The setting: Paris, France year 1925. Madeleine Martin and her family living at 18 rue Victor Hugo
The alarm clock is ringing and ringing, still ringing. It can’t be morning yet. I had just fallen asleep; I didn’t even have time to dream. No, I don’t want to start the day without a good dream, something to hope for, instead of just plain old reality. The same old mundane routine, same as yesterday and will be the same again, today, I don’t want to get up. The alarm is still ringing; I should turn it off before Maman starts yelling. Madeleine! Get up you are going to be late for work! Yes, Maman I know.
Before I start my day, I should introduce myself. My name is Madeleine Martin. I was born on August 7th 1900 in Paris at home which is still 18 Avenue Victor Hugo. I am the oldest of two, my little sister Gabrielle was born two years later. She is the pretty one, the one that the boys follow and admire. She has already had two loves in her life, unfortunately for her and for her two little girls, my nieces; they have both passed away from ill health. I am not ugly; I would describe myself as interesting looking. I have big dark eyes, long thick wavy hair that refuses to do what I would like it to do, a nice full set of lips and freckles. Separately, my features are pretty nice, it’s when you see them together that it, I would say, falls flat. I like that special “je ne sais quoi” that my darling little sister has in spades. Am I complaining? There are days that I wish that I was the belle of the ball, but mostly, I’m happy with the way I am. I know that I have personality, everyone knows that and they all like to remind me often enough. It is not always said in the most complimentary of ways, but I usually get the message loud and clear, which is, Madeleine, less talking and more working.
It seems that that is all my lot in life is supposed to be, work, work in the factory. My mother started in the factory since it opened its doors in 1910. It called l’Usine des Coudieres. Basically, it’s our factory where we put out sewing machines and their parts. Since the sewing machine has gotten easier to use and the fabrics are becoming easier to get and cheaper, so many families are buying our machines. I suppose that I should be grateful because without the factory what would our family do. Papa after the great war doesn’t do much of anything except go to the bar with his friends and talk about how the great war and the Germans stole everything from them and I suppose they think that they will recapture their lives and work in the bottom of those bottles. Seeing my father live like this everyday makes me mad, mad at the world, mad at men that they find excuses to do anything but help take care of the family, all because they went off to war. As if we women don’t sacrifice during war. When the men are away, who does all the men’s work? It is the wives and mothers, when the war is over, you don’t see the women sitting in the bars and cafes weeping in their glasses, how hard the war was. No, you see them at home; cleaning, cooking, and working. I should stop being so mad, it is not going to change what Papa is doing, all my anger does is put wrinkles on my face and sourness in my stomach. As Maman says both are not healthy or good for me.
Which brings me to my mother, I love her so much and yet she makes me so mad! I see her and I know that she is smart and she was beautiful. There should have been more for her to do than just marry, have babies and then work in the factory. But who am I kidding, just because it was the new century didn’t mean that France would strip away centuries of how things are done. That phrase “how things are done” should be banished forever. In our class, that is what we do, we go to school to learn to read, write and do a little math. We are women; it wouldn’t do to know too many things, for the most part anyway. There are some really smart women but you have to be so smart and so stubborn to stay in school, that really isn’t for us Martins.
We are of the “ouvriere” class, the factory workers, we are the small parts of a big machine that makes things so that others can buy those things and make their own things and the circle just goes around and around. Everyone has their little place in the circle and no one should leave their little place because then it would upset the wheel and throw it off track. God forbid if that would happen, who knows chaos might happen and then where we would be? Who would remember their place?
I must sound like a spoiled bitter unmarried woman. Too old to be still living at home, bitter because I’m almost at the spinster stage in life, spoiled because I should be grateful for a roof over my head, a room to myself, family that loves me, food on the table, clothes on my back and a job. I know all this, I hear it quite often. I do try to be cheerful and thankful, I really do. It is just so hard sometimes when people around me annoy me like my little sister. She annoys me, I love her, you can’t help but love her. She is a sweet little thing; she brings out the protective instinct in everyone who meets her. She isn’t helpless, mind you. There is simply something about her that makes you want to take of her and that just grates on my nerves sometimes; I rebel against her magical power. Her two little girls are sweet, the oldest Georgette reminds me of me. We get along so well, she is curious and loves to read, as do I. The baby of the family Andree is still too young to be anything more than a little bundle of cuteness. For these two I am glad to be the one working full time so that Maman can get some physical rest so that she has it in her to be in charge of the two little ones, because my sister just isn’t up to raising the girls. She is still mooning over the two “loves” of her life and how miserable her life is without them. She also hasn’t been looking to well lately and we are all worried about her, hopefully the two little ones don’t notice it too much. I can’t tell for sure with Georgette because she is very clever, it is so sweet to watch her come and try to baby her own mother. I have such a special place in my heart for that one.
Now that I have introduced you to a little bit of my life and my family, I should get up and get moving. It is only 6:00 a.m but I have to light the stove in the kitchen because I am sure that the coals didn’t last from last night. It is cold, I can see my breath. Oh this is going to be cold, where are my woolen stockings, they were under the covers, there they are. Madeleine, get up! I am I’ll light the stove in a minute! Easy for Maman to say get up, she is saying it from the warmth of her bed. I wonder if Papa is sleeping in his chair. Maybe he kept the coals going, I hope so, it is so hard to get the fire going in the cold morning with the dampness all around.
Cold, cold please let there be an ember or two to help light the fire, no luck this morning. Okay, stop complaining in your head and just concentrate on getting this fire going. There’s the paper, where are the matches? There they are some briquettes and wood, first crumble up the paper (I hope that Papa isn’t saving it for something) then make a little house shaped like an up side down V and light with the match, voila the stove is coming back to life. Now it is time to get the coffee going, who am I kidding, it is more like chicory with a tiny bit of coffee. If you think hard enough you can always convince yourself that it is pure coffee, but who can afford pure coffee nowadays, not the Martins. I hope that there is at least a quarter of yesterday’s bread, so I can eat something before I go off to work.
Let me go run upstairs while the water is heating up so that I can wash my face, brush my hair and teeth, get into my work clothes and put all this mess of hair into some orderly chignon. Why won’t my hair do what I want for once, how can it be so frizzy when it isn’t raining outside? Where did I get this hair from? I do love my hair because it is mine and when it is cold outside it does keep my head warm, just as good as a hat at times. I just would like a little bit more obedience from my hair. Apparently, it doesn’t recognize the fact that I am the boss. No one recognizes me as the boss, and no one ever will. Madeleine Cherie why do you have to think like that? Why would you want to be the boss of someone? Maman is the boss of us and Papa, whether he knows it or not, and look at what that gets her, gray hair and headaches, if you ask her. Which I don’t because then you are inviting an hour of her telling you what everyone does wrong and how if they would only listen to her than everything would be better. She doesn’t even realize that she is the boss of the family. Crazy don’t you think?
Enough with all this thinking, I had better put some speed in myself getting ready or else Madame Dufarges is going to dock me for an hour if I am even a minute late. Thank goodness we only live down the block from the Usine or else I would be in trouble everyday. Why, you ask? Because I take all this time every morning, complaining, day dreaming, procrastinating and eventually doing everything that needs to get done before going to work. If we lived farther away, I would never get there until at least lunch time.
Okay, one last look in the mirror, how do I explain what I see in the mirror? I see two dark pools of brown that are wide eyed and stare without fear back at me with thick arching eyebrows. Freckles all across the bridge of my nose, that isn’t too big nor too small, a nice nose, (I’ve seen enough noses that I have absolutely no business to ever complain about mine) my face still has the roundness of when I was a teenager, I can’t wait for the roundness to go so that I can have the cheekbones that I see on the mannequins, it is so much more elegant than the round pudgy cheeks that I have, I’m told that my cheeks keep me young looking but at twenty five I don’t want to be a cute young looking girl, I want to be a sophisticated young lady or forget the young, a sophisticated lady. My lips are nice and full, usually serious, I don’t laugh or smile too much, and there is too much work to do. I do like to laugh; I just wish that I had more time to laugh. It is my own fault since I spend most of my free time in my head complaining or being frustrated instead of laughing. I should work on that. One more thing to do, stop complaining, laughing is good no matter if you have to remind yourself to laugh the end result is worth it.
Where are my shoes? There they are, oh the wonders of the modern world, another thing that makes dressing so much faster, slip on shoes instead of the old lacing up kind that took forever and a pair of good eyes and quite a bit of patience which is what I solely lack in the morning hours. Did I forget anything? No, good. What time is it? I still have 15 minutes to go, I can sit down and have a cup of chicory coffee with a tartine of butter and preserves. I will say that today is starting out as a good day.
I should give the tour of our apartment, we are very lucky to have this apartment. It has been in the family for years, my father was born here. I think that it could be one of the reasons Maman married Papa; at the time before the war his family did quite well for themselves. Our address is a nice one, Avenue Victor Hugo is in the 16th arrondisement, and we aren’t far from the Place de l’Etoile which is a major hub for all of Paris. The factory which is our daily source of work and has been for more than just myself and my sister, for my mother as well, is just down the next street, rue de la Pompe. Like I said before it is fabulous to live a few minutes from the factory, it has saved all of us from ever being late; it is a family trait to dawdle, especially in the mornings. Where was I, oh yes, the apartment. We live on the third floor the building; the building has an interior courtyard which is standard throughout Paris. During the spring and summer it is nice to have, especially on laundry days, it frees up the rooms from all the wet hanging clothes. During the winter, it is damp clothes hanging in the kitchen for days on end, but what can you do? It is what it is, a good philosophy to live by, I try to incorporate it into my daily musings in the effort to cut down on my complaining. It does work most of the time.
Living on the third floor has many advantages. We have indoor plumbing which if you live on the fourth floor or higher you usually do not. Like I said, I am pretty sure that my papa’s living situation had a lot to do with my mother marrying him. We also have a small kitchen, you would not believe how many apartments in Paris do not have kitchens or if they do have kitchens many of them do not have working stoves. That is the reason why there are so many Bistro’s in Paris, without them people, families, would not be able to eat. The restaurants are too expensive for the everyday meal. The invention of the Bistro has made a huge difference in Parisian daily life. If you are a local customer, you don’t need to buy the paper anymore to get your news, just go have your midday meal, you’ll get all the news that you need from your neighbors and eating associates. It makes for a wonderful ambience, my sister and I don’t go very often. She has the two little ones to take care of and with man’s cooking; we honestly eat better at home than at any restaurant.
I keep getting side-tracked in the apartment tour. We have two bedrooms, one for Maman and Papa, he doesn’t make it to the bedroom much anymore, he usually falls asleep right by the stove where it’s warm listening to the radio every evening. Maman has given up trying to get him to bed a long time ago, it is depressing to see him like this day in and day out but the War did something to him that he won’t talk about and he won’t let go of, it is sad. I have the other room to myself because since I am the one working full time at the factory, I need to sleep and get up very early. Gabrielle and the two little ones share the living room which we converted into another bedroom since we don’t entertain “formally”; no one has the time or the money for that. We take our meals in the dining room which is next to the kitchen. The layout is very simple. You come into the “dining room” and to the right is the kitchen with the window that gives out onto the interior courtyard. If you go left from the dining room you enter into the room that Gabrielle and the little ones share, right next to the bath room and across is the water closet and across from each other are the two bedrooms. It is a large apartment and one that Maman has made into a lovely home for us all.
Where is the time, I have to go. Where is my coat and hat, it is cold outside. I hope that it is not going to rain, Paris in the autumn, you are guaranteed grey skies everyday or at least that is what it feels like and if you are lucky rain every other day. It does make for a long winter, a very short autumn but a long winter. At least we don’t have to worry too much about snow, that would be hard because boots are so expensive and I don’t really have the extra money to spend on snow boots, least of all the whole family. A factory worker’s pay does not allow for much at all. I shouldn’t complain because I still have my job, since the war has ended many of the men who came back took up where they left off and the women were fired. Since I work in the sewing machine factory, not many men were working there before the war so my job has always been safe, I inherited it, if you will, from my Maman. Having a family history with the factory does help, because Gabrielle and Maman during holiday seasons are able to come in for part time work that helps us out during the year with extra money. It also helps out the Patrons because they don’t have to train any one else, Maman and Gabrielle are very experienced. All in all I must say that we live in a very tidy universe on Avenue Victor Hugo and rue de la Pompe.
Here I am at last out the door; Papa is still sleeping near the stove. I wonder if he even noticed that it is no longer cold in the apartment. One of these days, someone is going to have to do something about Papa, he can’t go on like this. Maman needs help and a husband who is at least present. It can’t be good for the little ones to see an adult do nothing all day long except eat, drink and fall asleep in a chair listening to the radio. I should stop worrying about it now; I have to start thinking about work. Down the stairs, two at a time and I am out onto the Avenue.
It is not that bad outside, here I am at the corner of rue de la Pompe and voila, I am at work. There is Sabine; she is my best friend in the world. We have known each other since we were in the bassinet together because our Maman’s are best friends and they worked at the Usine together for years since they were young girls. Back then it wasn’t a sewing machine factory of course, it had been a factory for textiles. When in 1910, it changed over to a sewing machine factory; the Patron simply kept the same factory workers and trained them for the new jobs.
Sabine and I work side by side on the assembly line. We try to set new records, not just in speed but in efficiency and quality. Anything to keep our jobs interesting, the monotony not only can drive someone batty but it also can lead to bad work. Bad work equals bad product which then equals time docked for bad product and that eventually leads to no job. Sabine and I, we have no illusions, we know that we need our jobs. Not only do we need our jobs to put food on the table for our families but we are also young and we do like to go out every now and again to the new café’s and the new music clubs that are opening up all over Paris.
I have to tell you more about Sabine, as you already know you aren’t best friends with someone just because you shared a childhood together. You are best friends because you have things in common, not just a common history together. Sabine and I were always put together in school because we both did exceptionally well in mathematics and literature. She was the star pupil with writing skills, the nuns would practically swoon over her penmanship. I, on the other hand, would get the ruler over my knuckles because my penmanship was quite illegible. Thank goodness for Sabine and her cleverness because she would alter her writing and do my exercises so I wouldn’t get the ruler. She saved my knuckles on more than one occasion. I would reciprocate the favor by helping her with the history of our glorious France. I have been blessed with a photographic memory, and to learn and remember France’s kings and wars, an excellent memory is needed. Poor Sabine did not have that gift so my little whispers during oral quizzes did wonders for her test results. We were a formidable team in school. Those were the days, young and carefree. Unfortunately being girls meant that it all ended at 16. After which we both entered into the workplace at the factory. The same as our Maman’s before us.
What more can I tell you about Sabine and myself? We both love to read, we love reading about the world and especially about the country across the Atlantic, the United States. That country is still so new and so different. Sabine and I wonder sometimes what it would be like to go over on a big ship and visit the United States. I would like to see the Statue of Liberty, I learned in school that Gustave Eiffel fashioned the interior of the Statue of Liberty and that the ideas of the Eiffel Tower came from his work on the Statue. She must be a grand thing to see from the deck of a steam ship. We both try not to daydream too much at work because that could be hazardous to our fingers and hands not to mention the product that we are responsible for, daydreams are best left to be savored in the quiet of your mind in your room or in a park, somewhere where you can give yourself over to them.
When people see Sabine and I, they see light and day because as dark as are my eyes and hair is as light as Sabine’s coloring. She is so blond and her eyes are the lightest blue, she looks like a porcelain doll that you would keep on a mantle. She is short and petite, not that I am tall and large. I am an average height and slim like the majority of French woman. I wouldn’t stand out in a crowd; I would blend in very well. Sabine would be the red flare, with her diminutive stature and the sheer blondness of her hair, you can stop her from a mile away. She would not make for a very good spy, she stands out too much, I on the other hand I blend in so well that you wouldn’t even know that I was there. Can you tell that Sabine and I also love to read mystery books and spy books?
Paris has become so full of life over the past few years, it’s as if all the terror, sadness and war fatigue that had been bottled up for 4 almost 5 long years has exploded and now has been replaced with a joie de vivre and an appreciation of life and things that knows no bounds. We are hearing about all these Americans who are coming to our beautiful city of Paris to learn true freedom. Life is changing, it is a little unsettling for Sabine and I, we feel a bit out of place sometimes in our own city. I suppose it is because of our status as simple ouvriere that we don’t feel welcome to the party at times. The fashions that we see with the beautiful fabrics are a bit too expensive for our little salaries. Sabine’s mother is a very good seamstress, she taught herself after work late into the nights as a way to make some extra money on the side while her husband was gone during the war. Perhaps, Sabine and I can go to the Marché des puces later during the week and pick up some nice fabric and patterns and ask her to make us two nice dresses for a week end ball. The latest fabric en vogue is Jersey; we have seen a few friends wearing nice simple dresses made with Jersey that should be easy enough for Sabine’s mother to throw together for us. I am going to tell Sabine during our mid day break for the midday meal that we should pool our centimes together for the fabric and for a nice patisserie for her mother, perhaps I should get a nice little patisserie for Maman as well, a treat is always a good bribery for a night of going out dancing instead of staying home doing sewing, laundry or cleaning out the stove.
Madeleine, you silly girl, concentrate you are at work. I swear if I don’t stop daydreaming and pretending that someone is interested in my life story I will never punch my time card in and I’ll be standing here wasting time. Sabine let’s get started, Sabine looks at me and says “Are you writing in your head again? Is it the same story, your life and how you will escape the factory and its dreary work?” I must have a stupid look on my face when I am writing my life story in my head; she always catches me doing it. To which I reply “Sabine of course I am writing it in my head, I have to get all the kinks out before I write the final version down on paper. You know how expensive paper is as well as ink, I am not going to waste page after page if it isn’t good” I know that she thinks that this writing business is a crazy idea, so I don’t even know why I bother trying to justify myself because she is going to come back with a witty remark, I see it coming. Sabine looks at me with her look that only she can do, that smug impish grin, “but Madeleine Cherie, if it is all in your head how are you going to know when it is finally good enough, you can’t possibly remember every single thing that you have changed or mistake that you corrected” I might as well tell her the truth, “Sabine if you must know, since you seem especially determined today of all days to rain on my parade, I write my life story and fantasies in my head because I am terrified to put in on paper because what if some day I find these pages of hopes and dreams in a drawer somewhere and I either never finished or if I did, nothing special ever came true about the fantasy? It would be too sad, I prefer to do this fantasy writing in my head where it is for me, anything can happen and no one needs to know. If nothing ever comes of it, I won’t be disappointed because I’ll be too busy with our ordinary life to remember everything that I have written in my head” I promise you that thankfully, Sabine and I have been partners on the assembly line for so long that we can quietly speak back and forth without risking too much harm too our vulnerable fingers and letting any pieces escape our stations without being finished off with our stamp. Our piece inspector rarely if ever comes down to visit our station; we haven’t had the “pleasure” of his glares and criticism in a very long time. We work very hard to keep it that way. Which is why I am about to whisper “Sabine, at midday break, let’s go to my house for our meal and I’ll tell you about an idea that I had this morning”. Sabine looks very happy, “Did your Maman make her pot au feu yesterday?” to which I nodded in the affirmative. Sabine beamed, she really is a food connoisseur, “I am hungry all ready!”
My stomach is growling just thinking of Maman’s pot au feu. For those of you who have never had the simple delight of an excellent pot au feu, I will walk you though it step by step. First I shall tell you what it is, it is a simple fancy boiled beef dinner that is served with braised vegetables and it is eaten in different stages. The beef and the vegetables are all cooked together braising each other and melding their flavors all together into one savory liquid, comparable to liquid elixir able to cure whatever ails you. Maman gets her beef cut, usually a bottom round with at least 6 large marrow bones and stewing hen from Monsieur LaJusse the butcher. You need to have a very good rapport with your butcher; he will know which cuts of beef will tenderize beautifully during the braising stage of cooking. She also has had Madame Forges as her produce purveyor at the Marché des invalids for as long as I can remember, the leeks, carrots, potatoes, turnips, onions and parsnips are always as fresh and huge as one can only hope for, next comes the wonderful bottle of burgundy that Maman gets from Tante Emma, she has a tiny vineyard and she always gives us her good burgundy as Christmas presents, birthday presents, any occasion for a present, we will receive her wonderful wine from burgundy. It is a big family secret, but every family has secrets, if one didn’t have secrets it wouldn’t be much of a family than would it? Secrets, especially harmless ones like our wine, are the glue that keeps us together, that and love of course.
With all the ingredients, each tied up separately so they retain their form will simmering, Maman puts the beef cut in the her huge marmite with chopped onions, leeks, carrots, celery and large herb bouquet of parsley, fresh bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns and garlic cloves wrapped together in cheesecloth, she than covers it with good vegetable stock and some of our burgundy. This is put to a slow simmer for a few hours, after which Maman puts in the trussed hen and allows that to simmer alongside the beef. An hour or so afterwards the vegetable garnish all tied nicely with string, the onions studded with cloves, the beautiful carrots, the leeks, the potatoes and the parsnips are gently put into the simmering pot au feu for an hour more of cooking, we must not forget the 6 marrow bones, they are the best part and are saved for last in the bath since they are the most delicate. All in all, this is five hours of slow cooking and the whole apartment luxuriates in the warm, hearty aromas of good solid meat and vegetables. When it is time to present the feast, Maman ladles out the hen, the bottom round cut of beef, the marrow bones and the beautiful vegetables. Maman cuts all the strings away and first ladles out the stock as a soup which is our first course. When we are done with our soup which I must say takes all the dampness that has seeped into our bones during the long morning shift at the factory. We are then served with the platter of beef and chicken accompanied by the vegetables and a sauce supreme, which is very simple yet so elegant. Maman takes some of the stock, while she reduces it she whisks in a little of our precious butter and flour to thicken it and then when it looks about right and coats the back of her spoon she adds a little bit of equally precious cream. This sauce with the meat and vegetables piping hot make for such tender flavorful morsels in your mouth, eating Maman’s pot au feu will pt all your troubles onto another plane of existence. While you are eating, your brain can only register taste, texture and flavor. Sabine and I are swooning in delight. Food, especially great food made with talent and love can transport you away and that is what it did to me because I have completely forgotten what I was going to discuss with Sabine at our midday meal. Sacre bleu!
I, after finishing the last bite, went to thank Maman for all her work. She, Papa, Gabrielle and the girls had already eaten before Sabine and I arrived to leave us room at the table. Our eating table was a little tight and when one is eating pot au feu, it is nicer when you have room for the platters and the sauceboat. I then took all the plates and proceeded to wash away all evidence that a feast had been had not 10 minutes ago. That always amazes me, how easily one can erase all the hard work that transpired to prepare and create one special dinner. You would think that something beyond fleeting memories would remain to lock in its moment in time. I will have to write it down, I suppose, to give this meal its honored place in perpetuity. Who knows, I might have to bite the bullet one day and transcribe this fantasy book out of my head and onto paper if I want to pay homage to my Maman’s cooking now and in the future. I’ll give you a small example of how I can commit my mother’s genius for posterity. The brilliance of a pot au feu lies not only of its original serving, it is the gift that keeps on giving, the meat and vegetables are served cold the day after at the midday meal with Dijon mustard, cornichons and pickled onions, the broth is served with vermicelli making the soup a vegetable noodle soup at the evening meal. The next day the remaining meat is minced and stirred into a casserole of mashed potatoes with gruyere cheese and put into the oven it is called a Hachis Parmentier or what our English counterparts call a Shepherds’ pie. Isn’t that amazing, that one dish can be transformed over and over again so not to waste any morsel of it and also not to bore the family with the same exact dish, the initial flavors are similar but the look and textures are quite different thus different dishes.
Did I surprise you with my knowledge of English and an English dish? I bet you that I did. In school we are required to take a foreign language and I chose English. We had a very proper English man as our professor, he spoke French beautifully and that pushed me to want to excel in English because I felt that if an English man can speak French as well as we can, than why shouldn’t I be able to do the same with English? In the beginning, I had trouble because many of the rules of grammar did not make any sense but when Professor Howard explained that when he learned French, he was very confused with our rules and the only way that he learned, and he recommended that we do the same was simple, memorize the rules and do not ask why, just remember the rule. I took that to heart and it made learning so much easier, with my excellent memory it proved much easier for me than for some of my other classmates. I especially liked the sound of English, I didn’t particularly like my accent but I liked the sound of the words in English. I digress once again from what is going on around me, thank goodness that Sabine is silently sipping her chicory/coffee or she would be scolding me for excessive daydreaming and neglecting her company. I am incorrigible!
While Sabine and I were digesting our sumptuous meal, we were having the last of the morning chicory/coffee, I told her about my idea, “Sabine, how about this week, when we receive our weekly salary and deduct everything that we need to for the homes and our families, what if we took the left over and went to the Marché des puce’s and purchased some nice fabric and patterns for the new style of dresses that we keep seeing in Vogue and then go to you Maman’s favorite patisserie to get her a baba au rhum to bribe her with, so that she can be convinced to make us two nice dresses to gout out dancing in?” “And while we are there I’ll get my Maman a nice tarte au poires to say thank you again for the pot au feu, it was quite a bit of money to lay out and it was so nice of her to think of us.” As I was putting my thoughts into the air between us, I could see by her eyes the glimmer of a vision of what a new dress could look like on her. Sabine would look lovely in a potato sack and so imagine how lovely she would look in a dress hand sewn a la mode by her Maman. I knew that Sabine was game, Sabine was always interested in new things and potential new adventures but I further cinched the deal when I elaborated “I’m sure that with the absence of any corset, coning of any type in the waist that the drop down waist will be so much easier and faster to fit, pin and sew. The length isn’t as tricky as it used to be and the sleeves are almost optional, these new fashions are a seamstresses dream!” I, of course not being a seamstress, have absolutely no idea if any of what I said was true but it really sounded good to my ears. Not surprisingly, Sabine agreed “you are absolutely right, Maman has been intrigued by the new fashions, and she has wanted to sew a dress from the new Vogue patterns for months now. This would be the perfect opportunity”.
Vogue the fashion magazine has been out for 5 years and it is our favorite magazine to dream over. The magazine is more than just beautiful pictures, Sabine and I learn so much more about the world outside of our experience of factory work and house work. All these fantastic designers; Jean Patou and Mademoiselle Vionnet, they are real artists with fabrics that we haven’t seen before, you really notice the fabric because of the way the designers drape them over the mannequin’s form. Sabine and I when we were little used to watch our Maman’s suffer the corset, all the little buttons and all the rigid layers, now to see these beautiful dresses that are so light and free with the silky fabrics that are so elegant that you should feel like a lady. I have often asked Sabine if the dress’s form came before the Charleston or if the dance made the dress. Sabine in all her practical genius replied “Madeleine, what does it matter? They are here to stay and both are fantastic new fun things to wear and do; this is a grand time to be in Paris, seeing all the rich special people having fun.” She was right but questions like this one occupied my thoughts, I was always curious about the relationship between objects, people’s actions and society. How those relationships turned out informed history around us, why do we, the women, work in the factories? The wars waged by men is a big reason why, if there weren’t wars, the men would be working and taking care of their families with the women taking care of the home and children instead of doing both; working outside the home and inside as well.
I have a lot of anger about the war, it has been 7 years since the war has ended but things are still so hard. Prices won’t stop going up; all we hear from the government is that taxes have to go up to pay for the war. Haven’t the people paid enough for the war, so many fathers, brothers and uncles dead or maimed, what price is that? The government has forgotten that the people did not decide for themselves if they wanted to go to war, it was the other countries and our own government that made that decision and all for what? If I shared all my thoughts with anyone, I would be mocked and simply told that “all this anger is never going to change anything, it is not productive like going to work and helping the family, so stop thinking about political things that are not of your concern” It is hard being a women when you have a lot of opinions but no way to really express them.
I’m glad that I have Sabine because she takes my mind off my serious and rebellious thoughts and points me in a much gayer and lighter direction. Such as where are we going to go, once these beautiful creations are completed by Sabine’s Maman? “Sabine, have you heard of any new exciting places that are hosting a dance ball?” Sabine is a much more out going person than I am, as you can see, I spend a lot of time in my own head wrestling with questions of a much more serious and “masculine” nature that I rarely engage others in regular gossip, Sabine is so easy to talk to that others naturally flock to her and suffer me as an appendage to Sabine. I know, I have to work on that because it is my own doing, I could be more engaging but with Sabine it is so easy, with others I feel all shy and nervous.
Sabine gets all excited, “Madeleine, you know that I have been dying to see the spectacle featuring Josephine Baker, she is the toast of Paris. I just don’t know if we can afford it and who would we go with? We can’t go by ourselves, that would be scandalous. I am trying to think if any of the boys that we know would first be interested and second if they can afford too.” “Sabine” I said, “let’s not get all crazed with the details first we have to get the fabric and the patterns, and then we have to ask your Maman, during all this we’ll come up with something, or should I say that you will have come up with something as you always do, my Cherie”. With that last Cherie, I got a huge beautiful from smile Sabine. She said “As usual, you are right things will unfold as they should. We should really get going; we are going to be late getting back to work. Isn’t it funny that we are constantly looking at the time when we aren’t at the Usine and it flies by but when we are at the Usine the seconds seem like hours?” “Sabine that is why we call it work, it isn’t enjoyable like reading or daydreaming or dancing”
So back to work we go, our steps are still much lighter because we had a great midday meal, we only have the afternoon left to work and we have visions of pretty new dresses in our head. All in all a fine day for the both of us; this being a typical day for myself and Sabine, the days that followed rolled into each other as to be a blur by the end of the week. The only change in the days were our clothes of course and that being mainly underclothes because we aren’t poor but we know how to pick good sturdy materials to make our work clothes and everyday clothes so that they last. Did I say we make, no, Sabine and I are dependant on our mothers for that chore. One of these days, I will learn how to sew besides sewing a missing button and a hem, I will pay attention and learn how to do the proper stitching that a good seamstress knows how to do. It is all in the stitching that is when you can see a professional versus an amateur, excellent stitching is what makes the fabric fall and drape correctly. I know this and so does Sabine but it doesn’t mean that we know how to do it.
