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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Our Civilization today

The following article was published in the European edition of  The Wall Street Journal on October 28th, 2011 and provides a good example of what is wrong with our society today. The love of sensory pleasures has taken over the love for another human being.

The 'I Don't' Honeymoon

The honeymoon was to begin in Paris because that was, more or less, where we began. When I met my fiancé, I was in my early 20s and living in Washington, D.C. He was almost twice my age and living in London, so Paris is where we got together—where he romanced me over the course of seven years. 

[TTale ILLO]  
Hadley Hooper for The Wall Street Journal
Sometimes our visits were fevered two-day jaunts; sometimes, when we had the use of his sister's sprawling apartment, they'd last for more than a week. On one trip we stayed at a tiny hotel called the Sévigné. On another, it was the ultra-discreet San Régis, said to be a favorite of Lauren Bacall. 

Like a lot of Aussies I've known, the man in question was determined to prove that he was more cultured than the Brits he lived among, and I was happy to benefit from his efforts. We ate Gilbert Le Coze's dazzling pounded tuna at Le Bernardin before he and his sister, Maguy, moved the restaurant to Manhattan; we toured the de Menil collection at the Centre Pompidou before it went off to its permanent home in Houston. I learned to enjoy a pastis before dinner, thrilled to the Jacques-Louis Davids at the Louvre and happily drank a hell of a lot of Château Giscours, his favorite Bordeaux. 

The problem was, that had all taken place back when there was an "us"—an entity I'd rather abruptly shattered when I called off the wedding a few weeks before it was supposed to take place. Still, much to the disbelief of my mother and a great many other people who were similarly sane, we chose to take the trip that had been meant to celebrate our union.

I thought I was doing the civilized thing. I thought I'd be letting him down easy, that he could save face with friends and family (many of whom lived in Paris) if he could say it was the wedding and not the marriage I feared. There was also the fact that we already had first-class tickets (by this time we had racked up a gazillion miles), a suite at L'Hotel and, on my end, a particularly swell trousseau.

We got over the first hump, the bottle of champagne left in the room to welcome the new "Mr. and Mrs.," by drinking it—quickly. My jilted groom spent his days catching up with fellow foreign correspondents; I had my own pals in the form of my then-colleague at Vogue, André Leon Talley, and George Malkemus, CEO of Manolo Blahnik U.S.A., who was in town with him. André had a new wardrobe whipped up for my wedding, which included a double-breasted seersucker suit with matching shoes by Manolo. We dressed to the nines and lunched at Caviar Kaspia or on the Ritz terrace. We shopped at Madeleine Castaing and an ancient place George knew where I bought ropes of green cut-class beads that looked like emeralds.

I wore the latter with a white silk dress to dinner à deux with my would-be fiancé at Restaurant Jamin, Joel Robuchon's first place of his own in Paris. Tucking into Robuchon's justifiably famous potato puree (accompanied by lots of the aforementioned Giscours), I remembered why I'd fallen in love in the first place.
But the next morning we were off to Lyon, a city not nearly so romantic nor containing a single soul we knew, and by the end of day two we'd almost killed each other. (I fear we actually might have killed the Michelin three-starred chef Alain Chapel—all the electricity went off in his restaurant the night we dined there, and he died of a stroke less than 48 hours later.) By that point, I'd decided to bail on the rest of the journey, a foray further south to Cannes, and called André, who told me in typically colorful language to get myself on the first fast train back to Paris, where he would meet me in the bar at the Ritz. 

Thus ensued one of the most entertaining nights of my life. For one thing, it was the occasion of my discovery of the Pimm's Royale, a Ritz specialty consisting of Pimm's No. 1 topped off with champagne and garnished with lots of sliced fruit and seriously potent brandied cherries. Somewhere around the third one, it seemed like a good idea to invite my almost-groom and his sister. By this time the room had filled up with people André knew, from Alain Mikli to Donna Karan, and we were all very jolly. Toward the end of the night, I found myself seated between a former Los Angeles Ram, who was one of Madonna's bodyguards, and actress Arlene Dahl, of all people, to whom I poured out my story. 

The bill for the evening remains one of the largest of my life, but it was a small price to pay for finishing the "honeymoon" off in style, and even with a modicum of grace. I kept it as a reminder that even misguided intentions sometimes end up being not so crazy and that Paris can be a forgiving place—Bogart and Bergman are not the only ones who will always have it, after all. A Pimm's Royale remains one of my very favorite cocktails. 

—Ms. Reed is the author of "Queen of the Turtle Derby and Other Southern Phenomena" and "The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story."