Paris Bits—Vignettes and Pensées, Day 10

Ritz Bar. Photograph by Vincent Leroux.

Ritz Bar. Photograph by Vincent Leroux.

Alors, mes amis. This is the final post for the vignettes and pensées, written by my husband, David Wolf. As of today, I’m fresh out of vignettes and pensées—we’ll have to head back to Paris to replenish the well soon!

This one concerns our first and only visit to the Ritz Hotel for drinks. Yes, it was meaningful, memorable, and historic, yet as Dave mentions, there was something a bit contrived about the Hemingway Bar scene. Nevertheless, we had to go there, and we’re glad we did. When it comes to France, we love it all—from the rustic to the Ritz—though somewhere in between is usually where we happily land.

Have you ever been to the Bar Vendome or the Hemingway Bar? I understand the Ritz was closed for renovation for a few years. It has reopened, and I would love to see it again.

Our Journey to the Hotel Ritz, Paris.

 

The Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Hotel, Paris. Photo by Vincent Leroux.

The Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Hotel, Paris. Photo by Vincent Leroux.

After half a dozen visits to Paris in the last twenty years I finally make it to the Ritz for a drink. My mother told me that in the Ritz bar in 1965 she and my father sat next to a woman wearing a snake wrapped around her neck. A real boa, I suppose, not a feather one. Each time I have been to Paris my mother has asked me upon my return, “Did you go to the Ritz?” I don’t usually pack the right clothes, but this time I have; I’ve brought along a sport coat, a tie, a decent pair of dress slacks and shoes.

Mr. Sportcoat and me. In the courtyard of the Ritz Hotel, Paris.

Mr. Sportcoat and me. In the courtyard of the Ritz Hotel, Paris.

No tie is required in the Bar Vendôme, but I have stashed one in my sport-coat pocket in case we visit the Hemingway Bar as well, where, strangely enough, a tie is required. But we begin in the Bar Vendôme with a couple of kir royales for 15 bucks a piece. The room is elegant enough, the banquettes comfortable, though the glass case selling Ritz tennis balls, racquet covers and t-shirts is a bit tacky, especially placed as it is just behind the maitre d’s podium. One end of the room looks out on a garden terrace of wrought-iron tables and classical statues, but the terrace is closed while we are there. The lights go out—a power failure in the hotel. If we wait long enough to pay our tab and the lights remain out, I think, perhaps the drinks will be on the house. Twenty minutes later the lights come on. We pay up and leave

We wander freely around the hotel, down the long corridor lined with glass cases filled with the most fashionable merchandise—Cartier, Loris Azarro, Yves St. Laurent—all of which can be ordered for purchase from nearby shops and delivered to the hotel. We wander into a small courtyard where three women visiting from Tampa ask us to take a picture of them. One kindly takes a picture of Wini and me as well [see photo, above]. A cat climbs down an ivied wall and passes through the courtyard; it’s a tabby and we name her Crackers, Ritz Crackers being her full name.

The cat in the courtyard at the Ritz. We named him "Ritz Crackers."

The cat in the courtyard at the Ritz. We named her Crackers, “Ritz Crackers” being her full name.

We go back inside and wander toward the Hemingway Bar, which is at the back of the hotel. Rounding a corner, we recognize immediately the now famous back door of the Ritz, the small revolving door the world has seen many times in the security camera tape showing Princess Diana, Dodi Al Fayed and Henri Paul exiting the hotel the night of their deaths. It’s a bit creepy to say the least—sad and angering as well, considering what we now know of that night.

We loiter for ten more minutes, waiting for the Hemingway Bar to open, which it does promptly at 6:30 p.m. We are welcomed into the smoke-saturated small wooden bar adorned with many pictures of Ernest in battle gear or in a coat and tie—the latter photos chosen as much for their historical interest as perhaps for their power in persuading one of the legitimacy of the dress code. (I had ducked into the men’s room before the bar opened to put on the tie I brought with me.) A fishing rod and a small pistol hang over the bar. I do not feel like inquiring into their authenticity. The barman, a British fellow named Colin Field runs the place. At first he is very welcoming and informative about the cocktails, but he quickly grows a bit intrusive, telling us at length about some alcohol-free gin he is developing, answering a bit too thoroughly another customer’s question about the history of the Bloody Mary. Colin has put together a cocktail menu in the form of a newspaper that features, among other “stories,” an account of how he became the barman at The Ritz. The story points out that Colin studied philosophy and history before pursuing his dream of becoming the barman at the Hemingway Bar.

All that aside, we are still able to enjoy our drinks before heading out as the bar begins to fill solidly with Americans. We exit through the front door of the hotel and contemplate taking a cab to the Left Bank for dinner. Instead we remain on foot, pausing to watch some men playing boules in the mellowing light of the Tuileries.