Finally my two days off arrive and I can sleep late, or at least later. Hooray! These mornings are my favorite because this is when I can spend time with my sister Gabrielle, Georgette, Andree, Maman and Papa. We slowly have our coffee and breakfast together without me rushing around trying to get ready for work. We have our family conversations about what the week might have in store for everyone at the table. Gabrielle usually has me laughing over the latest “crime” that Georgette has committed and with Georgette adding to my laughter with her explanations trying to justify her actions, all the while Andree is sitting in her little chair eating her porridge and putting her two little cents in when Georgette leaves an opening in the conversation. Maman sits quietly listening with one ear open or so we think because every once and a while a smile flickers over her lips while she is looking over her cookbooks trying to piece together a menu for the week since later we will al be going to the Marche to but all that we need for the week. Through all this Papa is in his usual chair listening to us and looking out into the ether. I have tried to ask him what he thinks about when his eyes go to that far away place but he never tells me so I have stopped asking. That is not to say that I am still not curious or that I don’t care any longer, I still do but if he doesn’t want talk how can I force him?
When Maman starts to put little pieces of paper in between her cookbook pages that is the sign that the menu is coming together, Maman’s strategy is always the same. Actually Maman’s strategy isn’t something earth shatteringly original, it is what every female head of the household does, plan a meal that will lead to as many smaller meals as possible. The idea is to feed as many as possible for as long as possible as cheaply as possible while still making sure that it be good, hearty and nutritious without it being boring and the same thing day in and day out. Believe it or not, this is my favorite time with my Maman, whenever there is food involved my Maman’s eyes light up and she becomes animated and cheerful. She is so thin and yet she loves food so much even when there isn’t a lot to be had all that she needs is for someone to be there to listen to her talk about food and my Maman is happy. These are the mornings that I learn much from my Maman about how to run a household, keeping an eye on how much you can spend, especially during these times when prices go up every week, while getting the most for your money is a talent. My Maman says that I inherited her talent and that I have a quick mind for sums and a great eye for quality and quantity. I feel so proud when she says that because I feel as if I take away one of her worries and that is how would we manage without her.
I suppose every parent worries about that, I even see Gabrielle get that look in her eyes when she thinks about the future and what it does and doesn’t hold for her two little girls. I know that Gabrielle’s life did not work out as she thought it would, I think that she had higher hopes for herself and the men in her life. No one could have foreseen the death of her first husband let alone the death of the second. I suppose that a good part of my anger about the war is the cost that came with the war was felt deeply in my home. First with my father being robbed of who he is and my sister losing not one love but two loves all as a result of a world war that inflicted such damage and continues to inflict damage because according to many of the discussions in the neighborhood Bistros, the French economy is still suffering, I’m not sure why it all seems very complicate and no one agrees as to whose fault it is, some say it is the German’s and others say it is our own government. If you go out of your way you can even find a small number of people going all the way to Russia to find a group to blame, the Bolsheviks. I don’t pay any attention to any of that. All I know is that it doesn’t help to blame anyone when all you can do is do what you can to make your life work and that of your family’s as well.
Back to this week’s menu, Maman has laid out this week’s menu and it sounds delicious. Sunday for our grand meal it will be Coq au Vin. This is why autumn and winters are tolerable, the dishes that are made during these cold months more than make up for the uncomfortable cold that is damp and that seeps in your bones. Hot rustic dishes that stick to your bones like a Coq au Vin are the balm that eases the cold and warms the heart. On Sunday morning when Maman starts her cooking, the kitchen and the rest of the apartment will start to smell heavenly. I will tell you her secret to her Coq au Vin, you realize that I am risking life and limb sharing her secrets, first item that goes into the pot is two big handfuls of lardons (diced bacon) into butter, when they are nicely browned Maman takes them out and puts in her large chicken seasoned with salt and pepper and cut up into 8 pieces and browns it on all sides in the lardons fat and butter. Maman then puts the lardons back into the pot with the chicken and covers it and lets it cook over low flame for 15 minutes turning the chicken pieces over once. By this time everyone is salivating; the aromas of bacon, roasted chicken and butter are intoxicating. Thank goodness everyone has had breakfast, or else I’m not sure that the Coq would last until the Vin was added, it might have gotten eaten way before it was done. Once that step is done, Maman takes a cup of cognac and pours it on the chicken and carefully ignites it, the girls cry out ooh and aah, it does make for a pretty show of colors in the kitchen. Maman than blows out the flame and pours the vin (wine) into the pot along with her homemade chicken stock and tomato paste, garlic and herbs. The pot is covered and left over a low flame for 40 minutes until the chicken is done. While the chicken is cooking Maman prepares and sautés the pearl onions and mushrooms, she also makes a flour and butter paste which she adds to the stock after she has taken the chicken out and put it onto a platter. Once the stock has been thickened with the paste and it coats her spoon, Maman put the chicken back in the pot and arranges the onions and mushrooms all around it and we have that served with steamed potatoes. The feast begins for the Martin family, this is what defines our typical Sunday, a fine feast at the table surrounded by the family that spent all morning looking on while Maman set about creating that very feast. I suppose that we are all learning through osmosis, I do know that those smells are seared into my brain and that I am thankful for that. That evening we will have a simple soup with bread and cheese and the following day when the work week begins yet again for me, I know what I will have for my midday meal, the rest of that wonderful succulent chicken married with bacon, mushrooms and small pearl onions.
I got so carried away by food, I guess that I really am my mother’s daughter, that I completely skipped over Saturday, well at least the part of Saturday that really counts, the trip to the Marche des Puce’s. Once Maman had her list all ready for the week’s menu and for whatever else we needed for the house, off we all went to the Marche, Sabine and her Maman were waiting downstairs for us which was a weekly habit that started long before I could walk, our mother’s have been going to the Marche together even before Sabine and I were born. Isn’t it nice that traditions are established and then carried on by the next generation which is what Sabine and I represent, the next generation. I would never think to go to the Marche on Saturday without Sabine; it would be like going to the Marche without my change purse.
The Marche de la Pompe is located at the corner of, as you may have guessed, rue de la Pompe and Avenue Victor Hugo, it resides in a medium sized square and the Marche is opened every morning except Sunday from 7:00 a.m. to !:00 p.m. There are Marches all over Paris, we sometimes go to the Marche des Invalides but that is quite a hike and you need a bus if not to get there, than definitely on your way back home, because with packages it makes for a long distance walking even on the nicest of days. There is also the Marche President Wilson, right at the corner of Avenue President Wilson and Place d’Iena. The United States President Wilson made a big impression when he stayed here in Paris for all those months in 1919 during the Peace Conference where the winners had to decide what to demand from the losers. It was a very long conference with emissaries from all around the world coming to ask for rights and favors for their respective people. I know that the United States was a new very powerful power but I didn’t realize how much until we saw the President himself and how important he was to our own President and Prime Minister but especially to Monsieur Clemenceau, our Prime Minister at the time of the conference. During the year 1919, that is pretty much what everyone was talking about, which powerful personage was seen and where and when. It made for a lot of excitement in our otherwise dull everyday lives.
The Marche is another reason why I love our apartment and its location so much; having the Marche so close makes it much easier to do the shopping with the little ones. We all go together as a group so that there are more than enough arms to go around and hold either a bag of produce, meat, household items or a little girl. If our Marche were farther away, we would be stuck either with one or two persons staying at home to watch the girls or asking someone to watch over them, either way it would make for a less pleasant morning for the little ones because they love their Saturday morning outings to the Marche, it breaks up the monotony of their everyday life as well as our own. It is difficult to always find the time and energy to provide entertainment for georgette and Andree, with the work of the house and my work at the factory, outside of school, there isn’t much to do for the girls. Gabrielle has been getting more tired lately and our doctor, Doctor Duvall, isn’t quite sure what is going on with her to make her so fatigued. So Maman and I try to do more with the girls but it isn’t easy. Aside from the Marche, Sabine and I were talking about setting aside Sunday afternoons for walks in the park with the girls and perhaps an extra outing to the Marche Puce’s on a weekday afternoon. It would be fun for all four of us.
At the Marche this Saturday morning Maman and I are going to our usual purveyors, the butcher Mr. LaJusse for the chicken for tomorrow and the leg of lamb for later in the week, we then go visit Madame Forges for the vegetables that we need such as garlic, onions, mushrooms, herbs, potatoes, carrots and leeks. Maman has also decided that we needed apples and pears, I am already wondering what Maman is going to do with the fruit. The apples can be used in a Tarte Tatin which is a caramelized baked upside apple tart and when you bring it out of the oven you put it right side up and it is served with whipped cream. For a Sunday dessert, it is a classic and quite elegant. The pears, what to make with them? I would be inclined to think a pear clafoutis, which is a nice homey cross between a custard and a cake, it is hard to explain but it has a lot of eggs and it is still unbelievably light and so easy to make. I love it, it is so good that I would eat it for breakfast and normally desserts are not made for breakfast but this one is. I am talking about food way too much again.
Now that Maman and I are finished with the necessities and Sabine and her Maman are done with theirs, I suggest that we all carry the packages back home along with the two tired little ones and that Sabine and I can come back on our own to visit the fabric shop. My Maman, as well as Sabine’s, didn’t mind and Gabrielle is starting to look a little pale, so we finished just in time. Once everyone is settled in back at home, Maman invited Sabine’s mother Hortense to stay and visit for the rest of the day and Sabine and I, we took our purses and set out for a leisurely walk to the Marche to start looking and picking out patterns and fabrics for our new dresses. We were both excited because this was a first for us, the style up to now were what we were used to for ages but ever since the waist had now dropped down it made all the fashion feel very chic and avant-garde. That is a new word that I learned during my reading of French Vogue. I can’t explain adequately how exciting Paris has become, it isn’t just the clubs and the music but it is also the Café’s and the Bistros. So many Americans and artists from all around the world, I know that I have said it before but all this influx of foreigners and art and music has permeated the air where even we workers get caught up in the excitement.
As Sabine and I entered Madame LaJoille’s fabric shop, we saw bolts and bolts of very good quality cotton, wool and the newest innovation that was developed in Paris, artificial silk. All these wonderful fabrics no longer cost the same as a car or a boat. I am exaggerating of course, at least about the cost of cotton and wool; everyone knows that those two were costly at one time but not anymore. Now when I mentioned the cost of silk, I was exaggerating only a very little bit. Whoever came up with the idea of making artificial silk in a factory was a godsend to the average woman. Sabine and I can now realistically afford a lovely dress made in “silk” and the colors were extraordinary. It was as if since the patterns were so daring and sophisticated, the colors needed to be as bold and bright as possible to claim attention amongst all the other lovely dresses. The dance floors of all the Jazz clubs were seas of gorgeous vibrant colors. The dresses loose and flowing were swaying and sashaying along with the lively music, it was a wondrous theatrical scene every night in Paris.
Sabine and I were anxious to enter that world and be a part of it, this was a huge reason for our trip to the fabric shop, so when we opened the door we had visions of color and silk merging together into a fabric that with the right pattern would be transform into the perfect dress for each of us. Sabine was much more fashion oriented than I and I am so glad for it, because frankly if I had gone into the shop unaccompanied, my purchase would have been nice I’m sure, but it would have been dull instead of glorious. Sabine, my lovely Sabine, made sure without even working at it, that our choices were going to produce something glorious.
Writing about fashion isn’t quite my specialty, as I have said before, and I’m sure that you must have guessed on your own during my ramblings, yet I want to paint you a picture so you can imagine how visually exciting the fabric shop was to my eyes. The basis of any dress is the pattern, second, the quality and talent of the seamstress, third, the details and accessories that make the dress a one of a kind. There is so much to consider, there is the sleeve or lack thereof, the neckline plunging or not, now that the hairstyles are all short and crimped, which means I am due to make a rendezvous at the hairdresser’s to fully enter this fashion era, the backs of the dress may be plunging as well. The simplicity of the dress lines means that the details can be as frivolous as the lady may like, there are so many different types of ribbons and sashes, wide or narrow, thick or thin, solid or striped the choices can be dizzying. You also must make the choice with the costume jewelry and other accessories such as feathers pinned to the shoulder straps. The costume jewelry is so much fun to try on and twirl around. The necklaces are all sparkly and long, the earrings are long and glittery, the ropes of pearls are meant to drape over the shoulders and twirl around during the dances. Each choice of jewelry puts a different stamp on the dress; often a dress can have a different personality because of different choices of jewelry. As Sabine is slowly teaching me there is so much more to dressing than just putting clothes on. There is a certain way to wear dresses, to wear them with pride, to adorn them with an added dimension to complete the package. Can you tell that I am getting so excited, this is becoming a grand adventure and Sabine and I are the stars of our adventure, we are the ones who are writing the scenario and controlling the story, well as much as anyone can control their own story?
The wide range of colors in the shop actually gives me a lot of confidence, which I am sure must be surprising, but I get the sense that since so many colors are on display they are very acceptable, each one of them, so how can I even come close to making a mistake in choosing one color over another. This confidence I feel is very freeing and it makes me bold in my choice. Is there ever a color that looks horrible on a person? If so, Sabine has not found it and according to her opinion, that I hold very dear, neither have I. We are like two little girls at Christmas time or two little chocolate gourmands at a chocolate shop. The feel of silk is so light and smooth; it feels almost like a second skin, sinfully sophisticated. The shop owner, Madame LaJoille has the patience of a saint because Sabine and I are not rushing our choices, we are obviously customers who are going to make a purchase, and we are just making sure that our final choice is the best one for us. It is not everyday that two young ladies such as Sabine and I have the extra money to spend on ourselves and we want to make it really count because who knows, perhaps we will meet someone very special while wearing our new creation. A girl can only dream, Sabine needn’t dream too much since she is already more or less spoken for to an extremely nice and working young man Guillaume Pujol. I on the other hand have no one, I or I should say, we are all a group of friends when it is cinema night or a Saturday night at the local dance, but other than childhood friends, I don’t have a serious suitor. So I can dream of meeting a dark mysterious stranger at the newest Jazz club or the latest Spectacle and he would be drawn to me by the beauty and originality of my new dress. Isn’t it lovely to be able to escape into dreamland on a moment’s whim?
Sabine is letting the color of her eyes determine the color of her dress, which is blue now the challenge lies in deciding which blue, I never really thought about how many hues of blue there were in the blue color palette, ha I made a rhyme, hue of blue, I thought that it was funny. Apparently I am alone in that thought, Madame LaJoille has become indispensable now because she has an excellent eye for seeing the differences within the color’s spectrum. Sabine is able to see the different nuances that separate the corn blue from the light blue, I don’t really see it. I do know however, and I am so excited that I know it, what color I am picking for my dress. It is so beautiful and the name of the color is even beautiful, my dress will be in the color mango. For those who are not up to date in the latest colors hailing from Paris for evening wear, mango is in the orange family. The shade of orange that is mango draws its inspiration from the tropical beauty of Martinique, which is a colony of France, and known for its tropical fruits and lush gardens. How can someone not fall in love with a color like that, that has been inspired by a tranquil and lush background of palm trees, colorful fruit everywhere, white sand and blue seas. I can see myself wearing my new sophisticated mango dress and turning heads everywhere, forcing those who look at me to dream of paradise. I’m back in my fantasy land, Madeleine pay attention! Now that Sabine and I have chosen our fabric, artificial silk, and the colors, mango and corn blue, I neglected to mention that the color corn blue draws its inspiration from the vast fields in the United States of rows and rows of beautiful corn fields swaying under the most vast and bluest of blue skies ever seen by man, it is truly a sight to behold according to Madame LaJoille, we now need to pick the pattern for the dress since the pattern will determine how much fabric is needed. We both want different dresses so we take separate books and I found the pattern that I thought wouldn’t be too time-consuming for Sabine’s Maman yet still with enough of provocative edge too make it memorable. I didn’t show Sabine my choice and she didn’t show me hers because we both wanted to be a little surprised by the final result. So we left Madame LaJoille in high spirits and with our arms filled with a bolt each of fabric each nicely packaged to keep them safe from the elements, the dress patterns, the various ribbons, jewelry and other accessories, everything imaginable to make us the belles of the ball.
We arrived at Sabine’s apartment which is just down the street at 15 rue Leroux and unloaded our packages on her divan. Hortense, her mother was still at my apartment which was fine because we were both exhausted from that mornings household shopping, the carrying of all those bags and little girls, the decision-making in the fabric shop and the finally walk home burdened like two mules with our treasure. We were spent both just laying on the nearby chaises. My stomach was empty and was making the awful noise that I tried to ignore but when Sabine sat up and said “did you hear that awful noise? What could it be?” I burst out laughing and turned beet red and admitted “that is my stomach, I’m really hungry.” I couldn’t stop laughing because now that my stomach had started, it wouldn’t stop. Sabine started laughing also because the noise was just getting louder and louder and I think that we were delirious by then. It does the body and mind so much good when you can really get a full out, down from the very bottom of your diaphragm, belly laugh. I think that it adds years to your life because it lightens your heart and soul. That was the laugh that Sabine shared in that instant and luckily we share those fairly often.
Now that we had our fun and laughter, I, rather we, needed to get serious and feed me, but by this time Sabine’s stomach was starting to protest as well which sent both of us into a new fit of the giggles. Since we both had no desire to cook, we were going to improvise an indoor pique-nique. That means that you pull out whatever left-over you have on hand from the refrigerator and the bread box. There was quite a bit to choose from, they was a bit of roast pork left from the previous night, there were a few string beans as well, we rummaged around in the pantry and found a nice half wheel of Camembert cheese and half a baguette. There was also some rillettes with cornichons ready for eating. All and all, Sabine had quite a feast assembled before us except for dessert but since today was Saturday, our sweet tooth would need to wait until tomorrow before being appeased, Sunday was dessert day.
After we had taken care of our hunger and cleaned up we decided to go out for the afternoon and walk around our magnificent city. I asked Sabine if she felt like walking all the way up to quartier of Montmartre. There was always something to see and new things about Paris to learn, it was one of my favorite places to walk around and just look. It was never the same experience which is what made it exciting. Sabine said “that’s a great idea, we haven’t been in awhile. Do you mind if we walk, today the weather is perfect and you know that it isn’t going too last to much longer, winter will be here before we know it” Walking has never scared me, I love walking, it’s good exercise for the legs, the heart, the mind and it is free, another plus. You also get to see much more of Paris when you are walking than if you take the bus.
This trip as a walking trip isn’t your standard 10 minute walk; we are aiming for across the whole city of Paris. I’m exaggerating but not by a lot. If we keep a nice speed, so not leisurely, there will be an elevated heart rate involved, it should take us a little under an hour. It is a beautiful walk and well worth the time. We are going to be heading north up Avenue Victor Hugo, my street, and follow it all the way to the gorgeous Place de la Concorde where l’Arc de Triomphe is located, we also be passing by one of the most luxurious of all hotels in Paris, Le Crillion. It is the ultimate in sophistication and elegance, Sabine and I read all about the Crillion restaurant and all the new movie stars and rich beautiful people who go there every night to eat. Maybe one of these years, Sabine and I will have a dinner there with our future husbands. After we pass the Arc de Triomphe and follow the half circle of l’Etoile we’ll end up on Avenue de Wagram. What is interesting about L’Etoile and the round-a bout’s that are similar to it, just much smaller, is that all the streets and avenues that emanate from the various Places’ resemble spokes on a wheel when you look at a map of Paris. I wonder if other cities in the world are laid out like Paris or if they are as big as Paris. I would like to see one day other cities in other countries, I love Paris and I’m sure that visiting other place would just make me appreciate Paris even more but it never hurts to test a theory now, does it? Back to our route, after walking still north on Avenue de Wagram, we will get to Place des Ternes which we quickly walk around until we get to Boulevard de Courcelles which by heading east will bring us to Boulevard des Batignolles, after we pass through the Place de Clichy we take rue de Caulaincourt which brings us into the heart of the Montmartre quartier.
This route that I am giving you is only one of many ways to get to the Montmartre quartier. Paris is the only city that I have ever known but I find it hard to imagine that any other city can give so much of herself to someone at every turn. As Sabine and I were walking briskly to get to the Café des Deux Moulins, I neglected to describe the beautiful sights along the way. One of the most beautiful Churches in Paris is the Basilique of Sacre Coeur located at the summit of Montmartre. Scare Coeur was recently completed in 1914 right before the start of the War. I find that sad that such a beautiful church that was built with such a noble purpose for Paris and for France. The whole point of building the Basilique at the summit of Montmartre was to have it be the symbol of the healing that needed to begin in Paris and France from all the tragedy that arose from the revolts during the Paris Commune of 1870- 1871, Montmartre was the site of all that violence and an archbishop was killed during the revolt. When the proclamation for the Basilique of Sacre Coeur was adopted, construction started in 1875 and it took all that time to finish all the stone work and sculptures. The reason why I know so much about the history of Sacre Coeur is that it is one of the most recent important religious and political monuments to be built and finished in Paris. It is really such a glorious church, I get such a sense of peace and tranquility when I gaze upon the Basilique, I am not religious in the least and neither is Sabine but we truly feel something when we come here to get away from the hustle of the city around us. I don’t know why but the church hasn’t yet gotten to be the normal shade of grey yet, I can’t for the life of me figure it out. I don’t know the difference in stone so perhaps the builders picked a special stone that never fades from exposure to the elements or pollution.
Speaking of pollution, the air in Paris is starting to get a little stale especially during the summer heat with the increased circulation of the newest toy created by man, the automobile. We started seeing them before the war but since 1920, we are seeing more and more jockeying for their position against horses and the trolleys. Thank goodness for the great city planner Baron Haussman because without his grand vision of recreating Paris into a better navigable city and adopting the creation of the round-about and the grand Boulevards the automobile and traffic would be a nightmare. I haven’t been in an automobile yet, Sabine hasn’t either but I know that someone in our circle will get an automobile soon and their first job as a friend will be to take each one of us for a driving tour throughout Paris. I’m not sure how automobiles will change Paris and France, things are changing very quickly, Sabine and I have to pay attention to our world around us or we might miss something important.
Last year, Paris hosted the Jeux Olympiques, the Olympic Games; it was so exciting to be here watching all the competitions. France won 38 medals, 13 of the medals were gold. The United States won the most medals out of all the countries competing but how can anyone be surprised? The Americans came and saved the day during the Great War, they are a powerful new country how can they not be powerful athletes as well? One of our best athletes, fencer Roger Ducret won 3 gold medals himself, can you imagine that? He was hailed as a hero of France for his talent and skill during the games. Life in Paris is never boring, there is an adventure lurking just around the corner everyday you leave your apartment.
Sabine turns to me and says “I need to confess something to you, Madeleine” I stop and look at her with an eyebrow raised as if saying,”And what type of confession will I be hearing from you Sabine? And should I be nervous?” She looked at my eyebrow and burst out laughing, “Silly, I was being coy, I am thirsty and my feet need a break, how about stopping for a café at the Café de la Rotunde on our way back home on Boulevard du Montparnasse?” “That’s a brilliant idea, we haven’t been there in a good while and my feet are tired, who am I kidding? Everything on me is tired. A café is definitely in order right about now”. I also said, “But Sabine, you know that the Café de la Rotunde is a good 20 more minutes of walking, and then we have to walk home and we won’t get back until later this evening” The issue wasn’t our parents, we were both 25, I was simply stating the obvious, stopping at a Café will set us back at least an hour or so. There is never any good reason to rush yourself at a Café, they were specifically created for lingering.
Since it is still a lovely afternoon we decided; first the walk would be great, it might be one of the last comfortable walks simply for pleasure of the season and second, we were going to take a table outside at the Café so we can indulge in one of the perks of being a Parisienne, people watching. There is always something to see in the quartier of Montparnasse on the Left Bank. It is the fraternal twin to the Montmartre quartier on the Right Bank of the Seine. They are both the artist’s realms of the city. There is something so romantic about the life of an artist, the self-sacrifice for your passion, the ability to put everything on hold for your need to see your artistic vision through; it makes an artist seem to be made from something entirely different than the rest of us. I wonder what it is like to see what they see and to feel what they feel.
During our walk we pass by quite a few artists, Sabine and I aren’t sure if they are struggling or not but they are focused on their subjects. I know that Sabine would be a great model for any artist, she is so lovely and she has the patience to sit and focus, I don’t think that I would be able to sit still for very long, I have a tendency to fidget and when I sit for too long something always falls asleep, either a foot or both feet and then I get the pins and needles; very uncomfortable, the artist would probably lose patience and ask me to leave.
Sabine turns to me “Madeleine which way do you want to go?” I think for a minute, “Let’s try to be as direct as we can so we can at least enjoy our people watching time at the Café. So we should head down towards the Place de la Concorde and cross the Seine at the pont de la Concorde which will bring us by the Hotel des Invalides and then we’ll keep walking south on the Boulevard des Invalids which will bring us to the Boulevard du Montparnasse and voila le Café de la Rotunde.” Sabine looks at me and shakes her head”You should really be a tour guide, how do you keep all those streets in your head? I know you have a talent for memory, one of these days we will find you something where you can take that talent and really make some money outside of our factory job”
As we are walking towards the Place de la Concorde the streets are filled with ladies in their svelte shift dresses made from lightweight wool and adorable bonnets to keep the sun off their faces. Sabine and I are in our usual everyday simple cotton dresses, mine is cream colored with pleats from the waist down that is accentuated by a narrow ribbon of blue at the start of the pleat. Sabine is wearing her favorite blue dress that has two large pleats one on each side of the skirt and she is wearing white kid gloves as an accessory. We are both wearing our straw hats, they aren’t the height of fashion but what can you do, it is better than nothing. I don’t need anymore sun on my face; my freckles don’t want anymore companions. Sabine told me that lemon juice gets rid of freckles or at least makes them less noticeable, I have to remember to try that; it can’t hurt.
Saturdays and Sundays are lovely in Paris because people aren’t as rushed as they are usually, we along with our fellow Parisians are strolling inhaling the sunshine and appreciating both the natural and man made beauty everywhere around us. Sabine and I have just arrived at the pont de La Concorde, the Obelisk of Luxor is behind us as well the ode to Greek architecture l’Eglise de Madeleine, my name sake. Right at our feet is the river Le Seine that comes down from the Normandy region up north. The river is why Paris has a Left Bank and a Right Bank and the two Banks are quite different from one another. Montparnasse is only a hint of the bohemian nature of the Left Bank whereas Montmartre on the Right Bank is more a tiny refuge in an otherwise serious side to the city.
Now that Sabine and I have crossed the Seine are on the Left Bank; L’Hotel national des Invalides is right in front of us. It is a splendid example of French baroque architecture at its finest. The dome that is the focal point, was influenced by Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and even though it sits atop a very long complex of classically designed buildings, it doesn’t seem out of place, it blends in very well with the classic lines that accentuate the different museums and buildings that make up the whole of the Hotel des Invalides. It was started by the King Louis the fourteenth to provide a retirement home and hospital for all the soldiers of his countless wars, it has to this day never ceased to fulfill its purpose. It is unfortunate in a sense that a monument to war and its spent soldiers cannot be retired or put out of commission. It has an open esplanade of beautifully manicured gardens for the public to wander about and visit, Sabine and I are walking alongside it on the Boulevard des Invalides. I know that not too far from we are right now are the glorious Jardins du Luxembourg, we will come back next Saturday if the weather holds up to have a little pique-nique and watch the other families relax the same as ourselves.
We have reached the heart of the Latin quartier, we are at the beginning of the Boulevard Montparnasse we are only minutes away from the Café de la Rotunde. Here is where the university students eat, study, live and learn; this is where they mingle with artists and writers. Back from where we came, at the pont de la Concorde on the Left side is where you can find all the book vendors and their book stalls along the river Seine on the quai’s. I who love to read have spent many hours going back and forth from book stall to book stall in search of the latest American novel translated if I want an easy read or if I am in the mood to challenge myself, I’ll buy it in the original, which I do like because the Americans are so direct in their language. What takes me, or better yet, any one of our illustrious writers a paragraph, an American writer can say essentially convey the same thing in one sentence.
Sabine exclaims “we are finally here and there is a table outside with our names on it. I’m going to get us seated because I’m hungry and thirsty” I said “Sabine, cherie lead the way, my feet and stomach are following right behind you”. She burst our laughing at that one, which made me giggle. We were seated at a nice table on the street, given menus and opened them immediately. Café menus are nice and compact; there is the beverage selection, the basic patisserie and sandwich selections and dessert selection. I already know what I want; I want a café au lait and a sandwich de jambon au beurre. There is nothing simpler than a slice of fresh ham sitting an open half baguette slathered with farm fresh butter and yet it is so good; the combination of the hint of saltiness of the ham and the rich, creaminess of the butter completed with the tangy taste of the baguette that offers both a satisfying crunch from the crust and the softness of the interior of the baguette. The yin and yang of taste and texture make for a heavenly experience in your mouth, oh is that one of my favorite little meals of all time. Sabine ordered herself another classic, the Croque Monsieur, it is a ham and Swiss cheese sandwich layered with a béchamel sauce and sautéed until the Swiss cheese is melted and the béchamel and ham are also nice and hot. It is definitely a sandwich that needs to be eaten with a knife and fork. As we are both relishing our sandwiches and sipping our café au lait, Parisians are walking back and forth before us not minding that our eyes are following them. Each one seems to be caught up in their own little world and Sabine and I sometimes wonder what their particular story is.
We often have fun pretending to be playwrights and writing a story for a particular stranger who has caught our attention. Sometimes it is a young man in a hurry and we speculate to each other what he could be in a hurry to or if he is in a hurry from, it is something with sinister undertones or could it be a happy occasion? In some instances it is a middle aged couple walking and not speaking and we wonder if the non communication is the easy silence of long companionship or if it is the ennui of being with the same partner for so long. Our favorite is when the rare single lady walks down Boulevard Montparnasse, there are so many scenarios’ that come to our minds. Is she lost, did someone just leave her there, if he did, he is than a blackheart because it isn’t seemly for a young lady to be seen walking alone in the early evening especially if she doesn’t have any packages. We would usually end up anointing her as a young damsel in distress who will be rescued by a worthy honorable gentleman and he will bring her home safe and sound. People watching is a harmless, fun way to let your imagination run wild and share good stories with your best friend.
Now Sabine and I had enough with the fantasy life of our strangers on parade on the Boulevard du Montparnasse, it was time to move on to our lives and our plans for tomorrow which is Sunday. Sabine looked over her café au lait and asked “so, how early do you want to start the fittings Madeleine? I think that just getting measured and transferring that onto the pattern, after we cut the patterns out with shearing scissors, should take at least all morning. I know that for Sunday midday meal we are all going to your house, after we eat, clean up and have coffee, I’m sure that we will still have enough energy to finish whatever has to be done to prepare the patterns and maybe even get the fabric pinned to the patterns.” While Sabine is talking, I can feel my heart beating a little faster because I’m getting a little nervous with all this talk of silk fabric, even if it is artificial, patterns and costume jewelry. I’m nervous that everyone will see how out of place I am in a fancy dress. Sabine sees that I’m getting lost in my reverie and says “are you okay? What are you thinking about? You seem a little sad, cherie”. “Oh, Sabine, I’m not really sad, I’m getting nervous about the fitting, all the money we spent on something frivolous such as fancy dancing dresses and what if I don’t look sophisticated? What if I just look like an ordinary factory girl wrapped in fancy packaging? I realize that I am being silly in my head but my heart still has doubts that I will be beautiful.” Sabine puts her hand on mine and gives it a squeeze and smiles at me, “Madeleine, you are pretty, you are as pretty on the inside as you are on the outside. The dress will be made beautiful and sophisticated because you are wearing it, not the other way around. Trust me, I would never say anything to you that wasn’t true and I especially wouldn’t let you get hurt by anyone or anything. You’re like my sister, cherie” I didn’t have to say anything, I just smiled and it was my turn to squeeze her hand.
