Almost a century and a half later, everyone still wants to know the timeless haunts that only the locals frequent and what might be the insider tips to Paris. As your guide, I recommend first and foremost starving and, where possible, coming here in escape, either from your own mortality or—as I always did—from school.
Begin at the usual cafés where nothing has changed. The same hunched matron sips the same Sauternes with her small and quivering dog. For your own safety, do not dismiss her scowl. Then we proceed to the markets where the same slabs of meat are still declared to be artisanal.
However, what can we make of the young persons exiting the Sorbonne with something heralded as a “kale chia smoothie?” It appears to be dredged from a fetid pond. No doubt only a present-day hedonist poet could describe the mad intoxication such a concoction induces.
La California Foodie Burger Truck
Near the river, there is an uproar. It must be the people’s yearning for a new aesthetic order. I step to the conveyance that serves this crowd. I am told, however, that I do not possess the necessary “express menu app.” I once passed nights in a prison very near to this place where the beatings of the guards were fair and inspirational. The food came from another truck. The crusts of bread held the promise of an infinite dawn. Today, we are asked about options of gluten. The fellow with the sterile beard and the tribal skin markings is growing impatient. I grab his lapels and implore, “Has anyone in this hearse informed you that you are not yet dead!?” This seems to flummox him.
I request the rings of onions. They are, in a word, glorious.
Les Marquis de Ladurée
We return to an establishment which has not changed since my day. I was hoping to avoid this proprietor of fanciful macarons as, though I can scarcely recall, I believe I owe his noble family money. So here a woman greets us with the time-honored condescension, arms folded behind pyramids of the iridescent desserts. Soon, however, she is distracted by patrons with devices on long poles recording their frozen merriment.
As is my wont, I relieve myself into one of his confectionary boxes when she isn’t looking.
The visitors wave to the afternoon decay and we cheer together. Though I cannot join their strange marauding. These touring seers of sights are neither bourgeois nor vulgar, only, like me, the wrong “enfant terrible.”
Inside a building marked by a bite taken out of a colorless fruit, I am reassured that my tattered clothes, for this very once, match those around me. There, a beseeching angel lays light into my open hands. From a long wooden worktable she comes to me, her name fastened to her breast encouraging me to behold the apparatus. The winsome seraph talks of backing up onto a cloud, to which I can only feel flattered. I cradle the object and feel a heft that counters its sky glow.
When I ask after some fresh produce, she frowns. It’s then I realize I’m mistaken; we are in a church. There can be no dining and no sensual pleasure in this particular Elysian Field, moreover never in such a cathedral with the thousands of moving stain-glassed windows encased in inside more glass.
As this present congregation bows, we can hear the swish of Grace departing.
What do the terms “belle époque” or “fin de siècle” mean to you? Or to me? Drowsy families enter and exit the cabaret before dusk. I slip past the ticket-hoarder at the entrance. Inside, the veal loins are naked and the dancers are robed. The lewdest turn of their spectacle is that it is entirely in the English language. I abscond with several bites of some hardened Morbier and then make short work of a bottle of Ruinart.
Light of truth restored, I enter a sidedoor to join the show. Another gatekeeper yanks at my collar. I am booted out back onto the street. This matters not. On the marquee under the windmill, let us scrawl a verse of tender longing to my dear lost Paul Verlaine.
La Tour Eiffel
We may have come to hope for too much from a meal. So we will leave our illuminated feast here. I'm told the grand sparkling column will click off after midnight. The world may be going with it. Again. Which is why I prefer to have my bouche amused with gravel and iron. Nearby, there are polyglot vendors who roll up their blankets while the jugglers eat fire on the Trocadero steps and the lovers unharness the white horses of the carousel. But before we drink to the enduring city's health, remember: our accent is still grave and our senses still disordered.
This, among other things, may not translate well.