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More Paris Bits:

• Day 9: A Visit to Shakespeare & Co. Booksellers
• Day 8: An Attempt to Foil a Queue-Basher in France
• Day 7: Français ou Americain? Or, How to Insult a Frenchman
• Day 6: Thoughts on the Six-Week French Vacation
• Day 5: Writers on Vacation in Paris
• Day 4: The Eiffel Tower in the Millenium
• Day 3: All in a Day in Paris
• Day 2: The Art Teacher
• Day 1: Lunch on the Rue de la Roquette

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Paris Bits: Vignettes and Pensées, Day 9

The next in a series of vignettes and pensées written by my husband, David Wolf, on an extended stay in Paris one early summer. This one concerns Shakespeare and Company, the famed English-language bookstore on the left bank.

All Americans visiting Paris must stop here at least once in their lives. And you should do so preferably when you’re young and at your most hungry for stories and ideas about your world. Then, when you’re older, go again: There’s beauty in witnessing the next generation’s thrill at discovering this cramped and craggy old bookstore.

 

Shakespeare & Company, Paris. Photograph by Alexandre Darut-Lutz.

Shakespeare & Company, Paris. Photograph by Alexandre Darut-Lutz.

 

Strolling down the Boulevard St. Michel toward the Seine after dinner on the Rue Mouffetard and a late coffee across from the dark gates of the Jardin du Luxembourg, I recognize a young woman I had seen hours earlier at the famous bookshop, Shakespeare and Co. I had watched her as she entered the store, smiling, wondrously taking in what looked to be her first impressions of the old overstuffed cave of books. She asked the clerk for the poetry section.

Here she comes now up the boulevard, a half-dozen books in her arms, gazing now into the lighted widows of the closed shops, still beaming as I am nearly 20 years since Wini and I first walked into Shakespeare and Co. and I asked the store’s famous proprietor, George Whitman, to direct me to the poetry section. Whitman, who claimed to be the illegitimate great grandson of Walt Whitman, was on his way out of the shop.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Des Moines, Iowa,” I replied.

“Well it beats Council Bluffs,” he said and walked out the front door.

 

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More Paris Bits:

• Day 8: An Attempt to Foil a Queue-Basher in France
• Day 7: Français ou Americain? Or, How to Insult a Frenchman
• Day 6: Thoughts on the Six-Week French Vacation
• Day 5: Writers on Vacation in Paris
• Day 4: The Eiffel Tower in the Millenium
• Day 3: All in a Day in Paris
• Day 2: The Art Teacher
• Day 1: Lunch on the Rue de la Roquette

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Paris Bits: Vignettes and Pensées, Day 8

The next in the series of vignettes and pensées written by my husband, David Wolf, on an extended stay in Paris one early summer. This one concerns a favorite French custom: queue-bashing. If you’ve ever visited a post office or a bank in France, this has probably happened to you. What always surprises us is the way no one seems to be bothered by it. And, in fact, if you don’t allow someone to cut in line, you’re the one who is out of line, as this vignette shows.

 

An Attempt to Foil the Queue Basher at La Poste

 

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Some post offices have a little play area for kids while Mom or Dad waits in line. That’s because a line at the post office can be interminably long—and often made even longer by France’s notorious queue-bashers.

 

We are in the post office, last in a line of six or so, waiting to buy stamps for postcards and letters back to the states. This is always a dreaded errand, for the French are notorious for cutting in line. And those in line are notorious for remaining unruffled. The English call it “queue-bashing” and are rightly irritated by the French custom, which explains, perhaps, why the French do it.

As we stand in the roped-off line, an old woman with a cane enters the post office, pausing just inside the door to take in the situation. She comes up behind us as we adopt our usual defense, standing two abreast between the ropes, shifting back and forth as she moves about, looking for a way to get around us. Eventually she gives up and seems to accept that we won’t let her jump before us in the line. Her muttering is indecipherable.

The line advances, but Wini and I hesitate; not intentionally, we’re just amusing ourselves by translating an advertisement. All of a sudden the woman is poking Wini in the back with her cane. “Allez-y!” she says, “Allez-y, Madame.” We can only laugh and offer a “pardon,” but the woman sees no humor in the situation.

We decide to buy more than enough stamps for the rest of the trip.

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More Paris Bits:

• Day 7: Français ou Americain. Or, How to Insult a Frenchman
• Day 6: Thoughts on the Six-Week French Vacation
• Day 5: Writers on Vacation in Paris
• Day 4: The Eiffel Tower in the Millenium
• Day 3: All in a Day in Paris
• Day 2: The Art Teacher
• Day 1: Lunch on the Rue de la Roquette

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