I shook myself and said “you’re right, tomorrow morning nice and early I’ll come to your apartment and we’ll start with your fittings and then we’ll see how your Maman wants to proceed. I don’t mind if she wants us to do some sewing or at least help with the large-scale stitching and pinning of the pattern to the fabric. I think that it would us a lot of good to take advantage of your Maman’s expertise in order to learn so that we can do it for ourselves in the future.” “You know, Sabine I know exactly how I can get over my nervousness over the dresses, I should just think of this experiment as a grand adventure in fashion design that you and I are about to embark on and we will be trying to make our fortunes with our designs.” Sabine takes that little nugget of craziness, purses her lips and crinkles her brow and says “You know, Madeleine that actually isn’t all that crazy, who knows perhaps we can do something spectacular with fashion? At the very least, I’m sure that our dresses will be spectacular and we shall be the envy of all the other ladies”. I love Sabine; she is a trooper and is always willing to be on my side whatever comes up in our lives.
I turn to look at the wall clock and say “Sabine, we should pay the check and head back don’t you think?” She nods her head yes, and makes a gesture to the waiter. He comes by the table and drops off the check. We already know more or less how much we owe and we pool our centimes together and get our things and leave the Café heading for home.
Getting home will be just as easy as getting here and take just as long as it took us to get to Montmartre from home. We are going back down Boulevard du Montparnasse and taking the Boulevard des Invalides to the rue Eble and we make a left, that brings us to avenue Duquesne where we pass on the other side of L’Ecole Militaire, part of L’Hotel national des Invalides. That brings us to Avenue Bosquet and then Place de la Resistance and now we are back at the Seine but this time we will be crossing the pont de l’Alma. Once we are over the river we make a left onto Place de l’Alma and that brings us to avenue President Wilson. While we are walking down avenue President Wilson, I remember that the Museum of Fashion and Costumes isn’t too far away, “Sabine, how about sometime next week, we visit the Museum of Fashion and Costume to get some more ideas? We should do it for culture and education.” Sabine nods and says “that sounds like fun and a good idea; we should definitely do it soon. We’ll figure it out after work; the museum isn’t too far away from home which makes it easier.” Back to walking home, we are so close, we are walking and taking a left at the Place d’Iena which leads us right to rue Boisserie and here we are at the corner of avenue Victor Hugo.
We had a very good day, the both of us. We did all our shopping for ourselves and our respective families. We had a nice midday meal and did an absolutely fantastic promenade all through Paris and were still able to linger at a fabulous Café and have café au lait and a late meal. How can a day get any better? I really don’t know, and who am I to question? I should just be thankful and leave it at that; because this has been an excellent day for us.
Sabine and I say goodnight to each other while offering our cheeks for the standard one, two kiss goodnight. I wonder if Americans greet each other the same way as we French do with the bise? I always get a kick out of seeing two French people from different regions saying hello to each other and having that awkward encounter of trying to remember how many kisses are required from the other region. They look like they are engaging in a bizarre dance with the heads coming together and than not. Usually it is the two kisses, one on each cheek but there are regions where it is three kisses, so if you have one person giving two and stopping but the other is in the process of delivering a third, that third kiss is left hanging along with the person’s head and it looks silly, the person who only gave two tries to step in at the last moment to grab the third kiss but by that time it is too late and it is awkwardness all around. Don’t get me started on the Lyon region because there they do four kisses, so imagine if you have a group that does a mixture, it is pandemonium and all over the number of greeting kisses one gets. I find it something to be very funny and very sweet about our culture.
As I walk up the stairs to our apartment, I wonder how my little family’s day went. I’m sure that Gabrielle took the girls out sometime during the afternoon just to get them some fresh air and exercise to get them tired for a good night’s sleep. Papa probably went down to the Bistro to spend time with his friends and do what they do everyday, drink and talk about how life has changed and always not for the better. I hope that Maman took some time today for herself and relaxed, she deserves it. I am sure that she didn’t but there is no harm in hoping, is there? I hope that she is still up and about so that I can ell her all about what Sabine and I did, what we bought, what we saw and what we are planning to do tomorrow. I’m sure that she won’t mind if I go to Sabine’s early tomorrow morning once I tell her why. Here is my door, and good she is still awake and hasn’t changed for bed yet.
“Bonsoir Maman et Papa” I lean over and kiss Papa quickly in his chair, I don’t think that he even noticed; and then I walk over to where Maman is sitting over by the table in the dining room and kiss her hello. I look around to say hello to Gabrielle and I guess that she is in with the girls, putting them down for the night with a bedtime story. Those two love their stories and if you are not strict with them, they would have you read every book that we own in the house instead of going off to sleep like good little girls should. So I sit down in the other sitting chair next to the table with Maman, and I ask her “so Maman; how was your day?” She smiles at me, takes her glasses off and puts down her knitting needles next to her ball of yarn and says “I had a very nice day, after you left with Sabine; your sister, the girls, Papa and I sat down at the table and had our midday meal together, after which Papa helped me clear the table, it was quite a surprise and put me in an excellent mood for the rest of the day. He then went down to the Bistro, Gabrielle took the girls out for a long promenade, I spent the afternoon going over the menu for tomorrow and the rest of the week and then with the apartment all to myself, I sat down and started knitting while listening to my radio programs, all this in peace. And of course we had our evening meal and now more time of peace and quiet, Madeleine ma fille, I had a very good day” “How about you and Sabine what have you girls done all day? Did you have a nice time?”
As Maman was telling me about her day, I felt so relieved that she had time to relax and have time to herself to do what she wanted to do such as knit and listen to her radio programs. I know that those days are rare and far between. During my time with Sabine, I did have feelings of guilt that I had left Maman all day with Papa, the girls and Gabrielle; there are times when those four can behave horribly to each other and to Maman and myself and by the time the day is over you are at a moment’s length away from pulling your own hair out by its roots. Gabrielle usually keeps her temper with the girls but they are both young and even though there is an age difference between the two they often act the same age when they are fighting, her temper becomes quite short and it is yelling all around. You can imagine what that does to the rest of us; all that yelling is enough to drive anyone to fly off the handle. I think that negative energy begets negative energy and calmness begets calmness. I realize that my observation is so obvious as to be silly but when the situation is careening out of control with everyone yelling, I dare anyone to try to magically inject calmness into that situation. It is not as easy as it sounds. I think that everyone has a point where all their anxiety and fear just needs to come out and it seems to me that when it comes out explosively it just feels better. The exhaustion is almost therapeutic for the soul. I have noticed that when the girls or even Gabrielle have their episodes of huge crying or yelling, at the end when they are calm they simply go to bed drift off and we don’t see that negative behavior for quite a while after that. Thank goodness because it does take its toll on Maman, Papa and me.
Trust me, there are days where I wonder; is this it? Am I going to be a single woman living with her family for the rest of her life? Are the girls going to start to think of me as poor Tante Madeleine who never found love, who is simply good for working and doing housework? That is depressing, why did I have to go to that place in my head after having such a nice day? I’ll ask Maman, she’ll make me feel better; she’ll lie and say everything will be alright. I’m joking, she won’t lie but she will tell me that everything will be alright and she will make sure to give me a good dose of reality because as she always says “that is my job as your Maman, I have to tell you how life really is so that you are prepared for anything that can happen”
“Maman, when you were young, did you ever worry that you were going to be alone for the rest of your life? You know, perhaps not find a husband?” My Maman cocked her head while she looked at me and exhaled, she took a few minutes to answer, which I found intriguing. Maman looked over at Papa and said “you have to remember Madeleine, that even in this short time span of one generation; a lot has changed. I was born in 1882 only ten years after the disastrous war of 1870. There was the siege of Paris, then there was the Paris commune rising and then there was the Dreyfuss Affair that had French against French because it was all about bigotry and what does that say about us as French people. There were periods that were wonderful as well, the World Fair in Paris in 1889. That was exciting, I was seven years old and Paris was celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the French Revolution, Paris had all the beautiful pavilions from all over the world and Gustave Eiffel unveiled his Tour d’Eiffel. It was a shock to the system back then, it was so tall and there was so much metal, not many people in Paris liked it. I thought that it looked scary next to all the beautiful monuments of Paris but I was only seven so what did I know? Anyway needless to say that there was so much uncertainty during those last twenty years of the eighteenth century that my parents and your papa’s parents felt that it would be best for the two of us to be married. Actually the uncertainty wasn’t just confined to the last twenty years; I forget that there had been Napoleon and all of his wars, than there was the restoration and then Napoleon trios. When I think back to our history, I can understand why my parents had me marry your Papa at seventeen. Back then I didn’t see anything wrong with having an arranged marriage, your Papa was very nice, he was good-looking, he had a good job and we lived here in this apartment. We were very happy until the Great War, so I don’t have any regrets about your Papa; it just breaks my heart to see what the Great War has done to him and his friends. “I always loved it when Maman used to talk about the olden days before I was born but I think that she missed what I was really asking.
“But, Maman I know that you didn’t have to worry about getting married; your parents had already planned that out for you. I’m asking if you think that I will remain forever single and grow old alone never to leave you or Papa.” She started to laugh a little, “Cherie I am not laughing at you” she was quick to say because I think that my facial expression was not too pleased at her laughter. She started again with saying “Madeleine, I am not worried for you or about you. I have told you often that you are a very lovely young lady and I am so proud of how hard you work at the factory and for all of your complaining about how hard Madame Dufarges is on you, I know first hand that she considers you to be one of the best workers in the factory. That might not sound like a big compliment but it is. I know that you find factory work to be stupid and tedious yet you still have pride in your work and you do your best everyday, that ma fille is the sign of a special person, someone who will be more than what her position says about her. I have taught you everything that my mother taught me about managing a household which if you said that to a man; he would pooh pooh all that knowledge but I will tell you that managing a household is like managing a business. You have to manage all your resources the same as if you had a business. There is money that comes into the household and there is money that comes out. The wife is usually in charge of how that balance between what comes in and what goes out works. Madeleine I am not worried about you finding a husband, I worry that you may not find a good one, I should say that I worry that you may not find one who deserves you. I am your Maman so perhaps there isn’t anyone good enough for my little girl I just have to hope and have trust in that you will be carful and not accept anyone who isn’t good to you. That is the most important quality of all in a man, that he be good and kind to you.”
She took a breath and looked out the window for a moment and continued “Madeleine, I don’t want you to despair about not being with someone yet. I know that you are feeling nervous because you are twenty-five and you see Gabrielle who at twenty-three has two children and has been with two different husbands already at such a young age, instead of seeing yourself as the oddity, turn it around and maybe Gabrielle’s situation is the odd one. I know that you know this, but I will do you the favor and remind you my darling, the Great War has decimated France’s male population. France was still trying to make up from her losses in the 1870 War and then we have another war when we didn’t have the manpower as we should have, so the being able to meet a good, kind and handsome working young man will be a little difficult.” While she was saying all this to me, I realized that while I have Sabine as my best friend ever in the world, at times like these, I am so lucky to have a Maman who I can talk too and who doesn’t mind spending the remaining evening hours trying to make me feel better about myself and my life.
I take my Maman’s hand and kiss it “Maman I love you very much, thank you for listening and understanding me and knowing what I need to hear so I can stop feeling so down about myself.” Maman kisses my hand and says “ma fille, I know very well that you will not be here in this apartment for much longer. Gabrielle made her choices very young and she has to live with her choices here with us and the girls. You are not so bound by choices; you haven’t made your life decisions yet. Your life is still waiting for you and you are the only one who can decide how it will turn out. I am getting tired, what are your plans for tomorrow? Sabine and Hortense are still coming here for to join us for our midday meal, I hope. “I nod yes quickly and ask “Sabine and I went to Madame DeJoille’s fabric shop and we made our purchases for the dance dresses. Would you mind, Maman, if I went early tomorrow morning to Sabine’s to start with the measuring and the pattern preparations? We will all come over for at midday to eat and I would clean up afterwards.” Maman says while getting up “That is all fine, I don’t need any help tomorrow morning cooking the Coq au Vin, it’s so basic. I will take the help afterward to clean up the kitchen.” Maman turns to me and bends forward to kiss me good night and says “ma fille you should go to bed as well. Tomorrow you need to get up early so that you can get to Sabine’s bright and early for the fitting. I’m too tired to ask about the rest of your day. I’ll wait until tomorrow.” I reach up and kiss Maman good night and say “you are right as usual Maman I going to bed because I can’t stay awake any longer either. I’ll tell you about our promenade and our time in the shop tomorrow at the table.”
With that we both turned down the lamps, we both kissed Papa on the top of his head since he was sleeping so soundly in his chair, we didn’t want to wake him and we shuffled off each to our own bedroom. As I undressed which didn’t take long and changed into my nightgown, I thought that tomorrow was going to be another excellent day. It was going to be busy and adventurous at the same time, it rarely gets better than that. I then flipped my thoughts over to what my mother said about finding a husband; should I be worried about the real possibility of never finding a husband. My Maman knows what she is talking about; she is very smart and takes her time figuring out her world around her. It’s funny that at twenty-five, you would think that I would know everything by now but it feels like the opposite; the older I get, the more I realize the less I know. When you are a child life seems so simple; it is when you get to be an “adult” that you realize that life is a lot more complicated than you had ever imagined.
My brain is starting to emerge from the haze of something, a dream that I was having, little fingers on my cheek seem to have chased it away. A whisper is tickling my right ear “Tatie, are you awake?” I feel a warm breath in my ear that feels very cute and I know that it is attached to a cute little body and I’m sure that this little body is not alone. I’m right because I feel a second pair of hands on my knee and I feel the mattress scrunching from the wriggles of two little bodies disturbing my sleep. Keeping my eyes closed, I shift and try to turn on my other side but I can’t, I’m stuck with Georgette and Andree now both laying across my back. Still keeping my eyes closed, I muffle my words and say”non” to which Georgette says “Tatie, you are awake because you said non. I want you to wake up because I miss you” I hear Andree’s little baby voice say “me too, Tatie, me too”. Okay, wait it’s Sunday! I have to be up to go to Sabine’s for the fitting and what not, time to get up and get moving. I roll over, open my eyes and say to my little girls “good morning my babies give Tatie her kisses and hugs”. After we have a proper moment of affection, I sit up and promptly shoo them off my bed and send them back to where they came from, Gabrielle’s bedroom. Now to get dressed, brush my teeth and get moving.
Maman is in the kitchen getting the vegetables ready for the Coq au Vin and I kiss her good morning and sit down for a quick breakfast before going to Sabine’s. Maman says “Madeleine we’ll be ready to eat at about 1:00 this afternoon, so make sure that you three are here at 12:30 so we can have some time to have an aperitif since it is Sunday, okay?” No need to twist my arm, I didn’t say that but she should know that we would not be late for her Sunday meal. “Yes, Maman I will make sure that we are not late, Sabine’s Maman would not do that to you anyway Maman.” Maman said “I know but it is easy to let time get away from you when you are busy and you three are going to have fun this morning with the patterns and the dress making.” I looked at her and asked “Are you jealous that you are going to miss out on the fun?” She looked over her shoulder at me and said “not at all, I do not have any love for sewing or anything associated with sewing, I will be very happy chopping, peeling, dicing and cooking all morning, thank you very much” “why do you think that Hortense sews all my dresses and I cook for her as often as I do?” Funny enough, I have never asked myself that question, I never really noticed that Maman didn’t sew and that Sabine’s Maman didn’t really cook like Maman did. Maman laughed as said “we have a wonderful arrangement going don’t you think? Hortense does what she loves and I do what I love and we both come out ahead. That is the beauty of being friends for all your lives, your needs and your talents become intertwined into your friendship and makes the friendship that much stronger until you can’t imagine your life without them”. Maman continued “It is the same as what you have with Sabine and you will always have it with her, keep that in your heart because it will always be a comfort to you no matter what else happens in the future.”
With that, I got up to put my cup and plate in the sink, washed them and left them to dry. I went to put my jacket and straw hat on and came back to kiss Maman good bye for now and as I was leaving through the front door, I called out over my shoulder “be back at 12:30!” I rushed down the stairs and burst out onto the Street and ran to the corner to Sabine’s apartment building. I ran up the four flights of stairs and rang her doorbell. She opened the door still in her nightgown and bathrobe with a surprised look and asked “what got you up so early?” to which I answered “two little hands on my cheek and whispers in my ear woke me up this morning” as I walked through the door after kissing Sabine good morning. “Have you had your breakfast?” I asked as I was going in search of Hortense to wish her a good morning with a kiss. Sabine was right behind me saying “I finished eating and I’m having my second cup of coffee, do you want to join me?” I quickly said “I’ll have some more coffee, thank you cherie”
Sabine suggested that we join her Maman in the dining room since their dining room also doubles as a sewing room because Hortenses’s dining room table is large enough to lay out the fabric and pattern comfortably flat without worrying about any scrunching of the fabric or pattern which would wreak havoc on the end result if that happened. Hortense always said that a good work station had to be wide open and their dining room must have been originally something else because it isn’t narrow like ours. Here we have all the space we need to get measured, to cut fabric and patterns and to lay them down on the table and pin them without anything falling to the floor. It really is the ideal place to design a dress.
All three of us sat down at the table, Hortense looking over the two patterns and Sabine and I sipping our coffees. Hortense looked up from admiring the patterns and said “I really like the choices that you’ve made; the simplicity of the dress line combined with the details of the accessories makes both patterns equally classic. You will both see, when these two dresses are finished they will be timeless. You girls will be a la mode for years to come. I don’t see how the designers will be able to improve on these two patterns.” “Hortense, it will be your skills and talent that will really make these dresses special, I know that you taught the both of us that it is all in the sewing and the quality of the stitch is what sets an original apart from a knock off.” “Maman with you as our dress maker, we will be the envy of all the other girls” said Sabine. “Okay, enough with the compliments, these two dresses won’t sew themselves. First I need your measurements, go off and change.”
And that was how our morning went; we disrobed so that Hortense can measure us, that didn’t take too long. We were glad because even though the stove had been going for awhile, it was chilly and Sabine and I both had “la chair des poules” goose bumps, we happily got dressed again. I reminded both Sabine and Hortense that we needed to be mindful of the time because Maman did not want us to be a second later than 12:30. Hortense went and got her alarm clock and put it on the bureau that kept all her sewing supplies so that it would be in full view. I laughed out loud at that gesture. We silently worked the three of us in companionable silence, while Sabine alternated ironing, Hortense used the white soap to mark up the fabric a while pinning the fabric to the pattern. Before we knew it , the clock was showing us by its hands that it was 12:15 and like the good factory workers that we were, we dropped what we were holding which wasn’t much and we put everything down neatly and off to the side, walked to get our jackets and hats and walked out the door.
As we were walking up the stairs to my apartment, we could already smell the aromas of melted butter, lardons, the robust scent of a good red wine simmering with mushrooms and chicken I could practically see the outline of the smells drifting under the door and wafting through the sir coming downstairs. As soon as I opened the door and nudged Sabine and Hortense inside, we took off our jackets and hats and went to find Maman in the kitchen. After all the hellos and kisses got out of the way, everyone grabbed whatever was on the stove and on the table and we made for the dining room where Maman had put in an extra table so that we can all eat together without elbowing each other. Coq au Vin and crusty bread, a feast for the senses; after simmering in the casserole with the red wine and stock the chicken was so tender that the meat fell off the bones, knives weren’t in use for that part of the meal. The bread made for an excellent utensil as a means of pushing the mushrooms and chicken onto the fork and then sopping the sauce which you then popped the sauce laden piece of bread right into your mouth. How much better can a meal get? Actually Maman always says that you can gauge how wonderful a meal is by how silent the guests are at the table. The Coq au Vin was a master piece then because there was not a word spoken at our table for quite a while.
After the Coq au Vin, the girls asked if they could be excused, which of course they were and we the adults settled down for salad and cheese. Salad and cheese are the perfect end to any meal, they help with the digestion; I don’t know if that is true, it is what everyone says but the combination taste really good together so who am I to argue, I simply enjoy. While I am making coffee for us, Maman is taking the dessert out of the refrigerator and it is one of my favorite of Maman’s desserts; a pear clafoutis. Beautiful autumn pears poached in simple sugar syrup and then sliced and put in the pan and the eggy custard poured over them and you pop it in the oven and forty minutes later you have an exquisite firm custard pear concoction. It is so good and light it should be sinful but thank goodness it is not because I would gladly be called a sinner for this dessert.
I bring out the coffee and Maman brings out the pear clafoutis and we all relax while drinking our coffee and delving into the clafoutis. Once again silence, this dessert will do that to you and your guests. If you do hear noise, it will be the umm or the aah, from the guests, it won’t be words, those come after everyone is done and they usually come in the form “May I have another slice of the clafoutis?”
Sundays such as this are great; it gives you strength to endure another week of hard work in the factory. Now that the measurements and pattern and fabric ironed and everything pinned, the rest is up to Hortense. Sabine and I will have to wait until she is ready for us, which is fine. That will give us time to concentrate on our work during the day and we can save up our money for our future excursions out to the Montmartre quartier and perhaps the Montparnasse quartier as well. In the meantime if we do get bored from all of our work we can still go and while away the weekend afternoons at the Café’s or the cinemas. We haven’t seen a good movie in the longest time.
Cinema is the ultimate especially since they have discovered how to put sound to the moving pictures. The lady actresses are all so glamorous and the men so dark and debonair. To think that these are real people who live like princes and princesses, it is almost too much to imagine. I don’t know if I could have the courage to make pretend in front of a camera, it must be so difficult to put yourself in front of so many strangers, I would be very self conscious. The actresses do help put the fashions in perspective, I mean when someone is wearing a new style in front of you it is easier to see if you yourself can wear it than if it is only in a picture in a magazine.
Right now the huge film that has everyone talking is the grand epic Napoleon by Andre Cine, it is being shown at the grand Louxor Pathe cinema located on Avenue Magenta not far from the Moulin Rouge. The theatre itself is what they call a Haussman building. The architect designed it to look like an Egyptian monument with hieroglyphics painted on the façade and geometric shapes along the columns. It is so architecturally interesting, it is not in keeping with the latest in the Art Deco mode that has been seen everywhere throughout different expressions such as furniture design, fashion design, architecture and painting. The Louxor Pathe cinema has a personality all its own. The showing of Napoleon the film will be grand on the big screen, our great Emperor Napoleon for all his megalomania was a military genius and he did give us our laws. His love story with his empress Josephine is very romantic; he loved her so much and lavished much attention and jewels on her. I am not sure if giving presents and attention is enough to measure the worth of a man as a partner or a companion, I am pretty sure that there is a lot more that is needed, loyalty, honesty and kindness.
At the start of the week it is back to work for Sabine, myself and on off days it is either Maman or Gabrielle taking their shifts to keep their positions at the factory for when the girls are older and also to bring more money into the household. The days blend together through the sheer ordinariness of each of them; it is day in and day out. On the one hand, it is good because this means that nothing bad has happened but on the other hand nothing great or exciting has happened yet either. I am starting to think that first of all, Sabine and I need to light a fire beneath Hortense to get cracking a little faster on the sewing of our dresses; we are both dying to get fitted so that we can see how beautiful they are turning out to be. I do not dare and I don’t think that Sabine dares either to nag Hortense because she does have a huge list of clients who actually pay her to sew unlike us who are paying her in love and kisses and that doesn’t pay for food or anything else.
“Sabine, we need to go to the cinema at the Louxor this weekend to see Napoleon, I will go mad with boredom if we don’t do something new and exciting soon!” I am whispering as we are working side by side at the factory. While we are assembling little sewing kits, we can’t look away from our work or else our fingers will suffer for it. “Finally an idea for fun coming from you, I was wondering how long it was going to take. You have been so serious lately. I would love to see Napoleon and especially to see how they dress Josephine in the role during her time as Empress.”
“So, it is decided then; we’ll go Sunday afternoon after Maman’s midday meal and that gives me Saturday to help Maman with the shopping errands, help with the housework and whatever else she needs me for, I must say that Gabrielle has been helping so much more lately, which has been putting me in a much better frame of mind lately. Haven’t you noticed?” Sabine responded while her fingers were deftly putting together her sewing kit together “Yes, cherie I have noticed that you are much more relaxed and patient as of late and I am so glad that Gabrielle has finally come around with helping more around the house. It was getting to be a little much to see all the work fall on your shoulders.” “Oh yes, Maman wants us at the apartment right after work for our first fitting” When Sabine said that, I got so excited that my fingers started to tremble. “She is ready for us? Oh I can’t wait until work is over; I’m glad that we didn’t have a large midday meal so that we are not all bloated for our fittings. This is going to be fun!”
So our afternoon at work instead of flying by crawled by at a snail’s pace. It was absolutely excruciating, every minute felt like a minute times ten. It was a good lesson in patience and focus because without focus, I would have stuck myself with a dozen pins and needles that were part of the little sewing kits that we assembled to accompany the sewing machines. I tell you whoever said patience was a virtue was not joking. I need to work on my version of that virtue; Sabine has to as well I think.
Madame Forges finally releases us from bondage and Sabine and I quickly set our work station to rights, grab our coats, hats and handbags and we hurry off to Sabine’s apartment. We fly up those four flights of stairs so quickly that we are both out of breath by the time Sabine opens the door. As we stumble in the apartment Hortense is seated at the table sewing stitches by hand on my dress pattern and Sabine’s dress pattern is already hanging on a mannequin. Hortense gets up to greet us and kiss us both hello and says “Madeleine cherie why don’t you slip off your shift dress so you can slip on your dress and pattern on, be careful when you put it on, there are pins everywhere, Sabine help her please. You’ll notice that I have cut and done the initial pattern on muslin fabric to make sure that the measurements are correct and I thought that these muslin dresses are perfect, you would have an extra dress each that we can dye whatever color you would like.” Maman that is a fantastic idea, we get two dresses for the price of one, oh thank you Maman” Sabine said while she was helping me not to get stuck with any pins hiding in folds of fabric. When I got the pattern and muslin dress on and Hortense came with her pin cushion to adjust the dress. I took her hand and said “Hortense you are so good to me thank you so much, Sabine and I will be the belles of all the dances.”
When the fittings are all done, Sabine and I go into the kitchen to put together a light dinner for the three of us that we eat in companionable silence. All three of us are weary from a hard day’s work; Sabine and I from the factory and Hortense from her days of sewing her client’s dresses. I piped up to say “I am too tired to plan anything right now but we should start planning for a night out on the town; we should see if the gang would be amenable to going to the spectacle starring the American dancer Josephine Baker at the Theatre des Champs-Elysee.” Sabine nodded and said ‘Have you read the latest reviews? She just started at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees on October 2nd and her dancing has been called exotic and erotic, they are giving her beautiful nick names such as the black pearl. Did you know that she has a pet cheetah?” “You’re kidding! A pet cheetah, which sure will be exciting if the animal, is part of the spectacle. Sabine how are things progressing between you and Guillaume? I know that we haven’t done anything as a group in a while but have you seen him at least lately?”
Hortense by this time, had gone off to bed after kissing us good night, so Sabine was free to give me all the juicy details of her love life that I as single woman lived vicariously through, my turn to have a suitor will come soon, I am sure of it. Sabine didn’t seem to be too excited about anything regarding Guillaume so I decided to keep pumping for more information. “Sabine, I know that you two are still together but where as Guillaume been lately or are you not talking to him for some strange reason?” Sabine looks at me with a weary look and says “What do you want me to tell you? Yes we are together still, but he has been busy with work and trying to find a way to start his own business in iron working. That has been taking all his time so I am waiting, supposedly when he starts to get new clients, he can then start to buy the material and start creating the wrought iron gates and installing them for his clients when he gets those new “clients”. Once he gets his business going he is going to marry me and not a minute before. So cherie I might have a suitor but I could stay unmarried for as long as it takes the cows to come home.”
I didn’t have an answer for her in the marriage proposal department but I did have an answer for Guillaume’s business prospects. “Why don’t you suggest that he look into establishing some business contacts with architects and shop-owners? I think that with all the Art Deco that we are seeing in art, furniture design the momentum has been shifting in the architecture field recently. You and I have seen it on our long promenades throughout Paris. Guillaume’s talent and services in the wrought iron field could be put to good use with an architect in his designs. Don’t you think that an architect would make for a better client than an average person? At least the project would be bigger and the sales of wrought iron works would then be bigger as well for Guillaume. His references would also benefit from having architects as clients.”
Sabine was looking at me the whole time that I was talking and her eyes changed from tired and sad to animated and hopeful. “Madeleine, where do you come up with these good ideas? I never thought of going beyond the small shop keeper or small homeowner, I hope that Guillaume will be open to your idea, you know how some people are (mainly men) if the idea doesn’t come from their own imagination they dismiss it immediately. I know that Guillaume normally is not like that which is why I love him so much but I hope that the idea isn’t too bold for him. Because you have to admit it Madeleine, your idea is bold for a new and struggling artisan to present himself and his talents to established architects.” I had to agree with her on that point, my idea wasn’t for the faint of heart but I had an answer for that as well, “Sabine how is he going to succeed if he doesn’t at least try? What is the worst that can happen anyway? He might and I repeat might get turned away, all he needs to do is present himself to another architect. If Guillaume knows his business backwards and forwards, which you need to if you are going to make it in business, than he will know the best ways to deliver the finished work, the fastest way to deliver it and the most economical way to deliver the finished work.” I knew Guillaume almost as well as Sabine, we’ve known each other since primary school, we played together as a group so I knew most of his strengths and weaknesses. “Sabine, I know that Guillaume has the intelligence and the talent to do this. You believe in him and that is all you need to say to him. He is like putty in your hands and it amazes me to no end but in reality all a man needs is the love and support of a good woman and he can do whatever needs to be done,” I got up to get my coat and hat and turned around because I had forgotten to ask Sabine “Let’s definitely go to the cinema tomorrow night, talk to Guillaume tomorrow and have him get the gang together because it is about time we all do something more than either work or sleep. If they have already seen it without us, which is; how dare they, than perhaps you and I can just see it together?” Sabine nods yes and on that note of optimism and hope I said good night to Sabine and went home.
