Tonight I had the most magical evening.
A night of firsts, surrounded by wonderful company, an array of delicious food, and I became Queen for a Night.
Situated on the right bank, in the area of Saint Paul is a charming flower shop that specialises in roses; Au Nom de la Rose.
Many times over the years, I have paused to admire and photograph the tiny store’s pretty display.
Rose petals, scattered upon the footpath, clusters of roses displayed in tin buckets and colourful glazed pots which are placed upon out-door settings. Au Nom de la Rose exudes a knack of seduction.
Today, I had a reason to venture inside the narrow, charming shop to buy a bunch of roses.
Before I visited Au Nom de la Rose, I had a rendezvous with the New Yorker, as she has become affectionately known.
Obviously from New York, or she would have never have earned this name. A tiny lady with a big personality and of a certain age, who has travelled the world and still does. Annually, for the past 40 or so years, she has visited Paris and speaks Russian, Chinese, Spanish and a wee bit of French.
When I met her five years ago, I made fun of the way she pronounces coffee – ‘cough – fee’ and it has remained and in-joke for us.
She prefers the Left Bank and I prefer the Right Bank of Paris. It is often a struggle to see who will succumb.
This time she made the leap for me, given that my broken toe has made it more difficult for me to get around and for this, I was grateful.
I am going out to dinner tonight, I tell her, come and help me find a dress.
From the moment she arrived, she was bitching and kicking but did offer fashion advice, aided me on the best way to try on clothes with the broken toe and helped me carry my coat and scarf when I was feeling a bit whoozy. ‘Well, I dunna wan-cha passen out in ere’ – she kindly tells me, as she grabs my heavy coat and bulky scarf, which probably weighed more than her tiny little body, but she carried it around all the same, at the same time explaining to me what ‘to schlep’ means.
Voilà, I had a new dress for my evening out and I bought her a glass of wine for her patience.
Leaving the New Yorker in La Tartine, sipping on a glass of wine, I hobbled to Au Nom de la Rose to buy a hostess gift. It was a little further than I remembered and the broken toe was slowing me down.
Once I saw the colourful display, I relaxed.
The queue was long, which I don’t know why it surprised me, but it did.
I would like to buy something for a present, I managed in my bad French. She understood and we selected a gorgeous bunch of flowers.
Perhaps with a combination of walking the distance to the shop, the excitement of having a reason to buy a special gift at Au Nom de la Rose, the service that I received and the way in which she expertly gathered and wrapped the present, made me slightly overwhelmed.
Who has tears clouding their eyes when they buy a bunch of flowers? That would be me.
Maybe it was the fact that I wanted to buy something special for my host of the evening, maybe it was the fear, that I had left it too late and the shop could be closed, perhaps it was with the way in which the lovely lady at Au Nom de la Rose patiently listened to my French, maybe it was the wonderfulness of waiting in the store while she created a gift that I was hoping for.
I am not sure why, but tears were welling up and I felt good but a little silly.
Biting at my lip, holding back the tears, I decided to add a little rose water lollipop for the New Yorker and I was off.
Clutching a large bag, with rose petals scattered on the bottom and my selection of roses artfully gathered into a lush display, with their signature extra rose, secured to the outside of the bunch, I was almost strutting, in an unfashionable, hobbling style with a beam on my face, to return to the New Yorker.
Surfacing from the metro, for the first time since I broke my toe and peering at the numbers of the buildings, I secretly hoped that the outstanding building ahead was my destination.
A double check and a triple check confirmed that this was in fact the building where I would have dinner tonight, and also gave me hope that I wouldn’t have to climb four flights of stairs, for certain, it would have a lift.
Greeted with the warmest welcome I could possibly imagine, my coat was swept away by her husband and I was lead into a gorgeous, elegantly decorated apartment with a roaring fire.
Feeling somewhat shabby, albeit in my new dress but with my clunky ‘wonder shoe’, I was offered an Apéritif, champagne perhaps?
Magically, I remembered the French phrase for why not, and ‘pourquoi pas’ danced out of my mouth, like tiny bubbles in a champagne flute.
This is when a magical evening, with wonderful company and an array of delicious food began.
My host, a lover of architecture, took me on a walk of Paris’ 12th arrondissement last year. A six hour long walk to be exact.
Neither of us seemed to notice the time pass as we giggled, observed and admired the architectural delights she presented to me and her vast knowledge she bestowed upon me.
It was only fitting that she lived in an architectural delight herself.
Sitting next to their roaring fire, sipping on champagne and learning about my broken toe is how we began the evening.
My host’s charming husband, sat patiently while we chatted away in English but one of the many enjoyable aspects of the evening was that I had no choice but to try to speak French.
