When I first decided to write this entry about Maxim’s in Paris, I hadn’t planned on going into much more detail than solely that of the setting. I planned to write it out like my previous travel articles, but as I sat down to recall my memory of this evening, somehow it just felt right to truly take you on our adventure step-by-step... so let’s set the scene:
We're in Paris. We’ve traveled from the States for our fifteen--year anniversary. We’ve checked into a beautiful boutique hotel that was an anniversary gift from my mother, and we’ve dressed for the evening. The sunlight dims all across Paris, and the street lamps cast a soft glow on the rain-dampened streets.
The driver drops us across the street from Maxim’s. What an overwhelming sight! The buzz of Paris is all around us - car horns and tourists chatter along the streets. Shoppers stroll to their next destination, bags dangling from their arms - but it's the streets I'll remember most. In the muted evening light, the rain-pattered streets glow, and the soft light casts a moody scene across the famed Parisian street. I suddenly comprehend why the beloved character, Gil Pender, says with conviction that Paris is most beautiful in the rain. Trent takes my hand, and we cross the street quickly, the drizzling rain enveloping us as the chilly autumn air fills our lungs. Exhaustion flees my body, and I am fully awake and fully alive when we cross the threshold of the famed restaurant, Maxim’s de Paris. We're greeted warmly and shown to our seat. There is so much to take in. As Hadley describes it in Summoned:
Dinner was more adventurous than our previous meal, but I was thrilled to be seated across from Fitz at Maxim’s, a Parisian staple indeed. I looked around distractedly, finally viewing a restaurant I dreamed about for years. Beautiful murals decorated the walls, intricately detailed columns and molding adorned the dining rooms, white tablecloths spread across small tables… all cast in a dim haze of soft crimson. It was nearly overwhelming to sit down in such a famed restaurant.
And that is all true. But on this very night, something quite special happens. You see, there's a mix of factors swirling though the universe that evening - protests, rain, and canceled reservations - that lead to us having Maxim’s to ourselves. You read that right. As we walk distractedly toward the back room and are seated just across from the stage, I can't help but wonder where all the dinner patrons are.
Our waiter is an absolute gem. He begins by informing us that we do, indeed, have the place to ourselves, though he can't believe it. He explains the mix of conditions that might have led to such an event, but honestly… none of that matters. It's a lucky start for us. As dinner progresses, we learn from our waiter about Paris - and about Maxim’s. The table just behind us once held President Kennedy and the ever so divine First Lady. We speak freely and revel in the peace that comes from a quiet, intimate experience. Halfway through dinner, the talent arrives. A man crosses the room in a tux and takes the stage. He croons classic jazz tunes, and Trent and I sing along, enjoying ourselves thoroughly. He pauses, and we discuss where we’re from and where we’ve lived - he’s thrilled by the Seattle connection, because that’s exactly where he hailed from some twenty years ago, before he became a resident of Paris. And after a warm discussion about Seattle and Paris and many things in between, he looks at us, a twinkle in his eye, and says, “Here’s what we’re gonna do. It’s your first night in Paris. You two are celebrating fifteen wonderful years together. You are in the magnificent Maxim’s. There’s no one here - I honest to God have never seen this happen. So, you two are gonna get out on this dance floor. I’ll sing while you dance, and you’re gonna give me your camera so I can take pictures, cause I’m tellin’ ya, this will never happen again.” And we did. We return to our table, stunned by the experience we’ve just had when our waiter returns. “Where are you going next?” “We’re not sure yet. What do you recommend?” we ask. “Well, since the gentleman here is a Hemingway fan, I think you must visit the Bar Hemingway.”
*Bar Hemingway is not a setting in Summoned, though I’ll finish the evening's tale if you’d like to continue below. The walk home certainly inspired other scenes.* He calls ahead for us, and the manager says we won’t have to wait. We are profuse with our thanks before hitting the streets of Paris. The rain has let up for a moment, so we walk. It’s absolutely the best way to see a new city. I wonder how many miles we’ve walked over the years on our trips. I just have to take it all in. We arrive at the Ritz and meander through a lengthy hallway until we arrive at the bar entrance. Roman escorts us through the tiny space to the bar. To Trent’s left is Bertrand, a born and raised Parisian, and to his left sits a beautiful young woman. She’s Kenyan, though she moved to Paris because “who wouldn’t want to move to such a divine city?” And speaking of divine, our new friend becomes Goddess Diana for the rest of the evening, and we can’t help but giggle as we call her by her chosen title. We’d found the locals - the ones who are regulars and know the bartender well - a handsome man with dark hair and a warm smile who moved from Dublin and found love - and not only with Paris. He, too, calls Paris home these days. He takes great care to listen to our preferences before crafting one-of-a-kind cocktails made especially for us. Mine are - unsurprisingly - all crafted to enhance the flavor of my favorite whisky. An hour or so into the evening, a beautiful couple from Edinburgh sit to my right, and that is the moment our party is complete. “I’m Melissa,” she offers, slipping her hand in mine, wearing a soft smile. “And I told my husband when I saw you that I had to meet the woman at the bar wearing the beautiful gown.” I smile. She’s all elegance and charm. It seems to be the theme of the evening. Laughter and stories and promises of meeting again float in the air, along with a few hellos from other patrons in the bar. A couple from Chicago sit behind us and introduces themselves briefly. They recognize our accents straightaway - and they are hardly the last. But our attention is captured by our four new companions, and little attentiveness can be spared. Eventually the bar closes, as they always do. We’ve closed the place down - not a common occurrence for us, I can assure you! As we wander into the crisp air of the evening, “Bert" questions how we’ll get back to our hotel. “We’ll walk.” I smile. “Paris is the most beautiful in the rain, you know.” Bert scurries up the stairs, returning with a Ritz umbrella in hand, before passing it off to me. After a flurry of hugs and air kisses and promises to meet again, we wander back down the streets of Paris. The stretch isn’t especially lengthy - roughly fifteen minutes, even in heels - to our charming hotel across from the Louvre. Let’s take it in, shall we? A few cars glide lazily down the street. The lights are dim. The rain is soft, pattering lightly against the canopy of the umbrella. We look down, and my gown is soaked roughly ten inches deep from rain and puddles - my, how the Bingley sisters would protest! - but I can’t stop grinning. My arm is looped through Trent’s, whose strong hand grips the umbrella, holding it steady. The night is brimming with magic. It buzzes around every corner. This is life. We understand that. We feel the truth of it in that moment. ~~~~ I’ve thought about that evening countless times. I don’t know how it happened - I don’t know how Paris rolled out the red carpet and turned every light green for us. I don’t know how the magic surrounded us and granted us an evening even Cinderella would envy. But that night changed a part of me - it rewired something important. Hadley experiences a big revelation in Paris herself - and it’s where she begins to come to terms with that change, as well. When I realized Hadley and Fitz’s journey would take them to Paris, I began to understand that Paris was where their next chapter began. And it was inevitable that my experience in Paris would shape that travel experience for Hadley in some way. The city is magic, and I wanted the reader to feel it. I now carry that magic with me. And so does Hadley. I’m eternally grateful for Paris. And after so many years of inhabiting Hadley's mind, I’ll tell you one thing with certainty - she carries Paris with her too. ~~~~ If you enjoyed this story, give it a like or comment, so I know you’d like to read more on Summoned's settings and the stories behind how they ended up in my manuscript. My next post focuses on a particular setting in London. We’ll move to Edinburgh after that, but we’ll revisit Paris. Are there any specific settings you’re curious about? Drop a comment below or contact me - I would love to hear from you!