The next morning on my way out the door I told Maman not to expect me home until much later because Sabine and I were going to go see the film Napoleon at the Louxor Pathe cinema on Avenue Magenta in the Montmartre quartier. She said her usual, “be careful and don’t walk home take the tramway home!” I called up “I will Maman and bisous”
Maman was right of course with her advice regarding taking the tram at night. I love to walk Paris for hours during the day but like all cities, night time draws a different type of person on the streets and after the sun sets it is mighty cold and windy in November and we are fast coming into December. I have to say that even though I don’t frequent the trams often it is a marvelous invention. Now that they have been perfected, I can’t imagine a better way of traveling throughout Paris without walking other than by driving. I take what I just said back; even driving isn’t as efficient as the tramway. Driving looks to be much more exciting and upscale but it does spew horrible gases in the air whereas the tram runs on electricity and it doesn’t make the air anywhere as dirty as the automobile. I think that the first tramway was horse pulled and they started in Paris in the 1800’s. With new inventions in powering things up, the tram went away from the horse and on to steam powered and than pneumatic powered with electricity powered trams being the last variation that we see now. Paris now has 122 routes for 3000 trams, we have quite the circuit. It is hard not to be proud to be a Parisienne.
Work since Sabine and I have plans tonight is going obnoxiously slowly; it is excruciating, have I ever said that before? If I have it is because it is so EXCRUCIATING to do the same old work day in and day out without a change in product or machine. “Sabine” I whispered. “Did you get a hold of Guillaume? Are we going with the gang?” Sabine whispered back “Yes I talked to him and we are all on to go together to see Napoleon tonight.”
“Excellent” I reply. This is going to be fun, our gang comprises itself of Sabine and myself of course and there is Guillaume, Amelie, Carole, Florence, Thierry, Jean-Phillipe, Olivier, Agnes and Vincent. We have all been in school together forever and now we each work at various factories or for other artisans. For example, Florence is a nurse and Carole works for her father who is a pharmacist and Agnes works at the yarn shop with her aunt. Thierry and Jean-Phillipe are both young notaries and Olivier also works with wrought iron as Guillaume does, I think that Guillaume wants Olivier to go into the business with him as a partner which I think is a good idea because Olivier is hard-working and has a good common sense about him that would serve Guillaume in good stead.
Sabine, Guillaume and I walk all the way to the Louxor cinema and meet the group out in front. We of course are all excited to see the film Napoleon and we all go in. The interior is in keeping with the exterior, Egyptian style seats and tiles along the walls and floors, there is the grand orchestra pit and the majestic pipe organ in the balcony. During l’entracte we all get up from our seats to get ourselves drinks and we all chime in with our opinions of the film. Personally, I find Napoleon unsurprisingly, to be so charismatic that you can understand how through the force of his personality and his brilliance he forged his way through out France and throughout Europe and why all the rest of Europe defensively ganged up against Napoleon. His impact on our educational system and legal system is still felt today as we speak. That is quite a legacy when you sit back and think about it. I find myself realizing that for the most part everyone I know will not leave an imprint on history, nothing that will be remembered by the greater piece of society. It is not just this film that brings this point home but I find that just by living in the grandest city on earth, I get the impression that I am such a small part of the universe, in the grand canvas of the universe I am the small speck of dust that you see suspended in the daylight while the sunlight streams into the room through an open window. I would say that my thoughts are quite humbling, which I suppose can be both good and bad.
After the end of the film we all walked to have drinks at the Café des deux Moulins; the café was so very animated, we got caught up in the ambience and the joie de vivre that the crowd exuded. Everyone was seated around the table we were drinking either my favorite Kir, which is a combination of Crème de Cassis and white wine, or as the men were wont to drink their gin and tonic. We were laughing and talking about the film, work, my mother’s latest feats of culinary excellence because everyone in our group has has the pleasure of being invited to Sunday midday meal at my apartment and my mother has been put on a culinary pedestal, you would think that the boys; Thierry, Olivier or Jean-Phillipe would be clamoring for my hand in marriage since everyone knows that the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, apparently my friends are immune to my mother’s culinary talents. Seriously, my friends are wonderful and sweet men but I have known them forever, they are like my brothers.
Speaking of which I am feeling pretty good, I wonder if Olivier would tell me the truth regarding my prospects as a potential catch for other men. I’m going to ask him, “Olivier, I have to ask you something and you have to tell me the truth and don’t worry I won’t get mad” Olivier smiles at me and says “Madeleine you know that I’ll always tell you the truth but you are making me nervous with the, don’t worry I won’t get mad, usually when someone says that the odds are pretty good that they will get mad”. I laugh and playfully slap him on the forearm, “Olivier you know that I love you best, have you been lifting weights? Your forearm has gotten very firm” “Madeleine if someone else had said that I would be saying something very naughty” Olivier said laughing out loud. “Madeleine what do you want to know, I promise to tell you the truth.” I took a deep breath, “Olivier do you think that men would be interested in me and I mean seriously interested in me? I know that I am not beautiful like Sabine or elegant and put together like Agnes and Carole but I know that I am a nice person. Olivier you know what I mean, what do you think” Olivier during this time seemed to be taking my question seriously, at least he seemed to see in my eyes that I was serious and I needed to know what he thought and that I especially valued his opinion, maybe I put too much pressure on him? Oh well, I have to know what he thinks, if I hadn’t known him my whole entire life I definitely would want to be with him.
I have to say that objectively, Olivier is a very fine representation of the French male. He is a nice height for a French men, they tend to all be average height, whereas Olivier stands at 1 meter 80, he has nice dark brown eyes, an olive complexion, black wavy hair, nice full lips and that traditional Gallic nose. His eyes are especially nice because they always carry the hint of laughter in them, you look at Olivier and immediately you want to smile, he will make young lady very happy someday. Anyway, back to me because this is not about him. Olivier smiling, was looking at me up and down letting his eyes trail the whole length of me, from the top of my head to the tip of my feet. I was slowly but surely turning red under his gaze, it was getting slightly uncomfortable and I could tell by his eyes that he knew it was and that he was having quite a bit of fun at my expense.
“Olivier, come on, I’ serious!” “Alright, I don’t know what to tell you Madeleine, of course you will find someone. You are very charming, you’re funny and you have intensely beautiful eyes. I don’t know what you are worried about. I mean these days aren’t like before when our parents were our age, marriage isn’t the first thing on anyone’s agenda right now. Take Sabine and Guillaume for example, they are together and they are happy but Guillaume isn’t going to rush and marry her just because they are 25. He is going to cement a future for them and while that is happening they are going to have fun at the same time. The Great War has changed so much in our world, we have to seize what we can. ” He took a sip of his drink and continued “Madeleine, I am seeing someone right now and if it works out between us, I see us getting married and starting a family but I’d rather concentrate right now on solidifying my work prospects. That is what we are all thinking about nowadays, that and having a whole lot of fun. Stop worrying your pretty head over something that you can’t even predict or control, when the time comes you will meet somebody. Until then sit back and enjoy our company and have a good time.” With those words Olivier leaned over and kissed me on the cheek and took a big swig of his drink and turned to listen to what Jean-Phillipe was saying and started to laugh. Jean-Phillipe was our comedian, he could take any story and spin it in such a way that you can’t help but laugh. You would never think of him to be good at his profession with such an outrageous sense of humor but he is great at understanding and arguing legal cases.
I feel better having gotten Olivier’s opinion of me as a woman, he is right I do spend too much time worrying about meeting someone when instead I should just let life happen and unfold as it will all by itself. You can’t force something if it doesn’t exist yet. What I need to do is make myself more available to life and the only way that is going to happen is by taking advantage of what I and the rest of us here already have; youth, pocket money, freedom and access to the greatest city in the world Paris.
“So, Everyone, now that we all saw the film of the year, what do you want to do this weekend? I propose dancing Friday night at our usual ball. What does everyone think?” Carol and Agnes looked at each other and both said in tandem “we always do that, it gets boring” “Really.” I said dryly, “dancing is never boring, I will grant you that the company can sometimes be boring but never the dancing. If you girls don’t want to go you don’t have to, I was just throwing out an idea”. Florence piped up “I’m in for dancing Friday night at the ball and I was thinking that Saturday night we should all go to see the spectacle at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees with Josephine Baker, that should give us time enough to get tickets and get our ensembles ready because you know that what we wear for the local ball is not going to cut it for the Theatre des Champs-Elysees and Josephine Baker or her cheetah” I said to that “Well from what I understand Josephine’s wardrobe won’t clash with ours” The boys certainly liked that one since they all burst out laughing. Paris certainly was risqué compared to just five years ago. It is crazy how while five years can be a long time, it can also be such a short period when you think of change in society as a whole. The change is everywhere, our dresses, our undergarments, our shoes, the art, women working for themselves, it is crazy how we won’t ever go back to how it was and we can only imagine how it is going to be going forward.
Sabine spoke up right then “I would much rather save the spectacle with Josephine Baker for the following weekend, I am not quite ready to debut my new dress, I need at least one more week before it can be shown in public. I wouldn’t want to disappoint a certain someone.” With those last words Sabine leaned over and planted a nice long kiss on Guillaume’s lips. I than realized that my dress was in the same state of incompletion as hers, at least one of us kept their focus on the details. Thank you, Sabine. Once Guillaume could speak he said “so my darling am I going to have to work my muscles extra hard to keep all the other men from trying to sweep you away from me, it is already hard enough as you are now, you are just going to make yourself even more irresistible, aren’t you?” Sabine just smiled and kissed him again.
The conversation went off into other directions most notably the latest American jazz musicians and the venues that they were playing at and when we should next go to listen to some great music. Carol asked “so that we are all clear, are we definitely going to the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, not this Saturday night but the following Saturday night. I too need some time to figure out what to wear and speaking of wardrobe what are you boys going to wear?” Agnes smiled and chimed in “Carol has a good question, when was the last time any of you men went out to a polished club like the Theatre? Are you gentlemen sure that your good clothes still fit and are at least a la mode?” I threw my two centimes in “that is an n excellent point but don’t forget it is so much easier to get away with the latest fashion faux pas when you are a man than when you are a woman, men’s fashions don’t change as radically as ours. In just five years the corset practically ceased to exist, that is radical. Men have their trousers and suit jackets, the fabric might change but it is not the same radical change.”
Thierry laughs and says “Ladies don’t worry your pretty little heads over fashion, style whatever. Let’s just make the date for a week from this coming Saturday, we will escort you ladies as per usual and we will have a fabulous time. We’ll have a blast, I’ll even splurge for the champagne” I immediately replied “in that case with the promise of champagne, I would find a way to make a potato sack glamorous and chic” At the thought of myself dressed in a potato sack adorned with pearls and feathers I burst out laughing as did the rest of the table. On that happy note, we all decided that off to bed was in store for us, because work was for tomorrow and the next day, there was no escaping it and sleep was needed by all.
Guillaume, Sabine and I grabbed the tram outside the Café and rode in companionable silence and quickly took our leave of each other. The days rolled by without incident and Friday was upon us very quickly. Sabine and I were just finishing cleaning up our work station and wondering which apartment had more to offer for the midday meal and my apartment won out, as usual. We were going up the stairs and we could already smell the aroma of quiche in the stairwell. There is no mistaking the smell of quiche especially a quiche Lorraine. It’s the combination of the scent of caramelized onions and lardons, melting nutty Swiss cheese mixed with black pepper, salt, nutmeg and eggs. Each smell distinct yet it yields an altogether different smell once it all assembled in the pie shell and put to bake in a hot oven. This was a wonderful surprise to come home to and I’m glad we decided on my apartment, sandwiches are good but can’t compete with a hot quiche. “Bonjour Maman” “Bonjour Lutetia” Sabine and I each kiss Maman hello, Maman has already set the table for the both of us and along with the quiche we also have a nice salad with her famous vinaigrette. Maman sits down with us to keep us company and asks “so girls how was work?’ she doesn’t even bother waiting for an answer and simply continues “are you two planning anything this evening?’ I look over at Sabine and she just put a forkful of food in her mouth, so I answer “yes we made plans with the group to go to the local ball tonight for dancing, is that okay? Do you need me for anything?” Maman says shaking her head, “no, no I’m glad that you girls are going out as a group, I had thought that it had been a while that you haven’t gone out dancing and I was simply going to suggest it, I am glad that I don’t have to and you girls thought of it on your own.”
That was settled which was a load off my mind because no matter what Maman says I worry because Gabrielle isn’t the most dependable when it comes to helping out around the apartment and she is often out more than she is in with the girls. I think that she is looking for Monsieur third time is the charm. Anyway I have to stop thinking about Gabrielle and her issues, it doesn’t do me any good; I have my own life to lead and my own future to plan. Which brings me to the question, what am I going to wear for the ball. Do I break out the muslin dress that Hortense has been working on or do I go with the tried and true even if it is tired dependable dress? Only one way to find out, I must consult with my fashion consultant.
“Sabine, how is your Maman coming along with the dresses? Aren’t we due for another fitting perhaps the final one? Sabine puts down her fork, during this time Maman goes into the dining room and sits at her chair next to Papa and picks up her knitting. At the rate Maman knits, it’s a wonder that she hasn’t clothed the whole of Paris by now. “Maman has been sewing away and I am pretty sure that she will have the four dresses definitely done by the middle of next week. I’ll double check with her but I am pretty sure that our final fitting should be for Monday night.” I nod and say “okay that means that I am going to trot out my green dress tonight, what you think? Well it’s not as if I have much of a choice, it’s either the green or the caramel one which is even older and definitely shows it age just by where the waist is” Sabine waves my worries aside and says “Madeleine, it’s only the local ball and it’s going to be the same crowd as usual. I mean we are going to have a good time and practice the new dances. Guillaume and I have to work on our tango if my feet are going to survive next weekend at the Theatre des Champs=Elysees” I laugh out loud “you don’t have to tell me twice about your need for practice, it is quite cute to see you guys try to figure out who is leading who!” I can’t stop laughing and Sabine throws her napkin at me while laughing “oh really you are one to talk, actually it isn’t fair that you have such an easy time with all the new steps. I wish that Guillaume and I could dance as easily as you can.” “What can I say, Sabine it is a gift, I just wish that some tall stranger would come to our table one of these days and ask me to dance and than sweep across the dance floor and off my feet. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” Sabine sighs and says “yes it would, it will happen one of these days, you’ll see.”
With our meal all done off we went back to the trenches and believe or not evening came rather quickly and off we went to the ball. It was always held at the former munitions depot on rue de la Boisserie. It was a very large open space perfect for couple to be dancing the Charleston, the Tango as well as the older dances like the Foxtrot and the Waltz. The Tango was a very beautiful and risqué dance; the same could be said for the Brazilian Samba. The ball was the perfect setting for all of us as a group to practice on each other so that when we finally meet Monsieur or Mademoiselle “Right”, we would awe and amaze them with our dancing talent. That was my plan anyway and I’m sure that Agnes, Carol, Florence and Amelie were thinking the same thing as I. When will I meet a handsome stranger?
I was having so much fun dancing the night away, I would alternate between Olivier, Thierry, Vincent and Jean-Phillipe, the girls were doing the same. I think that my favorite dance is the Tango, the music is so sensual and the moves so very stylized and elegant and sexy at the same time. I could see myself being swept away by a tall stranger during this dance. One can only dream, n’est pas?
I’m finally sitting down at the table with the others and one by one everyone starts to yawn. Olivier takes out his pocket watch and says “believe or not it is 2:00 in the morning, I say that we call it a night” Guillaume and Sabine are still on the dance floor but we could tell that Sabine was quickly wilting from fatigue, it was comical actually, Sabine is so tiny that Guillaume at this point is simply carrying her through all the motions of the Waltz. I get up to tap Guillaume on the shoulder and tell him that we are leaving, Sabine starts to giggle as do I because they really look cute right now together. As we all grab our coats and the boys are helping us girls with our coats I feel a pair of eyes looking at me, I turn around and there are too many people leaving to catch anyone’s eyes or see if someone was indeed watching me. It’s a weird feeling, but since I don’t see anything or anyone out of the ordinary I decide to let it pass.
The weekend came and went without any fanfare. The same family rituals, Saturday morning we all go to the Marche, I spend all of Saturday helping Maman cleaning, cooking and baking. Gabrielle and the girls are out. Sunday we all eat together with Sabine and Hortense as usual. The only thing that keeps me from getting depressed when I see that life is always the same is that next weekend is the spectacle with Josephine Baker at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. I need to make more plans because I feel as if life is passing me by and I’ll turn around one day and ask myself where time went.
It is finally time for our final fitting, Sabine and I race to her apartment and we see both silk dresses just waiting for us on the mannequins. “Oh my goodness Sabine, they are so beautiful! Hortense you are a fairy godmother.” I turn to Sabine “how did you not try your dress on until now? I couldn’t have waited.” Sabine says “I couldn’t because this is the first time that I have seen them up on the mannequins, Maman has been very secretive and I didn’t want to jinx the dresses anyway. Best to let the master seamstress work without being bothered, don’t you think?” ” Sabine you have more patience than I, but I’m so glad that you left your Maman alone because these are exquisite.”
Hortense comes out from her room carrying all the accessories and starts to tell us to undress so that she can begin the fittings. She says “I bought out all the costume jewelry and the sautoir and feathers so that you girls get a really good idea of what the final result will look like for Saturday night.” I said “Sabine why don’t you go first, I am dying to see you in that beautiful corn blue silk to see how your eyes look with the dress’s color” As Sabine put on the dress being very careful not to get stuck by any of the pins you can see that Hortense has made her dresses so often because it fit perfectly. It does pay to have a seamstress as a Maman. The dress was so simple, Sabine’s dress was just below the knee and she had two slits at the drop waist line so that when doing the Charleston her dress would go back and forth. Hortense had added right at the waist a belt of long shimmering fringe all around the dress that caught the light and moved with the dress, it looked so pretty. The dress was sleeveless and Sabine to dress up her arms had gotten ten bangles and a long rope of pearls to dress her neck up. She also purchased sparkly hair pins to catch the light all around her face. Sabine looked like a vision of elegance. “Sabine wait until Guillaume sees you; he is going to not let you out of his sight for a single minute. He is going to be rendered speechless by your beauty.”
Sabine was standing on the stool while her Maman was going around the dress checking for any defects, making sure that every stitch was perfect and the hemline was straight as well as the waistline. As Hortense always said the simpler the pattern the greater the importance of first rate craftsmanship; the simplicity of the dress doesn’t allow for any mistakes. I asked “Sabine, are you happy?” Sabine looked at me as if I had grown two heads “Are you kidding, I couldn’t have imagined a more beautiful dress, thank you Maman!” Sabine then looked at me and said “Madeleine it’s your turn now”
I quickly slipped off my shift dress and carefully stepped into the dress. The silk felt so soft on my skin, I couldn’t imagine something any softer or more delicate. The fabric felt so light and freeing, I could see myself dancing in a whole new way wearing this dress. The Charleston and the Tango take on a whole new meaning when danced wearing a silk dress not to mention the Brazilian Samba, Saturday night at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees will be an eye opener. I already feel risqué and I am standing in Hortenses’s apartment on a stool. I never thought that an article of clothing could have that much impact on how you feel about yourself, I mean aside from comfort, this exquisite silk dress despite being so comfortable makes me feel so very feminine and I never feel like this, I can’t wait for Saturday night. I am going to feel like a princess at the ball, I am being so silly but I can’t help it this is my first silk dress and it is so gratifying.
“Sabine, I can’t believe that I have put this off for so long, I am in love with this dress. Why did we wait so long to do this? I have to get my hair cut now before Saturday, I can’t go to the Theatre with my hair the way it is no matter how many pins I put in, it needs to be cut now, well not right now but soon before Friday. Who should I go to? Hortense who do you go to?” Sabine spoke up and said “forget who we go to Madeleine, I know where you are going for your first real haircut of the twentieth century” I said “oh so you think that you are funny don’t you Cherie? Since you sound like the expert you should I entrust my first real haircut to ?” Sabine merely said one name “L’Oreal”. “Don’t you think that might be a little expensive?” I said and I have to admit that I was starting to get a little nervous at the thought of cutting all my hair short. I know that I have complained ad nauseum about my hair but it is my hair and I know what it can and will not do, especially the part of will not do, my hair will not be tamed or at least I don’t know how to tame my hair.
I think that my nervousness and anxiety is being broadcast on my face because both Sabine and Hortense take me by the mirror and show me what I look like in the dress and Hortense pulls me hair out from its chignon and arranges it with a few waves near my face and says “You see how beautiful you look, your face comes into better focus without all you thick hair distracting everyone. You are lucky because you have the natural waves that everyone wants and not everyone naturally has like you do. Have you seen how many ladies are coloring their hair? The only two colors that L’Oreal has is red or black and you are lucky that your hair is naturally dark and shiny.” “Madeleine you know that I’m going with you to hold your hand and to make sure that you don’t leave before they even start touching your hair.” Giggles Sabine.
“Let’s see today is Monday, I should probably go on Thursday the latest so I have at least two days to get used to my haircut. Yes, Thursday is the day and tomorrow we can go to the Salon to make a rendez-vous, can you come with me tomorrow after work Sabine to make the rendez-vous and to look the Salon over, I’ve never been to a Salon before.” Sabine looks all excited ” of course I’m coming with you, I’ve never been to the L’Oreal Salon either before, Maman cuts my hair and she is used to it. But you need to go because your hair is nothing like my hair and we want to make sure that a professional cuts your hair.” Hortense agrees “Madeleine cherie if I had been cutting your hair ever since you were a child like I did with Sabine, then we wouldn’t even think about it but for your first elegant haircut and especially for your first evening wear sortie you need it done professionally”. “It’s decided tomorrow we go see the Salon, Maman is going to flip when she sees me on Thursday with my new haircut and forget about Saturday.”
I haven’t told you about the dress yet have I? While I am standing on the stool and we are having the conversation about my hair and upcoming haircut, part of my brain is registering what I look like in this dress. The color which is called mango is a warm shade of orange and makes my skin look bronze which is quite attractive and I didn’t foresee that when I picked out the color. I simply picked it out because orange is my favorite color and than comes green, after those two colors I really don’t have any preferences. My dress has the low drop waist like Sabine’s but instead of fringe, I have tiny pleats all around the hips so that when I am kicking it up during the Charleston, my dress flies around my legs and keeps the whole vision fluid, flowing mango fabric around kicking legs. I have tiny little sleeves that are softly split at the shoulders so that they look like gossamer wings on a butterfly. Sabine ran and got my huge strand of faux pearls that she looped several times around my neck and tied a knot and left the knot dangling near my waist. I had purchased long silk gloves and a boa, both in a shade of vibrant rose which no one believed would go with the mango fabric and seeing the whole ensemble together I fell in love with the whole color scheme. I was so excited that my vision actually worked out and was spectacular. I knew that it was because I could see it in Sabine and Hortenses’s eyes. I said to both of them ” I am not going to bother modeling any hair accessories just yet because my hair isn’t going to be like this on Thursday, so I’d like to keep the hair pins as one more surprise for Saturday.”
“Hortense I have to thank you so much, this is even more special than I can ever have imagined. I know that Paris has been boisterous and party filled for five years now and it is only recently that Sabine and I have felt ready to put our toes in the water and you helped make it possible in the best way ever.” Sabine put her arm around Hortense and said “Maman you know how much every thing you do means to me, Madeleine and I are so lucky to have you and Lutetia as our mothers.”
Hortense clears her throat and shoos us away saying “are you girls quite finished with your declarations of love and gratitude. I say if Lutetia was here she would be mortified. Of course I do this for the both of you; it is my duty as a good mother to provide for her daughter and adopted daughter and that is that.” “Now both of you get changed, it is getting late and there is work tomorrow, you both need your sleep.” Sabine and I both changed back into our everyday clothes and hung the dresses carefully back on the mannequin.
With all the excitement I knew that it was going to take a while for me to unwind so I went to the kitchen to make myself a tisane, as Maman likes to say “there is nothing that a good tisane won’t cure”. Chamomile is my choice for soothing restful tea and once I have the tea seeping, I can smell its herbal essence waft through my nasal passages and already start the soothing process. I actually don’t do this very often perhaps I should because I feel really good. I feel calm, happy and hopeful for the future. I can already feel the fatigue wash over me as I get up to put my cup and tea pot after I washed them. I quietly went to my room and went to bed.
Sabine and I walk out of work the next day which is Tuesday and Sabine is all excited which of course she is, her hair isn’t going to be cut; not that my hair is going to be cut today. I am making an appointment today for Thursday and it is only for a haircut, no hair color. I read in the magazine this morning while I was drinking coffee that the chemist at L’Oreal just discovered how to lighten hair color and make it golden blond. I must make sure that I stand firm and say no to hair color, Maman said that hair dressers might get a little carried away and try to convince me to have color because it is all the rage. I tug on Sabine’s arm, we are walking arm and arm, and say “Sabine I need you to make sure that I stand firm about saying no to color, I am fine with the haircut and I know that it is going to be short but I want to make sure that they really listen to me if they try to convince me to color my hair.” Sabine squeezes my arm and says “Madeleine, don’t worry I’ll make sure that it is just an appointment for a haircut and I’ll be with you in the salon holding your hand when they cut your beautiful tresses off and you will see that once your hair is styled you are going to feel so free and light, I promise you that you will feel as if you lost twenty pounds.”
“Sabine since we are walking to 37 rue de Louvre, we’ll probably get there in a half hour, I’m thinking that making an appointment for Thursday will take 15 minutes at the most, we could take our time coming back home and stop at a Café and have a small dinner together and relax, just the two of us”. Sabine smiles and nods her head. We are walking quickly and before we know it we are L’Oreal which is just down the street from the Bourse du Commerce and a skip, hop jump away from Les Halles. Les Halles is such a vibrant stop in Paris, every morning the marchands are busy selling their wares be it goods or food. This is also the place where we will be stopping at after our night at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees for the customary bowl of soupe de l’oignon. There is nothing like a steaming hot bowl of onion soup with its rich and hearty caramelized slices of onions that are simmered in a rich beef stock when it is served, a slice of baguette is placed in the bottom of the bowl the onion soup is ladled over the bread and two slices of gruyere are placed over the bowl and put under the broiler until it melts all bubbly; trust me, this bowl can be dangerous to the internal temperature of your mouth. I know of too many inexperienced soup eaters who have burned their tongues and roofs of their mouths. But this conversation about soup will continue really early Sunday morning.
We are at the door of L’Oreal. We look though the shop window and it looks quite glamorous. We can see the stylists working on a few ladies and we can also see the different L’Oreal bottles everywhere on shelves throughout the store. I turn to Sabine and say “this is so impressive and clean, I’m still nervous but seeing it so lovely makes me feel better” Sabine pushes me to the door and says in my ear “I feel better too, I was getting nervous for you walking over here because I’ve never been either, this place is very nice.”
We open and walk in and a nice chime is set off with the door closing. A lovely young lady gestures for us to come to the appointment desk, I can tell that it’s an appointment desk because there is a huge book which I assume to be the appointment book laying on the desk. She smiles and says “Good afternoon mes demoiselles, may I be of service?” I clear my throat and say “Thank you Madame, I would like to make an appointment for Thursday afternoon to have my hair cut and styled in the latest style, a la garconne.” She replied nodding “But of course, I see that we have an opening at 5:30 Thursday afternoon with Monsieur Bouquet. May I ask if you would be interested in having some color as well?” I quickly replied “No I am not looking to color my hair thank you for asking. I am really only looking for a haircut with a stylist.” She smiles at the both of us and says “I understand, is this your first visit?” I nod yes. She then continues “if you please, would you care to fill out this card so that Monsieur Bouquet can put you in his client list” I look at her puzzled and she says quickly “He does this so that when you come back to see him he knows how he cut your hair and what shampoo was used, it is to continue to give you the best service possible.” So I take the card and fill out my name and address and the date. She then gives me an appointment card with the date and time. We take our leave of each other say good evening and Sabine and I escape into the evening air.
As we are walking back in the direction of home I tell Sabine “I need a Café quickly, I need to go to the ladies room and I am both hungry and thirsty, aren’t you Sabine?” Sabine just nods and off we are in a hurry. “I know which Café I want to go to, the Café Saint-Honore right down two streets up ahead, is that okay with you Sabine?” Sabine says “Haven’t we been there once and it had really nice ladies rooms? It is a little expensive isn’t it?” “Sabine I am paying, it is the least that I can do for everything you Maman has done for me, don’t worry about the check” Sabine says “Madeleine you are out of your mind, your Maman spoils me with food and my mother as well, this isn’t a contest between our families. Family doesn’t work that way, you know” “Right now I can’t think because I need a ladies room vite, vite!”
We arrive at the Café where we are seated immediately inside and I walk quickly to the ladies room which needs to be described because it is such an elegant ladies room. The lighting is soft and when you are checking yourself in the mirror, the lighting is seems pink for some reason and I find that I actually like looking at myself under these lights, if I could walk around with these lights as a backdrop it wouldn’t be a bad thing. I bet that I’m not the first woman to think of something as silly as this, but that is how nice they are. The counter is marble and the sinks are beautiful white porcelain pedestal sinks. The mirrors are framed in old sculpted gilded antique frames seemingly taken from an old chateau and the floor is tiled in a classic terrazzo tile from another era. It just oozes old world luxury. Call me crazy but I find that the appeal of an establishment goes through the roof when their facilities are as elegant, clean and luxurious as the one at the Café Saint-Honore.
