Romance in Saint-Germain des Prés
In so many ways, this Valentine’s Day is exceptional for both of us.
Do you remember when we decided to go to Paris for a romantic weekend? You were enjoying your favorite chocolate – with passion fruit – comfortably settled in your cozy old yellowish-orange armchair. It had been raining for several days. You daydreamed as your hazel eyes watched the raindrops running down the windows in the living room. You said to me, “Why don’t we finally visit Paris, at the end of May?” I answered eagerly: “Yes, after Venice in February, it’s about time!”
Of course, you picked a nice hotel, located just a few steps from the Saint-Germain-des-Prés metro station. The room’s drapes were thick, made of raspberry-red velvet. They enveloped the room with a warmth that was both gentle and rich at the same time. You could almost imagine the deep, sweet scent of vanilla, or even more intense, tart notes of lime, at times. We felt so good there. It was like our own little cocoon, a cozy nest that we never wanted to leave.
What an adventure it was when we got off the train at the station in Paris! It was our very first time in Paris, as adults, so we decided to explore the Paris Metro and go on a real adventure by changing lines at the Châtelet-les-Halles station. So sure of ourselves, we finally found the notorious Line 4. But then we realized we were going the wrong way, so at the Gare du Nord station, we changed directions.
What a laugh we had! Everyone must have thought we were crazy. But it didn’t matter, because laughing with you is my favorite thing to do in the world.
What you wanted was to discover the soul of this quarter you’ve always loved: Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
You know everything about it – you’re a walking encyclopedia. With your sparkling eyes and your delight in all things gourmet, you know everything about this place. You know everything, because Saint-Germain-des-Prés is your quarter.
Yes, it’s your Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
After all, you’ve got roots in this quarter: your grandparents lived on Rue Bonaparte for 35 years. You came here only a few times as a child, so you have only vague memories of it. And then they moved away. But they told you so many stories about it, such as how they met. An encounter from another era, on the corner of Boulevard de Saint-Germain and Rue Bonaparte.
Together, they’d cross paths on a regular basis with the likes of Juliette Gréco, who was often walking arm in arm with the famous musician Miles Davis. They would both be laughing hysterically, probably on their way to a crazy night of jazz in those legendary clubs with their breezy melodies, that you dream so much about. Your sweet grandmother even spent several wild nights in their company, just before meeting your grandfather, who was more reserved.
You never got a chance to see where all those stories took place, even if it doesn’t take very long to get to Paris from Lyon.
You would have loved to have lived during that great era. After the war, young people thrived here, with not a care in the world and a furious desire to live a happy life, free of constraints. They wanted to forget all the suffering of the years of the Nazi Occupation.
Everybody mixed together – rich and poor, intellectuals and revelers – everyone was welcome. In Saint-Germain-des-Prés, you’d never know who you’d be spending your evening with, or who you’d be seeing.
It was “like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”, as Forrest Gump would say.
All that jazz! All those enchanting melodies! We experienced it too, during our brief stay. But that legendary time is so close, and yet so far, already. What’s still left? If the walls of that jazz club could talk, what music would they play for us?
That’s something you say to me often, by the way. “If these walls could talk.” I’ve always loved it when you use that saying – it takes me away to a fantasy world, where I can let my imagination run wild. For just a moment, I pretend I’m a novelist.
If the walls of this Parisian cafe could talk, I’m sure they would tell us about Ernest Hemingway’s secret conversations. You didn’t choose our go-to restaurant randomly – it’s mentioned by Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast, which is what made you want to experience what Paris was like in the Roaring Twenties. So we sat at a sidewalk cafe on those lemon-yellow chairs and watched the locals pass by, trying to imagine their lives.
If only our hotel could tell us tales – because you didn’t choose that by chance, either! Ernest Hemingway lived there for a few months, when he first moved to France. We imagined his wild nights of desire with his first love. We imagined tenderness and bursts of laughter, love and the spicy smell of cigars.
I’d often wondered why you were so fascinated with him, then I finally realized that his most beautiful love story was with Paris. With this city. And that he lived his best years in this quarter that you love so much. You’ve got to admit: when you’re strolling through Saint-Germain-des-Prés, you’re strolling through this famous author’s life.
My love, you know: I’ve always adored wandering through the maze of narrow streets – I think we’ve been on all of them, to soak up the spirit and unique feeling of the place. When we went to Venice last Valentine’s Day, I loved it so much that we kept getting lost – on the streets, in your eyes. And in your heart.
In the quarter of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, I sensed a continuity. I felt our passion for each other: our unfailing, limitless passion. 9 months later, we could say that Saint-Germain-des-Prés is the fruit of our passion.
My love, I’ve seen you search for traces of the numerous times your favorite painter was here. But what can really be found of Picasso in this quarter? Whispers from secret encounters, I’m sure. Bursts of laughter from his surrealist meetings with the talented Boris Vian.
We finally found this little gem that you so wanted to see. From the second half of the 1930s, the quarter was home to Picasso’s studio. You wanted to visit it, but it couldn’t be visited – you were so disappointed! The most famous Cubist painter made his most famous painting there: Guernica. Two of his greatest loves appear in the painting: Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar.
Once again, my love: if the walls could talk, what would they have told us as we stood in front of the doors of that studio?
We considered moving away from Lyon, my love. We could have settled in this quarter that you adore so much. I’d do anything for you.
You’d brought your favorite chocolates: Richart Chocolates. The ones with passion fruit. What a wonderful surprise when we came across a shop of our favorite chocolate-making artisan, right in the middle of Saint-Germain-des-Prés! What a happy coincidence that it was in Saint-Germain-des-Prés that they opened their first shop outside of Lyon.
And you know, my love: coincidences never happen one at a time! For Valentine’s Day 2020, Richart is bringing out a new collection of chocolates, dedicated to Saint-Germain-des-Prés. When I saw that, I just had to laugh. I thought of you in that hotel room with scents of vanilla and lemon, in that raspberry-red setting. I thought of all those wonderful years I’ve spent with you. And I wept with happiness.
Today, on Valentine’s Day 2020, you’ve given me the best gift ever. A son, who we’ve named Germain.
I love you. I love you the way Ernest Hemingway loved the moveable feast of Paris. I love you the way Picasso loved the City of Lights, where he found inspiration for many of his works. I love you the way Juliette Gréco loved Saint-Germain-des-Prés. I love you endlessly. I love you as deeply as the deepest dark chocolate.