There’s a photographic error in this photo, the tea box should say Nuit à Versailles, too, not only 277, I mean what kind of information is that anyway, 277, just a stupid number, not even a nice one, but that damn Stelton cork-screw covers that tea’s much more evoking name of a night in Versailles. It’s a very tasty green tea, aromes of peaches, violets, kiwis, orange blossoms, and other yummy stuff that is to transport us to this magical place in France. Actually, just as it happens, I’ve never been to Versailles, however near to Paris, not once, so I’ve no idea whether there are any peach trees and violets in the palace’s gardens or not, kiwis are from New Zealand anyway, so I don’t really trust them, these fancy Dammann brothers. They just tell you n’importe quoi. Versailles, however, has a very culinary sound to me, my parents often visit, but rather the weekly market in the old town of Versailles than the palace itself, my mother always brings home artichokes, organic ones, of course, over the years it has become kind of a family thing to have our artichokes from Versailles, so whenever I see or eat an artichoke, I don’t think of the South of France where they grow but of Versailles, and I’m kind of disappointed that there aren’t any in this blend—but on the other hand, who wants a tea tasting and smelling of artichokes?
88 degrees Fahrenheit in May, or wait, it’s June now, anyway, 88 degrees Fahrenheit this time of year are, well, what are they? My mind has gone blank, that’s for sure. I can’t think straight. This heat is killing me. Totally. Gotta face the facts. So, for my last supper before extinction I decided to have insalata caprese, my own version of it at least, it’s kind of a messy version, very messy, I mix it all up, the mozzarella, the basil, the tomatoes, il Tricolore in a bowl, so to say. With some olive oil from Sicily and crushed pepper from some place else. Anyway, as you can’t have water with an Italian dinner—food iconoclasm, I say!—I opened a bottle of wine, a fine wine at that, admittedly not from Italy, no Chianti or Brunello di Montalcino, but a fine wine from Bordeaux, a claret as the Brits say, a 2005 St.Émilion Grand Cru, some Château Peyreau—or was it Peyraux, or Peyreaux? Who knows, it’s pronounced all the same anyway—just to cherish summer in spring, high spirits for high temperatures—I’ve told you, my brain has gone soft. Anyway, cheers and buon appetito for now, and as soon as temperatures drop, I’m back. Promise.
Last night, I was watching Jean Gabin going through another man’s wardrobe, he was playing Maigret of course, so the indiscretion was work related, it was done in fine style, with the utmost calm, actually, everything Jean Gabin does is so wonderfully calm, so composed and tranquil, as if his entire being was a neverending stream of contemplation, and while he was inspecting the clothes of one of his suspects, Jean Desailly’s, as of course I was watching Maigret tend un piège from 1958, he uncovered the label of one of the suits, some fine tailoring by – no, not by Prada or Brioni or Zegna, but by Bernheim & Fils – a tailor whose shop was on rue de la Boétie. This scene struck me, but why? The wardrobe belonged to some Parisian interior architect, these were the 1950s, our times’ fashion victims weren’t even born yet, of course this man had his suits tailor made. Suddenly, I felt very poor, poor in style, my suits are all mass produced bullshit, however prestigious the labels, and while I continued watching Maigret meddling in this guy’s life, I felt like putting on my white Charvet shirt, the only thing in my wardrobe that might have a chance to find a fellow counterpart in that fine French murderer’s wardrobe.
These are my favourite columns in the whole world: the ones arcading Rue de Rivoli’s famous addresses, Galignani, for instance, my favourite bookshop, and some cafés offering a place to sit and sip something while overlooking Parisian traffic alongside the Tuileries Garden, the Louvre, or Joan of Arc in front of the Hotel Regina, the most beautifully situated hotel in all of Paris. If you ask me, columns are the best architectural invention since the roof, a roof might offer more shelter from the rain, but so does an umbrella, columns, however, provide us with style, maybe this is why the Acropolis was covered in columned architecture, just to show us what real culture is all about, but then again, Greece isn’t known for rain anyway, is it? Anyway, Paris is blessed with some of the most beautiful columns ever built, some of them with no purpose besides being stylish, but that’s more than fine with me, they stand alone, minding their own business or carrying Napoleon’s statue, they adorn parks and façades, churches and museums, palaces and townhouses, I once started counting them, I made it to 963, then I lost count, there are far too many. Paris is all about exuberance, believe you me.
