Reprise: Once upon a time – Vickie Lester went to Paris

My parents had other ideas for the Spring Holiday, and so we arrived in Paris. Our hotel was a bijou spot on Rue Saint-Hyacinthe where we had milky bowls of coffee every morning with baguette and butter and jam in a dining room with a skylight. I would often look out into the lobby to see beautiful young ladies arriving with no luggage in little black dresses, heels, hose, and pearls – chatting amongst themselves as if the evening were just over and they were heading to bed. When I inquired as to this interesting early morning phenomena my mother said, “I’ll tell you about it when you get older.”

I spent every waking moment running around the city and this was just steps from the hotel:

PENTAX ImageAnd, the architecture – I learned all about Baron Haussmann, wide boulevards, buildings that have been described as great white slabs of imperial wedding cake, and I loved it. (The next two photos are courtesy of my father.)

1974 Paris FacadeThe shop windows were dressed for Easter with pink silk ribbons wrapped around colossal white nougat eggs and there were spring flowers… everywhere. The predominant color scheme was white, leaf green, and pink. It was a sharp contrast to red brick, and soot stained stone, and grey London. I mean! Just look at this doorway:

1974 Paris StreetI remember walking down the Blvd. de Clichy at night and seeing the red neon of Moulin Rouge and I remember shopping at a boutique a couple of days later with my parents seated at a cafe around the corner. The clerk had that shaggy haircut of the period (think Mick Jagger) and the same sinuous narrow hipped build. I probably weighed all of eighty-five pounds at the time, but he couldn’t have weighed much more than one hundred and twenty five – and he was about ten inches taller. At any rate he thrust a pair of jeans into my spindly arms and told me to try them on in a curtained cubicle. When I peeped from behind the curtain and said they were too small he made that particular French sound, “phffft” and exclaimed as he barged in and whipped the gaping zipper closed, “I know your size!” Voilà. My first, ever, French garment. That they made me look even more like a human toothpick didn’t matter.

And then, one day, we were walking down a wide boulevard and people started to gather on the curb and so we joined them. In the distance, coming closer was a procession of gleaming black limousines and as they passed by we saw inside all manner of dignitaries, Africans with leopard skins across the shoulders of their Savile Row suits, Sheiks draped in white, and a sea of black suits, white shirts, black ties. It was President Pompidou’s funeral.

Contrary to everything I had been told, Parisians were so kind to me with my schoolgirl French. Of course my major conversations were about procuring flowers, cocoa, pastry, or directions. My mom sat serenely lovely and uncomprehending (and for her, uniquely quiet) while my father spoke for the family with an assurance and fluency I never knew he had, and when I asked him about his language skills he told me he had spent a lot of time stationed in Belgium and France during WWII. Which — I was absolutely thrilled about when he ordered me what has become my favorite drink, and it always reminds me of the perfect restaurant in Paris, where the waiters treated me like an honorary grownup, and I had my first Kir Royale.

Can I say this? Sometimes parents DO know better. It wasn’t the Costa del Sol, but… We saw Moliere preformed at the Paris Opera House in seats so close I could see a vapor of moisture from the actor’s lips as he declaimed his lines. I saw the Louvre, and poked my nose up tight to Toulouse Lautrec pastels at the Jeu de Paume and l’Orangerie (it was a long time ago, now they’re at the Musée dOrsay). The most memorable Easter of my life, all thanks to my mom and dad.

32 comments

    • I was a little rat about our destination – but I did prepare for the trip by writing down the names of all sorts of sandwiches (jambon de pays) and pastry (mille-feuille) I was planning on eating… Hippity Hoppity! V

    • For some reason I think you live in Chicago? Here’s my first memory of that city. Crossing a bridge over the river being carried by my father and the wind was so ferocious I buried my head in his overcoat and wouldn’t open my eyes until we were inside… Hopefully spring has sprung, xox, V

  1. George Kaplan

    C’etait tres beau, si belle! (you’ll forgive me if I don’t reveal any more of my hinky French, you would be remined of Insp. Clouseau). Such a perfect, perfect piece. I love Paris in the Spring but I adore this more. Amusing, luminously-observed, and wholly beautiful. So achingly radiant. And those pictures of mid-seventies Paris… Oh, and I’m afraid I just love your parents, too. Your fond recollections of them are wonderful in so many ways. Your observation of the ah courtesans and your mother’s reply are so amusing. How your luminescent writing brings everything to life, painting perfect pictures for the mind. You call the Paris I know to mind yet illuminate things I’ve never seen and animate them for the imagination’s eye, so exquisitely. I can see it all. Merveilleux! Boy, but I do go on… You bring your remembered Paris to life with such clarity, such vivacity, it’s almost as if I can…touch…it, and all imbued with your incomparable uniqueness and wit. I apologise but this was heart-filling. Here on this balmy day in W…it was almost as if I were there in the beauty of Paris.
    Vickie Lester – we, the web, and the World Entire are so fortunate to have you. Ahem. In my opinion (but I’m obviously right!)

