In the silent pixilated Internet light of last night as I was searching for a good crepe recipe, I remembered that sweet little hotel that was home for awhile in Paris way back in the sixties: The Hotel de Buci.
I had crossed the Channel, crouching low and backed against the ferry’s outer deck wall with purging excursions to the rail (a dark and stormy night). Leaving London, St Martin’s School of Art, and the courageous Spartans of England behind me I set wobbly foot on French soil and somehow ended up on the Rue de Buci.
The street was SO Paris. Bakeries, boulangerie, patisserie, a bustling laundry and colorful vegetable stands. Too narrow for cars to easily pass, though they did. And it was on the right bank for this kid, the left one, Rive Gauche.
The Hotel de Buci was run by a couple composed of one oriental, possibly Chinese, and one native French. Though their faces keep interchanging in my mind like theatre masks being rapidly traded and I can’t remember which was which.
The place was tiny, properly decrepit with that immeasurable French je ne sais quoi that led them to the right touches of elegance in all the right places. To wit, the old worn and frayed but much tidied dark red carpet up the narrow staircase to the rooms, but every step neatly tucked to form by a bar across the back held by gleaming rosettes at each end, all of brass and polished to radiance. You don’t need million dollar renovations if you just know where to put the shiny bits.
The wallpaper was red velvet flocked on a cream background, just spectacular and carressable. And all of it crowded into a lobby that was maybe ten feet wide and fifteen feet long, including the staircase up two floors or maybe three. The first floor hall was dark and long, a squeeze. But oh the opening door to my room!! Brilliant sun, everything glowing in whites and yellows, a big JUMP ON ME NOW bed, billowing white curtains against multi paneled six foot windows that flew out onto the street below with its flooding colors, powerful aromas, and noise. Shared bathroom at the end of the hall, likewise bright in white and black porcelain and tile with a massive tub. And really HOT gurgling radiators everywhere.
What I’d left behind in London was painful in comparison. It had been all struggling dark and rough, no central heat, hideous bathrooms, entirely devoid of affection for the gentle sensibilities. I still don’t understand why, except that the English are very fond of withstanding discomfort whenever possible, and the French simply refuse to keep from setting up a table with the best linen, exquisite crystal and weighted silver in the middle of a field of fallen trees, bomb craters, and dandelions. And then produce exquisite meals out of thin air. There are few enough reasons to love them otherwise, the hostility toward foreigners was so pronounced back in the sixties I can’t imagine how they get through a day now. Unlike the Brits who are real explorers, incredibly keen on new frontiers and possess an unmatched intellectual curiosity, the French invented ambiance and do it brilliantly, a rightful source of national pride to which I pray they will always cling.
I recall the endless city walks of day and night along blackened stone arched bridges and pitted wrought iron lamps and rails, cobblestoned streets and the dark winding Seine dotted with bookstalls that Daumier recorded long before I stepped where his boots strode and his eye glowed. I was very new in life, and Paris was having a rebirth of itself, a happy place of laughter, saucy berets, aviator scarves, fashioning change, tasting prosperity and freedom. A very happy place.
Post Script: The color photos are of today; the Daumier of history, the black and whites of my history, wish I had the old ones on hand for the Rue de Buci is not the street of my memory. And apparently Hotel de Buci is a four star elegance now, $400 a night. sigh. I’ll do paintings.