Friday, July 01, 2011

An Idiot, A Broad: Paris, Part Cinq

For almost 30 years, the summer solstice has been the date of the Fête de la Musique in France, a day and a night of free outdoor music. A salsa picnic was in full swing at the church down the street as we headed out, and a Dixieland quintet greeted us in Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

ASIDE #1: This was the day we passed three different people weeping openly on the street. It must have been ten years since I’d last seen that. Throughout the trip we’d borne witness to passionate wordless embraces, deep conversations held in the middle of bridges. Paris is a city of big emotions, a telenovela on every corner.

The Musée Rodin was on Rosemarie’s must list for Auguste Rodin’s famously controversial tribute to her favorite author, Balzac. The museum makes brilliant use of the sculptor’s former workshop and its gardens. But it’s Rodin’s work, still charged with a vitality verging on unseemly, that makes the greatest impression.

Buying tickets provided insight into the French character. The museum offers a joint pass with the Musée d’Orsay, which we also planned on visiting, so that’s what we asked for.

Clerk: I’m sorry, I cannot sell you that. There is a strike.

Rosemarie: Oh. So the d’Orsay is closed?

Clerk: There is a strike.

Rosemarie: Then it’s open?

Clerk: Open, closed. (Gallic shrug) There is a strike.

When we eventually wandered over to the d’Orsay, we found this sign on the locked door: We can not guarantee that the museum will be open today. This is what passes for a ‘Closed’ sign in France. C’est la vie.

Thwarted, we explored Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Upon spotting LMDW Fine Spirits, I drew a line in the sand. If this place doesn’t have Amer Picon, I said, ain’t nobody got it. A sweep of the first floor came up empty. We ventured downstairs. Rien. I fell to my knees, prepared to curse an indifferent God. Rosemarie suggested that we ask someone.

This clerk was very helpful. “Did you look upstairs?”

Permit me to clarify. We were in a three-story liquor store. And within those walls, I was happier than I have ever been.

We braved the summit, accompanied by the clerk. Amidst liquid treasures from around the globe, I found their entire stash of Amer Picon.

One (1) bottle.

Which I immediately purchased. Quest complete. I could return to America as a man in full.

ASIDE #2: I have been asked if we drank wine. Yes, regularly, because the French have embraced the concept of the pichet, a smaller jug of wine that is ideal for two people. We sat in the Jardin du Luxembourg, music playing everywhere as I schemed my way to riches by importing the pichet system to America. Rosemarie finally convinced me it’s more than a one-man operation.

We embraced our tourist role and took a cruise down the Seine. There’s no better view of the Eiffel Tower than the one from the water, as evidenced by the presence of a film crew on the river bank. Our guide was recounting the tower’s history when Rosemarie pointed. “It’s Jackie Chan!” Turns out she was right.

Still flush with triumph, we visited Prescription Cocktail Club, one of the bars the Zig Zag team recommended. This is a true American-style cocktail bar, tucked away on the rue Mazarine. Sullivan, our bartender, recognized the LMDW bag at once. When I told him what I’d purchased, he asked to see the bottle. Picon was that difficult to acquire. Sullivan said that bartenders truly coveted the earlier incarnation of the drink, with its higher proof and more bitter flavor. He and the staff then proceeded to dazzle us with their own concoctions.

Me: Didn’t you want to have a glass of champagne or a champagne cocktail? This would be the place.

Rosemarie: I want to order a French 75. But do they call it that here? Maybe it’s just a 75.

Me: Huh. I never thought of that.

Rosemarie asked our bartender to recommend a champagne cocktail. He suggested a French 75. She told him that was a good idea.

Another languorous dinner with the Czar followed. We walked home at 1:30 in the morning, the streets still a frenzy of people, music pouring out of windows.

ASIDE #3: Conversation around the table that night focused in part on why French women of all ages looked so good, so pulled together. I would counter that the men do as well; stores sold shirts in an array of bold colors that wouldn’t fly in offices here. Nobody slobs around in sweatpants.

We took it easy on our last day. The Paris Police Museum is located off the beaten path in a working police station, which may be why we had it to ourselves. The exhibits aren’t translated, but my high school French helped me figure out the signs detailing the arrest report for Marat’s assassin, the tools used by “Bluebeard” killer Henri Landru on his victims, the recreated office of criminologist Alphonse Bertillon.

We closed our trip at Experimental Cocktail Club, one of Prescription’s sister establishments. (We never made it to the third sibling, Curio Parlor in the Latin Quarter.) I wanted an Old Fashioned after watching Sullivan make one the night before. When the bespectacled sparrow of a hostess said they made them with “ze Reeten’ouse” – meaning Rittenhouse Rye, my tipple of choice – I made a face, because Rosemarie said to me, “Wow. You just totally fell in love with her a little.” Then she shrugged. “That’s OK.”

And that’s why we’ve been married for twenty years. And why we went to Paris to celebrate.


A few days ago, we delivered what may have been the last bottle of Amer Picon in Paris to its new home on the other side of the world, where it was well received. We had a small sample of the drink on its own. It has a lovely floral scent and a dense, almost vegetal taste. Ben P. fixed a Liberal for me, a Brooklyn for Rosemarie, a Creole for another patron. He said that you could make substitutions for the Picon, but you could never fake the color.

At the Prescription Cocktail Club, I mentioned the Liberal to Sullivan. He wasn’t familiar with it. He looked it up, said that it sounded like a fine drink, that he already had an idea for a variation that he could make without Amer Picon. If you find yourself in the bar and it’s on the menu, let me know.

The Perles Noires series continues through the end of July. I have a few more photos on Flickr.