Alfred the Dragoman~ Day Four

15 03 2007

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Paris! We’re in Paris…City of Lights, City of Love, City of…..Marcel Proust. When we arrive at the Ritz, jet-lagged, hungry, and dragging our luggage (which despite our best efforts has ended up being an extravagant amount), we find that Marcel is throwing us a welcome party and has invited all the haute monde of Paris. Merci, Marcel. Fortunately this is the Hotel Ritz, and immediately a cadre of servants rush to take us and our luggage to our room and then scurry around drawing us baths, pouring glasses of champagne and discretely holding out their palms. I’m sure a lot of this forelock-tugging is because of Marcel, who booked us this room (and is paying for it- merci again!) and who is treated here as royalty. He entertains and eats here so much it’s as if he’s in his own dining room. To which we now go, having refreshed ourselves and dressed in our finest, which is not very fine but will have to do.Entering the Ritz dining room is like entering fairy-land: the chandeliers glitter with thousands of little lights, the glasses and silverware twinkle like stars, the white linens on the tables are like fields of snow. Marcel, wearing his lavender gloves, introduces us to the Duc and Duchesse de Guermantes, the Marquis and Marquise de Cambremer, the Baron de Charlus and a whole bevy of other royal personages whose titles and names we promptly forget. Also in attendance are M. and Mme. Swann and their lovely young daughter Gilberte (whom I believe Marcel had a crush on in his youth), Marcel’s military friend, Robert de Saint-Loup (whom I believe he has a crush on now), and the great French actress, Berma. A group of musician’s play a sonata by Vinteuil, who has a flair for little phrases of music that seem to linger in one’s mind. Waiters mingle among the guests bearing flutes of champagne, small glasses of kir and trays of canapés. We try to converse with the guests in our limited French; they speak to us in much better English. The strain of this and trying to juggle glasses and little plates begins to tell on us, and we are relieved when finally we are seated to dinner.

And what a dinner! There are, of course, multiple courses: we begin with hors-d’oeuvres, a delicious pate de foie gras, olives, and canapés. Next is the soup course, which appears to be some type of bouillabaisse, followed by lobster “American style”; in our honor, we are told. After this we are at the halfway point in the meal, and so we take a short break which the French call the trou normand, in which we attempt to digest what we’ve eaten so far and drink a glass of Calvados to help with the digestion. All too soon we are presented with the meat course: Medaillons de veau “Bergerette”, little patties of veal that are served flambéed with potatoes and asparagus. Next a salad composed of Jerusalem artichokes and mussels, called a Japanese salad. And last, the cheese platter: Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne, Brie de Meaux…all of which smell like the inside of a tennis shoe and taste like Heaven. Every course comes complete with it’s own chosen wines and liqueurs. And did I say the cheese platter was last? Mais non, now comes the dessert course: fresh fruits, mousse au chocolat, tarte fine aux pommes along with sweet white wine, cognac, brandy and coffee.

Over the brandy, I see a small table in the corner that I hadn’t noticed before. Sitting at it are two people who don’t quite seem to fit in- they’re not dressed as splendidly as everyone else and they look ill-at-ease. They look like us, in other words. I ask Marcel who they are, he blushes and says, “Mon petite cheri, the woman is Celeste Albaret, my housekeeper and companion, surely I’ve mentioned her to you?” Yes, I say, you have. And the man? Marcel’s blush deepens. “Ah, cheri, that is Alfred, my chauffeur. And you will never guess! He has agreed to come along with us as our dragoman!” Ah, indeed. “He has agreed to go? Or you have told him he must come with you?” “Ah, non, he wants to go! He begged me to let him go!” I am skeptical. “And he can speak the languages and knows the customs and can do everything we need a dragoman to do?” “Oui, cheri, he is from Monaco and speaks fluent Italian!” I start to tell Marcel that we are going a lot farther than Italy and will encounter many more different languages, but I can see he’s beginning to pout and so I let it go. We have a dragoman. His name is Alfred. C’est fin.

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2 responses

10 04 2007
Heather Blakey

Now it sounds that all will be well. With a Dragoman like Alfred you will not be left struggling on this magnificent tour. Your detail really is quite extraordinary. I will have to make sure to pop in here more regularly to see how you are faring.

10 04 2007
lorigloyd

Oh! My mouth is watering. Chocolate Mousse!

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