Date: Fri, 30 Apr 2004
To: Lee Lady
Subject: Hotel Dorée, Paris
The Hotel Dorée (I have noticed that they spell it with the "ee," even though "hotel" is masculine) had no record of my reservation, but were happy to give me a room.
I've realized that I've probably been mistaken in referring to this hotel as being in Monmartre. I've always assumed that "Monmartre" was the same as the 18th Arrondisement, but it seems that this is not quite true. It's been explained to me that there is such a thing, within Paris, as the Village of Montmartre, which was originally outside the city and which now corresponds to a large part of the 18th Arrondisement and also a part of the 9th (for instance, most famously, Place Pigalle).
Nobody seems to be able to tell me what precisely the boundaries of this Village of Montmartre are. In any case, only a few blocks west of my hotel was, for instance, Rue de Saul, one of several streets consisting of those picturesque Monmartre stairs, which, however, I was very glad to discover, I did not actually have to climb, especially carrying suitcases.
The web page for Hotel Doree claims:
"The Hotel Doree is located on the slopes of the Montmartre District in the northern part of Paris. More locally known as, 'The Butte,' Montmartre is the part of Paris the most full of contrasts. The hilltop village with its charming narrow streets and courts, its steep stone steps leading to open terraces, its familiar landmark in the Paris skyline, the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, has been an artist neighborhood for over 200 years. Full of secret gardens, small cafes, bars and The Hotel Doree is located on the slopes of the Montmartre District in the northern part of Paris. More locally known as, 'The Butte,' Montmartre is the part of Paris the most full of contrasts. The hilltop village with its charming narrow streets and courts, its steep stone steps leading to open terraces, its familiar landmark in the Paris skyline, the Sacre-Coeur Basilica has been an artist neighborhood for over 200 years. Full of secret gardens, small cafes, bars and restaurants, its appeal prevails day and night."
Despite all these nice words, though, the Boulevard Barbes (two syllables, with the "s" pronounced) itself, though, where the Hotel Doree is located, has nothing picturesque or Montmartre-esque about it. I found it very similar, in fact, to Canal Street in New York City. Massive hordes of people of all possible skin colors speaking a number of different languages, most of them seemingly non-European, shoving their way past stores selling a variety of cheap discount junk.
Sylviane had warned me to be very careful on the Boulevard Barbes, and the owners of the hotel also warned me. But I noticed, in addition to many rather dangerous looking characters, a fair number of non-dangerous looking types as well: men and women dressed in rather fancy clothes, for instance, even if some of these were African fancy clothes, and old people, and young teenagers, and women pushing baby strollers. So I found this reassuring, even though I imagine that if I'd talked to these people, they also would have told me that I needed to be very careful. And these people, I would guess, know how to avoid making themselves targets for the less savory types.
In any case, if I was a target, I wasn't a sufficiently attractive one, because no one made any attempt to attack me.
The only thing remotely like a close call occurred on night close to midnight when I was walking home on the Rue Custine, and was only a few blocks from my hotel. A couple of guys were going in the opposite direction, and one of them approached me and said that they had just been watching the football match and it had been very exciting. "Good," I said, "On a gagné" acute accent)?" which I hoped expressed the fact that I knew nothing about the match or who had been playing. The guy then started asking me the normal sort of questions that people ask tourists: Where was I from, what language did I speak, etc, and then asked if I'd like to go have a drink with him, and I replied that it was late and I needed to get back to my hotel. He claimed to be Italian, which was certainly plausible enough. And then we both walked off. But about a block farther on, he came back (I didn't see his friend this time) and approached me again, this time picking up a free real estate magazine from a newstand to use as a conversation piece, and went through pretty much the same conversation, pretty clearly having no awareness that he had already talked to me five minutes before. So maybe he was just very drunk or, maybe .... The incident was a bit disturbing and I just hoped that I wasn't going to start encountering him every time I was walking in the neighborhood at night.
But in fact, I never saw him again.
The hotel is owned by an old couple who could be somebody's grandparents (and maybe even are!), and who in the way they were solicitous of me, seemed in fact to be almost under the illusion that they were my own grandparents.