I get back to the table and there is Sabine, who has already gotten us two cafés aux lait. “I wasn’t sure what you wanted to eat but at least I know what you always like to drink” “Thank you this is perfect, what are you going to get?” Sabine looked over the little carte and said ‘I’m going to have the omelette aux fines herbes with the salad” I thought about it because a good omelette especially flavored with delicate fresh herbs, so simple and light is always a treat no matter what time of day, but I felt that I needed something a little more substantial like a good solid foie aux oignons, liver and onions. I find that is one of the ultimate comfort food dishes. “Sabine I am going to have the foie aux oignons.” “Madeleine the haircut is really making you nervous for you to order liver” “Well yes I am nervous and liver is very good for you, you know”
We order and sit there drinking our cafes aux lait talking about this and that, nothing really. That we hope the weather stays the way it is; it hasn’t really been cold at all in Paris and if it could stay that way all the way to Noel we would both be very happy. Our food arrived and I was so happy that I ordered liver and onions, you could tell right from the plate that the liver was still bright pink on the inside and the onions were a glistening golden brown and slathered all around the liver. My first bite was heaven, the liver was so tender and rich and the onions were nicely sweet and soft, it is a perfect marriage of flavor and texture, like bleu cheese and walnuts in a Dijon vinaigrette. It just makes perfect culinary sense. I asked Sabine “how is your omelette? I am really enjoying what I am eating” Sabine just smiles and nods with her mouth full. That is answer enough for me. We finished eating, grabbed the check emptied our purses, “I told you that it was expensive” “who cares we have to live a little and plus we had to go to the ladies room”. In case you are wondering I was the one complaining about the expense, Sabine is right I mean in the end you can’t take it with you so why not indulge every now and again?
Before when I was complaining about how long a day can last at work, which only happens when you are looking forward to something. When you find yourself nervous about an upcoming event, time just happens to fly by, for example I woke up and it magically became Thursday, where did Wednesday go? Today is the day that my long locks of hair will be cut off; I wonder if I should ask for a ponytail and bring it back home as a souvenir. I heard something about ladies selling their hair, I wonder, how much can real human hair be worth? Anyway, off I go to work as I pass by Maman to kiss her good bye “Maman I won’t be home until much later because I am going to get my hair cut, Sabine is coming with me and L’Oreal is all the way on rue de Louvre so it will take a while. Do you want me to come and see you when I get back if you are in bed?” Maman looks at me with her big brown eyes in shock “Of course, I want to see how beautiful you look with a new hair cut, so if I’m dozing wake me up” “Okay, I’ll see you later tonight then” Off I go to work.
The day flies by of course and Sabine and I are once more off to rue de Louvre to get my hair cut.
Where do you want to eat tonight? Sabine” I hear silence and than a sigh, I look over and Sabine is looking down the streets left and right “Sabine are you really looking left and right for a place for later on?” She says “Yes, I don’t know where to go, I mean I really don’t mind if we wait until we get home to eat whatever is left over at your house, because honestly we eat just as well with your Maman’s cooking than at any Brasserie or Café around Paris and for much cheaper” “You’re right, it has kind of spoiled us by having a fantastic cook as a mother. Anyway with my stomach feeling the way it does right now I don’t think that I will be able to eat after the hair cut” We kept walking, I’m sure that you are thinking that I am making too much of a simple haircut but when your hair has been the more or less envy of other girls because their hair was fine and straight and yours is thick and wavy, I think that you would be fairly anxious too.
Somehow it seems that we arrived much more quickly to L’Oreal today than we did the other day. Sabine opens the door for us and ushers me in, the receptionist the same one who took my appointment on Tuesday, ushered me toward the back and led me to Monsieur Bouquet who takes my hand and says “Enchante, mademoiselle, I am pleased to make your acquaintance, allow me to show you where you can sit so that I may look at your hair” I smile at him and say “I am pleased to meet you as well, would it be alright with you if my best friend Sabine sat near us?” He smiled and said “But of course mademoiselle” I signaled over to Sabine and she sat right next to me, beaming with excitement. I on the other hand felt such queasiness in my stomach and my throat was parched, I was a nervous mess. Don’t get me wrong Monsieur Bouquet was very kind and you can see that he was a true professional. He gently undid my hair from its pin and started to comb it out with a strong motion. I could feel from his hands that he was clearly in his domain and very sure about what he was about. He combed all the tangles out put my hair in a side part and then he pulled it back and up and let it all fall back down. He put his hands on my shoulders and said “Are you ready to come with me to get your hair washed?” I took a deep breath and said to myself, here we go, it will be fine. I smiled and said “yes”.
All that I can say about having my hair washed by a professional is that everyone should have the experience once in their lifetime. When I put my head back into the sink and the water started sprinkling on my head at a really nice temperature, I thought that was lovely and the shampoo felt tingly on my scalp which was quite pleasant but when I felt the fingers start massaging my scalp at my temples and gradually circle around my head and going down to my neck and then proceed back up to my temples and then back around, I was helpless against the sensation of intense goose bumps, my knees went weak and alarm bells could have gone off and I wouldn’t have cared. Everyone in the world needs to experience a head massage it would make the world a much nicer place for everyone, I promise. It is the greatest sensation in the world, at that point I didn’t care if I had a hair cut or not, the massage was that great.
When my blissful head massage came to an end, the moment of truth was at hand, it was time for my haircut. Monsieur Bouquet and I went back to the chair where Sabine was sitting in her hair reading a magazine. She looked up and put down her magazine and started talking to me telling me about what she had seen in the pictures of the Vogue magazine and the ideas that they had given her. I was thankful for all her chatter because it did distract me from focusing on how much hair was falling on the floor. I had asked for a ponytail of my hair to be saved before Monsieur Bouquet had even started to cut, Sabine had it in her handbag. I couldn’t help it but my eyes kept looking down and noting quite a pile on the floor and my stomach was still a bit clenched with nervousness because I still wasn’t sure how this was going to end up.
When I was allowed to look up at the mirror, Monsieur Bouquet wasn’t done mind you, he was simply done with the big cuts, now he was going back and forth and making smaller cuts and it looked like he was sculpturing my hair to fall in a pre-determined place. It was fascinating how controlled his movements were, it really looked like artistry. My stomach was starting to relax because I was staring to see the final result and it didn’t look hideous. Sabine kept her dialogue going and I must to confess that it was very soothing and I was so glad that she was a part of this. This was another adventure to add to our life story. Monsieur Bouquet’s hands started to slow down until the scissors were put down on the counter and then he got the hair dryer. While he was gently drying my hair and styling it in place, I was getting used to the bizarre lightness of my head. I felt that my head had lost at least 10 pounds, it felt so weird.
When Monsieur Bouquet was completely finished, he patted my hair all around and pronounced me done. He retrieved a big mirror and had me look into the mirror and it showed me what the back of my hair looked like, I loved it immediately and I fell in love with my short hair. It felt so free and liberating. Sabine was almost squealing with excitement so I think that it was safe to say that she liked it. Describing how it feels just looking at me and how different I look, it would be like explaining seeing someone you knew for the first time; it feels like this isn’t my face. My face; the way I look in the mirror; is like looking at a new person, someone who looks more carefree, more sophisticated, in a word insouciant. I can’t describe it except to say that all this is exciting and I feel that it is the beginning of something new.
“I can’t wait to get home and see Maman” I tell Sabine as we are quickly walking home. Sabine nods and say “She is going to be speechless when she sees how beautiful and sophisticated you look with short hair, we should have done this to you years ago, who knew that the pixie cut was perfect for you” “I was so nervous, if I had known I would have slept a whole lot better these past several days, I think that I am going to sleep at 8:00 for the next week to make up for all my lost sleep” Vanity can kill you” Sabine drily comments with a smirk on her face. I refuse to give her the pleasure of a retort because she is right after all; it is only hair and it does grow back. That is the thing with long hair, you can’t really have a bad hair day because when in doubt you pin it up. What I didn’t expect to discover is how drab long hair can make you no matter how you put your hair up. My new hair cut has recast my features, my eyes are brighter, you can really notice my cheek bones and my lips are really front and center.
“Sabine, I am now even more excited about Saturday night than before, I don’t know how I am going to make it with the waiting, it is going to be torture” “I know, you hair cut really makes Saturday something to look forward to, I can’t wait to see how many men’s heads you turn, the boys are going to have a hard time fending off the crowds away from you” Sabine says all this with a smile. “Will you stop teasing me, I know that I love my hair cut but I wouldn’t go that far.” I realized that with all the excitement I had forgotten that both of us hadn’t eaten since 1:00 this afternoon. “Sabine you must be starving, I know that I am, I want you to come up so that we can show Maman my haircut together and then we can eat something. I know that there is a really good pate in the pantry that Maman bought from Monsieur Rouge, we can have that with some leftover baguette” “That sounds delicious and yes I am famished, all this walking and nerve wracking hair cutting is enough to make anyone hungry”
As soon as I open the door to the apartment, I see that the light is still on and Maman is sitting in her chair knitting. She looks up and a big smile lights up her face, “Madeleine, come closer oh your hair cut looks so beautiful on you. The stylist did such a wonderful job; he cut your hair perfectly to suit your face. You look so elegant and your eyes are so intense. My baby girl’s face is gone, now I have a beautiful young lady in front of me” Her hands were smoothing my hair very gently, trying not to put a hair out of place. Her eyes were were shiny, “Maman are you going to cry, please don’t cry, it’s only a hair cut for heaven’s sake” Sabine chimed in “Yes Lutetia save your tears, wait until you see us on Saturday with our new dresses then you can cry, just not on us. I’ll make sure that you have a handkerchief.”
“Maman, can I get the pate and the baguette out, Sabine and I are famished and I offered Sabine the pate and bread” “Wait, I’ll get it for you girls just sit down at the table and I’ll get everything” I am still standing and so is Sabine, so I take her coat and mine and hang them up, all the while pushing Sabine towards a chair at the table and I get us two plates, forks and knives and two glasses. Sabine looks up as if to protest, I cut her off “you sit still and let me help Maman get us going with food” I get a pitcher of water and two napkins and by this time the pate, bread and cornichons are on the table. Sabine and I take turns slicing nice wide slices of pate, cutting two large chinks of baguette for the pate and fishing out some cornichons to accompany the pate. The vinegar bite of the cornichons offsets the richness of the pate so well, once you have that combination it is hard to eat pate without the cornichons, it simply makes culinary sense, it’s another brilliant marriage of food. I tell you if I could have a dream job, it would be to try all the dishes in France so that I could tell the people about them and share the good and the excellent and warn them about the bad. That would definitely be my fantasy job. Meanwhile in the real world, Sabine and I are finished with our dinner and Sabine is yawning in her napkin. Maman clears away our plates while Sabine grabs her coat and we wish each other goodnight.
Friday comes and goes the only difference during that day is the little burst of fanfare at the factory over my hair cut, what can you expect when at work it’s literally a gaggle of geese all working together. When the littlest change appears it excites all the females so when my head appeared without the hair everyone was clucking or squawking. It all calmed down thank goodness and before Sabine and I knew it, it was Saturday!
Saturday started like all normal Saturdays, the Martin family going off to the Marche for the weekly purchase of household provisions. Sabine and Hortense were with us as well and it was cute to see Maman and Hortense going on and on about my new hair cut and they were making plans about this afternoon because Maman did state in no uncertain terms that she was going to included in the preparations.
After our standard midday meal together, tomorrow is going to be a big culinary surprise according to Maman since our recounting of our Saturday night out is going to be the focal point of our Sunday meal and so a true feast is required. Sabine and I cleaned up the kitchen, the dining room and the rest of the apartment while Maman and Hortense talked, laughed and drank their coffee. Sabine and I didn’t mind doing the cleaning because that was the least that we could do for our mothers.
We joined our mothers at the table with our own coffees and sat enjoying the calm and peace of the apartment, Papa was out downstairs with his friends at the Bistro and Gabrielle and the girls were out at the Jardin du Luxembourg, so it was only us women. Sabine spoke up first and asked the question which was on my mind “When do you think that we should start getting ready?” I thought about it for a moment and asked “Sabine when and where did you plan to meet Guillaume, is he coming here or are we meeting him with the group at the Theatre des Champ-Elysees? I know that we aren’t going there until later in the evening but are we going at 9:00 or 10:00?” Sabine said “you know that is an awful lot of questions for one person to answer, Madeleine I’m going to walk over to Guillaume’s apartment and ask him, I’ll be right back”
I burst out laughing; I don’t know why we were making such a big deal about tonight. I mean I know why it’s a big night for us, we have new dresses, I have a brand new hair cut, we have new fancy dresses and we have never been to a spectacle before and let alone one that features Josephine Baker and her cheetah. Now that I put it like that, it is a big night for us. Maman was talking to me and I turned to listen “Madeleine, we should just stay here and have a light dinner and then we’ll help you girls get ready over at Hortenses’s later.” Hortense nodded and said “that sounds like a very good plan” Sabine entered right at that moment and said “Guillaume is coming here at 9:00 to pick us up and we are meeting the group at the Café des Champs des Elysees at 9:30 before we go to the Theatre, it doesn’t do to get to the Theatre too early, so Olivier thought going to the Café for a little while beforehand made sense in case anyone was hungry for a light bite before we dance the night away” I said “that sounds like a great idea and Sabine remind me to mention when we leave in the early hours of the morning that I would love to go over to Les Halles to indulge in the early morning soupe de l’oignon ritual, I think that it would be the perfect ending to our first big night out” Sabine laughed “I’ll try but I am not going to promise anything, we’ll see how we make out in the early hours of the morning”
As we were passing the time which believe me did not crawl by, we were laughing at the great stories that Hortense was reliving from her childhood adventures with my mother and it struck me how Sabine and I were continuing the legacy of our mothers. Maman got up from the table and started putting the dishes on the table and went to the pantry for cheese and bread put them on the table. Hortense followed back into the kitchen and they both came back a few minutes later each carrying something different, Maman with a big wooden bowl of salad with her famous vinaigrette and Hortense had my mothers lovely quiche that had just enough slices for the four of us. We sat down quietly for this light repast of simple fare and enjoyed each bite. The meal as easily and quickly put together and eaten was just as quickly cleaned up and put away.
The four of us left our apartment, went down the stairs and across the street to Hortense and Sabine’s apartment where the our night’s adventures were going to begin. Hortense took Maman by the hand and showed her the two mannequins “proudly” modeling our dresses. Maman was suitably impressed and said so to Hortense “Hortense I am not surprised in the least because I know how talented you are. Madeleine I hope that you and Sabine really understand how lucky you girls are to have the benefit of Hortenses’s talent and craftsmanship.” “Maman Sabine and I know so well how lucky we both are having these dresses made by Hortense and we know that we are going to be the envy of everyone at the Theatre”
Sabine and I slipped into our dresses and while Sabine was standing on the stool, turning slowly so that Hortense can double check the hemline, waistline and fringe. Maman was also checking to see that the neck line and shoulder lines were perfectly stitched. I was putting all the accessories for Sabine in a neat row so that the necklaces weren’t tangled and the hair pins were all shiny. I was buffing my pieces as well and laying out my accessories while I was waiting for my turn on the stool and inspection. Hortense and Maman were satisfied with Sabine’s dress and it was my turn to get the seal of approval. Sabine began to put her necklaces, bangles and hair pins, when she was done she looked every bit the flapper girl that we saw in all the magazines. When Hortense and Maman were both satisfied with my dress, it was my turn to adorn myself with my pearls, my elbow length gloves, my feathery boa and my hair pins.
At last, Sabine and I are ready. Maman and Hortense are standing looking at the both of us smiling with tears in their eyes. It is a very sweet moment and then we hear a knock at the door. Sabine exclaims “There’s Guillaume, our escort to the Spectacle. I’m coming Guillaume!” Sabine opens the door and Guillaume comes in the apartment looking very dashing and elegant. His hair is slicked back with pomade and he is perfectly clan-shaven and his suit is so well cut, the color is a dark grey and his dress shirt a lighter grey with a starched white collar. I say to Guillaume “you look so debonair Guillaume are you sure that you want to be seen with us? We might cramp your style” Sabine burst out laughing “Madeleine is absolutely right, my dear Guillaume, you are so dapper that we probably look gauche compared to you”
Guillaume struts about and says with a smirk on his face “Yes my darlings, look and try not to swoon while you are appreciating a truly elegant man in your midst. Listen both of you; just remember that I am doing you the fine favor of escorting the both of you. Both of will never forget this evening, I know that I won’t” he sashayed over to Sabine and said in her ear “I will definitely never forget how exquisitely beautiful you are this evening my love” Sabine turns to him and kisses him a few times on the cheek and Hortense says “I think that I speak for Lutetia when I say have a wonderful night, and enough of all the preening like a peacock Guillaume, we know that you are well dressed, now go before we old ladies fall down from exhaustion”
Sabine, Guillaume and I traipse out of the apartment after kissing Hortense and Lutetia good night. The three of us walked quickly towards the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. We spotted our gang right near the opening of the Theatre and Sabine cried out and waved her hand, she got their attention. We didn’t waste too much time with hellos, everyone was excited to be at the Theatre and we were looking forward to seeing the show with Josephine Baker and her cheetah. We all walk to the door, enter and the coat check girl graciously takes our coats and the Maitre d’hôte leads us to a well place table relatively close to the stage and close to the dance floor as well.
I am so excited and happy to be here with everyone. The ambience is intoxicating, everyone is so well dressed. It is hard to decide which dress is the loveliest, one after the other outshines the one before. The men are so well groomed and turned out. Just by being in the crowd I feel as if I belong in the rich people’s universe, the air feels different in a rich man’s world. It certainly smells different, there is competing eau de cologne, parfum and eau de toilette, what is surprising is that it is not overwhelming.
I am really enjoying the orchestra, the playlist of music pieces they are playing at the moment is a great jazz movement; my feet are moving on their own. The music is so infectious that I noticed Sabine is bouncing in her chair. A waiter comes to our table and takes our drink order, am I going to be adventurous and order something crazy like what they call an American cocktail? No I am going to order my favorite a simple Kir and I see that the gang isn’t being all crazy either. While we are waiting for our drinks, the funny thing is that our conversation starts to revolve around the long drink menu. Amelie is reading the funny American names that these “cocktails” are called; for instance there is a cocktail called a Gin Fizz, it has Gin in it and sugar. I don’t think that it sounds very appealing. As she goes down the list; I hear a few more funny names that don’t sound as if they mean anything such as a Foghorn, I think that it has whiskey in it and then there is the Mint Julep which has sugar, mint and fruit and whiskey.
As we keep talking about how many American influences we are seeing in our Paris right now, we get on the subject of their bizarre law against alcohol called, Olivier said it was called “Prohibition” which means the same thing in French, to prohibit the sale and purchase of alcohol. I for one do not understand why a country would want to make wine illegal; if you do that don’t you put an entire industry in jeopardy? I think that it is a horrible idea and I’m glad that France would never entertain an idea as crazy as this. I wonder to myself what would the French people do; if our government decided to embark on such a ridiculous path of laws.
I put the question to the table, I ask “Everyone, what do you think would happen if our government tried to ban alcohol from being bought or sold?” Olivier pipes up immediately “I know that I would be making wine on my property for my personal consumption and if my friends couldn’t, I would make enough for them as well.” Guillaume said while lifting his glass “I would join you and we would start our own underground chateau. How can anyone with an ounce of reason in their head deny people the right to drink, it is part of our great culture. I don’t really understand the Americans and why they accept this from their government.” Thierry put down his glass and gave his opinion, “I have been reading in the papers; and it seems that it has been going on since this prohibition started, that it hasn’t stopped the Americans from drinking, it has only stopped them from drinking legally. Now the United States has a crime problem all because of the ban on alcohol.” Sabine with her glass in her hand said “I feel sorry for those poor Americans and their sorry state of affairs over the ban of alcohol but here we are without those worries so let’s forget about them far away in the United States and let’s concentrate on the American who will be out on stage in a few minutes Josephine Baker” “Hear, hear I completely agree, the next time we discuss the prohibition in a serious discussion will be when one of us decides to embark to the United States to pursue a life of crime as a wine smuggler to save the Americans from their lack of French wine, the elixir of life”. “There you go Madeleine, you always have to be the outrageous one, coming up with crazy nonsense just to make yourself interesting” says Agnes. Sabine looks at her and says “Agnes why are you getting so catty? Madeleine was only having fun like what we should all be doing” With that the silence became a little awkward and Agnes got up to go to the ladies room and dragged Amelie and Carol with her.
The rest of us sat at the table and listened to the orchestra play some really great pieces of jazz and my feet were moving back and forth under the table. As I look around the whole establishment and it was so large. The tables themselves were of different sizes, there were many that were large enough for groups of eight or ten, there were also tables for smaller groups of four to six people and then there were the more intimate tables for two people or three. Those tables were scattered closer to the stage, we weren’t too far from the stage. Our line of sight was quite good, when Josephine Baker was ready to start her show; we weren’t going to be disappointed with our view. I leaned over to Sabine and told her “why aren’t you and Guillaume taking advantage of the music to get up and dance? There are couples already on the dance floor why don’t you grab Guillaume and dance?” Sabine winked at me and did just that, she stood up from her chair smoothed her dress and placed her hand on Guillaume’s bicep. He did not need anymore of a hint. They made a striking couple on the dance floor; it was a pleasure to watch them dance the Foxtrot together.
Meanwhile Agnes and Carol made their way back to the table, I didn’t bother trying to ask Agnes why she got her knickers in a bunch over my lack of, I guess decorum, I’m not quite sure why I rub Agnes the wrong way sometimes, I don’t try to, I just like saying things that proper ladies wouldn’t normally say, just to see how people will react. It makes things much more interesting, I find that most conversations tend to center around the same subjects, the same way of seeing things and the same outcomes. I like to stir things up by questioning a tried and true viewpoint and turning it upside down or by being contrary just because I can. It doesn’t always please but the conversation is, at the very least, never dull.
At that point while I was ruminating on my foibles, the lights started to dim and the music slowly died down. Guillaume and Sabine made their way back to the table. Sabine collapsed in her chair next to me and said “Madeleine, don’t let Agnes and Carol spoil your night. I like it when you throw the conversation for a loop and don’t spend the whole rest of the night pouting just because Agnes sort of told you off.” I whispered back to Sabine “I am not pouting, Agnes didn’t really offend me. I honestly don’t get why she gets herself all mad when it is obvious that I am just being contrary and it is harmless and then there are a lot of instances where she gets the joke and laughs with the rest of us. I really don’t understand her”. Sabine whispers back to me “let’s concentrate on the show, I am so happy tonight I am having the best time”
The spotlight appears on stage and it acts like a cue for all the spectators, we all relax back into our chairs and become very still. The music starts and slowly the curtain rises up slowly to the beat of the music and Josephine slowly emerges, she is wearing the most beautiful dress that I have ever seen. First of all, forget the dress for a minute, her face is amazing and it is all because of her striking skin. Her coloring is a gorgeous café au lait; her skin is luminous and looks very silky smooth. Her eyes are very similar to mine; they are large, deep and brown. Now I am ready to describe the dress, the reason that I felt the need to describe Josephine Baker’s complexion is because it is her complexion that makes the dress even more beautiful. The white of the dress when contrasted against the café au lait color of her skin is radiant. You can’t help but have your eyes follow her every move across the stage. Now that I have the latest fashionable hair cut, I can really appreciate how perfectly her hair is styled with the little beads of pearls adorned in her hair and the feathers that are part of her earrings. The accessories highlight the simplicity of her short hair. If I was a man I think that I would be in love with Josephine and I haven’t seen her do anything yet; how shallow am I?
She waits for the orchestra’s musical cue and begins to sing. Her voice is sultry and melodic and the combination of her voice with the orchestra playing in the background and at times surging to the forefront makes for a mesmerizing show. She starts to dance and the three elements make for a heck of a spectacle. Before we knew it, Josephine has been singing and dancing while the orchestra seamlessly went from one piece to the next and the show was done. Josephine bowed and bowed again while we clapped and clapped and she waved while she ran off the stage. It was the best show that I had ever imagined in my mind since it was the first show that I had ever seen.
The orchestra started playing once again for those who wished to dance. Olivier asked Florence to dance while Sabine and Guillaume headed back to the dance floor. Now that the show was over we weren’t going to see Sabine and Guillaume until the orchestra decided to call it a night. I have never seen two people so enamored with the dance as my Sabine and her Guillaume. Thierry asked Agnes out to the dance floor and that left Amelie, Carol, Vincent and Jean-Phillipe and myself at the table. While we were all making small talk, nothing controversial, just observations of how spectacular Josephine was during her show. While we were doing this and watching all the couples dance, I was getting that strange feeling that I had the other night at the ball on Friday night. I felt as if someone was staring at me, the sensation of two strong eyes focused laser like on my profile. It was such a strong sensation that without thinking my head felt compelled to turn and my eyes were automatically drawn to the corresponding eyes that were boring the hole into my profile.
When my eyes met those eyes, I felt an immediate jolt in my brain, I couldn’t think, I felt as if I were drowning in those eyes and I couldn’t look away. I was mesmerized, I couldn’t look away, I couldn’t hear anything except the beating of my heart in my ears. It was as if the entire world had gone away and it was only he and I imprisoned in each others gaze. I felt a hand on my arm and could vaguely hear my name “Madeleine, would you like to dance/ Madeleine stop daydreaming” My arm was getting shaken and that finally the spell. I shook my head and looked at the hand on my arm and followed the arm that led up to Jean-Philippe’s head and his lips started to move again “Madeleine are you still with us? Come on I want to dance with the best dancer” I took his hand and silently followed Jean-Phillipe onto the dance floor. He led me into the Tango which we have danced together for years now so I didn’t even have to think about it, thank goodness because my mind was locked onto the image of those eyes and I couldn’t shake the power of the hold those eyes had on me. I didn’t know what to make of those feelings, especially the physical feelings I was feeling, my breathing was shallow and I was feeling warm all over. How can a pair of eyes wreck such turmoil over me? I guess it was towards the end of the dance when Olivier asked in my ear “Cherie are you okay? It seems as if you are a million miles away.” I smiled at him and said ‘the weirdest thing just happened to me right before you asked me to dance, I felt someone staring at me and I couldn’t help it, I turned to look in their direction and I couldn’t look away from him. My heart started beating fast, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think and just thinking of him looking at me brings those feelings right back” Olivier said “whoa” and that’s it. Olivier brought me back to the table and asked Carol to dance.
As they were walking off to the dance floor, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and he was there. My throat instantly went dry, I desperately reached for my glass and I wasn’t looking for water, I needed something a little stronger to calm me down and get my brain back to working again. My throat got wet but my brain didn’t get to working yet but I managed to hear him ask “Mademoiselle please dance with me” I didn’t even have the capability to answer him, all I could do was lamely nod yes and push my chair back he put his hand under my elbow and guided me to the dance floor where the beginnings of the Viennese Waltz was starting and he took me into his arms. It was exquisite torture, I thought that the jolt of eye contact with him was bad, it was a breeze compared to the torrent of emotion and feeling that I felt with his body pressed to mine. My throat was going dry again, please don’t speak to me, I can’t think, I don’t want to think, I just want to feel. Please don’t let the music end; I can dance in his arms forever. I feel his throat and his lips starting to move, he is going to say something, listen and think before you speak Madeleine.
The Waltz is slowing down and I hear “Mademoiselle, what is your name?” I clear my throat away from his ear and I whisper “My name is Madeleine” The music dies down and I turn my head and look up, he is tall, much taller than the boys. His eyes grab mine once again and I feel myself drowning in his eyes, the color is a dark blue. I had never seen blue eyes like his before, I couldn’t look away. He said while still looking in my eyes “My name is Jack, Jack Dempsey.” He took my hand and brought it up to his lips and kissed my palm, his lips ignited an electric pulse that went up my arm, the hairs on my arm were standing on end, my breath got sucked in and I felt light headed. What is going on with me, how can one man do this to me when all my male friends have kissed me, danced with me, held my hands at one time and nothing sparked ever. A strange man comes along and I lose control. I hope that it isn’t obvious; I’ll never live it down.
I hear the music in the background, it’s the Brazilian Samba and his hand which is still holding mine, holds it more firmly in his and my body is back again pressed against his, but this time it is the Samba. I can’t breathe; I don’t want this to ever stop. I am becoming addicted to feeling like this; I wonder what he is feeling. There is no room for talking during the Brazilian Samba, the lips can’t speak but the hips most certainly are doing the speaking. My hips are rotating against his hips, this being one of the more suggestive dances of courtship that have arrived in Paris. It is scandalous and I’m dancing it with a stranger, okay he introduced himself. I am dancing with Jack Dempsey an American. He is so tall yet we fit together so well dancing the Samba, I don’t even have to look where we are going, he is such a wonderful dancer. He knows exactly how to lead and he is making it effortless.
The music comes to an end and Jack leads me back to the table but instead of simply leaving me off at the table; he seats me and then sits himself down next to me at the table. I quickly introduce Jack to whoever is at the table, at this time it is Amelie, Carol, Vincent and Thierry. Jack graciously exchanges pleasantries and turns back to me. While he was occupied, I couldn’t help admire his wardrobe; his suit was made of impeccable material and the way he carried himself, he had to be someone of importance. He seemed so self-assured and his voice was so deep and masculine. I realized that I could just listen to him speak, at the moment I was still having problems just making any sense in my own head, I was worried that any words coming out of my mouth at this moment would just make me look and sound like an idiot.
Jack turned to me “Madeleine, please tell me about yourself” I looked into his eyes and said “What would you like to know?” Jack smiled into my eyes and said “tell me everything and anything” I took a breath and started “My full name is Madeleine Martin; I am here with my group of friends as you can see. I’ve known them for my entire life and they are pretty wonderful. My best friend is Sabine; she has been dancing with her fiancé Guillaume all night long. I live with my parents, sister and my two nieces. I work at the Usine with, of course, Sabine and occasionally my mother and sister. I am twenty five and I love to read, I am good at math and I have an excellent memory. I am stubborn and I love to laugh. That is all, was it enough?” After all that, I realized that he must think that I am a provincial little girl and I would have given my right hand to be able to swallow every word, I can’t believe that I said all that.
He just sat there looking at me and I would have given my left hand to know what he was thinking and before I could stop myself out of my mouth I heard my words saying “Jack , what are you thinking now that I told you everything and anything?” He wouldn’t stop looking at me. I couldn’t look away, I nervously smiled and he smiled back. He opened his mouth and said “Madeleine Martin I think that you are very charming and straightforward, I appreciate that in a lady, I find it very refreshing.” I honestly don’t know what to say to that, how do women flirt, it is so hard! I manage to say “thank you” and smile. Oh my dear God, why can’t I be witty? Okay Madeleine calm down. Just pretend that he is someone that you have known for awhile like Olivier or Jean-Phillipe. All I have to do is be myself and be naturally curious and ask him about his life.
