“In Paris, Magic Happens”
One lone flower at the end of a long spiny stalk grows from a crack in the stone in a 17th-century building on rue Vieille de Temple.
The owner of the Marais apartment, which is decorated in an extremely contemporary New York fashion, in total and brilliant contrast to it’s ancient exterior walls, couldn’t bare to remove the lone flower, in spite of the potential danger to the structure of the building.
“The roots must go very deep,” she told us, “and they could be as old as the building itself.” On her bedroom wall is a photo of a wall of stone, punctuated by a bit of greenery growing between the rocks. To her is illustrates how strong the will to live really is.
Our friend exclaimed, at the sight of the lone blossom, “In Paris, magic happens,” to which there was no argument. It’s impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t been touched by the city’s magic wand…how every day seems so much more special than anywhere else in the world…or at least anywhere else I’ve ever been.
Saturday afternoon with a growling belly wondering where to land for lunch, I passed a familiar name, but not a familiar place — “Au Pied de Fouet,” a restaurant on rue de Babylone with fond memories that went back as far as 1979. It’s spread its seed and rooted itself now in two other ancient spots — one on rue Saint-Benoit (number 3) in the 6th arrondissement and the other on rue Oberkampf (number 96) in the 11th.
In spite of a never-ending low-carbohydrate diet (yeah, in Paris, ha!), I took a seat next a gentleman dining alone at a red checkered table facing out onto the street, one of only three tables to seat less than a dozen. The prices were just as remembered — ridiculously low. The menu was every bit as inviting — as classic as a French bistrot can get. It felt like home.
The waitress and the gentleman (a long-standing patron and neighborhood denizen) both talked me into succumbing to their “purée fait à la maison” (home made mashed potatoes), in total rebellion to the “regime” that keeps the fat cells to a minimum. There was a table of tourists hoping to share their orders, when the waitress proudly explained, “Madame, this is not a brasserie. This is a restaurant. We expect you to order at least one main course per person. It is our minimum.”
It started to rain. We were safely inside, but barely. The gentleman and I exchanged conversation, in both English and French. We both recalled the original owner, a woman named André who scuffled around in slippers barking at her faithful diners — the regulars who kept their cloth napkins in the cubby under the stairs on rue de Babylone.
It was one of those tiny moments in Paris, when one takes notice of life itself. With a glass of red wine to wash it down and a paper place mat begging the poet inside to make use of it, I scribbled these notes:
No, c’est bon,
Le Pied de Fouet
with a view on Le Petit Saint-Benoit.
No, c’est bon,
the fennel salad with its soft creamy sauce
and crumbled egg.
No, c’est bon,
the sky’s about to open
like a watering can sprinkling on our half-eaten plates.
No, c’est bon,
the red wine goes down fast.
We’re safe from the rain. We’re safe from bad cuisine at these red checkered cloths and purée fait à la maison.
An umbrella opens up to shield her from the rain,
to protect her fine French cuisine.
They know each other. They talk across the tables,
these people who have been coming here for years.
They share a cigarette, eat the same meal.
The restaurant that was on rue de Babylone,
that still is and now has another home on rue Saint-Benoit.
The waitress told her no, this is not a brasserie.
Order at least one plate or go down the street.
No, c’est bon, Le Pied de Fouet.
With a belly now full with potatoes and cream, the streets were in chaos — a gridlock of traffic battling the afternoon demonstrations and slippery rain. I boarded the 96 bus which sat still for an eternity sandwiched between cars and buses and trucks and bikers. The driver turned to his handful of passengers for approval of a different route to escape the madness to which we all agreed.
Like Mario Andretti he quickly turned right, then right again and sped down rue Saint-Sulpice like a ‘bat out of hell’ landing back at the corner from which we began, but pointing in another direction. Within minutes we were back on course, landing safely at the Hôtel de Ville where a tent is erected for people to donate their blood to save the life of others.
In Paris it’s not the big events that seem to stir the soul, but these tiny awakenings, that make us take notice of life itself. Yes, I agree. In Paris, magic happens.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
(pictured on the 96 bus…like a ‘bat out of hell’)
P.S. Upcoming events to make note of:
1. Original music on the Ile Saint-Louis by Paul James Tannish Wednesday, 28 May, 2008 at The Beaver, 19 rue des Deux Ponts, Métro Pont Marie, performance from 9 to 11 p.m., http://www.canadianbarsparis.com
2. Photo Exhibition by Meredith Mullins, “Outside of Time,” vernissage Thursday, June 5, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at W Finance, Square d’Orléans, 80 rue Taitbout, 75009, (Metro Trinité, http://www.meredithmullins.artspan.com
3. Celebrated author Thirza Vallois is speaking on her new recently published book, “Aveyron: A Bridge To French Arcadia” at Paris Soirées on Sunday, June 1st. For reservations, visit http://www.parissoirees.com