Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof

European Diary: Suite 503, Hotel Relais St.-Jacques, rue de l’Abbé de l’Epée; 7:19 p.m., Tuesday; June 22, 2004; Paris, France

In Europe, European Diary on December 10, 2004 at 5:05 pm

I wheeled and dealed with Joseph, the multi-lingual concierge, to get the suite on the 5th floor, with sitting room, two bathrooms, balcony with a view of the Pantheon, St.-Jacques and the tops of the tree-lined street below.

We walked down rue Guy Lussac, Boulevard St.-Michel to the Boulevard St.-Germain to an old brasserie called Vargende – said to be where Sartre and Camus had their final fight – where we spent over an hour-and-a-half in the fin de siécle splendor, surrounded by cut mirrored glass, organic floral motifs in dark polished wood and a maitre d’s cabinet with a heavy brass cash register. It was a scene unchanged since Toulouse-Lautrec and Robert McAlmon. I kept thinking of Malcolm Cowley’s assault on a particularly brutish maitre d’ as a dada provocation.

We had cold cucumber soup with dill and mint, a baked brie in pastry envelope, fricassée of chicken, Chateaubriand, ile flottante, pear sorbet and chocolate ice cream, two half bottles of Sancerre (white and red), very light and bright and, as the waitress said, in keeping with the season, and coffee. The art of living, indeed.

Walking through the streets with the constantly-changing moments of architectural interest, the subtly and beautifully dressed people, the gilded palaces, opulent hotels, neighborhood cafés, the physicalized history, the whole city a collection of moments in time; it’s a very appealing city. This is sometimes offset by the sever-stopping fireworks of human movement that outstrips is two million inhabitants and by the Parisians’ carnivorousness, as exemplified by the crooked cab drivers who run in circles and one, the most egregious so far, who tried to charge us for our bags. Cheap, undignified weasel who severely underestimated our meanness and appetite for conflict.

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