I smiled at him and asked “Monsieur Dempsey, it is your turn, why don’t you tell me all about yourself, everything and anything.” I looked at him expectantly and I really wanted to know everything about him. I put my elbows and forearms on the table and leaned towards him to listen. He started his story “as I told you my name is Jack Dempsey and please call me Jack. I am an American from New York, New York. I came here to Paris with associates of mine to visit the great city of Europe. I have been here for a week and Paris has now fulfilled its promise at long last.” When he said that my ears pricked up, what did he mean by that? Was he talking about me? Silly girl, he could be talking about anything but me. Pay attention to what he is saying! He was still talking “my associates and I have been sightseeing and looking into distributors of wine” My ears pricked up when I heard distribution and wine. He could tell that I had something to ask, he tilted his head as if to encourage me to ask away. I licked my lips, this dry mouth is getting annoying, I started with “Monsieur Dempsey,” He interrupted me “call me Jack” I started over “Jack, you speak French so beautifully, where did you learn?” He smiled and said “thank you, when I was a boy our next door neighbors were from France and my best friend, Pierre, taught me. I have a gift for languages apparently” I said “I have another question, why are you looking for wine? Are you going to open something here in Paris?”
He looked confused and then, I guess, realized why I asked the question. We were interrupted by everyone coming back to the table. I looked over at him and saw that he looked relieved, I didn’t mind because at that moment I wasn’t sure how the next few minutes were going to transpire. I wasn’t sure if he was going to get up and say good bye or if he was going to stay even though everyone was back at our table. Surprisingly, all he did was pull a chair from a nearby table for himself and seated Sabine with the chair he had previously occupied. I couldn’t help but think that he simply fit in this setting, he fit with me and I was curious to see if it was going to extend to Sabine. That was going to be the test; I wondered if he was going to pass the Sabine test. I saw that Sabine had noticed his presence; Guillaume was busy laughing at something that Olivier had said, he was oblivious to Jack’s presence at the table.
Sabine turned to Jack and said “excuse me Monsieur , let me introduce myself, my name is Sabine Richer and I am Mademoiselle Martin’s best friend” I interjected quickly but I had to lean over Jack to talk to Sabine “Sabine I would have introduced you but you beat me to the punch” Jack smiled at me and turned to Sabine and said “Mademoiselle Richer, my name is Jack Dempsey and it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I hope to make the acquaintance of the rest of your friends because I aim to become very good friends with Madeleine.” Sabine looked a little taken aback by what he said. I leaned over and said “he is an American” as if that explained everything. Sabine looked at me and I’m pretty sure that she realized that this was special; that this was it. Sabine took it down and smiled sweetly at him “Monsieur,” Jack interrupted with a smile “call me Jack” Sabine still smiling said “Jack let me introduce you to my fiancé Guillaume” Sabine put her hand on Guillaume’s arm and said “Guillaume cherie I want to introduce you to a new acquaintance of Madeleine’s his name is Jack Dempsey, he is an American” Guillaume the sweet and dependable man smile at Jack and said with sincerity “pleased to make your acquaintance, Monsieur Dempsey, my names is Guillaume Duchamps and let me introduce you to the rest of the table, here is Olivier Ducoin, next to him is Agnes Thiers, then we have Jean-Phillipe Fouquet, Florence Higues is next to him, seated next is Vincent Cassel, followed by Carole Bouquet and Amelie Rachou and Thierry Robin. There I didn’t miss anyone. Everyone this is Madeleine’s new acquaintance Monsieur Jack Dempsey” Jack of course said “Please call me Jack” Everyone at the table smiled and said “Enchante to make your acquaintance Jack” and immediately turned back to their prior conversations.
Sabine turned back to Jack and asked him “so Jack how long are you going to be in Paris for?” I was impressed with Sabine, she comes back to the table and in a mere few seconds she gets right to the heart of what is important, how long do I get to know Jack. I need to pay attention how Sabine operates, she is so much better at this than I am. Jack looks right at me and turns back to Sabine and says “I am not quite sure, when I came to Paris, it was a spur of the moment decision and I haven’t decided if my business here is yet finished to my satisfaction” Sabine seemed to be satisfied with his answer and by now I was chafing a little at the amount of time that Jack and Sabine were taking making small talk. Just by thinking this way I was behaving out of character, I normally would never mind how long Sabine was speaking to any boy I was interested in, I can’t even compare how I felt towards any boy with how I feel right now. There is an electricity coursing through my veins that has never been there before, I know that I probably said it already but I swear this feeling is so raw and so new I feel as if my skin is on fire, I feel as if my blood is on fire.
I feel his hand on mine and I look at him he is smiling and asks me “may I have this dance?” I smile and say “yes” He stands up and pulls me chair out and leads me back to the dance floor. I’m oblivious to everyone else in the Theatre, in my mind we are alone dancing another Waltz. The proximity of his body to mine is almost painful; I can feel his arm encircling my waist and his hand in the small of my back, with my hand and arm lying across his shoulder and his neck I can feel his muscles through his jacket. I can’t help but wonder what is he feeling as he is holding me? Is he feeling the same almost painful rush of electrical current coursing through his body? I hear and feel his breath in my ear and then I hear his whisper “Madeleine can I take your home when you are ready to leave? I want this evening to last as long as possible. I am not ready to say good night as of yet.” I want to say yes but I am nervous, I have to see with Sabine. He is going to definitely think that I am a school girl, asking my best friend for permission. Well if he does than so be it, then I was wrong about him. I steel myself and look up into his eyes, mistake on my part I am falling into his eyes. Concentrate Madeleine. “Jack, I was going to go home with Sabine and Guillaume, they live right next door” Jack looking down at me, it felt like forever, smiled, I love his smile, his smile goes right up into his eyes and makes his whole face warm over. Jack said “I understand, I don’t want to push too hard. If I made you nervous, I apologize. I am American therefore pushy. I want you to feel comfortable, may I accompany and escort the three of you home so that you see that I have noble intentions”
I can’t believe that he is being sensitive to my feelings, to the propriety of the situation and that he wants to spend more time with me. Am I dreaming, can this really be happening, that I would meet someone handsome like Jack and to feel like I do and that he would feel something as well? I need to stop questioning and just say yes, yes to the possibility. You would think that with, how life has been that I would really understand what life is too short really meant. I am going to say yes and be happy for once. I deserve it and better to experience something than spend the rest of my life regretting not saying yes.
I look at him with a smile on my face and nod my head yes. He smiles down at me and holds me even closer. I am swallowing with difficulty because I feel as if I am drunk with him. Perhaps his cologne has something in it to make me feel like this; the scary part of feeling like this is that I don’t want it to stop. This feeling is like a drug and I want more. The electricity is creating urges that are getting stronger the longer he holds me while we are dancing the romantic Waltz together. I can feel his thumb caress the small of my back and it is sending shivers up my spine. His breath in my ear is starting to give me goose bumps, can he feel them? Is he responding to me in the same way? The music finally comes to an end and Jack leads me back to the table. He pulls my chair out and sits next to me, Sabine and Guillaume are oblivious to us, they are involved in one of their very intense discussions about their future. You can really tell how much in love they are, it is a thing of beauty. Am I reading too much into what they are experiencing as young people in love and putting onto myself and Jack? I have felt left out and that isn’t their fault, it’s only natural. Three is an odd number and it is a crowd. Why am I dissecting what I am feeling? Didn’t I tell myself to go with it, didn’t I give myself the life is too short speech? Enough Madeleine, enjoy tonight for all that it is worth.
So we are sitting at the table facing each other and everyone is talking to each other and I feel as if it is just the two of us. I say “Jack are you going to do something to do with business here in Paris?” Jack looked into his glass and took a sip before he answered “I am not sure yet, now that I have been intrigued by Paris in a new way, I have to rethink my immediate plans. So for now I am going to play it by ear. Would you like another drink?” I realized that I had finished my Kir and I definitely needed something for this constant dryness in my mouth so I nodded yes and said “I would love another Kir if you please” Jack signaled to the waiter and ordered another Kir for me and Jack cleared his throat to get anyone else’s attention, no one paid him any mind so the waiter left with my order. He came back very quickly with my Kir to which I was very happy to ease my parched mouth.
We sat quietly and sipped our drinks together. I was so curious to know more about him so I gathered my courage and asked “Jack I know that I am going to sound very forward but I am very interested in knowing more about you, you were telling me about yourself before, can you continue?” He chuckled a little bit and said “Madeleine I’ll tell you anything that you want to know and I want the same courtesy from you because I am extremely interested in you” I licked my lips and said “do you mind if I ask you why you are so interested in me?” Jack leaned towards me and said “do you remember last Friday night? Did you feel someone’s eyes on you? That was me, I saw you and I felt something that very instant. I would have approached you that evening but you left too quickly, when I saw you here this evening I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to let you disappear again. I was going to be forward and improper because that was how important it was to me to meet you and dance with you” Jack continued “Madeleine, I have never felt like this before. You are now stamped and seared in my mind, I have to spend time with you, I want to spend time with you.”
When I heard those words, I thought that I was going to faint. I became light-headed and my head felt as if it were stuffed with cotton. All that registered was that he wanted to spend time with me, someone who was so different, so charismatic and so handsome. This felt like a dream, nothing like this happens to me, Madeleine. I smiled at him, I couldn’t stop smiling at him, if I keep smiling like this I’m going to have permanent wrinkles around my eyes, oh who cares, I’ll have proof that I was happy for a time. I said “this can’t be real, we don’t even know each other” I can’t believe that I just said that. He nods and says “I know, I can hardly believe it either, but that is how I feel and I have a feeling that you feel it too, there is something between us, you can’t deny it” I took another sip of my Kir and said “I think that Sabine and Guillaume are ready to go, will you escort me home with them?” Jack smiled and said “I told you that was the plan and there will be many other plans for the two of us afterwards”
The four of us exited the Theatre with the rest of the group, we all said our good-byes and the four of us walked to the nearest electrified Tramway stop at L’Arc de Triomphe. Sabine and Guillaume were huddled together to ward off the gust of wind, Jack was doing his best shielding me with his tall muscular body; I really liked the idea of him protecting me from the elements. I felt safe and secure. While I was hiding from the wind, Jack asked me what my plans were for Sunday. I said tomorrow was the family day and that Sabine and her mother were always guests for Sunday dinner and that tomorrow was especially important. Jack cocked his head to the side and asked “why is tomorrow so important? If you don’t mind me asking,” I smiled and said “Sabine’s mother made our dresses for us, her name is Hortense Richer and she is a talented seamstress, my mother will be making a special meal for us tomorrow. Hortense and my mother, her name is Lutetia Martin, they are both excited to hear every detail of our night at the Theatre and the spectacle with Josephine Baker. I can’t disappoint them so tomorrow is for them.”
Jack actually looked very disappointed “I will keep myself busy tomorrow with my associates, what are you doing Monday after work? I am assuming that you are working Monday and everyday until Saturday, am I correct?” I laughed and said “Yes, I do work everyday of the week but I can meet you after work on Monday. What would you like to do?” Jack smiled and said “I want to surprise you after work; I will meet you at your apartment building, what is a good time?” “Sabine and I get off work at 6:00, I will need a few minutes to change and then we can do whatever you have in mind to surprise me.”
Jack said “will I be allowed to meet your parents while I wait for you to change?” I looked up at him in complete shock; I never thought he would want to meet Maman and Papa now, so soon. Jack threw back his head in huge laughter “the expression on your adorable little face is priceless” I said “Are you serious about wanting to meet my parents? In France, it is a big step to meet a young lady’s parents, I don’t quite know how it is in the United States, but underneath all the dancing and the jazz music, many parents are still old-fashioned” Jack said “what is happening between the two of us is very different, you get that don’t you?” I simply nodded yes to him. He went on “I am serious about this; I want to know everything about you, your life and your family. You have put me under your spell, Madeleine. I am helpless against your beauty and your charms”
The electrified tram arrives at our stop, Avenue Victor Hugo and the four of us get off. I kiss and say good night to both Sabine and Guillaume. They say goodnight to Jack, which he reciprocates. Then it is just the two of us; Jack says “so it is decided than, I am meeting you here at 6:00 and you are going to introduce me to your parents and your sister and nieces. After which I am taking you out for your surprise.” I look up at him; I am going to get a stiff neck looking up so often; my, is he tall. I say quietly “I can’t wait until tomorrow but I should go upstairs, my mother will probably start to worry. So, I’ll see you tomorrow night. Thank you were bringing me home, have a good night and until tomorrow” Jack’s eyes turned serious as he looked down at me and He said “good night Madeleine, until tomorrow” His lips came and found mine and I thought that my lungs were going to explode, my breath was completely taken away. My arms went up around his neck, I was desperate to hold on to him; I couldn’t find my balance. All I could feel was his lips pressed against mine and than his tongue finding mine; I could somehow feel his arms holding me and pressing my whole body against his body. It was all so primal, I couldn’t think; it wasn’t about my mind, it was all about my heart, my desire and my need for Jack.
Our lips finally parted, I still couldn’t breathe, air couldn’t get into my lungs fast enough. I saw that Jack was feeling the same way, his nostrils were flaring and his chest was going up and down as quickly as mine. His hand cupped the side of my face and he was so serious when he said “Now that I found you, I am not going to let you go”. “Jack” I said, barely able to spit it out, “I have to go upstairs, I’ll see you tomorrow, I promise Jack”
“Goodnight Madeleine” He took my hand and kissed the palm like he did earlier, I swore that I was going to swoon and then what would I do, get yourself upstairs silly girl! I ran up the stairs and let myself in very quietly. I desperately wanted and needed quiet and alone time to dissect every single minute of this evening.
As I lay in bed reliving every second, I could still feel his arms around me, his eyes caressing my face, his lips on mine, I was in danger of swooning again but this time I was safe in my bed so I figured swoon away, nothing untoward can happen. I fell asleep with his face in my mind’s eye and I welcomed any chance to dream of him, last night was the most amazing night in my life.
Sunday arrived and I realized that Maman was nice enough to hold onto her curiosity until I woke up on my own. When I felt composed enough to say good morning to everyone, I emerged from my room and headed to the kitchen hoping for some remnants of coffee. I said good morning to everyone and sat down with a cup of coffee and saw a croissant left which instantly became mine. Maman said over her shoulder “Madeleine, I am not going to ask any questions until Sabine and Hortense get here for our meal so that you can wake up and not have to repeat yourself. The only thing that I want to know right now is, did you have fun?” I had my mouth full, so I nodded yes emphatically and made a yes noise as well. Papa actually caught that and gave out a laugh. That sound put a smile on Maman’s face.
A few hours later, Sabine and Hortense come knocking at the door. The table was set for everyone and I ushered everyone to the table. I went into the kitchen to help Maman bring in the bread basket and the tomato and onion salad. We were all seated and passing around the bread and the tomato and onion salad, there are certain foods in life that are so simple and yet that simplicity makes it so sublime. The onions sliced so thinly are sweet, crunchy and pungent all at the same time, their flavor and texture mingle with the freshness of the tomato slices still with the seeds attached to the slices along with the perfect gelee of tomato and the blend of flavors is so honest and stands up to the acidic vinegar, salt, pepper and slight nuttiness of the peanut oil. When we were finished with the first course, I went in the kitchen with Maman to get her Choucroute Alsatienne. This is one of Maman’s master-pieces, sauerkraut braised in the cooking liquids of smoked meats and flavored with juniper served with various bratwursts, sausages, hotdogs and smoked hams, pork shoulder. All this bounty served with a good strong Dijon mustard and cornichons, I think that we could serve everything with Dijon mustard and cornichons. The bite of the mustard and cornichons balance out the richness and saltiness of the smoked meats and sausages; for the first several minutes everyone is busy either serving themselves or eating what is on their plate. It is one of my ultimate favorite dishes in Maman’s repertoire of dishes.
It is at dessert time that we are ready to talk about our night at the spectacle at the Theatre. Maman made a lovely Tarte de pommes that is light and delicious and is a perfect ending to a sumptuous meal. Sabine dominates the telling of the evening,; which I am more than happy to have happen because in my heart Jack is still too new and raw for me to seriously share. That can wait until tomorrow when I present him to the family. Sabine is spending all of her time describing all the dresses that we had seen and spent a long while describing down to a detail, that I never thought was possible, Josephine Baker’s dress. As I looked over at the faces of both Maman and Hortense, they were both enthralled and as happy for our good time as we were having it. By this time Gabrielle and the girls had gone out to the park and Papa went downstairs to the Bistro. I was so happy because I had a feeling that Sabine was going to mention Jack and how he became part of the group. I knew that Sabine wasn’t going to have the same view that I had, I was just hoping that she had a very favorable view and to my relief, she thought very highly of Jack and told Maman and Hortense that I had luck on my side last night and luck brought me Jack’s acquaintance. Maman and Hortense both told me that it was about time that I met someone new and that they were happy that he was a nice man.
I took a breath and said that I was happy that Sabine had a very good impression of him because I did as well and he had asked me to go out with him Monday night after work and I had said yes. I also mentioned the fact that he wanted to meet Maman, Papa, Gabrielle and the girls. Maman looked at me in surprise, “He wants to meet us so soon?” “That is what he said” I replied, “I know that it is unconventional but don’t forget Jack is an American, they don’t do things the same way that we do”. Maman and Hortense looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders as if on cue. “If the Americans are anything like their English cousins we are in for an adventure” said Maman. I burst out laughing “you make the English sound as if they are from outer space” “Well, they might as well be with all their strange customs” Sabine put her two cents into the conversation “Maman and Lutetia, don’t worry about Jack, he seems very nice and he is only here for a certain amount of time, it’s not as if they are going to get married or anything crazy like that”. With that last sentence, we all yawned and decided to go to bed.
Monday morning, the usual choreographed routine all designed to get me to the Usine on time leading to the minute where I meet up with Sabine and we enter the Usine doors together. The whole day flies by, what with Sabine just as excited by my future engagement with Jack as I am. While we were at my apartment eating at our midday break, we kept trying to guess where he was taking me for my surprise. Maman joined in the guessing game and it made for a great hour of fun. At the end of the guessing, were we any closer to solving the mystery destination, I didn’t think so but we came up with some pretty good clues.
Back to work for Sabine and I and amazingly, the afternoon flies by as quickly as the morning did, it’s 6:00 and time to get myself home. Sabine and I walk very quickly and we kiss and say good night at the corner and as I am walking towards my door on Avenue Victor Hugo, I see Jack’s tall form standing next to my door and he is smoking a cigarette. He looks quite dashing standing there like a movie star with the hazy smoke exiting his lips and spiraling up to the sky. He spies me walking to him and he puts out his cigarette and when he looks up at me I can see his eyes light up. I am sure that my eyes are shooting sparkles right into the sky, I am so happy to see him. He takes my hands and bends down and kisses me hello on both cheeks. I can smell his masculine cologne and my arms erupt with goose bumps up and down both of them. I pull away to look up at him and I say “Are you ready to meet my family? He smiles and says “Yes, I am happy to meet them and I am also happy to whisk you away to your surprise after you have changed and your parents are satisfied with our conversation”.
I open the door and he follows me up the three flights of stairs and I open the door into the apartment. I call out “Maman I am home, I have Jack with me” I take him by the hand and I lead him into the dining room. “Jack, I would like to present you to my father, Jean Martin and here is my mother, Lutetia Martin and my little sister, Gabrielle and my two nieces, Georgette and Andree.” Everyone this is Jack Dempsey, my new acquaintance and hopefully will become my new friend” There was handshaking between Papa and Jack, handshaking between Maman and Jack, likewise between Gabrielle and Jack and there was even handshaking between Georgette and Andree. It was an adorable picture of politeness and manners between a man that I was crazy about and my family. It was an excellent prelude for what was in store for us during our evening. In the meanwhile, while the hands were being shaken, I went into my room to change into the muslin dress that Hortense had sewed in addition to the silk one. When I emerged, it was the sign that it was time to go.
Jack led me down the stairs and walked me to an automobile and he opened the passenger door for me and guided me into the passenger seat. I could hardly believe that I was going out on the town, Paris, with Jack. To top it off, he was taking me around Paris in an automobile, in a style that I could only dream about; my head was swimming with excitement. When Jack got into the automobile on his side, he smiled at me with his beautiful teeth and intense blue eyes and asked “are you surprised with the automobile?’ I was smiling the whole entire time “Yes, I am definitely surprised, I have never been given a ride in an automobile before, it has always been either walking or the tram for me. This is so exciting!”
So off we went in his automobile, I thought that you had to be incredibly brave to drive in the streets of Paris. There were other automobiles to watch out for, the tramway and the pedestrians, all this made for a crazy congested road wherever you turned. Jack drove the automobile as if he had been doing it for the longest time, I felt so relaxed with Jack at the wheel of the automobile. I was even able to concentrate on trying to figure out where we were going to eat. I was so caught up in trying to guess where we were off to that I hadn’t even paid any attention to where we were heading. When I finally started paying attention, I realized that we had gone into the Montmartre quartier.
Jack looked over at me and said “you have been very quiet, have I scared you with my driving?” I burst out laughing and said “No, I think that you are a wonderful driver, I feel so safe with you that I have been busy trying to guess the surprise while you were driving.” Jack looked happily surprised and said “you have been guessing for a while, do you think that you know where we are going?” I said “Guessing was for me all about having fun with the game, do I really care where we go? No I don’t, Jack I am with you and that is enough”
Jack pulls up onto a street; I don’t even know which one it is. I know that we are not far from the Folies Bergere; the wonderful part of Montmartre was that there were so many different restaurants and music halls, that you can spend weeks here and never be bored. Jack stopped that car and turned to me and said “Madeleine are you ready for the surprise I have planned for us tonight?” I smiled and said “yes, I have been guessing all day without coming up with an answer and do you know what? I don’t need to guess because it doesn’t matter where we go; all that matters is that I am with you”. Jack was looking into my eyes while I was saying this and he pulled me towards him and put his lips on mine. Last night I thought that his kiss was a once in a lifetime kind of kiss, that I couldn’t possibly feel the same light headedness, the same building fire in my belly, the same struggle to breath and the same desire for this to never end. I couldn’t think, I could just return his kiss as passionately as he was kissing me. We both pulled away at the same time, I think that we both had wild eyed look, the same flaring nostrils and the same heaving chest.
I put my hands to my hair and tried to pat my hair back in some respectable fashion. Jack clears his throat and puts his hand to my face and brings my face towards his and looks into my eyes once again, my breath starts to quicken once again, he says “I have never felt this way with anyone ever before; Madeleine, all my thoughts revolve around you. Your kisses are like a drug, addicting and intoxicating and I know that there is much more to you I can see it in your eyes when you speak to me. Your eyes are so alive and expressive, I can listen to you for hours while you speak because when you speak, you give more than just your words; you give your spirit when you speak.” “Jack, you make me nervous, what if you are reading much more than what is actually inside of me? You are a man of the world, it seems; whereas I am an ordinary woman living with her family and working as a factory worker. We are from two different backgrounds what if you get bored?”
Jack laughed at what I said, got out of the automobile on his side and came to open my passenger side door. He extended his hand which I took and as he helped me down from the automobile, he leaned towards me and said “Madeleine, you could never bore me and you need to stop doubting yourself. I can judge a person’s character very quickly and I know that I am not wrong about you”. I didn’t know what to say, I really truly wanted to believe his words, so I decided to take tonight on a leap of faith and simply enjoy tonight, enjoy his company and enjoy myself. “So Jack, now I am curious, what is my surprise? Are we near?”
Jack put my hand under his arm and said “It is quite near, we are just going to make it on time” So we walked down the street and I could see the lights that made up the huge sign of the Folies Bergere coming closer and closer, before I knew it; we were standing right underneath the sign. Jack turned to me and asked “This is your surprise Madeleine, have you ever been here before?” I looked up at the glittering sign and the doorway alongside all the beautiful people going into the dance club; I couldn’t believe that I was finally going to go in and be part of the scene. “Jack, I have dreamt of coming here for years; Sabine and I would fantasize about coming here and meeting the famous people and be discovered to be actresses and put in the films. I know that it must sound silly but we whiled away many hours at the factory with our dreams”
While I was speaking we casually walked into the Folies Bergere and the Maitre d’hôtel came and had a young woman take our coats and then the Maitre d’hôtel escorted us to our table. We had arrived just in time for the dinner service. I didn’t realize that the Folies Bergere wasn’t just a dance club, that they also had a superb dinner service. Just looking around at all the waiters immaculately turned out in their tuxedos and the brilliant gleaming silver platters that they carried back and forth; I was getting very hungry and I was getting very excited to look at a menu.
The Maitre d’hôtel came to our table bearing menus for our perusal. I took the menu and without looking up at the Maitre d’hôtel or at Jack, I immediately started reading it line by line. The choices for the entrée’s and the Plats Principaux were varied and I was stuck because there were so many things that either I liked or that I wanted to try. The Maitre had by now moved on to other tables and it was just Jack and I or I should say that for the moment it was the menu and I. I glanced over the top of my menu and saw that Jack was also engrossed in his menu. I have to tell you about the possibilities of what I might have to eat; for an entrée I could have a terrine of sole and salmon or a hot foie gras or frog legs Provencal. After the entrée, I could have a chateaubriand steak and frites, or a saddle of rabbit with a mustard cream sauce or monkfish au beurre blanc. So many possibilities, how do I choose? I decide that I am going to ask Jack his opinion “Jack, this is so exciting, there are so many good things on the menu. I don’t know what I am going to order, have you decided?”
Jack still looking down at his menu answers without looking at me “I know what you mean, I am a little stuck myself. I was thinking about the foie gras chaud and than I would follow that with the monkfish au beurre blanc.” I looked back over to my menu and thought about it with what Jack was going to order and I asked him “Jack, if I get different dishes, can I taste what you ordered?” Jack smiled and said “that is a good idea, if we get different dishes than we can get a better sense of the overall quality of the restaurant. So with all that said, what are you going to order?” I looked at my menu once more and decided to order the terrine of sole and salmon with a sauce verte and follow it with the Chateaubriand steak with frites. “I’m pretty sure that I have decided; tell me what you think. I am going to start with the terrine of sole and salmon and then follow it with the Chateaubriand steak with frites” Jack looked back to his menu and thought about he ten looked at me and said “We are ready to order, your choices compliment mine beautifully. Where is that waiter?”
Jack lifted his forefinger and signaled to a waiter who came over very quickly to our table. “Monsieur et Madame are we ready to order? What may I get for you?” Jack replied “thank you, yes we are ready to order. Mademoiselle will start with the terrine of sole and salmon and follow that with the Chateaubriand steak and frites” The waiter looked at me and said “Mademoiselle how would you like your chateaubriand prepared?” I answered quickly “medium rare please” Then Jack continues “I will start with the foie gras chaud and follow it with the monkfish au beurre blanc” The waiter takes our menus and says to Jack “very good monsieur, these are excellent choices. May I get you the wine list?” Jack says “of course please the wine list” The waiter goes away and quickly returns with a rather large book and presents it to Jack.
Jack peruses the book quite quickly and I am left thinking that he must be quite knowledgeable about French wines. He finally finds a wine that meets with his approval and asks the waiter for 1910 Pomerol Chateau les Gards. The waiter says to Jack “I will return immediately monsieur with the 1910 Pomerol Chateau les Gards, a fine choice monsieur” While the waiter went to get our wine I said to Jack “you seem so knowledgeable about French wines, how did you learn so much. Aren’t wines and spirits illegal in you country?” Jack looked a little uncomfortable with where the conversation was going. I immediately noticed and said “am I asking too many questions? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, we haven’t known each other long enough to be uncomfortable in each others company” Jack looked down at the table and said “What we call Prohibition in my country has only been in effect since 1920, I learned everything that I know about wine before 1920, much of my knowledge stems from being close family friends with that French family that I told you about.” I said “Oh that’s very interesting because I find it incredible when someone from another country makes the point of learning about my country, it always makes me proud to be French. The fact that someone would take such time to learn about my country’s specialty means that they are special and by extension than so am I”
Jack look more at ease after that and his eyes regained their inner smile. The waiter came back and presented the Pomerol to Jack, Jack accepted the bottle and the waiter proceeded to uncork the bottle, presented the cork for Jack’s inspection. Jack sniffed the cork and inspected it for any signs of mildew and there were none. The waiter poured a small amount in a glass and offered it to Jack. He accepted it and swirled the wine about the glass, smelled the bouquet and then sipped the wine. He signaled his satisfaction with the Pomerol and the waiter proceeded to fill my glass and top off Jack’s glass.
We were finally left alone after the pageantry of the wine selection. I suppose when you spend the crazy sums of money for wine in an exclusive club you at least merit a pageant show for the wine as well. I was so happy just being in Jack’s company, I noticed that a lot of the women at the surrounding tables couldn’t help but notice Jack. I couldn’t blame them; he looked so foreign and exotic. I know that I have said it before but it just can’t be said enough. Jack is such a handsome man, virile and elegant at the same time. I think though that my favorite part of all things Jack are his eyes, the way he looks at me and the way my body responds to his looks, it is so intimate and intoxicating. I know that I have used the two words, intoxicating and addictive way too often; but when those are the only words that adequately describe how he makes me feel and how he reduces my body to a quivering mass of feeling and emotion. I am forced to be repetitive; somehow I don’t think that you mind all that much, because I’m sure that somewhere in your experience you have felt a kiss that transformed your world and your outlook forever.
While we are waiting for our entrees, we are pleasantly taking in the ambience and sipping our wine which I have to say is a wonderful Pomerol. I find myself wanting to share more of myself and my family with Jack so I decide to let him in on the family ties to the family vineyard. “Jack, your choice in wine is perfect, the Pomerol is a wonderful full-bodied with a pleasant floral note and an oaky backdrop. One of these days if Maman invites you to a Sunday dinner, you might have the rare pleasure of tasting a family secret.” Jack was smiling widely “You mean that there is hope that I could be invited for the Sunday family dinner and be privy to a family secret, please tell me that you aren’t teasing or playing with me, I would be crushed if I don’t get an invitation” I put my hand on his forearm and said “don’t worry I’ll tell you the secret now so that when Maman actually invite you to Sunday dinner you will be especially excited to come. My Tantine has a vineyard in the countryside and she provides us with all of our wine, she also provides us with the vineyard’s secret brew. My late uncle would put aside his best harvest and let them age in his finest barrels. While they were aging, my uncle would take a very good eau-de-vie and steep his walnuts and their branches for a few months, when all the components were ready he would mix the good vintage and the macerated eau-de-vie together and filter the resulting fortified wine. My uncle called it quite simply vin de noyer. I have to tell you that it tastes like the nectar of the gods. It is beyond fabulous. Jack said “now that is so not fair, you mean that I have to wait for your mother to decide whether she likes me and accepts me enough to warrant an invitation so that not only can I enjoy her culinary gifts but your nectar of the gods. The waiting will be excruciating, you will have to console me in the meantime my cherie Madeleine.”