      • George Kaplan

        My veriest pleasure, milady (!)… Ha! No chocolates ’til tomorrow, it can only be that I am intoxicated by your wonders 😉 (Ach, did you read what you just wrote?! It is to *blush* or, perhaps, cringe! Must try better!)
        A very good evening to you, darling V from R

  2. Vickie,I confess I have stolen two of your pictures for my collection.How very evocative they are alongside your equally evocative writing.

  3. Je suis très heureux de lire votre mémoire magnifique sur Paris.
    Beaucoup d’amour à mon cher ami.
    And that concludes my performance in Google French.

      • George Kaplan

        Six days before I was born to be precise! Ah, the maguc of compilation specials and – more recently – dvd boxed sets 😉 Always liked Dan Aykroyd and SNL seemed familiar to me even before I ever saw it. Strange. Like minds I suppose. (really bizarrely I can remember knowing of Steve Martin’s “Wild and Crazy Guy” catchphrase at around 11, when there was no way I could have. Cue Twilight Zone theme!)

  4. Dearest V
    This sounds like the almost perfect Easter vacation!!
    The only thing that could have improved it would have been if you had stayed and the George V (boom boom).
    Perhaps is perfect in the sunshine, well it’s pretty perfect at any time. And the thing it has, which no where quite does as it does: The Vistas.
    At the end of seemingly every street, no matter how small and apparently humble, one turns a corner and …bamm… one of those great white slabs of wedding cake, whose sweetness you could not fail to be seduced by.
    And to have been there for a State Funeral, what could have been better!
    I am filled with jealousy, even though I was there just a few weeks ago and will be again before the end of the year!
    Finally, as for grey London! Hurrumph dear V!!
    What about all our lovely red brick? Perhaps The Dandy will have to dig up some photographic evidence to counter this remark…
    Yours ever (teasingly)
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • I can barely contain myself – and I’m doing a big swooping segue onto another topic – but it is a PERFECT day. The Kid just received a letter of acceptance into the design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York!
      Brownstone, red brick, LA, London, New York, and the great white slabs of wedding cake in Paris, we love them all !
      Huzzah! And hip hooray!
      xox,
      V

      • George Kaplan

        V., terribly sorry to butt in (and I hope the esteemed Dandy doesn’t find me rude) but I am so happy that the Kid has made it into F.I.T. and *overjoyed* for you (and I am not often overjoyed)! He’s going to take the worlds of Fashion and Design by storm I have no doubt 🙂
        Many Kisses and Much Love to his matchless Mother, R xoxo

      • Hip hip hooray! Hip hip Hooray. Hip hip hooray!
        Choruses of “For he’s a jolly good fellow” ring out sonorously from London.
        Well done one and all!!!
        Yours ever in fashion
        The Perfumed Dandy

  5. Wonderful post! What great Easter memories 😀
    Congrats to the Kid too, sounds like this is going to be another Easter to remember.

  6. Dearest V
    I remember this from last year… and by coincidence I have just booked a few days in the City of Light myself for May to day in the Opera and tennis.
    Splendide!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • That sounds scrumptious! I am having a lazy weekend and indulging in re-posts while I figure out whether or not I want to do a “character study” of a current director, or keep discrete… P.S. I am going to Palm Springs very soon to loll around and swim and take pretty pictures for the website 😉 .

      • Dearest V
        Oh please do Loll for all of us with a capital ‘L’.
        While on the subject… The Dandy will be going to India this winter (coming) all booked today, most terribly exciting.
        Now I can’t get Norman Parkinson and Diana Vreeland out of my mind (though that is a fairly common state of affairs).
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

      • “Pink is the Navy Blue of India!” exclamation point included? I don’t know, but I always think of DV being emphatic.
        How glorious… My mother traveled to India and described exquisite beauty and extreme poverty. She said both were overwhelming.
        Oh, and she talked about such exotic scents. Flowers and smoke and rot and spice… I expect a full report 😉 .

  7. BEAUTYCALYPSE

    such a beautiful memory, delivered spot on. delicious. I just went with you back in time, and of course remembered my own travels with my parents. only my mother would never shut up, and forward all unpleasant questions to papa 😉

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