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Paris On My Pandemic Mind

Updated: May 3, 2021

By Naomi Serviss

Eighteen years ago, my husband was made an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Five weeks in Paris.

At the time, Lew was the metro copy desk chief at the New York Times.

The Times had bought the Washington Post’s 50 percent stake of the International Herald Tribune.

It’s Paris-based.

Copy editors were urgently needed.

Spouses invited.

No-brainer in theory.

A hitch in reality.

We had just moved three months earlier to Sea Cliff, Long Island.

Still unpacking.

Sea Cliff is a quaint village with picture-book Victorian houses.

Many are New England-y “Painted Ladies,” with three dazzling colors.

The stuff of which my childhood dreams were made.

A 100-year-old white-and-blue-trimmed three-story Victorian seduced me.

Its beckoning wraparound porch was white wicker-furnished.

A picket fence and hedgerows fronted the small lawn.

Love at first sight.

Spacious living and dining rooms.

Four bedrooms festively painted.

Hardwood floors and high ceilings.

Pocket doors.

A built-in granite breakfast counter.

The walk-in kitchen pantry sealed the deal.

Then came Paris.

My reaction:

“Of course, say yes!”

I found a recommended dog-loving house sitter.

Good news for Maggie, our basic brown rescue.

I reached out to a travel editor who green-lit my Paris feature pitch.

Public relations directors from five-star hotels were eager to accommodate me.

Alain Schlockoff and the author.
Alain Schlockoff and the author

I was a contributor to L’Écran Fantastique, a Paris-based science fiction film magazine.

It was founded by Alain Schlockoff in 1969.

We remained friends and he invited us for a friends-and-family tour.

Lew flew out a few days earlier.

He settled into a furnished apartment near the Louvre.

Lew met my red-eye.

I was both jet-lagged and amped up..

Drunk on endorphins and desperate for sleep.

Lew was eager to show me everything.

I was trying to form a coherent sentence.

Something like: “Show me around now?

Are you nuts? I just need to sleep.”

But words failed.

We made a pit stop at the Citadines Opéra Paris.

Ditched my suitcase at the one-bedroom furnished apartment.

The hotel faced Rue de Richelieu. a heavily trafficked street on the Right Bank.

We fast-walked past the Paris Opera, the Comédie-Française, Palais-Royal and Notre Dame.

I take Lew’s word for it. I remember nothing.

Finally, we headed back. I collapsed onto a soft bed in a cozy dark room.

Slept fitfully.

Scattershot dreams were thick with bus fumes and incessant honking.

Manhattan Lite.

The apartment was dark because it had no direct sunlight.

Windows faced the busy Rue de Richelieu.

Like Midtown on matinee day.

I hadn’t been dreaming about traffic noises.

The buses idled below the bedroom window.

Diesel air circulated through the cracks.

My family knows I’m picky about hotel rooms.

As a travel writer I’ve spent a few nights in posh hotels. I wasn’t expecting swanky. This place didn’t meet even my basic standards.

Like fresh air and sunlight.

A few urgent phone calls later, we piled our belongings in a cab.

We explained our dilemma in fractured French.

Hightailed it to a Left Bank Citadines on the Seine.

We checked into a spacious one-bedroom with natural sun and fumeless air.

Lodging anxiety dissolved. Food foraging was next up.

We scoped out a nearby supermarket and stocked up on essentials. Cheese, bread and coffee.

Breakfast was covered. Lunch and dinner out was a given.

The next few days were dreamily delicious.

A Modigliani exhibit, the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Champs-Élysées and Notre Dame.

We lounged at cafes, nonchalantly sipping lattes. Croissants were swoon-worthy.

We did our best not to act touristy gleeful.

While Lew worked I meandered like a hopeful romantic.

I took photos of store window dogs and enormous doors to apartment courtyards.

Alain brought us to the catacombs.

The dank, spooky burial tunnels were haunting.

Skulls and bones were piled everywhere.

The ancient floor was slippery.

Alain ignored the DON’T TOUCH signs.

He casually picked up a skull.

We admonished him in a friendly way, citing possible bad luck.

As he returned it, he fell hard on his ankle.

Insisting he was fine, we carried on.

He took us to the city’s largest flea market.

It was a grand indoor and outdoor repository for vintage furniture, knick-knacks and treasures.

A funkily ornate bronze door knocker called me.

Alain bought it.

He was limpy but insisted his foot was fine.

We ambled to a nearby restaurant.

Afterwards, he brought us to his multi-storied family apartment.

Alain regaled us with film festival stories for hours.

We made plans for the next day.

Unsurprisingly, he called to reschedule.

He had broken his ankle after taunting catacomb spirits.

Next up was a weekend at the five-star Hyatt Paris Madeleine.

My host gave a highlights tour before dinner.

The luxury suite would rival a Park Avenue penthouse.

The furnishings were comfortably contemporary.

The bed was beautifully pillowed.

Custom-made bathroom amenities were generously supplied.

Their fragrance was lightly scented, not perfumy.

A delicate mix of rose and jasmine notes.

I enthusiastically relayed my aromatic affection for all the things.

“Would you like to meet the perfumier who created them?” he asked.

I nodded.

Blaise Mautin
Blaise Mautin

That evening Blaise Mautin bounded into my colorful Parisian adventure.

An instant rapport, we became fast friends.

He brought me to his lab a few Metro stops away.

It had been set up on the third floor of his family’s spectacular apartment.

Suitable for an Audrey Hepburn movie.

Blaise’s immaculate space was punctuated by tiny perfume bottles.

A refrigerator protected works in progress.

He brought one out and gently waved it under my nose.

A hint of rose took my breath away.

He put the bottle in my hand.

“Your Paris souvenir.”

The Four Seasons George V. was next.

Opulent palatial luxury.

Public spaces dressed to the nines.

Bountiful fresh floral bouquets elegantly arranged on tabletops.

My congenial host showed me to my room.

It wasn’t a room.

It was the Audrey Hepburn suite.

Her Paris nest.

Lew in the Audrey Hepburn suite.
Lew in the Audrey Hepburn suite

The door opened to a lovely foyer and sweeping staircase.

A dining room, kitchen, living room and bath on the first floor.

Chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne on a highly polished coffee table.

Framed photos of Audrey Hepburn adorned each room.

City views from the windows.

On the second floor was an office, living room, two bedrooms and a beautifully tiled bathroom.

Windows opened to an Eiffel Tower view.

Visible while taking a bubble bath.

Dinner fulfilled my Paris food fantasies.

Each course was wine-paired after a tête-à-tête among the distinguished sommeliers.

We were giddy during the cheese course.

Decadent chocolate cake released our remaining endorphins.

The following day we visited the Chanel store and had drinks at the Ritz.

The remaining days sped by too fast.

It was hard to leave but I missed Maggie and our new Sea Cliff home.

Maggie and I ecstatically reunited.

Lew flew back a week later.

He brought a jester puppet from Au Nain Bleu, the famed century-old toy shop.

That night we watched Charade.


Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including

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