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An Evening at Madam L’s Soiree

I know you’re tired of reading about my Paris adventures.  This is the last one, I promise. I’d like to move on to other things.  It deals with a very interesting evening we had at the home of a Paris resident and an ingenious though not original way of surviving in the City of Lights.  To protect her identity, we’ll just call her Madam L.  An evening at Madam L’s Soiree.  Before leaving home, a friend suggested that when I got to Paris I must contact this African American woman in Paris who hosted soirees for visitors. “She hosts parties for artists of all genres at her home.”  While my friend hadn’t been to one when she visited Paris, she had heard about her from a friend.
One day during our stay, I called the number my friend had given me. Madam L told me she was having a soiree that evening at her house and gave me directions by train. Her apartment was located on the Left Bank. My sister and I took the train to her stop and followed directions to her apartment.  By that time, night had fallen, and streetlights had come on.  Few people walked along the street. This would be our first time inside an apartment in Paris and we were excited.
To enter the building we had to pass through a huge iron gate.  Once inside, we walked across the yard and into the ancient apartment building that reminded me of Harlem. A note on her mailbox indicated that visitors were to leave the Euros or francs inside her mailbox and come up. We were reluctant to do that.
When we reached her apartment on the third floor, a young woman opened the door and greeted us warmly.  In her hand she held a cigar box into which we deposited our money.  Apparently few visitors left money downstairs. Then we walked into the living room already crowded with people; it was difficult to make out the décor.  I saw three people on the sofa and someone sitting in the only comfortable chair in the room. Everyone else stood around in small groups. Several guests spoke French, a few English. A young black man with an unusually high head came over, shook our hands and told us he had lived there for years. Originally from Philly, he was a poet who had come to Paris and settled.  He found it an exciting and welcoming place. We met two English women who had come over by the Chunnel train from London for the weekend.
 Emerging from the kitchen, our host appeared carrying a large bowl of squash soup.  A harried, slightly intoxicated petite woman, honey brown complexion, she wore beige lounging pajamas and flat shoes, a gold chain around her neck. Her short brown hair was stylishly cut. She didn’t appear very friendly and smelled of whiskey.  She flittered busily around the room handing out small bowls, ladling up the squash soup and speaking French like a native.  Her helpers, two young French women, passed out hors d’oeuvres and glasses of wine.  After standing around for what seemed like hours, we managed to find seats on the sofa.  By that time I felt almost claustrophobic and awkward. The squash soup was delicious as was the wine.  Since it was a warm night, the windows were open. We were told to keep our conversations down so as not to disturb the neighbors. There had been some complaints about her gatherings. Suddenly, small white stools appeared seemingly out of thin air and everyone sat down. Madam L appeared from the kitchen once more to introduce the special guests, an author who had written several books. He read a few pages to our applause and answered questions about his books.  Glancing down at her watch, my sister suggested we take our leave as the trains would be shutting down soon and we didn’t want to get stuck walking through Paris that late. We couldn’t locate Madam L. to say our goodbyes.  
 I left my email address and for a few years received emails from her telling everyone on her email list who the guests would be, how much it costs, and where the soiree was being held. It wasn’t until I became a recipient of spam along with others judging by their hostile responses that I blocked her emails.

