K.S. ANTHONY: Paris: L'hiver. Part 2: The Girl at The Ritz

27 February 2017

Paris: L'hiver. Part 2: The Girl at The Ritz

The night had just started to sparkle and it was barely 6pm, so I decided to walk up Rue Saint Honoré. Most of the shops were still open and I thought for a moment about dropping into the bar with the barrel tables, but knew that I would just end up going back to my room if I did.

I continued up Saint Honoré to the wash of the bright golden light of Place Vendôme.

The Vendôme Column was lit like a pillar of steel glowing silver and blue in the sodium lamps that lit the square. I peered into the windows of Boucheron and Charvet and then walked across the square into the Ritz.

I sat for a while in the corner at Bar Hemingway under the austere bust of the writer balanced on an old Corona typewriter, feeling the weight of loneliness that had unpacked itself come to rest. I wanted someone to share all of it – the orange-lit square, the ruby-veined marble, the easy glow of the first  and second and third drink – with someone. Not the people who crowded the bar and provided atmosphere, but someone. It was companionship, not camaraderie that I hoped for, all the while self-conscious about it, injured by my own sense of vulnerability and a little ashamed of it.

Occasionally, I'd scribble something in my notebook and cross it out. Eventually I switched to champagne. Then French 75s. The warmth brought on by the first few drinks gave way to a blunt anger: a sullen disappointment that, despite the beauty surrounding me, rendered every square inch of it sterile, antiseptic, dull, just as it had spread its shadow over the Louvre. Before long I was drunk and, growing tired of a loud group of Russian businessmen and their English hosts, took a table in the tiny alcove that looked like a library and continued drinking there.

And then all at once, the atmosphere in the bar changed.

The bar didn't become any quieter, but all at once I felt calmer. I was daydreaming, watching the bubbles in my drink rise when she walked in.

She had white-gold hair pulled back in an updo and wore a black evening gown and opera gloves. The smell of vanilla and Chanel powder and cigarette smoke woke me like cold fingertips caressing a cheek. She was with an older woman, equally blonde and elegant, draped in furs, sparkling with diamonds. They sat at the table across from mine, settling in and shrugging away their stoles.

She caught my staring and smiled at me with pursed red lips.

I immediately broke away, embarrassed, feeling her eyes on me as she laughed at something I didn't hear.

There was music in her voice.

And its song was that of forgetting.