Two readers have said they enjoy coming along for the ride on those rare occasions when I actually do something interesting and then write about it. Desiring a break after much fact-checking yesterday, please allow me to transport you overseas and back in time to 20 March 2000, when this letter was written:
We’ve arrived in Paris, exhausted and enchanted, after traveling for 12 hours, and of course losing an additional six. We have a tiny, immaculate room in the charming Hôtel Caron de Beaumarchais (chosen by Hilary), whose genial proprietor would remind you of Danny Kaye. Mercifully, we have yet to experience the infamous French haughtiness. [In fact, we were never to encounter it during our visit.]
This evening, when we ventured into the Marais from the bright blue door of our hotel, we found ourselves in the midst of fashionable young and beautiful Parisians crowding the Jewish bakeries, wine bars, and brasseries, which I would have thought were called cafés.
Earlier, on our way to lunch in the opposite direction, we passed one after another stationery store, making me feel very much in my element. The jewelry boutiques are showing everything you could imagine made of beads—just like Express, Hilary’s territory. Bracelets made of something like beach glass made me think of you.
We wandered past the illuminated Colonne de Juillet tonight, purely by accident, and Hilary knew what it commemorated. As we stood and anguished over the abundance of appealing choices for dinner, we saw an equally distraught, dark-haired young man kicking a broken bottle out of the way of passersby and watching ruefully as his red wine seeped into the cobblestones. The scene amused Hilary, as it called to mind a chapter in A Tale of Two Cities (the homework she brought along):
The wine was red wine, and had stained the ground of the narrow street in the suburb of Saint Antoine in Paris, where it was spilled… Those who had been greedy with the staves of the cask, had acquired a tigerish smear about the mouth; and one tall joker so besmirched, his head more out of a long squalid bag of a night-cap than in it, scrawled upon a wall with his finger dipped in muddy wine-lees—BLOOD.
I can’t begin to see Paris in such a short time, which is paradoxically comforting.