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Paris has been bathing in Californian sunshine
steadily, for several weeks now (including when I was away, I’ve been
told). Right now the rolling pelouse (lawn) of Parc Montsouris facing
my home and the screen of my laptop, is studded with sun BASKERS who
have put the war in Iraq behind them and are getting on with their
lives as well as they can, as we all try to do.
The anti-war demonstrations over here are
not a pretty sight. It’s not only about pacifism, alas. So much hatred
and so much violence is part of the scene, decades of frustration
contained in a fortress of suburban high-rises (you may have had an
insight into them in the film La Haine), have now erupted like a
long-dormant volcano, spitting out hatred for America, and, even more
so for the Jews. On one occasion it culminated into the beating
up, with iron bars of three Jewish youths, who belong to a
left-wing movement. This incident happened during the Pacifist
demonstration last Saturday. Why were demonstrators armed with iron
bars on such an occasion? Most French people shrink from this violence,
for sure, but little is done to stop it. Most French people oppose the
war for sure, but the vocal ones who take to the streets are, by and
large, members of political parties, of trade unions and the young.
Even the very young, who are so easily enflamed, and talk with
their hearts rather than with historical or political references.
was refreshing to go to Paris Soirées last Sunday night and reflect on
the sad state of the world in a more congenial atmosphere. In case
you’ve never heard of Paris Soirées, it’s a Sunday night gathering, in
English, run by the charming Patricia Laplante. First of all, the
location itself deserves special mention, as the gatherings
take place in a beautiful townhouse in the Marais, now converted
into a youth hostel. It is so special that I even included it in my new
book, Romantic Paris. It has a wonderful, cobbled patio garden where
you can settle in summer with your dinner (lovingly prepared and cooked
every week by Patricia) after you have picked your choice at the
buffet. Believe it or not, last Sunday was warm enough to do so.
Soirées is not only about having a nice meal. Ever since her early
childhood Patricia has enjoyed playing hostess, perhaps because she was
an only child. However, she also loves culture (she graduated in Art
History and Literature). As a matter of fact, she likes combining
entertainment, good food and culture, and does so most successfully.
Furthermore, Paris Soirées provides a meeting ground for locals and
visitors. Patricia is an American expat and has been living here since
1983 (except for one year’s escapade to Italy). Like herself, most of
the locals are expats and the lingua franca of the evening is English.
The few French guests who join in are quite fluent or very fluent in
English and like mingling with English-speaking people (referred to by
the French as “Anglo-Saxons”).The social blend is very exciting, a mix
of professionals, writers, photographers, retirees, computer engineers,
marketing people, what have you, and of all generations.
Sunday, for instance, several women poetesses read their own or others’
poems – a poignant poem about the war by E.E. Cummings, a gentle
rendering of Wordsworth’s Daffodils, a shattering poem, in French –
Afrique Afrique – about the spellbinding beauty and the woes of the
bruised black continent, a hilarious naughty poem about an English
lesson taught to foreigners. We needed a good laugh and it was
very therapeutic, just as cooking is to Patricia, as she has told
After the poetry interlude, we had an interesting
talk by Shireen Dodson about the book club she had set up with her
daughter to improve relationships between parents and children through
the love of books. Shireen Dodson used to work for the African American
Centre of the Smithsonian in Washington DC and her initiative has now
spread to many places in the US. This eclectic evening is an example of
the variety of topics you can get at Paris Soirées. I myself have given
two talks with slides there, a recent one about Romantic Paris,
obviously, and last year a talk about the Left Bank. On some evenings
you will hear about aromatherapy, or esoteric topics, on others you
will hear a concert. This is one of the nice things about Paris
Soirées. Everyone can have his or her pick. It’s never stuffy; it’s
never heavy. It’s always pleasing and light hearted.
book Romantic Paris has led me to focus on romance in recent times, I
couldn’t help asking Patricia if any of the encounters at her
Soirées has led to romance. Of course! she answered. And even three
marriages that she knows of: One French computer engineer to a Japanese
woman journalist, one African American jazz singer to a Scottish banker
and one French businessman to a Scottish linguist. There may have
been others that she doesn’t know about, like the Frenchman and the
Chinese woman who met at Paris Soirées but have vanished since….
This is what you will read about the Youth Hostel in Romantic Paris
Hôtel Charpentier, 6, rue de Fourcy,
5 bedrooms, including one twin.
Tel 01 42 74 23 45
Price: Euro 27 per person with breakfast;
shower and basin in each room; shared toilets in the corridors; sheets provided, but not towels.
Lunch and dinner at 8 or 9 euros, in the vaulted dining room.
Closes between noon and 3pm for cleaning.
Prices may have changed since I wrote my book.
you are young and travelling on a shoe-string, this hostel is a great
way to stay in the romantic Marais. If you want a room for two,
(it may be bunk beds) you should book well in advance.
has the feel of a medieval abbey, with its Spartan simplicity,
immaculate cleanliness and beautiful wood furniture. Some
journalist described the MIJC as “the most beautiful youth hostel
in the world.” This is not surprising since the Hôtel Charpentier on
rue de Fourcy was the home of Louis XIV’s future chancellor, Gilles
Charpentier. (Though by the turn of the 20th century, it had become a
brothel called Grosse Margot. And next door was one of the
city’s most famous brothels, le Moulin Galant, also known as Le
Fourcaga. It was closed, like all the others, in 1946.)
you want to feel a little bit more local on your next visit to Paris,
join Paris Soirées on Sunday evening at 7:30 pm, at 6 rue de Fourcy in
the 4th arrondissement.
Donation towards buffet dinner – 20
Euros (in an envelope with your name, home telephone and email
written on the envelope if we don’t already have it).
Thanks for including your card if you have one.
35 quai d’Anjou
75004 Paris, France
Tel: 331 43 26 12 88
Fax: 331 45 86 40 59
Emails: [email protected]
A la prochaine,
Vallois is a leading authority on Paris and author of the critically
acclaimed travel series, Around and About Paris, published by
Iliad Books, UK.
Her latest book, Romantic Paris, is co-published by Interlink (US) and Arris Books (UK).
To contact Thirza Vallois and/or order her books, please visit her