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At Last for Heather

photo, heather's birthday, o chateau

When Heather's guests were few enough to count.

Parking Ticket Ladies

Paris:– Saturday, 22. October 2005:– Life is tough sometimes. Here we are outside the Bouquet and uncle Den–Den doesn't want to go in for one for the road because he was 'on the road' until three in the morning last night, and our road tonight is supposed to take us to Heather's birthday party in a place full of wine, possibly women, maybe music, and almost certainly, no clocks.

On the Métro there's a Saturday night mob heading north and we miss our change at Réamur–Sébastopol. On the map the dark green line goes through it and the light green line goes through Strasbourg–Saint Denis. I think my home map has a mistake, because both seem go to Oberkampf. I guess maybe a million people a year mix up Sébastopol with Strasbourg, but it's not fatal.

Uncle Den–Den almost leaps off at République but I drag him back. At Oberkampf it's darkphoto, heather and friends and starting to rain and the streets are as confusing as I anticipated. Finding 100. Rue de la Folie–Méricourt is not for those used to the grid system, with the diagonal Avenue de la République being exceptionally confusing.

Heather and friends, ready to party.

We are inexplicitly in the right place and ahead of time so we retire to a corner café of the sort favored by street cleaners and have uncle Den–Den's drink for the road. Outside the rain stops, the streets glisten and red and green reflects from the traffic signals.

The Rue de la Folie–Méricourt is not wide or lively and has a few overhead lights. We find the address behind a new steel gate after popping in the code, and then we follow the instructions. Diagonal to the left across the courtyard to building 'D.' There's a party going on in an apartment to the left, partly out on its balcony, so we hit the buzzer on the most likely gate we find in the dark.

Part of the entry instructions caution against making noise. The party is making a racket so we can't hear what the monsieur leaning out the window is saying. Not this gate? Try the door to the right. Oops, it's full of green garbage bins. And uncle Den–Den has disappeared.

There's a passage going straight back that I didn't notice it in the dark and he's in there, with another Joe, both looking at another entry. But there's no 'D' in sight. Aha, there's a second courtyard beyond, and in a corner – yes, diagonally – we find entry 'D.' Now we are not to use the elevator and be quiet going up the stairs, polished wood, lots of steps, round and round the elevator shaft.

Counting the ground as zero, the reward is on the fourth floor, with a poster for Ô–Château. Olivier opens the door and we see an almost bare, large room with a bar at the end, with Heather fussing around it.

While I am pretending to kiss the cheeks of Heather and all of Heather's lovely friends who aren't guys, maybe I should mention what this is about. Heather was the first person in history to join the Café Metropole Club. She did this by signing the membership book first, before 600 other people, which was and is good enough.

At the time, in 1999, I thought Heather was 26. Over the years I would have thought that Heather became 25 except that she left Elle magazine and started her Web site, Secrets of Paris, and started her newsletter, wrote a great travel guide, and kept coming to club meetings except for the time she moved to the Riviera. So I was expecting Heather to turn 23 any moment now and was quite surprised to learn that tonight's fête is about the big 30.

If uncle Den–Den is my uncle then I guess I am Heather's uncle. I must say she's done a good job getting to where she is tonight, which is in Olivier Magny's world headquarters for his Ô–Chateau – a wine tasting lounge in his loft–like apartment in a former industrial area of Paris, one hop east of République.

Olivier is a Parisian of about 24 or 28 whose parents own a winery in Beaujolais, and Olivier is a business gradphoto, snacks plus a sommelier, plus a speaker of Italian and English with notions of Spanish, and Olivier lives in this space big enough for dancing but it is really for drinking wine and eating cheese, and everybody who makes a reservation is welcome. All visitors need do is find entry 'D,' which it probably easy in daylight.

I tell Olivier about arriving guests possibly making a bit of noise coming in if they are finding the garbage room first. I think he says he will put up another sign downstairs, out near the street, but the big room is filling up with yakking guests who like loud music.

We have also been told to please not trash his place and its white furnishings because it's his showroom and take our stale smoke out to the landing, and be quiet out there. There are, the instructions in French add, sponges for sopping up sloppy drinking.

Well, I think, if there's likely to be sloppy drinking, it must mean that the other warnings about noise are simply pro forma. Sloppy drinking happens when folks are relaxed, not when they are uptight. I, for one, am ready for the good times, and Olivier gives me an apple juice.

Although this is not a club meeting there are several members present. However because it's not a club meeting – this is Saturday night, not Thursday afternoon – I can't remember anybody's names, except for Claire who is probably member number six. There is a guy who I think is Scottish, but is really from Boston, and I try to talk him out of living in Versailles while failing to hear him telling me he's moving to Saint–Denis.

Another guy, not a club member, says he is from northern Virginia, in pretty good French. And some French guysphoto, bottles who lived in America, they speak pretty good French too. In fact, many of these are probably Olivier's buddies – tidy dudes none over 30, all from the biz school and many from interesting parts of France like Toulouse and the Auvergne, even if they don't look like rugby players.

More arrive and cluster around the sizeable bar with its snacks and bottles and some, like the mystery writer Roman Payne, bring bottles and cheese but not many bring a present for Heather like uncle Den–Den does.

Continued on page 2...
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