Life before yoga: was I petite Nicole? 5. A brush at the Paris Ritz
“He is obsessed with his penis! All men are obsessed with their penises,” said Monika as we ejected ourselves from the taxi on Concorde, just around the corner from The Ritz. “It is an unfortunate trait. But it is small. I am sure of it!” She was talking about her Paris patron – the one who had lent her the exhibition space. We had only thirty euros each in our pockets at the time. We stood looking at the imposing grandeur of the building with its top hatted and tailed voituriers holding court outside the entrance and took deep breaths. We were on a networking mission, looking for prospective art-buyers.
“Are you sure about this?” she asked me, slightly nervously.
“It’s ok.” I said, “People do this all the time and they’re all just human like us. Besides, this was your idea. If we want to bump into the rich, we are going to have at least be within a few metres of them!”
“Except they usually have more money in their pockets and a posh accent,” Monika added.
“Ok, but for tonight, we are two mysterious foreign girls out discovering the high life of Paris. Besides, it was in my Time Out guide to Paris so it can’t be that taboo to come here. Why should we let class beat us?” I said, sounding braver than I felt. Had I had the security of a gold Amex card in my back pocket, or even been inside somewhere as grand before I might have felt differently. These days, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid, cash or no cash but I felt very inexperienced and insignificant at the time. I remember entering what was an even more imposing foyer but felt a little more at ease when the two French ‘meeters and greeters’ smiled welcomingly at us and directed us to the Hemingway Bar. We walked down a seemingly infinite corridor, flanked on either side by glass fronted, mirrored cabinets, all brightly lit and ornate looking. It reminded me of the moment when Dorothy entered the room full of treasure in the Wizard of Oz except that they were filled with odd, kitsch trinkets like plastic dolls and cheap jewellery. Of the Hemingway Bar, The Time Out Guide to Paris read, ‘Pulling in its fair share of characters, honeymooners and expense account nerds, it’s a great place to people-watch.’ What the guide didn’t tell you was that it would be filled with middle-aged thirty-year-olds; brandishing walking sticks; sporting the latest lines in country clothing (despite being city dwellers); with the obligatory stiff upper lip wrapped around the Cuban cigar stuffed in the mouth. We found it a tad overwhelming when the waiter, looking rather dashing in his white suit jacket, shirt and black trousers and dickie-bow tie demanded, what would you like to drink ladies? When I requested, ‘la carte’, he answered, oh, there’s no need and continued by reeling off a list of the top 10 favourite cocktails, what was in them, how they were made and gave details right down to the temperature at which the vodka in the vodka martini had been stored at. We were warned that the berry vodka martini was nasty and were not disappointed when the cocktails appeared with a garnish that probably cost more than the alcohol and it bit back on drinking, with as much pain as it took for us to admit that we were each going to spend 20 euros on one drink. Of course we had no reason to fear the bill. Being two attractive girls alone in a bar, it isn’t too difficult to bump into someone tripping over themselves to talk to you and buy you a drink. Unfortunately, we ended up talking to a boring Spaniard and his friend who worked for the Hilton who was convinced that we were enraptured by the stories he related demonstrating his passion for, and high position in customer service in the hotel industry. According to the Time Out guide, we had bumped into a couple of the ‘expense account nerds’. When they picked up the bill (without asking either of us if they could), I felt that we had well earned the 40 euros between us and the offer of going to a salsa bar in the Champs-Elysee with them was fairly irresistible to two poor foreigners staying in a youth hostel for 10 euros a night. As there didn’t appear to be any better prospects, it seemed too good to refuse.
“Don’t worry. This was a trial run,” I said.
“Yes,” said Monika. “Next time we’re after the Russians. They have plenty of cash to throw around and I know people who can tell me where to find them.”
On the way out of the Ritz we stopped for a chat with Steve, the ‘English of the English’ bar manager who lived up to the quote in the Time Out guide:
“… the old-school charm of Steve the barman make[s] the bar a cocoon from the horrors of the outside world.” However it didn’t tell you that Steve the charming barman is also a pot-smoker.