Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ouvert Toute La Nuit

Caroline said that if I wrote this no one would believe it, but it’s true, so . . . .

    On our first trip to Paris together around 1983 we checked into a hotel that had been recommended to us by a friend who had stayed there before and liked it a lot.   We arrived on a gray rainy day following a 10-day stay in London where friends had lent us their house in Putney, although it really seemed as if they had lent us their entire London lives and outlook, and we experienced that city joyfully and gratefully.

    Caroline, looking very lovely with her London smile and Brown's of South Molton Street haircut, had a dreadful cold and Paris imposed a dissonant tone beginning with the very first taxi ride from the airport.  When we arrived at our hotel reception, it gave off an ominous bad vibe, which translated into open hostility when an angry-looking male  clerk eventually descended from a sort of raised alcove office to check us in.  We were all American smiles and cooperative fluent-enough French, even when we were shown to an ugly room in a back corridor on a low floor.  When the door closed, we looked at each other and agreed that it was like being locked in a trunk.

    Despite Caroline’s malady, we decided to press on with the day and had a great afternoon, lunching at Willi’s Wine Bar (still extremely new, we learned of Mark Williamson and Steven Spurrier’s restaurant through our heavily-marked Gault-Millau Paris guide) and dropping in at the headquarters of J. Danflou, the famed producer of cognacs, armagnacs and eaux-de-vies.  (From our guidebook we thought we’d be visiting a retail establishment, but these were actually the Danflou corporate offices.  They treated us royally, insisting we sample a wide range of their amazing liquors sold in the famous medieval-shaped bottles, and M. Danflou himself stopped by to shake our hands and say rather portentously: “I love Americans, but I hate Germans.”)

    Later that evening after turning in, Caroline woke up crying and practically on fire.  She asked me please to get her aspirin.  I dressed and visited the front desk, where the same devil from earlier in the day was on duty.  I asked him for several aspirin in perfectly serviceable French and he told me that if I did not vanish from his sight immediately he would call the police to arrest me.  I told him that would be fine; perhaps one of the gendarmes would have an aspirin on him.

    Getting nowhere fast, I told Caroline what happened and seeing the look of desperation on her face I said that I knew that Paris had all-night pharmacies marked by green or blue-green crosses and I would visit one of those.  She looked really alarmed then, but I knew I needed to take care this. 

    We were in a perfectly lovely Parisian neighborhood and my nocturnal stroll felt very “I am a Surrealist in Paris out past midnight.”  Louis Aragon and Andre Breton were definitely guiding my steps to the first druggist, who couldn’t have been more cooperative and furnished me with tablets, sore throat patent medicine, soothing lozenges, etc.


Returning to our weird hotel, the sight of Caroline’s relieved face  was uplifting and revivifying.  (Those were the days when simple pleasures visited more often.)  She took the pills and liquid and felt much better in the morning.  We phoned our friends, asked if we might return to London to finish out our vacation with them (we were not tired of London yet; we were not tired of life), spent one more terrific Run For Your Life Day in Paris (Eiffel Tower, Yves Saint Laurent, Saint-Chapelle, Montparnasse and the Latin Quarter), and departed Dodge for Londinium where we showed our friends things about Putney and environs that even they didn’t know.


  1. Thank God you made it out all right. The last place we stayed at in the Marais had a concierge who actually lit the next cigarette with the preceding one. It was a small place, so the smoke thoroughly permeated every floor. The lift was like a coffin, and the beds completely filled the tiny rooms. It wasn't cheap, either.

    Outside was the Place des Vosges. It was a hot day, so Nat got into one of the fountains. A gendarme shooed him away, but not before we had all had an experience that wiped away the foul taste of the hotel.

  2. It's queer when difficult times arise on vacations. This story, which has other dimensions I haven't gone into, was 100 % memorable. Interestingly, I can't remember the name of the hotel. That never happens to me. Curtis

  3. Source for that handsome martini/pharmacie symbol in (faux, I assume) neon? I suspected damien hirst, but did not find it connected to him on the internet.

    Sensational illustrations, as usual.

  4. Roddy -- I found the sign on Paris Daily Photo and it is, in fact, quite traditional. Please note: "In Paris, whenever you see a sign like this - or at least looking like this - you can be sure there is a drugstore underneath it. It's called a Caduceus (Caducée in France) and it shows - culture time everyone! - Hygieia 's cup (Hygieia , as you all know(!) was a daughter of Asclepius and the goddess of health, cleanliness and sanitation ) in which a snake spits out its venom that is used in the preparation of remedies. There are about 70 000 23 000 pharmacies in France (1 for every 2 700 inhabitants) and they only sell drugs. No soda, no electronics, nor food... like in US drugstores!!" Thanks for your kind words. It was a very peculiar hotel experience. Curtis

  5. Just saw this and so glad I did! It is a totally believable and totally wonderful recounting of your Parisian adventure. I can imagine how relieved Caroline must have been when you returned. About 10 years ago, Barry and I went to Huntsville, Alabama, for our niece's graduation. Almost as soon as we arrived, I became very ill. As weird as your hotel sounds, I would have rather been sick in Paris.