Struggling but somehow, magically finding words that I didn’t think I had, popped out of my mouth. Her husband’s ears are probably still hurting from my pronunciation but he was so incredibly patient and gracious. Even politely adding that I spoke French well. Now I know that is not true but it felt so encouraging!
Chestnut soup is what we started with. This was a first for me. Chestnuts gathered from the grounds of their country home. If you could drink velvet, I am sure this is what it would taste like. A deliciously, smooth and creamy velvet soup, sprinkled with pink peppercorns.
Next was Choucroute de la Mer, an Alsatian dish. I have had choucroute before but not with seafood, so this was another first.
Scallops, squid, salmon, white fish, prawns – amazing.
Then there was the cheese.
To say simply ‘cheese’ seems like a waste of words, an understatement.
Buying cheese in Paris is still a mystery to me. Yes, you can buy cheese anywhere but to buy it at the correct place, at the correct time for eating and to get the service you need is something I would love to discover but have never had the pleasure of experiencing.
I want to stand at a counter and say, I would like something to eat tonight. Ok, I can say this in French but after that it gets tricky.
Can I have something that resembles blue, tastes like blue but isn’t blue.
Soft and creamy – and I would go on.
I know that I am a bit of a chicken. I have practiced these questions, over and over. It isn’t the questions that get me worried, it is the dialogue that will follow that will let me down and spoil the cheese experience.
Never mind that. Tonight this was done for me.
My host presented to me, two pots of goats cheese that I am welcome to eat with salt and pepper or honey.
But the round disc, bubbling up from the surface, trying to escape it’s bamboo container was what I wanted to know more about.
‘This, she explains to me in English with an ‘urgh’ rounding off the end of ‘this’ with her gorgeous French accent – this – urgh..
You take with a spoon, as she allows a thick creamy dollop of cheese to land on my plate.
Oh my goodness, I have arrived in cheese heaven.
Slowly, I slide a slick, gooey piece of Mont d’or onto a scrap of baguette. Oh yes, I ‘am’ in cheese heaven.
Sometimes, we put alcohol into the centre and warm it in the oven, she tells me.
At this news, although I loved my dinner. I could have been happy to simply eat this amazing Mont d’or cheese for entree, main and dessert – oh and a cheese platter.
After conversation and more wine, the cheese, this delightful creamy disc of deliciousness was taken from the table and transported into the kitchen.
Although crawling on all fours lately with my broken toe felt humiliating, I would have had not qualms about crawling after it, screaming; wait, let me take that out for you.
At this point, I could have sat in their kitchen, probably crouched on the floor in the corner somewhere, and spooned all of the Mont d’or cheese into my mouth until it was all gone.
I would like to say; that this was the Pièce de résistance ….
But that sounds a bit cliché and there was no pièce de résistance, everything was fabulous.
However, dessert was still to come and along with the soup, the seafood choucroute, the amazing cheese and a wonderful night with such a wonderful couple, I still had another first to be discovered.
The dessert, Galette des Rois, is when I became Queen for the night.
La Galette des Rois is a cake or tart that is consumed at Epiphany.
I had heard a lot about this dessert and the tradition but had not tried it for myself.
My host, a lover of architecture and history, tells me the story.
The cake, which consists of puff pastry with a frangipane filling of cream made from sweet almonds, butter, eggs and sugar and has a fève inside.
A fève, similar to English and Australian Christmas tradition, of having a trinket inside a Christmas pudding for good luck, I learned is called a fève.
The person who is lucky enough to have the fève in their slice of galette, is made King for the day, hence the name, the Cake of the King.
Amongst my family, this was strategically placed in the children’s portions but apparently, and I have checked with many French friends, it is in fact, the baker that places this ornament of good luck inside.
Forks were placed on the table, and for me, unaware of how the Galette des Rois should be eaten, I used my fork.
Crunch, something was inside.
When I look up in surprise, my hosts were eating the Galette with their fingers.
Oh! I exclaimed, I think I have it. And with the wonderment of a child, I asked gleefully, can I take it out?
Yes, yes, of course, they say.
Now, this may sound a little silly to you, my faithful reader, but I was excited as a six year old who had received her first bicycle for Christmas!
I presented it to my hosts and … AN ANGEL, she exclaims.
The gold paper ‘crown’ is adorned upon my head. Photos are taken with my green faced angel.
I think she is an alien, I look at her green face, no, I decide, she is an Angel.
Am I a party pooper? An Angel is exactly what I needed – I recently found my giant angel in Rue Turbigo but to have my very own and first fève, an angel she will be.
I popped her in my pocket and there she will stay.
Crowned Queen of the Night, with so many firsts and with the company of such generous and warm hosts, what more could I need.
I truly did feel like a Queen for a Night.
With the promise of a short walk and a jar of homemade jam, the Queen left the architecturally delightful building.