I laughed out loud at his last sentence “I’ll hold your hand and kiss your cheek, is that enough consolation” Oh no, you little minx, your exquisite lips are the only consolation that will have the power to heal whatever ails me at the time.” I was about to say something when the waiter reappeared bearing our entrees. I was very happy with their arrival because I was famished and the wine was going to my head making me giggly and flirtatious and I’m pretty sure that I’m not a very good flirt. The waiter placed my terrine in front of me and it smelled heavenly. Jack’s foie gras smelled really good as well. He ordered a glass of Sauternes to accompany his foie gras and I was impressed by his sophisticated taste in food and wine pairings. My terrine was so light and delicate, the sole complimented the more forceful taste of the salmon and the sauce verte brought the two flavors together beautifully. The terrine melted in your mouth while swimming in the herb perfumed sauce, it was a true masterpiece in haute cuisine. I could tell that jack was experiencing the same culinary sensations with his foie gras but that was unsurprising. Foie gras even in the hands of an amateur chef is quite hard to ruin but in the hands of a true chef, the foie gras mounts to new heights in flavor and in textural composition.
My head was swimming by this time, between the lovely orchestra playing in the background, my dinner companion who was my dream come true, the wine and now my terrine. Life couldn’t be better than this. When we were done and our plates were cleared, Jack asked me to dance and of course I said yes. We were on the dance floor and he took me close to him as the Waltz started playing, the Waltz was rapidly becoming my favorite dance. Feeling his body guiding my every move as we twirled around the dance floor sent chills and thrills up and down my spine, at one point I could feel my scalp tingling; my god I have never felt so alive as I do when I am in his presence. How can one person affect someone else so intensely and so quickly; is what I am feeling actually love at first sight? I don’t care what it is I just don’t want it to ever end. I want to feel like this about him and with him for as long as I live.
The Waltz was over and Jack led me back to the table. He replenished my glass with the Pomerol and then his and he said “I am offering a toast to you my beautiful Madeleine, who enchanted me the moment that I saw you and I am offering us a toast because now that we have found each other we will be happy together from now on where ever we may be.” Smiling I took my glass and clinked it with his and I said “chin, chin”. Amazingly, as I took a sip from my glass the waiter presented my plate in front of me and then put Jack’s plate in front of him and while saying bon appétit to both of us bowed and hurried away. Another waiter came with a pepper mill and asked “du poivre Mademoiselle, Monsieur?” We both said “yes, please” We both started eating right away, my Chateaubriand steak and frites were perfectly done, it was exactly what I had been yearning for but couldn’t put my finger on. It is very rare that Maman ever purchases steak, so I will go for months without realizing that I am actually craving a nice juicy steak. I could smell Jack’s monkfish from where I was sitting and it smelled delicious. A beurre blanc sauce is simple but it isn’t, the technique requires a lot of practice for a sauce that has such few ingredients, the most frequent problem with the sauce is that it breaks and separates; the correct ratio of butter to liquid and constant whisking is what produces a perfect sauce.
While we were eating, I couldn’t help but look over at the other tables to see what they were doing. The women seemed to be so at ease, their gestures so relaxed, their postures perfectly held without appearing stiff. I think that given some more outings with Jack and Sabine and the group, I will eventually feel much more at ease in public surrounded by the beautiful people. The décor at the Folies Bergere is luxurious and drips of extravagance, you can sense the decadence immediately upon entering the doors, it is amazing when seen for the first time.
The waiter came back the moment that Jack and I were both finished with our plates. Another waiter arrived with the dessert menus and asked us if we were interested in having coffee or tea, Jack and I both ordered coffees and while Jack put his menu to the side, I looked mine over because since the entrée and the plat principal were equally delicious, I could not imagine their desserts to be disappointing in the least. As I perused, I was entranced by the incredible array of dessert choices. I finally narrowed it down to either an individual Paris-Brest or an individual Sainte-Honore. Either one can be described as a Crème Chantilly creation combined with a Crème Patissiere perfumed with Praline and there is choux pastry involved. The Sainte-Honore has a flaky pastry base with a circle of cream puffs and the Crème Patissiere and Crème Chantilly are in the puffs and within the circle of puffs and there is caramel involved in all this goodness. The Paris-Brest is simpler, it is a ring of cream puff pastry dough split in half and filled with a Crème Patissiere flavored with Praline and a Crème Chantilly. I was torn between the two and I guess it was written on my face because Jack said “whichever one you pick, I’ll get the other and we can share them like lovers or amoureux” “Jack you are going to think that I’m a glutton” Jack shook his head and said “I love seeing how you eat with such abandon and lust, at least you have the courage to show your appreciation of the finer things in life. I have seen too many people act all blasé when they should be showing respect for the finer things in life, and it makes me angry. Madeleine, being with you and seeing these experiences through your eyes rejuvenates my appreciation for the finer things in life as well.” “Jack you are so sweet to say these things to me and to make me feel less self-conscious about being so new in these clubs.”
The waiter came back to see if we were ready to order and Jack ordered both desserts. The waiter nodded and intercepted the arriving waiter with his tray bearing the silver coffee service and its accoutrements. It was a lovely coffee service; I don’t think that there are many dance or supper clubs who use silver for their coffee services. As the waiter was serving the coffee, Jack took my hand in his and turned my hand palm side up and brought it to his lips and kissed my palm once it again; it sent electric shivers up my arm and spine. I had goose bumps once again all over my body. In a sense, being in Jack’s presence was torturous, all my senses were on high sensitivity alert, each skin cell keenly attuned to Jack’s touch, the feeling made me want it more and when Jack wasn’t with me, all my being silently cried out for him.
The coffee we were having was in a class by itself compared with the coffee/chicory that I had every morning, it even put the coffee in the Café’s in most of Paris to shame, it was an excellent brew of coffee. Our desserts arrived at our table and they were both a vision of confectionary brilliance. If the Paris-Brest tasted half as good as it looked, I will be licking my spoon and the plate. The Sainte-Honore that was placed next to it looked like a trio of caramel laced little puffs of snow covered balls a top a mountain of two Crèmes. I said to Jack “thank you for indulging my sweet tooth and getting me both, I don’t know which to try first, may I pick one to offer you a taste?” Jack still had my hand in his and was caressing my wrist bone and my hand in general and he said “I want you to pick up your spoon and feed me which ever pastry you would like, I trust your choice” I did just that, I picked up my spoon and I decided to give a cream puff from the Sainte-Honore to Jack. As he was clearly enjoying the complimentary flavors of the two crèmes and the harmonious interplay of different textures in the cream puff; I picked up my spoon to take a bite of the Paris-Brest. It was an epiphany of pastry excellence, the puff pastry was light and airy with the Crème Patissiere flavored with Praline and the Crème Chantilly blending together while at the same time keeping their separate identities. It was a heavenly match of flavors and textures, a dessert to savor and appreciate. It was Jack’s turn to sample the Paris-Brest and my turn to try the Sainte-Honore. I can safely say that both Jack and I were not disappointed by the subsequent tastings of the other dessert.
After we had finished our desserts and coffees, we both sat back in order to digest our fantastic meal in silence. We were both lost in thought, I was enjoying the orchestra playing and I could tell by the way Jack’s foot was tapping, he was as well. I was enjoying myself so much and I couldn’t get over how comfortable I felt with Jack, I might not feel at ease in this establishment or other venues where Jack brings me; but at least I always feel comfortable with Jack. Jack extended his hand for a dance and I happily took it, the Tango was about to start and Jack and I were going to make our mark on the dance floor. I absolutely loved to dance and dancing with Jack multiplied my love of dancing a thousand fold. Jack was so masterful with his Tango; the Tango was a type of courtship dance where the man had to convince his lady love to be his in love. The dance was more challenging for the man, his part was to command, the woman only needed to follow, if your dance partner knew how to lead the dance was quite simple for the woman, it only became complicated when the man wasn’t polished or commanding enough. As we heard the music come to an end, Jack led me once more back to our table where I realized that I needed the ladies room and I wanted to get that out of the way before the spectacle starring the Folies Bergere commenced. The Maitre d’hôtel escorted me to the stairs that led to the ladies room. Actually I would describe the ladies room as more in the vein of a ladies Suite. The couch and accompanying chairs were lavishly upholstered, the counter tops were Italian marble and the stalls were completely separate from the others which in terms of privacy was by far the most luxurious that I have ever seen. There was a young lady working in the ladies room, there to keep that ladies room immaculately appointed and to hand you a soft towel and fresh soap when you are ready to wash your hands. The absolute height of elegance and luxury in the private world of sanitary facilities, if I do say so myself; is the way that I would describe the Folies Bergere ladies room.
When I made my way back to our table Jack was smoking a cigarette, he rose from his chair to seat me in mine; Jack was such the gentleman. The orchestra was winding down and the lights were dimmed, I think that the spectacle was going to start momentarily. I was very excited because I have heard so much praise about these shows that everyone that I know has always dreamt of coming to see the Follies Bergere and here I was. I spontaneously reached over and squeezed Jack’s hand, he then took my hand with one of his and with the other hand; he grabbed the back of my chair and pulled it much closer to his, so that our shoulders were touching. It made viewing the spectacle so much more intimate and more romantic. I put my head on his shoulder and waited for the show to start. Since this was a surprise planned by Jack I had never thought to ask who was headlining the spectacle so the surprise was the gift that kept giving.
The curtain opens up and the dancers come out on stage beautifully dressed in their risqué costumes with feathers and strands of pearls strategically adorned on their voluptuous bodies, it was a very sensual vision right there in front of us on the stage. I was mesmerized by the ladies beauty and gracefulness, as they danced together as one and that was the first act. The ladies all bowed as one, turned as one you would think that they had engaged in military training their movements were so precise and coordinated together as one it was an impressive sight to behold. This led to the second act with a different group of dancers and their costumes as scantily put together as before but with a different theme; more of a harem feel to it, I envisioned a thousand and one Arabian Nights that Sabine and I loved to read together, it made for a very exotic spectacle. I couldn’t decide which dance routine that I liked best each was erotic and beautiful in their own right.
At this moment there was L’entracte and the waiter came to our table and asked if we were interested in a digestif while we were waiting for the second act to start. I was thirsty and I felt that a port wine would be perfect right about now and Jack agreed with me because he ordered two port wines for us. As we waited for our wine, Jack asked me if I had enjoyed the dances and I said “Jack, both dances were so very graceful and exotic, the dancers themselves are very talented and brave to dance and wear those tiny costumes held together by feathers and strands of jewelry. I could never do that but I am very happy to be in the audience, I think that if I had to pick a favorite; I would have to pick the second act because it reminded me of the tale of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights that Sabine and I discovered at the book stall vendors on the Left Bank last year and we devoured that book.” Jack was listening to me the whole time that I was speaking and I have to say that I never encountered a man who really listened the way that Jack does, it makes me feel that much stronger for him. He says “I am inclined to agree with you, I liked the exotic feel to the costumes in the second act and it gave a better story to the dance routine, I am also enjoying this port wine, it is a 1900 vintage Quinta do Vesuvio Porto if you are curious. How do you like your Porto?” ” I am really enjoying this Porto, I find it very smooth and I particularly like the finish” Jack looked at me with an amazed look and said ‘your knowledge of wines is quite impressive Madeleine, I really can’t wait to taste your family’s vin de noyer” I just smiled and settled back against Jack’s shoulder, I am looking forward to the next act to see how the talented personalities can outdo themselves. The orchestra was once more gearing up for the act about to come out and the lights were once again dimmed.
This beautiful voice launches into song and it is Mistinguett who has come into the music scene just these past three years. She is a Paris favorite and I am seeing her in person and hearing her lovely voice, I cannot wait to tell Sabine about Mistinguett, she is going to be so jealous that she wasn’t here with us! Mistinguett’s voice is unmistakable that we didn’t even need the spotlights to realize that it was her voice and then a male voice joined Mistinguett’s voice in the darkness, no face was needed to identify the person behind the voice; it was the romantic Maurice Chevalier. Sabine is going to explode in jealousy when I tell her about not only did I get to see Mistinguett in person but that she was doing a duet with the fantastic Maurice Chevalier.
Jack and I were thoroughly entertained by the spectacle from beginning to end and when the orchestra started its music for the dancing public, Jack got up and extended his hand which I took and followed him out to the dance floor. It was a wonderful slow dance and I felt the thrill of Jack’s arms around me and it transported me back to that intense state of desire for everything that is Jack. I should be scared by the almost crippling effect that this one man has over me, it is not normal and I shouldn’t want it so much to the exclusion of everything else. But what can I do, I don’t want it to stop because I don’t want to go back to beige and bland way I lived my life. Ever since I met Jack which is just only two days ago, everything is sharper and brighter and it is beyond my control, it is just how I have been changed by Jack.
The music stopped and we went back to the table and sat down. I turned to Jack and said “thank you so very much for my surprise, this was a thrill, to see the actual spectacle at the Folies Bergere and have one of the best dinners I ever had in a restaurant, I can’t begin to explain how unforgettable the night will be for me” Jack looked at me and said “Madeleine this is only the beginning, I am going to take you everywhere there is to be in Paris. Like I said before, now that I have found you I am not going to let you go.” With that declaration, Jack took my hand and turned it palm side up and kissed it, he really enjoyed doing that and the effect on me was sweet torture where my stomach would clench and I would lose my breath. The sheer physicality of my reaction to his touch, his looks and his lips was otherworldly, to be sure.
It was time to leave, first because I was fighting a wave of tiredness from having worked all day and with the anticipation of this evening out with Jack, I had wound myself into knots and now that the surprise has been uncovered and experienced, the anti-climatic realization was exhausting. I had visions of my bed and pillow and it hit me so dramatically, that right now what I wanted and needed was my quiet bedroom so that I can play over and over in my mind every magical minute of my evening with Jack. I know that it might not make sense to any woman who has never met someone who has branded their essence on you but when your whole being vibrates and comes alive in his presence that sometimes need a little distance so that you can think about the both of you with some clarity of thought and emotion. This was the second reason why I wanted to go; I desperately wanted some along time to savor this evening in peace and quiet.
Jack the wonderful man that he is, was completely attuned to my fatigue and without a word of protest signaled for the check and paid it. He then took my hand and escorted me to the coat check area, we collected our coats and he escorted me to his automobile and he drove me home. We drove back in silence and amazing as it may sound the silence was lovely and full of emotion. Words weren’t needed to fill a void because there wasn’t one between us. As Jack pulled up in front of my building, he turned off his automobile and turned his full attention onto me. Still not saying a word, he took my face and pressed his full beautiful lips on mine and I lost all sense of time, I could just feel, his lips, my heart beating, his hearting beating and our nostrils straining to pull in more air since we were both breathless with desire.
Our kiss ended slowly and gently. Jack caressed my cheek and my lips, my heart felt so full at that moment; it was almost overwhelming. Jack whispered “Madeleine when can I see you next?” I replied softly “I want to say tomorrow but I have work and I need to rest.” Jack sighed and said “I understand, I have been putting off an out of town visit to a Chateau in the nearby Loire Valley, how about I come pick you up for another surprise outing on Friday evening at 6:00?” I smiled and asked “would you mind if I invited Sabine and Guillaume to join us? I really want them to get to know you and like you.” Jack smiled his dazzling smile and said as he took my hand in his “so you like me? How much do you like me my cherie Madeleine?” I decided to play coy “I like you as much as you like me Jack” Jack’s face turned very serious and he said while looking deep into my eyes “then that means that you are falling in love with me because Madeleine I am falling in love with you” At those words, it struck me so hard that my heart felt a jolt of lightening, he was right. I was falling in love with him and I have only known for a grand total of two days. Life was amazing and crazy at the same time. “Jack you’re right, I’m falling in love with you. I can’t help it, the way that I feel; it’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than anything that I have ever known.” With that Jack kissed me and it felt as if he was showing me with this kiss everything he felt in his heart. When our lips parted once again I said to him “goodnight my love, I will see you Friday” Jack smiled at me and caressed my cheek once again and said “I’ll be at your door at 6:00, my sweet, on Friday, I love you and I’ll miss you until then” Jack got out on his side and opened my door and walked me to my apartment and we said goodnight.
I opened the door very quietly, hopeful that everyone was asleep so that I could simply go to my room, change for bed and slowly replay every minute of this magical evening and drift off to sleep to perchance dream of my love. I was in luck; there was complete silence in the apartment and no lights anywhere. I carefully navigated my way to my door, undressed and hung up my clothes for the next outing and threw on my nightgown and slipped under the covers, turned on my side, closed my eyes and replayed everything as if it were a film in my head. I drifted almost immediately to sleep and before I knew what had happened, it was morning and time to get up to go to work and see Sabine. Today was going to be a day of recounting every moment at the Folies Bergere so that Maman and Sabine could picture it as if they had been there themselves.
I stumbled out of my room and went to light the stove, I then put the coffee pot on the stove top to brew and I heard Maman ask me to come into her room. I opened the door and said “good morning Maman, I know that you want to know everything about last night but can you wait until Sabine and I come home to eat?” Maman smiled and said “of course I will make sure that you have something very nice to eat but at least tell me this. Did you have a nice time last night?” “Maman it was perfect and I felt like a princess” With that, I went back to the kitchen for coffee and two pieces of bread with butter and Maman’s peach preserves. I was out the door on time and met Sabine right outside my apartment building doorway. Sabine kissed me hello and said “you have to tell me everything about last night and I can see from your eyes and face that it was heavenly! But first are you going to see him again?” I nodded and smiled, I was still chasing away the cobwebs from my mind; I was still exhausted but I needed to concentrate on work today or lose a finger with the machinery. “Sabine, last night was wonderful, I thought that we could go to my apartment for our midday meal and I will tell you and Maman all about Jack and the Folies Bergere then. I am tired and I need to focus at work so do you mind waiting until we eat for all the details?” Sabine looked at me and said “you do look exhausted; of course I’ll wait until we eat to get all the details silly, I am so happy for you”
We both clocked in and thank goodness before we knew it, it was time to clock out for the midday meal. Sabine and I both hurried to my apartment and the table was set waiting for us as Maman was as well. She had ladled out three bowls of soup, her famous soupe de pistou; a hearty vegetable and pasta soup perfumed with a garlic, basil, tomato and Swiss cheese sauce base. It is to die for, so very unbelievably good. As we were eating spoonfuls of soup, I was describing the automobile that I rode through the streets of Paris in with Jack driving, that produced a few ooh’ and aah’s. I then painted the setting and ambience of the Folies Bergere, all the gorgeous and risqué costumes that adorned the lovely dance girls, and the musical acts that I knew would get Maman and Sabine all crazed. They both love Mistinguett and Maurice Chevalier, I spent the better part of the meal giving a detailed account of what Mistinguett wore and how debonair Maurice Chevalier looked in addition to how wonderful they sang alone and as a duet. Maman wanted to know, down to the smallest ingredient, exactly what we had for dinner. She was impressed by our choices, she was especially curious about the sole and salmon terrine with the sauce verte that I had ordered as an appetizer. I think that we will be having it for a Sunday dinner.
I could tell that Sabine was dying to find out all the important details about last night and those details had nothing to do with an automobile, singers or food. Maman eventually got up from her seat and said “well Madeleine I’m happy that you had such a lovely night last night and Jack seems to be a very nice gentleman. I am going to go visit with your Maman, Sabine, Madeleine I’ll be back later this afternoon. I don’t know why I told you this, you’ll be at work. I’ll see you this evening, bisous ma Cherie”
Sabine turned to me as soon as Maman left the apartment and said “I thought that she would never leave, I could never grill you with questions at work so now you have 45 minutes to tell me everything!” I started to giggle and said “Sabine I don’t even know where to start, okay to be fair I have to start with Friday night because that was our first kiss. That kiss sealed my fate Sabine. I have never in my life ever felt like that before. His kiss was so passionate and the feeling of electric fire that started in the back of my neck and went down my back and down to my toes. Anyway when he picked me up last night he kissed me in the automobile before going into the Folies Bergere and I thought that I was going to faint from lack of oxygen. Dancing with him had the same effect; my knees were weak half the time when we were dancing the Tango and then the Waltz. As long as we talked and ate I was fine, it was physical contact that threw us over the edge of desire and into an inferno. I am not exaggerating Sabine, it is insane how visceral our connection is, I have never imagined something like this in my most romantic fantasies.”
Sabine was listening intently and said “oh my goodness, that is so romantic, Madeleine you know that writers call what you are experiencing love at first sight. My Cherie, I think that Cupid’s bow and arrow has found its target and that is you and Jack. Did Jack say anything about how he feels and do you think that he feels the same physical reaction that you do?” I asked instead “how is it with you and Guillaume, I know that you are both in love and have been for a very long time but do you still feel the fireworks?” Sabine smiled, I assumed because she was thinking about Guillaume, and she said “I know that it seems like forever that we have been together but I knew from the first time that I could see that he was a young man and I was interested in the opposite sex that Guillaume was the one for me for the rest of my life. I was lucky because he immediately felt the same way for me and it is still passionate between us and I know that it will always be like that. We love each other so much. Now, Madeleine you didn’t answer my question about Jack. I am waiting and I am dying to know the answer, don’t keep me in suspense, please”
Alright, of course I will tell you. Jack made it known in no uncertain terms that he feels the same way physically about me as I do about him. We both can barely breath when we kiss and he can’t stop caressing my face and holding my hand. I swear it is sweet torture and than he actually told me that he was falling in love with me and I said the same thing to him. “Sabine grabbed my hand and said “that is so exciting that he said it first, that he loves you. Do you realize how rare that is for a man to admit that he loves a woman? I wonder if it is because he is American and from what I hear, they are always so direct and fearless; either way it is fantastic” “I feel the same way, this is fantastic and I am so happy. Jack wants to take me out Friday night and I asked him if he minded if I asked you and Guillaume to come out with us. I told him that it was important to me that he gets to know my best friend and her fiancé and that they got to know him.”
Sabine nodded while smiling and said “that is a wonderful idea, Guillaume and I are in need of a new source of entertainment other than the cinema and the local ball. I definitely would love to spend the evening with you as always and getting to know Jack is a bonus and also to make sure that he deserves you. Because if he isn’t deserving of you, than Madeleine; you know that I would unleash Guillaume on him.”
“So we are agreed then, Friday night we’ll be making it a foursome. I just don’t know where we will be going or how we will be getting there. Do you think that Guillaume will mind not knowing what we will be doing Friday night?” Sabine waved away my concern, she said “Guillaume won’t mind, we are going out and that is good enough. I know that we are going to have a lot of fun and that’s that.” “We should be getting back to work before Madame DuFarges starts to breathe fire and threatens to fire us for the millionth time. Why do you think that she wastes her time and venom on us, we have only been there forever?” Sabine burst out laughing and tapped me playfully on the arm “Does Jack find your exaggeration a charming part of your personality or have you not shown him that part of you yet?” I stuck my tongue out at her and said “seriously, I do not exaggerate all that much, I only do it to make a point and I don’t think that I have exaggerated anything while speaking to Jack. No really do I exaggerate that much?” “Madeleine, are you going to be this sensitive? I am just teasing you, your exaggerations are adorable. I’m sure that he finds everything about you adorable, don’t worry”
I sighed and said “I know, you’re right that I am being crazy sensitive but that is the effect that Jack has on me. It is so overwhelming and powerful, I feel as if I’m addicted to him. I’m having a hard time waiting until Friday and today is only Tuesday! I am counting the hours and what am I going to wear?” Sabine looked at me and said “That is a good question cherie what are we both going to wear? I mean I can get away with wearing the same thing this Friday but what are you going to wear, with Jack it is different than with Guillaume. I don’t have to impress Guillaume, I mean it would be nice but not necessary but Jack is your new beau. We have to think of something, on the positive side, we have until Friday afternoon to think of something” “Let’s just concentrate on work since we are here and I’ll think about it while we are on the line, you do the same and hopefully between the two of us we’ll come up with something original and beautiful”
Amazing how time can both fly by and sometimes stop and crawl painfully by; it is now Wednesday afternoon and Sabine and I are at work as usual and we are still trying to think of ways to produce a brand new look without begging Hortense to come up with two brand new dresses, that would be too much to ask. I had a glimmer of an idea but I kept thinking that it was too much of a cheat to be any good. I’ll just ask Sabine her opinion; I mean what is the worst that she can say, Madeleine your idea stinks? It can’t be any worse than that. I’ll ask her at 6:00.
“Sabine, tell me what you think of this idea and if you think it’s a good one than we can do it tomorrow during our break.” Sabine was walking next to me as we were exiting the factory and she said ” I’m listening Madeleine, don’t be shy and I promise to keep an open mind. Lay it on me, I’m all ears” “I was thinking that even though we have both worn our muslin dresses and made a nice impression with them, what if we had them dyed and dress them up differently with accessories. It can’t be too much to dye the dresses, I would think that muslin fabric would take a dye very nicely and for future evenings out you and I can buy more fabric and offer to pay your Maman to sew them. Since she has already measured us and adjusted the dress patterns maybe sewing up two more dresses won’t take as long, what do you think?”
Sabine was listening intently the whole time that I was speaking and I could tell from her expression that she liked at least part of my idea. She probably liked the dying part, I myself thought that dying the muslin dresses made the most sense given the circumstances. Sabine finally felt ready to say something “I definitely think that dying our muslin dresses is an excellent idea and I think that we should ask Maman if it would be too much to ask if by buying new fabric we can count on her to sew up two new dresses. If she feels that it’s too much than perhaps we can buy vintage dresses and modify them ourselves.”
“Alright then I’m going to run upstairs and get two sandwiches that we can eat on the way to the Fabric shop” Sabine nodded and ran to her apartment building. I opened the door and walked into the pantry and grabbed some pate and a half of a baguette and made two sandwiches. I wrapped them up and grabbed napkins, I went to look for Maman to tell her that Sabine and I were off to the Fabric shop and kissed her good-bye. I hurried downstairs and when I opened the door to the street Sabine was waiting for me with a smile. I gave her the sandwich and Sabine said “thank you for the sandwich, I quickly asked Maman her opinion about our dress dilemma and she said that she wouldn’t mind making up two dresses for us as long as she got the fabric tonight.” I said “that’s fantastic, let’s hurry and get to the shop before it closes at 7:00, I’m sure that Madame LaJoille’s won’t mind helping us pick some new fabric very quickly. We can always eat our sandwiches after we bring our fabric to your mother”
We both walked as fast as humanly possible and made it to Madame LaJoille’s’ shop in 10 minutes, if we hadn’t been so fixated on choosing fabric we probably would have been really impressed with our speed. Madame LaJoille’s, once she knew our mission, got as excited about picking our fabrics as we were. I didn’t take as long as it did the first time, Sabine found a turquoise silk immediately that she fell in love with and I was torn between a vibrant aubergine or very pretty green and I couldn’t make up my mind. Sabine being so diplomatic said “Madeleine why don’t you just get both colors, if your relationship with Jack continues to develop the way it is right now then you are going to need more dresses. I’m only being practical, I think that you might as well get the two fabrics, you are not going to waste the fabric or the money”
Sabine had an excellent point of course, I wasn’t even thinking that far ahead; getting the two colors meant two new dresses and I can safely bet that Jack will at least ask me to another evening out. I wonder if he has even noticed what color my dresses have been the two nights we were together. If Jack is the typical man than I would bet that he didn’t pay any attention but I have a distinct feeling that my dresses did make an impact on him. He is much more sophisticated than any of the other “men” that I have gone out with. I definitely need to get these dresses made up and I think that I am not going to change the color of the muslin dress after all because Hortense had a reason why she made those dresses the way she did. They are perfect for the everyday sortie and we can keep them as casual or as formal as we like with the right accessories.
“Sabine you’re right, I’m going to get both fabrics, I hope that your mother doesn’t get to regret helping us out with our wardrobe, and I think that I am going to keep the muslin dress as is because your mother’s initial idea of making the dresses simple and leaving the versatility of accessories to determine the mood.” Sabine nodded and said “so we’re ready to go back to my house and we won’t be too late, it’s not even 7:00” I said “yes, we can unload the fabric and then eat, I keep mentioning the sandwiches because my stomach won’t stop rumbling” As soon as those words came out of my mouth, my stomach unleashed this huge rumble, it was embarrassing, Sabine is the only one who has ever heard my insane stomach and I had always hoped to keep it that way. Now I had another witness to how rambunctious and rude my stomach can be on occasion.
Madame LaJoille looked over at me in shock and when she saw my beet red face and my hands almost unconsciously rubbing my belly, she burst out laughing and said “don’t worry Mademoiselle Martin your secret is safe with me. It is nothing to be embarrassed about, you are hungry and your stomach just doesn’t want to be forgotten, with the loudness of the rumble, I somehow doubt that you can forget to eat” Sabine joined in “exactly what I have been telling Madeleine, it is nothing to be ashamed of and it’s cute. I wonder how Jack is going to react when he finally gets to hear the rumble of Madeleine’s hunger?” With that she burst out laughing and I couldn’t help but join in and laugh because I have to face it, it’s funny.
We hurried home carrying our bolts of fabric and our uneaten sandwiches which wasn’t a big deal because the beauty of pate sandwiches is that they keep well and travel very well. My stomach was going to be satisfied in no time, as soon as we get to Sabine’s; I was going to put the fabric bolts down, sit myself at the table and enjoy my sandwich and I will be very kind to Sabine and encourage her to do the same; it would be a grave shame to waste a simply wonderful pate sandwich. For those who do not know how extraordinary a pate sandwich can be let me describe it to you. A wonderful example of the proper pate for a sandwich is the rustic pate de champagne. It is a marriage of garlic, onions, parsley, bay leave, pig shoulder, calf’s liver, white wine, cognac, fatback, thyme, salt and black pepper all round together, put in a terrine and cooked in a medium low oven in a bain marie for an hour. When it comes out of the oven you put aluminum foil over the top of the terrine and weigh it down with very heavy bricks and leave it to meld its flavors together and compress the fat and gelatin out to the exterior. It is a thing of beauty, I promise and when you put a slice of pate in between a split baguette with a little Dijon mustard and if you like, a few sliced cornichons pickles, it is a symphony of flavor and texture in your mouth.
While we are eating, Hortense is looking over the fabrics and we could hear her saying ooh how nice, and ooh very striking color. Her tone by itself tells us that she is happy and excited to get sewing. Sabine puts her sandwich down for a minute and gets up to ask her mother if she needs us to change and get measured again. Hortense says “no, I have the patterns all marked up and I just created your dresses two weeks ago so I haven’t forgotten anything. Unless either of you has put on more than a pound or two, then I don’t need you to get measured. The dresses fit correctly last week, didn’t they?” Sabine answered quickly “oh yes, Maman they fit the both of us perfectly, we were dancing up a storm and the dresses lines were impeccable. I felt many ladies eyes on my dress when they thought I wasn’t looking.” I chimed in between bites “Hortense, you should have seen Guillaume and Sabine dancing the night away; they made such a striking couple and Sabine’s right her dress’s lines were sleek and perfect which ever way she held herself.”
