la Recherche du Temps Perdu
5. Owen Wilson (as hopeful novelist Gil Pender) because one must include a quirky character in living color: “You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights. I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing.”—Midnight in Paris
“People who love to eat are always the best people.” But, of course, Mme Child, c’est moi.
Absinthe Robettec by Henri Privat Livemont
Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast by John Singer Sargent