The male owner is a painter, by the name of Gerard Maszuy, and his paintings, vaguely Matisse-like in style, are hung throughout the hotel and can be viewed on the hotel web site: http://www.hoteldoree.com
I suppose he's about seventy years old, and he seems to be the type of man who, having made a splash of sorts in his chosen artistic realm (although I have no idea to what extent he was ever successful as a painter), remains pretty much a child in the other areas of life and is totally dependant on the woman he lives with to make his life actally function. His wife seems to be just the sort to be quite happy with this role. I heard him refer to her to one of the visitors as, "My eighth wife." Well, if so, I don't think that there's going to be a ninth.
I arrived at the hotel and said to him, "J'ai une reservation," and he immediately asked me, in English, "Do you speak English?" When I admitted that I did, he immediately called for his wife to take care of my registration. She told me that I should immediately get a Cartre Orange, which is the cheapest sort of weekly metro card, usually for residents rather than for tourists. I'd never got one before, because you need to have a passport-sized photo, but his wife immediately solved that problem by xeroxing my passport and then clipping out the copy of the photo,
She said, "If you're staying for a week then of course you'll be wanting breakfast," and somehow I agreed to include breakfast in my registration, although I usually prefer to get my breakfasts somewhere other than the hotels, where it is likely to consist of not much more than a cup of coffee and a croissant.
The next morning, Monsieur Gaszuy met me in the breakfast room and asked me, "Shall I make you an omlet?" I said no. I have, in fact, never much liked omlets or any sort of scrambled eggs. But he protested, "Oh, but certainly yes, why not? An omlet with ham, that would be good. What's the English word for jambon, Helen?" And so I wound up eating a ham omlet every day for the rest of my stay in that hotel. Along with an abundance of orange juice (although watered down), and coffee (again, it was too hard to explain that I really don't like coffee except espresso).
The third morning I was there, one of the Chinese chambermaids was serving breakfast and asked me if I would like a fish (poisson). I puzzled over this for a second or two and then shrugged and said, "Why not (pourquoi pas)?" and she found this very funny. I wondered what on earth she was going to bring me. Maybe kippers or herring, some version of an English breakfast?
A few minutes later she brough me a croissant.
There was a little shop next to the hotel called Bird's Coffee, and I wondered just what sort of place it was. A few days after I started living at the Hotel Doree, I went into Bird's Coffee one afternoon and found that it was just an ordinary bar. I ordered a German (or maybe Alsatian) beer called 1664, which I like to order because I know that it's supposed to be pronounced "Seize Cent Soisante-quatre" and not, as one might expect, "Mille Si(x) Cent Soisante-quatre." (It actually explains this on the bottle, so I can't claim too much for my insider knowledge.) But the woman tending bar said it was not at the moment available, and offered me another German (or possibly Alsatian) beer called Leffe instead.
As I was standing at the bar drinking my beer, who should come in but the owner of my hotel, wheeling a small cart loaded with salad vegetables. He went behind the bar with his vegetables and unloaded them. I wondered whether he would notice me and recognize me standing there. I thought probably not, but indeed he did and came over and shook my hand, and then asked the bartender why she was serving me Leffe instead of 1664. (French bars have different glasses for the different brands of beer.) He then ordered another beer for me and took me upstairs and had me sit at a table, all by myself in the otherwise deserted upstairs room (almost a balcony, but with no view of the room below)) instead of standing at the crowded bar downstairs.
In fact, I really didn't want a second beer, and had been more interested in the experience of standing at the bar with the other men than in the beer in any case, but of course I didn't try to explain any of that to him but sat upstairs all alone and drank the damned beer.
He didn't stay upstairs to talk to me (always rather difficult, given the extent of his English and my French) asked me whether I write every day. I repeated his question, because it was such a bizarre thing that he should suddenly for no reason be asking me about writing. I told him that I do indeed write fairly often, but not every day.
And that's about the way my week at the Hotel Doree went. The morning I checked out, he said to me, "Vous etes un grand écrivian." I shook my head and said, "No, un petit é:crivain." But he repeated with insistence, "Un grand é:crivain."
I never did find out what gave him the idea that I am a writer. The only thing that makes any sense is that he had looked up my web page, for whatever reason, and that his reading knowledge of English is much better than his ability to speak it. Or maybe his wife read some of it to him.
Or maybe it was just a case of mistaken identity.
In any case, after a week I moved on to a completely different sort of hotel, the Hotel les Chansonniers because I wanted to stay at a hotel near Rue Oberkampf (metro station Menilmontant).
Love & kisses to all,
Never eat at a place called Mom's, never play cards with a man called Doc, and never sleep with a woman who has more problems than you do. --- Nelson Algren