“Girls that is so nice to hear, my clientele rarely comes back with such complimentary statements. The only way that I know that they appreciate my work is that they come back and that they tell their friends about my work. It would be nice to hear them say directly to me. But one can’t have everything I suppose, I should just be thankful for the business my clientele gives me.” I couldn’t help but get up and put my arm around her shoulder and kiss her on the cheek. “We love you and appreciate you Hortense, and those women of the haute bourgeoisie, it’s their way of being; those ladies naturally keep everyone at arm’s length. They think that it gives them power by elevating themselves above us, the common folk. They forget that it is the 1920’s and those social barriers are a thing of the past.” “Okay girls, I am going to the other room to start these dresses so that they will be ready for Friday night.”
Sabine and I went back to the kitchen and finished our sandwiches and sat together quietly. I broke the silence and said “I’m going home to crawl into bed, I am completely exhausted and I need my beauty sleep for Friday so I don’t disappoint my Prince Charming.” Sabine quietly giggled and said “From what I remember of Jack and the way he looks at you, you don’t have to worry because the poor boy is blinded by love” “What are you saying Sabine, are you saying that I could have gotten away with wearing my muslin dress? Are you implying that my new efforts at beautifying myself are for naught?” Sabine said “oh please, there you go faking your outrageous, over the top, indignation. You need to find a new audience that might fall for it; you need a new act my cherie” “You see how exhausted I am, I can’t even fake my traditional outrage over vanity, I am definitely leaving now to go to bed. Bisous Sabine, thanks for everything. See you tomorrow downstairs by your door”
Thursday flew by and since I was still feeling exhausted, I went straight to bed after work so that I can build up some reserves for Friday night because there was no way in the world that I was going to miss Friday night. I think that I was making Maman nervous but she had the usual household worries to occupy her, by that I mean Papa, Gabrielle, Georgette and Andree, so I was flying under the radar as was often the case. Don’t get me wrong, I was very happy being left alone. I mean I am 25, I want to be thinking of my own life and my own situation. Sabine doesn’t mind her living situation at home because she knows that it is temporary, Guillaume will propose when he is settled in his business with Olivier and that is when Sabine and Guillaume will create their own home. For the first time in my life, I have met someone who ignites a desire in me to be with him forever and that feeling stirs a crazy excitement for a new life and home. All these feelings and stirrings over a man that I just met a week ago, it just goes to show that life can offer up small nuggets of luck and chance.
It is 6:00 p.m. Friday, finally! Sabine and I are chomping on the bit for the bell to ring and release us from our bondage. We quickly leave the factory and Sabine runs home and I walk very quickly to my door and there he is, nonchalantly leaning against the doorframe waiting for me. Once again I am struck by how piercing his eyes are and how achingly handsome he is, I could just stand here looking at him and be quite content. His eyes light up when they focus in on me in front of him. I am welcomed with a huge smile and two big kisses, one for each cheek and then a faint kiss on my neck right below the jaw line which made me weak in the knees. I invite him upstairs so that Maman and Papa can entertain him and get to know him better while I get ready. Bizarrely, Jack feels very comfortable with my parents; for some reason I thought that the differences between our two cultures would have created a barrier but perhaps Jack is that special and he can feel at ease with anyone? I don’t know but I do know that it makes me so happy and stress-free that I can only love him more for it. While I’m getting ready with the new dress that Sabine had dropped off early this morning, I’m wearing the aubergine color for this evening. I don’t even know where we are going, I wonder if Jack managed to track down Guillaume and tell him where we were going. I am guessing that Sabine is in as much in the dark as I am but I really don’t mind. Paris is the quintessential city of parties, dancing and shows, how can we be disappointed with anything?
I emerge from my room and the ooh’s and aah’s from Maman start; Jack doesn’t say anything but I can feel his gaze on me and I can also feel my cheeks getting warm, why is my face such a traitor? I would give many sous for better control over my facial expressions and internal thermometer. Jack finally says “Madeleine you are exquisite in your new dress, that color makes your skin glow and your eyes warm” . Maman cocked her head slightly to the side and said “Hortense has such talent, the dress is stitched with such elegance and finesse; it is literally a work of art. This, ma fille, is real couture; remember how it falls and how the stitching feels, so that you know how to recognize the difference between the true couture and its knock-off.”
I was standing there smiling and looking at Jack and I noticed his eyes veer to the door and I jumped; Sabine and Guillaume were waiting for us. Jack turned to Maman and Papa and bid them a good night and promised to see me home safely. Maman said to Jack “yes thank you, I know that Madeleine will be in excellent care. I would like to invite you to this Sunday’s midday meal; I will make something quite special.” Jack gave her a big smile and said “I would be honored to accept your kind invitation; I am now looking forward to Sunday, thank you very much Madame and Monsieur Martin.” Meanwhile I am standing near the door waiting for this exchange to run its course and I’m thinking that he has put my Maman under his spell. Like I have said before, I have dated a few boys and Maman took her very long, sweet time before inviting anyone to Sunday meals. She has never made a point to mention making something special just for them. I don’t think that she even invited more than one of my previous boyfriends; I don’t think that she ever really liked them, even the one that was invited to eat at her table. Because in you haven’t noticed, it is Maman’s table; you’re just sitting at it and eating at her table if you are lucky. Didn’t I mention that Maman is the true boss of the family? While you live under her roof, her word is law. Which, don’t misunderstand, I don’t mind, up until now, I was very happy living my life with my family. Jack’s appearance in my life, all of a sudden; out of nowhere, has put things in a new perspective.
Suddenly Jack is right in front of me, looking down on me. Jack softly says “are you ready, my cherie?” He then says “Madeleine, your lovely mother has extended a special invitation to me for Sunday midday meal, isn’t that wonderful?” I around his arm and say to Maman “thank you, bisous Maman,” Maman smiles at me and waves good night while she turns away and goes off to her bedroom.
Jack and I quickly descend the stairs and see Sabine and Guillaume waiting by Jack’s automobile right near my doorstep, they are involved in a spirited discussion and Jack says upon getting closer “I wager that you are both arguing over which club I am taking everyone to, aren’t you?” Guillaume looked at both of us with a cocked eyebrow and replied “that is a worthless wager, anyone, even a child would have been able to guess that one, but since you brought it up, where are you taking us this evening, if you wouldn’t mind enlightening us now, would you? Sabine was standing next to Guillaume and she looked so beautiful in her turquoise dress, I don’t think that she really cared where we went as long as we were together having a wonderful time, as usual, both Sabine and I were exactly on the same page. I was just so happy that we were going out to dinner and whatever else. I was simply happy.
Jack walked to the automobile and opened my door and Sabine’s door. Guillaume helped Sabine on her side as Jack helped me into my side and then as quick as anything, the four of us were in the automobile and off we were driving through the streets of Paris. Jack said over his shoulder to Guillaume, “I have planned us an outing in the Montparnasse quartier, we are going to La Dome. How does that sound?” I gasped and turned around towards Sabine; “Sabine, we might see famous people like Coco Chanel, or some American musician or writer. Maybe Man Ray will be there or Pablo Picasso. I am so excited! Have you heard about the food?” Sabine was looking as excited as I felt; she said to all of us “I never paid any attention to how the food was because that always took back seat compared to all the celebrity sightings.” Guillaume chimed in “yes, I heard that Marcel Proust and Salvador Dali often spend hours, almost days there.” The automobile ride was dominated with the three of us throwing out every single famous name that we could think of. Jack was listening, I think, I do know that he was paying attention to the road. Paris at night can be treacherous to errant drivers, between the trams, the other automobiles and the pedestrians, driving required a person’s upmost attention. Jack drove with such confidence that we weren’t even aware that we had arrived to our destination. But there it was, La Dome.
It was all awash in glittering lights; you could just tell already from the outside that so much passion and artistic feeling was flowing throughout the café. We could hear all the laughter and spirited conversation from where we stood outside near the Jack’s automobile. Jack took my arm and Guillaume took Sabine’s and the four of us made our way to the reception where Jack was greeted as if he were a long lost friend. I couldn’t help look over at Sabine with a shocked look that Sabine immediately returned. That was the last thing that I had expected, I was expecting Jack to give his name and the Maitre d’hôtel to look in his book of reservations and for him to look up and say “ah yes, Monsieur Dempsey, we have your table for four as you reserved ready for you, please follow me.” I didn’t expect for Jack to have a table automatically reserved for him at all times. Who was my Jack Dempsey? I have to admit that this little twist only made him even more attractive and mysterious.
We were led to a very nice table well placed near the center of all the action. It was the sort of table for people who wish to be seen and to be able to see the other people who are meant to be seen. There were so many people, I was trying not to stare but it was difficult and I noticed that Guillaume and Sabine were having the same trouble as I. I shook myself because I realized that with all my staring all around that I was being rude to Jack and I reached over and squeezed his hand. He smiled at me and squeezed my hand warmly and I smiled back. Guillaume was looking around and almost jumped a foot when our waiter suddenly appeared at his shoulder and asked him what he wanted to drink. I burst out laughing and instantly squelched my laugh because it honestly escaped my mouth, I looked sheepishly over at Guillaume and seeing my face, he started laughing and thank goodness, Jack took over from there and ordered a bottle of Champagne for the bottle.
The atmosphere at Le Dome seemed more sophisticated than the other café’s I was used to, I felt the potential for greatness here. I could imagine in my mind that certain patrons were about to publish their first great novel or that a lady over at yonder table was going to be the greatest actress of our generation. There was just so much opportunity for the talent that could be seated all around us.
Sabine touched my arm to ask me “Madeleine, did you know that this Café has been around since at least 1890 and that it has always been famous for intellectuals, writers and artists?” I shook my head “No, I mean I knew that this was one of the places to be, to be near the cultural greats but I didn’t realize that La Dome has been opened since the 1890’s. I wonder if anyone famous sat in my chair.” Guillaume started laughing, than Sabine started giggling; at first, I felt my face turn beet red and I thought, oh my goodness how star struck can I sound? But then I saw the humor and I burst out laughing and thank God, Jack started laughing as well. So all four of us were seated in the place to be in Paris laughing out loud at one of the silliest things that I have ever said, and trust me I have said some doozies. After a minute or two, we settled down, people were starting to whisper, we didn’t care; we were having a great laugh. The waiter came and distributed menus all around; I took mine and opened it immediately as did Sabine. I was hungry and curious to see what this menu had in comparison to the Folies Bergere.
Jack and Guillaume were more nonchalant about their menu perusal. Jack looked over his menu and said “Madeleine, have you had American lobster before?” I looked up from my menu and answered “I have had langoustine is that the same as this American lobster?” Jack replied “they are very similar but the American lobster has claws whereas the langoustine doesn’t. I was thinking that if you didn’t mind, we could share the American lobster as our main course and each get something different as an entrée. What do you think, my cherie?” I was immediately intrigued by the idea of trying something really American, I know that Maman really be so interested in knowing what it is and how it rates compared to our French langoustine. I smiled and said “Jack that is a wonderful idea, now all I have to do is pick my entrée from all these tempting choices” Sabine spoke up “I know there are so many things that I want to taste; it’s hard to pick” Jack said to Sabine “the other night Madeleine and I had a wonderful time at Les Folies tasting each other’s food but you had to have seen the waiters, Madeleine wasn’t aware of it, but they were going mad because it isn’t considered to be seemly to be trying each other’s food off their plate; so there they were running around looking for extra plates but they were always to late. I wanted to laugh out loud at certain times but I didn’t want Madeleine to feel as if she were doing anything wrong because she wasn’t, the waiters in these establishments tend to be more uptight than the clientele” Guillaume nodded and said “I’m glad that I wasn’t there because I wouldn’t have been able to keep my laughter to myself; I can just imagine them running back and forth trying to do the proper thing instead of letting you just enjoy each other’s food. I’m glad that Madeleine was oblivious to the waiter’s antics, come to think of it; Madeleine is often oblivious to her surroundings when there is food involved. I am not saying this to criticize!” Sabine is shooting daggers at Guillaume while he is talking about my single minded focus on food. She interjects “Guillaume really, Madeleine is passionate about food because she inherited her culinary interests from Lutetia and anyone would be lucky to have her passion for food”
Guillaume put his hands up in the air and said “I wasn’t mocking Madeleine, mon amour. Madeleine, you know that I wasn’t making fun, right?” I made a face at Guillaume and said “of course I know that you are only teasing me but you’re right. Jack, I had no idea that sharing off one another’s place is considered to be a faux pas, in our little Bistro; we all eat family style so that it never occurred to me at Les Folies Bergere, I’m sorry I missed the commotion” Jack said with a smile “the way you appreciated every dish put in front of you made me appreciate my own meal even more. I have been to too many restaurants and café’s with people who are blasé or really don’t appreciate fine cuisine. You are a breath of fresh air and don’t do anything differently tonight, please.”
We all went back to our menus and I leaned over to Sabine and said “I’m having a great time, how about you?” Sabine smiled and said “yes, this is great” I smiled right back at her and continued with my inner debate; do I have the gratinees de coquilles Saint-Jacques or the cepes aux persillade? Essentially, I’m vacillating between sea scallops seared in a hot pan and then combined with a wonderfully seasoned béchamel sauce with peas, carrots and then grated Swiss cheese is melted to a nice light crust or delicate porcini mushrooms sautéed with minced garlic, minced parsley and butter. Both are such wonderful dishes, I have to ask Jack what he is going to order. “Jack what are you thinking of ordering?” Jack smiled knowingly and said “Madeleine cherie, are you stuck between two really good choices and you need me to help you decide which one to get?” I smiled broadly and said “yes, I need your help in deciding which one to get please. Would you like me to tell you my two picks?” “Please do” I pointed to the coquilles Saint-Jacques on the menu and looked over at Jack to gauge his reaction. He seemed interested and then I pointed to the cepes and I am not joking, Jack’s eyes seem to glaze over with the mushroom choice. I said to Jack “I can tell that the cepes don’t really inspire your taste buds but you seemed excited by the coquilles, am I right?” Jack nodded and said “I was thinking about the coquilles Saint-Jacques even before you pointed them out on the menu, so I’ll get them and you get the cepes. Does that sound like a plan?” I smiled and nodded “Yes that sounds perfect Jack. Now, you two, what are you both going to order? Especially since you both know what Jack and I are having for dinner.”
Guillaume said “I am going to have the escargots bourguignon as an entrée and for the plats principal, I am going to have the filet mignon bordelaise with the pommes Anna.” Good old Guillaume, he knows what he wants and it’s always a strong, solid choice. You can depend on him the way you can depend on the sun rising the next day. I looked over at Sabine to see if she had decided yet and she was still looking at her menu with her lips pursed as if she were wrestling with more than a few choices. I figured that she needed a bit of help making a decision or else we were going to be here for the long haul; Sabine wasn’t the most decisive person when it came to food, she wasn’t picky and was a bit of a gourmande. “Sabine, I can tell from your cute little face that you probably want to order everything but you couldn’t possibly eat all that, so tell me where you’re at with your picks for your entrée?” Sabine wasn’t even looking at me while I was talking; she was focused on the potential dishes in front of her eyes and which one was going to be the one to delight her taste-buds. Sabine took a deep breath and said “Madeleine, everything looks so good and I’m stuck between the foie gras en cocotte and the vol-au-vent a la reine. You’ll be impressed with me because I know exactly what I want for my main course; I am going to order the salmon en croute with a sauce verte. That sounds so good and I’m sure that the presentation will be just lovely, but that still doesn’t make up my mind for my entrée, help Madeleine” While she was talking, I was dissecting the two choices for her entrée and it was a tough one for me as well. The foie gras en cocotte probably meant that the foie gras was going to be served with a coddled egg in a ramekin with toast points and the two flavors of the rich foie gras and the comforting flavor and texture of the coddled egg, I imagine would be the ultimate comforting sensation in your mouth. On the other hand, the vol-au-vent a la reine is a warm, hearty melding of beautiful chicken, mushrooms, carrots, peas with a wine enhanced béchamel sauce encased in a flaky puff pastry shell. It is delicious and somehow nourishes your soul while you are eating it, I know because on special occasions, Maman has made it and her creations are beautiful as well as mouth wateringly delicious. There I knew how to steer Sabine towards her definitive choice for her entrée. “Sabine, I know exactly what you should order, you should get the foie gras en cocotte and I’ll tell you why. The foie gras entrée is something that we haven’t seen on other menus and Maman will be thrilled when we come home and you tell her about it because you know that she will be plotting to replicate it sometime in the future and also, Maman has made the vol-au-vent before and hers were fabulous, so you can always get that at my house. That is what I think, so what are you going to choose?” Sabine smiled and said “Well when you put it that way then my choice is self evident, I have to go with the foie gras if only to add to Lutetia’s culinary repertoire, I mean it’s the least that I can do considering that she feeds me as I was her own daughter, don’t you think?” I burst out laughing and said “I’ll make sure to tell Maman how much you sacrificed on her behalf to bring her a new recipe to add to her huge collection” Sabine giggled and with that the waiter was making his way back to our table; it was as if he caught a silent signal that told him that finally our table was ready to order. It was weird but good because I was starving and I could feel my stomach getting impatient, thank goodness that the Café was loud because I don’t know how much longer my belly was going to stay silent.
Once the orders were given for both food and drink; the waiter left to command the others to fulfill our wishes. We were left to talk, what I didn’t notice while I was helping Sabine make her decision, was that Jack and Guillaume were apparently getting along really well. As Sabine and I began to listen to their conversation, it was apparent to us that Guillaume was actually asking Jack for his opinion on the prospect of Guillaume’s emerging new business in fer forge and Jack, I could tell from his expression, was very interested in Guillaume’s business plans and in fer forge as an industry in general. I don’t know why precisely but I was thrilled that Guillaume and Jack were thoroughly engrossed in their conversation to the exclusion of myself and Sabine. Perhaps it’s because I trust Guillaume’s opinion about as much as I trust Sabine’s, these are the two people that have known me more or less forever, and the fact that he was obviously enjoying his discussion with Jack and was asking for his thoughts and judgment about something that was so dear to his heart was a big sign. Oh my God, I love Jack so much, my friends obviously like him, my Maman is charmed by him and he is just wonderful and handsome and mysterious and different and sexy and I am going to explode, I love him so much. I am babbling in my head, at least it is not verbal because I would die of embarrassment if anyone heard what is going on in my head, wait I forgot my face, Sabine probably knows what is going on in my head because I’m sure that it is written all over my face, I lOVE Jack! As I look over at Sabine, my eyes lock onto hers and she is smirking at me which means that I have that goofy moonstruck look on my face. Oh, wonderful. As I glance over at Jack and Guillaume, they are still so focused on their conversation that they haven’t even looked at us once, phew; I have time to rearrange my face. I have to look at least a little more nonchalant, I mean interested but without the star-struck look.
I guess luck was on my side because while I was trying to disguise my face into a more sensible appearance, the waiter reappeared bearing a nice bottle of champagne. Sabine clapped her hands and said “Jack did you order the champagne while I wasn’t paying attention and did Guillaume tell you that champagne was my favorite drink in the world? Whichever reason that made you decide on champagne, I’m just happy that you did.” Jack laughed and said “Sabine, well I’m glad that you approve of my choice; I thought that tonight was a night to be celebrated, being out again with my cherie Madeleine and with her two dear friends who I hope will become my friends as well.” While he was saying that, the waiter was pouring the champagne into our coupes and Jack picked his coupe up and said “I would like to propose a toast to new friends, love and future happiness” We all clicked our coupes and in unison said “chin, chin”.
Jack’s toast being made, we settled back in our chairs and sipped our champagne quietly, listening to the fine music and I couldn’t help myself, I kept looking around at various tables assigning famous personalities to a finely dressed woman or a pompously dressed man there. It kept my mind occupied while I was waiting for my entrée and Guillaume and Jack had resumed their intense discussion about Guillaume’s small business. I glanced over at Sabine and she was busy paying attention to everything coming out of Guillaume’s lips, so I went back to my fantasy land and before I knew it, a beautiful hot plate was sitting in front of me. I wasn’t the only one rewarded for her patience, one by one, my table companions, each had their own plate beautifully presented in front of them and we were told with a flourish “Bon Appétit!”
In front of me was a beautiful arrangement of cepes, delicate mushrooms that are hard to find yet so worth the hours of foraging for just a trayful to bring home, their subtle perfume and silky texture make them perfect in crème sauces, omelettes and they are also strong enough to assert themselves even when accompanied by the hearty combination of garlic, parsley and butter. It is especially when presented with a persillade backdrop that the cepes texture becomes center stage. It is an exquisite first course, light but with a lot of personality at the same time. The coquilles Saint-Jacques, on the other hand, their presentation speaks to elegance on the plate. The coquille themselves are presented within their own coquillage with its classic scalloped edges and the seafood and vegetable laced béchamel sauce gratinees with a robust Gruyere cheese completes the visual culinary work of art on Jack’s plate. He is subtly transferring a coquille onto to his bread plate to hand over to my side of the table where I, trying to be equally subtle in the transfer, am doing the same. We have unleashed a trend at our table because Guillaume and Sabine without even tasting their entrees are preparing a little taste test for each other. The beauty of our first course is that in essence we each had two tastings for the price of one. A few tables are looking askance at us but Jack has imbued me with a little newly found self-confidence and I’m able to shrug off their disapproving looks and enjoy everything on my plate and near my plate and these first courses are to die for, everything is so well seasoned. The scallops of the coquilles Saint Jacques are beautifully caramelized and just tender to the bite; the béchamel has been flavored to perfection with a well perfumed fish stock and has been simmered to the light consistency that softly coats the scallops and the vegetables.
Our table was silent; each one of us was tasting and reveling in the beauty of the morsel being introduced to our palates. I wasn’t even looking around at the other tables, showing proper respect to the chef’s creation was of the higher priority. After we had completely cleaned our plates plus our bread plates, the stealthy waiters came to clear our table of any trace that we had feasted on exquisite food. I just wanted a few minutes to let the moment sink in and feel the afterglow of total satisfaction, when the mental, physical and emotional planes of a person’s existence come together as one all due to a singular meal made with skillful and talented execution.
Sabine broke the silence with a sigh laden with voluptuous contentment “That was truly divine and I have to confess that having the disapproving stares from the surrounding tables and a few tables made me very self-conscious but once I started tasting not only mine but Guillaume’s entrée, those stares went out the window as far as I was concerned. I can’t wait to see what we are going to be surprised with at the next course. Madeleine did you even peek at the dessert menu? If they are this brilliant with escargots and cepes, can you imagine what they can do with a crème Patissiere or a crème Anglaise?” I replied “No, I was so excited about the array of choices regarding the entrée and the plat principal, that I wasn’t even thinking of dessert.”
Just as the last word had escaped my lips, those silent waiters reappeared at our table bearing our plates still hot from the kitchen, I could see the fingers of steam trailing up from the plates through the air beckoning me to taste it. Sabine was served first; her plate was absolutely beautiful, the salmon was encased in a golden puff pastry package that was molded in the shape of the fish swimming in its vibrant green sauce that sent its herb laced aroma wafting through the air. Since I was the next lady, Jack and I had our American lobster dish put right down in between our new dinner plates. I had never seen an American lobster before and I have to say it is an impressive beast compared to our French version. The chef had the lobster arranged with its claws in all its glory, I was getting very excited to start eating but I still had to wait. Guillaume was served his steak and pommes Anna, meanwhile our waiter wasn’t finished with our dish yet. After our visual presentation, the waiter took the presentation platter and put it on a rolling cart and he proceeded to dismember the lobster and apportion the various pieces amongst our two plates. He worked with speed and precision, after he had everything laid out on our plates to his liking, he ladled the most appetizing and visually appealing sauce onto the lobster. How can I describe it? It was unlike any sauce I have ever tasted, it was robust, yet the sweetness of the lobster meat still came though the smooth buttery sauce. There was a backdrop of rich shallot flavor and a hint of something else, something faintly salty that blended and uplifted the sweet lobster flavor. I couldn’t pinpoint it out but I wasn’t complaining because my mouth was in heaven and beyond. Perhaps the flavor had something to do with those pretty little red dots in the sauce, I wish that I could go undercover in the kitchen and be like a spy and ferret out all the chef’s secrets to bring home to my Maman. This meal would be perfect for New Year’s Day. While I am in ecstasy over my lobster, I am not even paying attention to what is going on around me at other tables let alone mine.
I look up and everyone seated around me is doing what I was doing two seconds ago, focusing on their own plate oblivious to everything else at that moment. I wonder if life is made up of only moments like this and nothing else, nothing deeper. When the moment comes all you have to do is embrace it and revel in it. I am definitely reveling in my lobster; I am trying not to literally embrace it, just with my mouth. I wish that I were home because I would be sucking on the carcass like a starving animal because that is just how good this sauce is, so good that all table manners go flying out of your mind and your animal instincts take over and your nostrils flare, it is that delicious.
I finished my lobster in the proper ladylike fashion at about the same time as everyone else had finished with their own plates. I sat back and those sly waiters reappeared once again to clear the table and proffer the dessert menus. I rubbed my belly and asked “am I the only one to be fairly full or does someone have room for dessert?” Jack who has been silent until now said “cherie tonight is special, even if you’re full, I’m sure that there is a little room left to share something with me.” I looked at him and my eyebrow went up on its own, I swear, “Jack, that’s not fair, how can I refuse when you put it that way. Everyone knows that if you are full from dinner, ordering dessert is gluttony. That is what mothers say, aren’t I right Sabine?” Sabine laughed and said “sorry Madeleine you are all alone with that crazy reason, I am going to be gluttonous tonight because you never know when the next time will come, you only live once and I have to have a dessert from this place, I know that I will not be disappointed”
I don’t know who I was trying to kid, I can’t leave without dessert. “Jack, you’re right I can’t be a spoiled sport. Do you want to pick or should I?” Jack laughed and said “Madeleine, I am an American, I want my dessert to be chosen by an expert and who better than you?” I shot him a look that said quite a bit, nothing mean, but it let him know that I was on to him poking fun of me. Now down to more important things, picking something sumptuous and delectable for dessert. I noticed that the men took up their conversation where they had left off which was perfect because that gave Sabine and I the opportunity to discuss our choices for dessert.
The menu wasn’t long but it had all the classics; Tarte Tatin, Crème Brulee, Bombe Glacee, Paris Brest, Sainte-Honore, Ile Flottante, Tarte aux Fruits and a Napoleon. Sabine touched my arm to get my attention and said “I have had all of these at your house, I feel as if I’m cheating on your mother.” I giggled and replied “I know, I mean how much better can they be except for probably putting together a prettier presentation? We’re not cheating, we are doing research for Maman, we’ll order four different desserts. I propose that we get the Bombe Glacee, definitely the Ile Flottante, the Napoleon and the Paris Brest and we’ll see how they rate against our own Maman.” Sabine simply nodded and out her menu down as did I and before I could turn back to Jack there was a discreet clearing of a throat and our waiter was standing next to Jack.
“Are we to order dessert?” Jack nodded and I picked up the menu to point out my choices to Jack who simply read them to the waiter. Sabine laughed and said “it’s funny how the societal rules are never truly gone, they may go away for a certain amount of time such as wartime but once the men come back, the women are pushed once again to the side” Guillaume took Sabine’s hand and said “mon amour, does it bother you that much?” Sabine leaned over and kissed him on the cheek and said “What I mean to say is that for most women in general, having men come back, take over and act as if women weren’t capable without them, it is hard for many of the women. Myself, mon amour, I am different because I’m with you and you always remember that I count as much as you do.”
Personally, I didn’t worry about it at all because before meeting Jack I was on my own and never had to answer to anyone except to my Maman. And Jack was different from French men in general, I didn’t know exactly how, but I could see it and feel it. That was good enough for me. All I know is that I want to spend every moment with him, talking to him and listening to him, I don’t care what we do as long as I’m with him. He makes me feel like the only woman in the room when we are together, if this isn’t love, I don’t know what is.
The waiter is back and he is pushing a long cart with silver shining everywhere, the polish is gleaming off the gas lights throughout the Café. He picks up a platter and lifts the silver dome off the plate with a flourish and puts it down in front of Sabine, she is admiring a glistening tarte of nectarine and the nectarine slices seem to be floating on a type of fluffy pastry cream that has been baked and caramelized lightly in the oven. It is unlike other tartes that we have seen in the Patisseries and at home, Sabine and I are getting really excited right about now. It’s my turn, the waiter does his little theatrics and I get to gaze upon a Napoleon that looks like the classic thin puff pastry rectangular vertically built by four layers separated by a nutty pastry cream, I think because I am guessing with the aroma of almonds wafting around our table, and the top layer is capped with a luscious vanilla glaze with chocolate ganache drizzled criss-cross over the top. It looks ravishingly delicious, I now am really curious to see how the other two desserts are going to stand up to these two in front of us ladies.
Jack breaks into my reverie and says “my darling, you look like a young girl seeing her favorite gift for the first time after much anticipation. I would love to have your portrait painted with you looking this way, that way when I look at your face, I can imagine every single dish that has had your absolute attention. Not only would I have your exquisite face immortalized forever on canvas but the memories of us together exploring the culinary delights of Paris would be engraved on my mind forever.”
Right when he said that, the silver started flashing its cool fire everywhere around us and Guillaume had a gorgeous Ile Flottante placed in front of him. Sabine and I oohed and aahed because that is what an Ile Flottante gets as a reaction because it is such a delicate looking dessert. Imagine egg whites sweetened and whipped into a pristine cloud of stiff glossy peaks, this cloud is then baked in the oven and when it emerges, it is the most perfect of meringues. The lovely meringue is placed to float on a warm sea of Crème Anglaise perfumed with praline. Guillaume looks over at Sabine with a mischievous look in his eye and says “cherie, this is so elegant and appetizing to my eyes that I don’t know if I’ll be able to share.” Sabine cocked an eyebrow and drily replied “cherie, those words can be very dangerous for your health because I know that my love would never deny me a bite of his dessert and if I hear otherwise then that means that I am dining with an imposter and I shall have to get rid of him before my true love finds him” Guillaume burst out laughing “that’s my girl, she knows what is important in a relationship, it’s all about the sharing.”