Within twenty-four hours of landing in Paris, Damon managed to receive a personal invitation to an art gallery opening featuring the French artist herself. And yes, wine was included. Ooh-la-la!
This happened because wherever we went, Damon kept popping his head into open doorways with the enchanted smile of a six-year-old. He’d wave excitedly at anyone who looked his way then cry out, “Bon Jour!” heartily, loudly, and voila! Sometimes he (and often we) were invited in!
This is exactly what happened as Damon and I wandered through the fabled, gabled streets of Montmarte, on our first full day awake and alert in Paris. We had spent the morning walking up and down the Seine; sipping enormous café cremes at Deux Maggots where Hemingway used to eat;
marveling at the intense swirl of colors in Monet’s ‘The Nympheas’, displayed in stark, all-white rooms at the L’Orangerie museum;
…and of course stopping and shopping at cheese stores, bread stores, patisseries, even pharmacies (which are all lit up with neon crosses, which is just brilliant and so helpful!)… At some point we plopped ourselves down in two of the aqua-green metal chairs scattered throughout the Luxembourg Gardens, nibbling our goodies while sipping Perriere and Sangria, conveniently sold from gypsy-like crepe-carts tucked between the trees. Contentedly we basked in the sunshine. Children pushed sailboats across the pond with long, wooden sticks while we took photos and ate and snickered at our newfound love of the delicacy known as Paris Brest!So we were already quite tired and wonder-weary when we disembarked from the subway mid-afternoon to begin the steep ascent to Montmartre and the infamous Sacre Coeur. Still, the renowned hilltop enclave managed to take our breath away. We began at the international ‘Love Wall’ and wound our way higher and higher, up steep (nearly vertical) staircases clear to the clouds. Here we became one with the masses of humans swarming everywhere – in cafe’ doors, on elevated bar stools, roaming the patches of grass and roads blanketing the immense Sacre Coeur, while the brazen and bizarre among us tried to sell their handmade wares.
We stood and gaped and tried to mesh our ‘Amelie’ version of Sacre Coeur with the real-life version of Sacre Coeur – how the grass seemed much narrower in person, more crowded, the carousel not nearly so prominent. Yet the cathedral – oh my!
And the view! The scope and size of everything in Paris was simply overwhelming. Coming from California and Washington State, Damon and I had never seen anything like it. We had never casually walked past, or through, or around buildings this big, this old, this grand, this ornamental. I peered upwards, inwards, down the street…
searching in vain for the Eiffel tower, which could not be seen from the cathedral grounds. This felt disappointing, which was a weird feeling to have given where we were. Yet all the walking and being ‘on the go’ was beginning to sap my enthusiasm. And unfortunately, I was too tired to even contemplate a cart-wheel, especially on such steep grass…one of the main goals on my ‘If I ever go to France I will do a cart-wheel with the Eiffel Tower in the background’ agenda. Alas!
Standing there I felt cranky and worn out and ready for dinner. But it was only 7pm. What was I thinking? In Paris everyone dines fashionably late. Meaning very late – way past my bedtime. So on we went, passing the time traversing crooked little alleyways, trying to retrace all of the ‘Amelie’ attractions. Halfway down Rue Des Tres Freres, Damon paused to relocate ourselves on our map. I kept walking to the end of the block and only paused at the triangular green grocers on the corner to turn back and wonder where on earth Damon was. I was truly so tired and out of sorts and feeling peculiar that I barely noticed I was standing right in front of the green grocers – the Amelie grocers! I didn’t even take a picture of it, ack! (Mon dieu!)
Mostly I was looking for Damon, who had his head stuck in an open doorway halfway down the street. He was gesticulating wildly to someone, and I couldn’t image what he could possibly be saying in French when he gave a wave and with a literal bounce in his step came galloping towards me.
“We’ve just been invited in to that artist’s gallery opening back there!” he gushed. “They’re serving wine and offered me some but I couldn’t find you, and we really should head to the Hotel Particulier…” here he trailed away, while I stared at him, agape. “I told them we had dinner reservations and probably couldn’t attend, unfortunately…”
“You managed to say all that in French?” I gasped, truly astounded.
“Well, French and hand signals…a mixture, really. My French is not bad, you know!”
After that stunning turn of events, we wandered down even more impressive walkways…past windmills and ivy-clad alleys where rich Parisians lived within iron fences and secret gardens…all in the hopes of finding the Hotel Particulier, a dining spot I had read about online, which offered outdoor dining in one of those aforementioned ‘secret’ gardens.
Yet this place was so secret that Damon and I could not find it at all. Not on the map. Not after asking in a bar for help. Finally we stopped in front of where the hotel should be given the address. Yet there was no building, only a gate and buzzer, which we rang to no effect. Just then a man pulled up in a car, motioned us in with a wave of the hand. Next a woman leaned out a window high overhead and told us to walk till we found the ‘witch’s rock’. Seriously! We felt like Alice tumbling down the Rabbit Hole. We had entered a place most peculiar indeed! Obediently we followed the gravel path, up a small incline, past tall, white houses or hotels, who knew…and finally there it was – a great, big, bumpy rock, and next to it another gate with another buzzer, and my word! Look at that:
This was where we were having dinner! In Paris! In Montmartre! In a secret garden next to a witches rock! Mon Dieu!
Nervously we rang the buzzer. A man in a black suit ushered us through the graveled garden into the Hotel Particulier, where we were seated in a private dining room! Incredulous, we sat down. Within moments Soutine the cat jumped into my lap. Wine appeared, bread was procured, then what appeared to be the fanciest fish-n-chips of all time was set down in front of us from off of a silver tray as if we were royalty, and all we could do was laugh hysterically and pet the cat and stare over our shoulder at Mr. Deer and drink more wine.
Throughout the evening Damon and I fidgeted and giggled like nervous children, feeling entirely out-of-place within this particular Hotel, but enchanted beyond words. As the sun set a man who looked like Johnny Depp came and sat outside in the courtyard, trailing cigarette smoke into the air, wrapped in a sky-blue scarf, and soon other beautiful young French people joined him, and we were smitten, biting into our candied pears there amongst the red-velvet walls.
After twenty-four hours on the ground, Paris seemed a most particular place, indeed, and we felt pretty pleased to be a part of it.