This story has a music tie-in but it will take a bit to get there. My wife, Laura, and I had spent 5 days cycling in the French Alps doing some of the famous Tour de France climbs like Alpe d’Huez and the Col du Galibier. Trip logistics ended up giving us a half-day in Paris before an early morning flight back to the US. Neither of us had been to Paris before and I wasn’t particularly excited to visit the city. The people I’d known who had gushed about Paris had been fashion or art snobs who oozed condescension. Dickheads. But we had a bit of time and had never been there so we gave it a shot. We arrived at our hotel just south of Notre Dame Cathedral in late afternoon after a long drive from southeastern France, dumped our cycling gear in the room and went out to explore.
At first we didn’t even know which street we were on but we figured that out, got north, east, south and west sorted and wandered in the general direction of Notre Dame. Before we realized it was happening the city began to work it’s magic – and it has magic. The area we were in is awash in sidewalk cafes where coffee is both good and always available. It’s as if the whole place is designed to hang out. And that’s what people do; they hang out. All kinds of people, all ages, all socioeconomic classes, all together, all reading, talking, watching, staring into space. Hanging out. Walk a little, check out a book shop or two, a chocolate shop, a market, stop for coffee and a little pastry, walk some more, discover beautiful gardens filled with people hanging out, turn a corner and find an amazing fountain, statue, building, stop for coffee . . .
The day faded to black and we were completely mellowed out and in love with the city. Good times. Hungry now, we dug out a guidebook and found a restaurant described as romantic which was pretty close to where we were. Sounded perfect.
It was. An old building on a winding side street, small, dark, candle-lit, rough stone walls and open rafter ceilings. There were a few tables set up outside but the windows were out to combat the August heat and we wanted the privacy and quiet of an indoor table. Laura treats cooking as an outlet for creativity and she is extraordinarily good at it so we are used to eating very good food. This was very good food. We ate slowly because we were in love. With the food. With each other. With the moment. It was one of those times when everything stops and right here right now with the woman you love is all there is in the world.
And then two couples entered room. They were speaking English which immediately drew our attention after almost a week spent struggling with a language we barely knew. It would have been difficult to ignore them in any case for they were loud. The two women were model-thin and wearing model clothes. One was desperately trying to look younger, the other desperately trying to look older. Which meant that between them they were wearing enough makeup to stock a small department store. Having been shown to a table the four began a loud and seemingly endless discussion of who was going to sit where. It was a round table. The talk wasn’t as much about who sat next to whom or who was going to have which view but rather about who was going to dictate to everyone else where they sat. It was small and ugly and it was going to get worse.
The woman who was older but trying to appear younger was the center of the group both by her demand and the other’s deference. She looked vaguely familiar but I was trying to block them out and didn’t try to identify who she might be. That proved hard to do given that they were talking at a volume that would be difficult to ignore for anyone in the room. For us, who were sitting right next to them, it was impossible. They appeared to be making nothing but small talk but the tone of the conversation, which was dominated by the central woman and her male companion, was that of two people who were doing their best to aggravate the other into committing an embarrassing emotional display that the provoker could not be blamed for. Mean, petty, ugly and sad, it had the aura of an old and well practiced routine. And then it clicked into place. The woman and her companion who were the source of all this unpleasantness. Madonna and Guy Ritchie.
Needless to say, they had poisoned the atmosphere. We left quickly, passed by their limo and bodyguards waiting outside the restaurant, turned the corner and disappeared. Paris again worked it’s magic and brought us back to the place we were in before Madonna made her appearance.