When I was 43, it was a very good year, I can’t actually remember what I was doing that year, but the vineyards of Château Haut-Batailley seem to have been enjoying some very fine weather, just the right amount of rain and sunshine, right enough to make me forget all about my favourite St.Émilions and to switch to Pauillac, to this property precisely. The fact that I like the label’s design helps as much, I guess, as the fact that I am easily influenced by anything that says Grand Cru Classé en 1855, it really gives the impression these people know what they are doing and it sounds so, well, classy. If I were to describe it, the wine, I mean, its taste, or better yet, its structure, they always talk about a wine’s good structure, don’t they, I wouldn’t be of much help, I just remember an earthy impression, a hint of black currants, too, but I might confuse it with the dessert, chocolate ice cream with cassis, I had a lot, especially of that gorgeous cassis liqueur my parents brought from France, it brings out the flavour of the cocoa so well, so I might be afflicted a little, but I do remember it as ever so pleasant, just like my company, we really had so much fun, okay, I might be compromised by this, too, I really am no authority on wine and most definitely not on this particular Pauillac, but as I said, the label looks smart and it says Grand Cru Classé en 1855, anyway, you just enjoy, cheers, santé and stuff…
In 1936, Marlene Dietrich entered a jeweller’s shop in Paris and uttered some unforgettable words to me: “I would like to see some pearls”. Some pearls. Not to necessarily buy any, just to see some, in a tone that left no doubt about having some infinite riches on her hands, while suavely smiling, with that ironic twinkle of hers, not in her eye, but in her lips, unmatched sophistication and wit, the sort of smile that demands an IQ way above average, quite Einsteinesque a brain, just with a much better hair-do, or, in that particular case, a hat by Travis Banton, of course, later in that movie it turns out she’s utterly broke, anyway, I was deeply impressed. Deeply. In 1999, I entered the Hermès shop in Cologne, uttering the words “I would like to see some cufflinks.”, but it just wasn’t the same. I had aimed too high. But now that you know about my connection to Marlene Dietrich, I give you Flammarion’s edition of Pierre Passebon’s collection of some of the best photographs ever taken of her, the collection’s still on display in Paris, until February 25th at Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris. But if you can’t make it to 5-7, rue de Fourcy in the Marais within the next 48 hours, you just enter a bookshop and repeat after me: “I would like to see some photographs of Marlene Dietrich.”
My grandmother used to travel and bake a lot after retiring, she had all this time on her hands and filled it with some culinary creativity, and as she was fond of red wine and Spain, she ended up baking but one cake only, her masterpiece, her Rioja cake, commonly and less specifically known as her red wine cake, as in the 1970s, Rioja was quite uncommon a beverage in Germany and she didn’t feel the urge to explain her extravagances to just anybody she had over for tea and sympathy, she was a teacher, the most loved one of her village, her funeral was crowded with former students, she must have been a hell of a teacher, anyway, I, being more into France than into Spain, have always replaced Rioja with some Bordeaux when I made that cake, but now, just to cherish her memory, I opened a bottle of Rioja, the batter takes a quarter of a litre, as well as vast amounts of cocoa, chopped dark chocolate, this one is from Venezuela, quite fitting an origin, it’s a Spanish speaking country after all, anyway, the cake‘s obviously soaked with flavonoids from all that red wine and cocoa, kind of an anti-ageing approach to baking. I think, I’ll have another slice just now.