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.
3 thoughts on “An Evening at Madam L’s Soiree”
Back in Paris we went to the Grande Épicerie de Paris the food hall at the Bon Marché. Luckily it was on our street, a few blocks from our apartment. It is they most amazing, impressive grocery store ever. Trillions of kinds of mustard, crackers, sugars and teas, sweets, yogurts. It was so fun to just walk around the isles and look at everything. The American foods section was pretty hilarious. We were represented by brownie mix, marshmallow fluff and Easy Cheese. We wandered and wandered and bought some tasty pastas and sauces for dinners and loads and loads of candy to take home.
I’ve thought of that dish often over the past few years, ever since, while writing Around My French Table , I worked out the recipe for the Linguine Mendiant, or Beggar’s Linguine, that I was served at La Ferrandaise , a very good bistro around the corner from my apartment in Paris. My old-time dish and this one have three things in common: butter, pistachios and pasta. But this dish has it over my former favorite in so many ways.
If you have an apartment, you may wish to just shop locally for breakfast “in house.” If you stay in a hotel, you can opt for the standard croissant, jam and coffee — but at 8-20€, that’s not a bargain, and can be tiring. Much more interesting than a typical hotel breakfast, and a better deal, will be found in almost any local cafe, salon de thé (tea room), or patisserie — or even a chain like Boulangerie Paul , with numerous locations. (Not to be confused with Restaurant Paul, on Place Dauphine, mentioned in the dinner section below.) Although we’d normally be reluctant to recommend a chain, we must admit that in our first few trips to Paris we enjoyed the Paul site at 77 rue de Seine in the 6th arrondissement. People were lined up out the door to buy bread and pastries (always the sign of a fine boulangerie). Paul provided a great breakfast deal that includes fresh orange juice, fried eggs, bread, croissant, and coffee or chocolat chaud (amazingly thick and rich hot chocolate). 77 rue de Seine (at corner of rue Buci, 6th arrondissement). Métro: Odéon. Tel. 01.55.42.02.23. (Another chain that we’ve enjoyed for breakfast is Le Pain Quotidien , with four locations in Paris.) We also like La Patisserie Viennoise . We’d heard about the hot chocolate served at this little salon de thé near the medical school, and we were not disappointed. Great pastries, too. 8 rue de l’Ecole de Medecine (6th arrondissement). Métro: Odéon or cluny la Sorbonne. Tel. 01.43.26.60.48.
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