Paris in August Part Three

My sister and I anxiously waited in the lobby of Unk’s hotel. We would finally get to meet our cousin, Lynette (not her real name). Unk had returned upstairs to his room and said he’d be back down shortly.  The lobby was filled with crowds of men and women, dressed in business suits and a few tourists dressed in shorts, tee shirts and sunglasses. Enter Lynette with her manager/boyfriend. How did I know it was she?  In her mid thirties, Lynette is tall, over 6 ft., statuesque, and possessing an aura of “I know who I am.” She wore no make-up; short dark curls framed her smooth, heart-shaped face. She wore a short black mini skirt and a turquoise tee shirt.  On her long shapely legs, she wore black flats. Her manager, Lorenzo, 5’4, was an olive complexion, medium built Italian, his curly black hair sprinkled with gray as was his scruffy beard and mustache. He looked to be in his forties.  Hesitant, we walked over to them. Just as we reached them, Unk suddenly appeared and dispelled any doubt.  We hugged; Lynette introduced us to her companion. Unk and Lynette caught up on the last time they’d met.  Laughing, he said “Last time I was here, she walked me all over Paris.”  Lynette turned to Sis and me.  “And how are we related?” Unk explained. Sis elaborated giving examples from our youth spent visiting Lynette’s family, our first cousins. “We knew you mother….” That question was asked several times during our short visit. I got the feeling she didn’t believe us.
Lynette had come to the City of Lights a few years earlier. She’d graduated from a prestigious college in the East with a degree in Sociology and had come to Paris for vacation. She fell in love with the place and returned shortly after. She auditioned for a gig at a nightclub, was hired, and thus began her career as an entertainer.  A popular singer in Paris, Lynette had been on TV and had worked in several nightclubs around the city.  As we walked towards the exit of the hotel, Lorenzo told us the plans they had for her career. We agreed to meet at our hotel that evening, and they would take us to a Senegalese restaurant near Montmartre.
Around seven that evening, we met them in the lobby. The five of us squeezed into Lorenzo’s small Fiat and we headed towards Montmartre.  Before we were halfway up the steep hill, it became evident that the car would not make it. It began to stall.  He quickly pulled over to the curb, and told us we would have to walk the rest of the way. As it was a clear, mild, lovely evening, we didn’t mind.  The restaurant was dimly lit, a few people stood at the bar.  I followed the group as the waiter led us up narrow stairs to the second floor where several tables covered with white tablecloths were spread across the room. Because it was early evening, we were the only dinner guests. The brightly lit walls were peach with alternating brown and beige wainscoting; small abstract prints hung between the lights. In the background the soft rhythmic sounds of West African music enhanced the atmosphere. The food was delicious – rice and stew, pepper soup, fried fish and Banana Manadazi (Banana Fritters) for dessert. We enjoyed a lively conversation that ranged from life in Paris, to Lynette’s career, to explaining again how we were related.
Soon it was time to leave.  We made our way back down the narrow stairs to the first floor. The downstairs was packed, the bar was crowded as were the small tables with people talking, laughing drinking and smoking.  It reminded me of the cafes in New York’s Greenwich Village. Over the noise I heard someone reciting a poem. I would have loved to linger in this exotic atmosphere but it was getting late. One thing, however, held up our departure. Outside it was raining. Not a gentle rain but an angry storm. Lorenzo, his tee shirt pulled up over his head, told us to wait inside and he would go down to get the car. He soon returned, we jumped in and just as we reached our hotel, the rain stopped.  It had been a memorable day.

Paris in August Part Two

Unk invited my sister and me to the Foliere’s Begere for dinner and a show. He picked us up in a taxi and dressed in our finery, we rode across the city, now bathed in bright lights, for an evening of fun.  My uncle who is known for his frugality, especially when it comes to his nieces, was particularly generous that evening treating us to a seven course dinner, a stylish show, and to top it off, a bottle of champagne. The evening ended on a high note.
The next day, Sis and I decided to explore the nearby neighborhood including Place Pigalle. Coming out of our hotel, one of the first things we noticed was the gentlemen’s club right across from us.  Down the narrow block, apartment buildings and small hotels like ours were intermingled among these clubs.  Throughout the day and far into the night, women, heavily made-up, scantily clad and wearing high-heeled shoes stood in the doorways of the clubs, – young, old, shapely, and shapeless, blonds, brunettes, and redheads. They called out to male passersby, trying to entice them to enter the clubs to fulfill their fantasies.  Other tourists walked up and down the street. Some glanced curiously into the dark interiors, some stared straight ahead as they scurried past. Apartment dwellers hurried to their doors, punched in a code that allowed them to enter the buildings.
Short blocks and narrow sidewalks, fruit stands sandwiched between the buildings, gargantuan wooden doors, and streets filled with people impressed upon my memory.  Sis and I found a bakery where we bought fresh baked baguettes, and a cafeteria where we planned to eat lunch. Strolling along Place Pigalle we passed the sex shops, the pharmacy specializing in sexual enhancing products for men, the Monoplex, a department store, shops where tourist could purchase souvenirs and the ubiquitous cafes where patrons sat at small tables to drink wine or beer and watch the never-ending stream of humanity.  At the far end of Place Pigalle stood the famous Moulin Rouge.  We explored the massive lobby, reading the advertisements and noting the upcoming shows. It was closed but would open in the evening.
We rode the bus up a steep hill to Montmartre where we gazed down at the city below. We visited the Sacre-Coeur Basilica and watched artists paint lovely scenes of the cityscape. I didn’t notice the sign that read “no photographs” until I’d snapped a photo.  Finally we hiked back down to Place Pigalle.
Imagine our surprise when we bumped into our uncle strolling down Pigalle with a sheepish grin on his face.  He said that he, like us, was just exploring the area.  He said he had arranged for us to come to his hotel the next day where we would meet our cousin who had relocated to Paris and was now a “celebrity” there. Coincidentally we ran into him several times during our stay “exploring the area.”  I think he spent more time exploring the area around our hotel than he did his.

