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Tour Parisien

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Oh dear, I’m not sure exactly when it was—sometime back in the mid-sixties, I suppose—while I was on location, shooting a film in France. I played a middle-aged society matron, traveling on a tramp steamer that was stranded for a few days in some de classé French port. The very idea was preposterous, of course, but this was before Hollywood had discovered cinema verité, or even, it seems, the notion that a plot needed to make some sort of sense.
Nonetheless, there we were, ensconced in a Paris that was still quintessentially French. Why were we in Paris, when our film was set in an unnamed seaport? Who knows? No doubt—entre nousmon cherie—the director required the sort of amenities that simply could not be found in a working-class town. A decent hotel, preferably free of the usual vermin; restaurants that served something better than the sort of things merchant sailors might eat while on shore-leave; le shopping—you know: haut monde, civilization. 
Whatever his reasons, we were in Paris, and had to make the best of it.
That meant shooting early in the morning, to capture the moody half-light, and to avoid the crowds of tourists that somehow appeared, apre-midi, everyday. It was hell, naturellement, getting up that ungodly hour—but one does what one must for the sake of her art. It was a job, and—frankly—paying jobs don’t come along that often for those of use who can no longer pretend to be ingénues.
While walking from my hotel to our location, along the Boulevard Saint-Germain, I caught a glimpse of myself, reflected in a store window. That visage seemed to be just a bit wan, even faded—and could do with a little pick-me-up. Un café—and just a soupçon of Pernod—seemed just the thing. I was right, of course, and—once refreshed—the morning’s shoot went off without a hitch. Having completed my day’s labors, all two hours of them, I was left with the question of what to do with the time before dinner and the viewing of the dailies. I was a bit thirsty, so I thought I’d look around for a Tab (we girls must watch our figures, you know), and possibly take in some of the sights, possibly absorb a bit of local color.
Heading back up the Boulevard Saint-Germain, in the general direction of the Latin Quarter, I stopped to chat with Aristide—the maitre d’ of a little restaurant where I’d been having my dinners (at least when I wasn’t required to dine with my colleagues from the film). The restaurant, naturellement, was not yet open—and Aristide was relaxing with Le Figarole tabac, and un armagnac. Filthy French habits, of course, but when in France… so I sat beside him, with my own tumbler of brandy. I noticed that his tight black boots sat on the chair beside him, while his black-stockinged toes rejoiced in liberté under the tiny table. He grumbled about the rich American tourists who were ruining his beloved neighborhood—missing entirely the quintessential irony of the situation: the fact that American dollars paid his salary, or that his only listener, an American woman (not wealthy, but certainly not impoverished, either), was sharing his table. It would have been tres gauche to remind him of the obvious truth—that Americans had saved the derrieres of the French in not one, but two world wars—not that I would ever be so tactless. No, we chatted amiably of this and that, and after saying our au revoirs, I went on my way. I chanced to glance back, and there he was—still muttering in his little cloud of Gauloise-blue smoke, his bootless toes gesturing emphatically to an audience of pigeons. Quel drôle!
Along the way, I saw a couple of boulangers at a nickel-topped bar—their work, like mine, done for the day—enjoying some garlicky parslied moules with a tall bottle of wine from the Loire. This seemed like an eminently sensible thing to do, so I joined them. Well, I didn’t actually join them—as they ignored my presence completely (apparently they weren’t admirateurs du cinemá, and didn’t recognize me)—but I did stand at the bar beside them. This was just as well, since Aristide had provided more than enough conversation for a while—allowing me to devote my full attention to the crisp, slightly floral, wine.
After that, I was feeling just a tad… not drunk, mind you… but somewhat more “malleable” than is expected in a distinguished woman of my age. The prudence that comes with experience suggested that some caffeine might be in order. So I wandered about a bit, until I found a place to get some coffee—and a bite or two of patisserie (reasoning that the brasserie’s plate of mussels had done little to absorb the alcohol in that bottle of Sevre et Maine).
An espresso—and a couple of Napoleons—later, and I had nearly restored my usual dignity, but I found that it was mixed with a certain savoire-vivre, an almost celebratory mood. A mood that called for champagne. 

Fortunately, Paris is the sort of town where champagne is readily available. Thinking to myself, “How singularly à propos,” I ordered a magnum of La Grande Dame. Given my festive mood, I suppose it didn’t occur to me that there was no one with whom to share that immense black bottle. Once opened, of course, it would only go flat—a terrible thing to happen to such wonderful champagne—so I drank it.
For some reason, the details of what happened afterwards are somewhat hazy. Someone must have recognized me for the celebrity I was, and—realizing that there was only one American film crew in Paris—delivered me back to our location. This was doubly fortunate, for not only did this spare me from any public embarrassment that might have resulted from my tour Parisien, but the film’s commissary was the only place in Paris where one could find a can of Tab.


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