I want to thank the hostesses of Paris in July for sponsoring this meme. It is the motivation I need to begin writing about my 2011 trip to the City of Lights. I will warn you, however, that these posts are sure to extend past the month of July. Two weeks provided lots of memorable experiences.
I am fascinated by the French Impressionists, in particular, Monet’s Japanese Garden, Degas’ ballerinas, Cassatt’s children, and Renoir’s portraits. Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, however, is one of my favorite paintings. It romantically recalls a bygone era, where Sunday afternoons were leisurely spent wining, dining and dancing at the neighborhood gathering place. Everyone seems content with life and happily enjoying a relaxing afternoon with friends and family. I can easily imagine myself in the midst of the party.
At that time Montmartre, located in the 18th arrondissement at the highest point of Paris, was known for its windmills – moulins. It is still considered a small village and has retained a bit of its nostalgic past. The cobblestone roads are quite narrow and wind up, down, and all around the close community. Artists still congregate in the middle of the square (Place due Tertre) and offer to paint portraitures for a price. At the time of the Impressionists, there were countless windmills on top of the hill, but today only two remain. Fortunately, the Moulin de la Galette is still in business, and I made a point of eating there while on vacation.
I decided to go for an early Sunday lunch; I thought it might be less crowded and this solo diner would not stand out. I was offered a corner table for two on the terrace – perfect! Only a few other tables were occupied, which allowed me to sit back, relax and imagine Renoir’s festive painting. I enjoyed a leisurely meal that consisted of a small salad, trout almondine, and a delicious raspberry dessert. As the final course was served, I observed the most amazing sight.
An elderly woman, probably about 70 but trying to look 50, entered the terrace. She was about 5×5 and wore a vivid turquoise pantsuit, which contrasted nicely with her bright red hair. She was apparently a regular because the wait staff seemed to call her by name and had no concern that she was accompanied by a large standard poodle.
As luck would have it, she was seated at the served table for three next to me: one seat for herself, one for her purse, and one for the dog. The waiter knew she wanted to order steak tartare for an appetizer and had it brought out almost immediately. She carefully spread a bit of the meat on a toast point and took a bite. She then carefully spread a bit of the meat on another toast point and offered it to the dog. I was amazed, and while I tried to remain polite, I am sure I was staring.
But then again, so was every other diner on the terrace. One table asked if they could take a picture, and she welcomed the idea. I could not let the opportunity pass me by.
I asked in French if I could take the picture, and she also agreed. I tried to coerce her to join Niki, but she refused. Niki was the star. The dog sat still and stared straight into the camera. This was apparently not her first photo session.
In the end, she and I talked for about twenty minutes. Between my broken French and her broken English, we shared a delightful conversation. She plays golf every week, with Niki of course, and volunteers at the Montmartre vineyard. She loves French as well as American literature and we even discussed a few novels. When we said good-bye I felt as though I had made a friend.
I went to the Moulin de la Galette for a nice meal, but I left with so much more. I learned never to judge a book by its cover for you may miss out on an exceptional experience.