SCENE: A bustling party in a long hall with a marble floor and mother-of-pearl tinted walls, grand multi-tiered crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling filling the room with incandescent prismatic light. The space is thick with figures all engaged in pockets of conversation.
Enter Rachel, mouth slightly agape, eyes scanning the scene before her with excitement and incredulity.
Rachel (whispering in amazement): No way! Is that Julia Child?! … That is Julia Child!
Julia Child looks over at Rachel, smiles cheerfully and gamely approaches.
Julia (exuberantly): Welcome dearie!
Rachel (dumbfounded): This is heaven?
Julia: Yes precisely. Not what you were expecting?
Rachel: Actually, pretty much exactly… But how?
Julia: How did you get here?
Rachel: No- I know. I always said once I visited Paris I could die in peace…Didn’t know it would be taken so literally
Julia: Yes. well you know what they say “be careful what you wish for”
Rachel: It was Pierre Hermé that did me in. That place is a well-lit sweet treats art gallery their chocolates and macarons are displayed like beautiful gems and I just could not decide between the banana yogurt macaron or the apricot pistachio or the salted caramel.
Julia: Yes a dilemma I completely understand…me? I probably would have gone for the chocolate
Rachel( a little shamefully): Yeah.. I ended up getting all three. They were all so gorgeous and I really couldn’t choose between them. The last one I ate was the best – the banana-yogurt sooo good with just the slightest edge of tartness from the yogurt. I couldn’t stop myself from swallowing it whole…and choking on it.
Julia: Well at least you died while tasting something delicious in Paris- dearie.
Rachel: I tasted a lot of delicious things in Paris. But I don’t need to tell you about all the delicious things there are to taste in Paris-
Julia: No, but go on anyway I love hearing it.
Rachel: The Millefeuille Brulee at Angelina – Gawd! the caramelized pastry was so delicate and flakey and the cream in between the layers was so rich and smooth. and sweet. but not overly sweet that it detracted from subtle burnt flavor of the pastry mmmmm
Julia: What about the hot chocolate? It’s known for the best hot chocolate in Paris.
Rachel: Beyond amazing! So thick I drank it with a spoon like soup…And then there was the great meal we had Bistrot Paul Bert. You would’ve loved it
Julia: Do tell! I haven’t had a good meal since I got here. No food in heaven- a contradiction in terms if you ask me.
Rachel: I read about it in Bon Appetit. And it was just as you’d expect a French bistro to be right down to the tiled floor distressed mirrors marble bar top and chalkboard menu in French.
Julia: Sounds like the bistro down the street that Paul and I used to have dinner in at least twice a week when we were living in Paris. How we loved that place! Their poulet roti was ne plus ultra!
Rachel: I ordered a tomato-herb salad as a starter- talk about ultra to the max. Fresh ripe and juicy tomatoes cut into bite-sized pieces with thin strips of fresh basil and minced shallots and crispy croutons- thrown in for a nice crrrrunch. All doused in good olive oil and finished with just the right amount of sea salt and a shpritz of lemon juice…It was a revelation how good a simple salad can be if the components are perfect.
Julia (in a faraway voice) : Every meal was a celebration of good food…
Rachel: Yes that you pay through the wazoo for especially since it was one and a half dollars to the euro. I guess it was all part of the Parisian experience
Julia: Hem’s right when he says that Paris is a moveable feast. Did you notice how wherever you went people were enjoying al fresco meals?
Rachel: YES!! And I saw that even something as low-brow as a McDonald’s burger took on the sheen of a precious banquet when eaten on a bench in the Luxembourg Gardens.
At this point a woman dressed in fine formal wear stiffly approaches
Julia (under her breath): Oh drat…. (out loud to woman) Oh hullo Edith! We were just talking about one of the many subjects you’re well-versed in- gardens in Paris
Edith Wharton: French landscapes would be more accurate- but true, Parisian Gardens do fall into that category
Rachel : Yes- we were just talking about how beautiful the gardens are. The way they were situated alongside and in front of breathtaking palaces and ornate structures and are filled with classical sculptures… Walking through them must really take the edge off of daily life
Edith: Yes, I quite agree with that. The beauty and civilized pace of life in Paris and France in general is in large part why I left New York.
Rachel: I loved Paris — The bridges. and museums. and architecture. and of course the food. and I especially loved the way that the Parisians would arrange themselves in the outdoor cafes with a glass of wine at their elbows and a cigarette dangling casually from their fingers- like they were living art.
Edith: Exactement! La Belle Vie. Living a civilized life amidst civilized people
Julia is slowly and steadily backing away from this conversation.
Rachel: But- I never for a minute ever wished that I could move there and set up a life as a Parisienne — New York never felt inferior to me.
Edith: Then the question is which do you prefer the Tuileries or Central Park? The Metropolitan or the D’Orsay -nothing the world over can compare with the Louvre, of that I am sure.