Paris in August

When one thinks of Paris, France, one thinks of all the famous places to visit, like the Le Louvre, the Eifel Tower, the Palace of Versailles, the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, and other things like French wine and romance.  I looked forward to my vacation in Paris with my sister and my uncle. While this was our first trip to this celebrated city, my uncle had been in Paris during World War II and again years later and was eager to return.  
I booked reservations online choosing the hotel based on the quaint photos of the newly renovated hotel posted on the Internet – inexpensive, gorgeous looking interior, rich colors, off the beaten path, lovely spiral staircase.  My uncle, on the other hand, was booked into a well-known hotel not far from the Eifel Tower- located on the other side of town.  Our hotel was three-star, his five-star.  We met up at the airport and engaged a taxi.  The driver was none too thrilled as he jammed our luggage into the boot of his small cab. My sister and I were dropped off first at our hotel; the driver took Uncle to his.  I paid little attention to the area as we hauled our luggage out of the car and into the small lobby. The woman behind the desk spoke little English. As I had when I went to Spain, I had learned a few French words and phrases before coming, enough to make our check-in a bit easier. 
We rode the elevator up to our room and were surprised at how small it was. We could barely get our suitcases inside. A couple of steps from the door were twin beds with little room in between.  A couple of steps from the beds was a tiny bathroom. The largest thing in the room was the floor to ceiling window that looked out onto the narrow street below.  From the window we could just barely see Place Pigalle, an infamous area known for its sex shops and prostitutes.  When I chose the hotel, I didn’t know this.   About the only thing I recognized from the photos posted on the Internet was the spiral staircase with its rod iron decorated scrolled railings. However, suffering from jetlag, we retired early.
The next day after the complimentary breakfast, which consisted of a fresh baguette, strong coffee or tea and orange juice served in their quaint dining room, we decided to visit Uncle at his hotel located on the other side of town.  At the desk we asked the concierge for directions.  The Metro station was just up the block from our hotel. We purchased ten tickets for 61 French francs or ff (the Euro was not widely popular) to last at least a week. While most passengers use tickets, others jump over, crawl under, or pair up to avoid the charge, a freebee on the city, I guess. Paris has an efficient train system that carries riders all over the city.  Trains run from 5:30 AM until 1AM when the ground beneath the city streets cease to rumble like earthquake tremors. It is the heartbeat of the city.
About 35 minutes later, my sister and I arrived at Unk’s luxurious hotel.  The huge lobby contained a piano bar, a café, gift shop, and a seating area with plush couches and chairs.  Businessmen and tourists filled the lobby.  As soon as we entered Unk’s room, we marveled at its size and all the amenities he had access to.  From his window we saw the Eifel Tower and much of the city. The weather was fantastic; we were in good spirits and looked forward this new adventure. During the next two weeks, we would take in a few tourist attractions, meet a distant cousin who had become a popular singer, spend an evening at the Follies Beg ere, and have a unique experience at the home of a woman who made her living hosting parties or soirees for artists, tourists and newcomers to Paris.