Midnight in Paris

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There are places I remember and ache to go back to when I am not there. Paris is one of them. With a 60th birthday approaching in a couple of days, there is no where I’d rather be.

I’ve tried to write before about what it is that makes Paris capture this New York girl’s soul completely, in a way my own city never has. I am not particularly literary or intellectual. I am not a shopper in any way that would do justice to what Paris has to offer. I am an eater, to be sure, and I visit Paris with a mouth wide open, but that’s not all of it.

Really, I think it’s that Paris taps into a romanticism that I come by honestly, having had two parents who both believed in sappy (oops, I mean, happy) endings, final redemptions, and soulful connections (although not, alas, with each other.)
Paris is a city of the heart. When you walk the streets, stand on the bridges, gaze into the river, sit in the cafes or wander the parks, you feel all the weighty emotion of the human spirits who have inhabited the city for centuries and in a way, still do. If ever a place were haunted, it is this one. The ghosts don’t seem to be unhappy, although some have every reason to be; they are just here.

We always stay at the Relais St. Germaine. We came for the food — Yves Camdeborde made good his escape from the Michelin star chasing atmosphere of competitive cooking and opened Le Comptoir, a teensy dining room whose food is just about perfect. Your best shot at eating that food is to stay here, so we do. As a bonus, only hotel guests get the breakfast that is included in the room rate — perfect croissants, crusty baguette, fabulously sourced egg and yogurt, fresh squeezed orange juice, amazing ham and cheese like nothing on earth. That alone is worth the price of the room.

But if we came for the food, we’ve stayed for the wonderful welcome, the coziest beamed rooms with the loveliest antiques, the most comfortable beds on which to lay a jet-lagged body. And the ghosts. Stitched together from existing townhouses, the Relais has seen a lot of living. I don’t want to know its story, I’d rather imagine it and hear it from the ghosts who soothe me to sleep on wakeful nights.

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I know why I love Paris so much. In a very real sense it is coming home. I think I must be one of the ghosts myself, revisiting a life once lived, long ago.

I told you. Sappy. And maybe a tad melodramatic to boot. It’s in the genes. What can I tell you?

So here we are at the end of day two. It’s way after midnight and Jerry is snoring. I, having succumbed to an ill-advised late afternoon nap, am wide awake. I did Sunday’s NYT crossword. There’s nothing left but blogging.

We’ve had a luscious two days. Lunch yesterday at Le Comptoir. Hotel guests get to skip to the front of a very long line that forms midday. We sat outside and people watched. I started with radishes in a puree of radish and mustards greens sprinkled with unsweetened cocoa crumbs so it looked like the radishes were poking out of the earth. Weird as can be, but really good. Had an assisted des legumes to follow — every good vegetable in the world, braised and held together with orange zest and pickled garlic. Jer had oeufs mayonnaise (a little redundant but superb) and the best damn brandade de morue I’ve ever had. Usually I order it but we decided to switch things up. Afterward we strolled across the street and got 4 miniature koignettes (small versions of the Breton koign amman, a buttery, caramel my pastry that has to be tasted to be believed. By bedtime all 4 were gone.

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Today was middle eastern day. By an odd coincidence the copy editor who has seen us through four editions of the textbook but whom we have never met was in town with her family. Facebook can be really handy for things like this. We took them to L’As de Falafel for lunch so I could get my fix. It had been a long time — when we were here last I was too sick to go. It’s still great and they still won’t give me the secret recipe for their Harissa. Damn it.

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Amy and her family were delightful and lunch was a total pleasure. When we left Jerry and I strolled around for a bit and ended up back at the hotel where I was jumped by a nap attack and out for hours. I woke up in time to eat again, however, and because I can never get enough middle eastern food we went to a local Lebanese place for a meze platter and a man’ouché (grilled flatbread wrap) — mine had haloumi (firm, salty cheese, excellent for grilling) with vegetables. Jer’s had a spicy meat filling.

Walked on back through the late dusk, listening to street music and looking for an ice cream shop that wasn’t jammed. Found one on the rue de Seine — had a scoop of apricot with bits if dried apricots in it to give it an intense flavor, and salted caramel. The combination was magic.

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And then back to the hotel and a sleepless night. Me and the ghosts. 😊

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