Rachel: But for me it is more about the people.
Edith: Parisians have a true reverence for Beauty and Art that is not common to New Yorkers. They understand the art of living.
Rachel: And they’re super-chic too! On the metro to Montmartre we sat across a young woman who had her hair pulled back in a ponytail she had on a bit of eyeliner a simple white t. shirt black skinny jeans and black pumps and she was like a modern day Audrey Hepburn! Incredibly chic! But they were all well turned out like that
Edith: Yes French women do have the dignity to care about how they look and take the trouble to groom themselves appropriately. Another aspect that New Yorkers and Americans are sorely lacking.
Rachel (tentatively):Well here it goes- I didn’t feel like there was an appreciation for the “other” in Paris like there is in New York.
Edith(coldly): You mean immigrants and foreigners.
Rachel: Well that’s only part of it. I mean- the elements that are different, the outsiders.
Edith (rolls eyes): What you really mean are social climbing arrivistes and ill-bred immigrants. The glut of them are what drove me from New York to France.
Rachel: But that’s what makes New York so great! Its openness to the new the different the other the foreign! It creates an incredible energy – la vie electrique!
Edith: I prefer the Parisian code of politesse and refined hauteur.
Rachel: Oh please! New Yorkers can be just as snarky and as imperious as the Parisians- but at the bottom of it all there is an off-beat sense of brotherhood with all humanity that runs through the streets and avenues of New York City that I just didn’t feel in Paris.
Edith: You might be better served conversing with Emma Lazarus …or that gauche couple over there (dismissively points to a couple in the remote vicinity) the Fitzgerald’s- they spent some time in Paris and were drunk for the extent of it. Loutish American poseurs disguised as bohemian artists.
Rachel: He only happens to be one of the greatest American writers of the 20th Century!
Edith: who made his name by writing about climbers and poseurs.
A tall, thin, dark man with an intense stare approaches.
Edith (hurriedly): well then here’s my cue to leave…You two will have much to discuss. Henry!
With that Edith traipses off in the direction of Henry James, leaving Rachel with this dark slightly deranged looking man.
Soutine (sneering in Wharton’s direction): Gai en drerde… She deserves to hang and burn like those chandeliers. Assholes and Anti-Semites even in the after-life!
Rachel: Pardon me but who are you?
Soutine: Jew and Painter Soutine.
Rachel: Oh right. Wow! I was really taken with your paintings at L’Orangerie. You and Modigliani were my most favorite art discoveries on the trip
Soutine: “The two most fucked-up Jewish painters in all of Paris.”
Rachel: …and the sculpture of Diana at the Louvre definitely rates a mention too.
Soutine: They’ll never put us in the Louvre
Rachel: Because you’re Jewish?
Soutine: Yes- because I’m Jewish. What d’you think?! They’d hang Chaim Sutin’s painting of a bleeding animal carcass next to one of their glorious crucifixion scenes?
Rachel(quickly looking around): Ok as long as we’re talking about it let’s talk about the rue des Rosiers.
Soutine: I didn’t live in le Marais with the Jews I lived in Montparnasse with the artists- until the French Nazi Motherfuckers ran me out of town and into hiding
Rachel: Le Marais is a very hip cool high-end neighborhood. While we were promenading around we took a turn onto the rue des Rosiers and it was like stepping into a portal of hidden Jewish life.
Soutine: Did you have an expensive kosher meal served with just the right amount of bourgeoise self-satisfaction?
Rachel: I’m not really sure what that means- but it sounds like an insult…But actually we did have a really awesome falafel at L’as du Fellafel. And of course I had to check out Korcarz Bakery and try their cheesecake- But I’m sticking with the New York kind…not as sweet and much firmer.
Soutine (softly): My mother used to make cheesecake for Shavuos.
Rachel: Did she use farmer cheese or cream cheese?
Soutine (exasperated): I don’t know! All I know was that it was good and that we’d only get it once a year on Shavuos- The ten of us would fight over the crumbs like little rats.
Rachel: It was a charming street filled with kosher restaurants and people-Jews- openly wearing kippot and showing other outward displays of their Jewishness. Once we took a left turn off the rue de Rosiers I never saw another kippah or any other obvious signs of Jewishness the whole time I was in Paris. It was really weird and kinda spooky
Soutine: Look here you’re not going to hear me defend the French against anti-Semitism. They were only too happy to hand us over to the Nazi’s- didn’t have to ask twice… Had me hiding in the forests like a worthless animal!
Rachel: That’s awful. Did you regret leaving your family and life for Paris?
Soutine: Never! They were all slaughtered in Russia by the cocksuckers. At least I got out of the shtetl- saw a little of the world. Lived in Montparnasse with other artists- we talked about painting. We drank ’til we were shit-faced. We made great art in a great city of art– Come with me (he grabs Rachel’s arm) let’s go find Sartre, he’s just the guy to talk about this crap with