to 10px; CURSOR: hand; TEXT-ALIGN: center” alt=”” src=”http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_kcTb8DnPVW4/R1L7fWJWvyI/AAAAAAAAAfI/JhlfOhaJZeM/s400/Sightseeing+Tour+of+Paris+-+Big.JPG” border=”0″ />top:5px;float:left;color:white;background:black;border:1px solid darkkhaki;font-size:100px;line-height:70px;padding-top:1px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>I am both storyteller and optimist by nature. These qualities are as much a part of my genetic make-up as the forehead wrinkle I have had since birth, inherited from my father, or my pear-shaped figure courtesy of dear old mum. Combining these two traits – optimism and storytelling, that is – I find I can reinvent any story to be more interesting on paper than it ever was in real life. And between you and me: good lighting, wide-angle lenses and judicious editing help with the wrinkle and the pear!
toma+2.jpg”>toma+2.jpg” border=”0″ />As a storyteller, repositioning the facts so they are “copy worthy” is a mere casualty in this game called life. Thus, from the moment my husband and I received our invitation to the Gala at the Louvre in Paris, I told and retold friends about our Gala plans, getting more mileage out of the story than Eurostar typically covers in a year. But I always secretly feared that “the Story” would be better than “the Gala itself”.
Little did I know how WRONG I would be! The Gala exceeded all expectations, making it not only the most incredible, awe-inspiring night of my life, but also making it incredibly difficult to put into words. How do you describe what it feels like to tory?oid=oid%3A244695″ target=”_blank”>taste the stars? Each time I sat down to attempt writing this blog, I found myself using trite, overused phrases reminiscent of the theme of my high school senior prom. It was, after all, “A Night to Remember”.
But the night really started before the day even began. WG and I had champagne with Russian caviar on buttered toast and chocolate-dipped strawberries for breakfast before climbing aboard the Thalys for an early train from Amsterdam to Paris – 1st class, bien sur! Each of the 1,000 guests who would be attending the party were being couried 1st class into Paris from their various locations around the world – flying in for the weekend from as far away as Beijing, Los Angeles, Sydney and beyond. In Paris, our host had rented out the luxurious 5 star Le Grand Hotel Intercontinental, well known for having the most sumptuous suites in Paris while enjoying splendid views overlooking the historic Opéra Garnier.
Shortly after checking in, my private hairstylist, Laurie Hoffmeyer Laid, arrived. Laurie is not your typical beautician – you can only go to her by word of mouth. She takes only private clients on appointment in their home or hotel, and though a lady never kisses and tells, she’s on bisous-basis with many an Ambassador, Prime Minister and First Lady. As she is also “un bonne amie”, she had cleared her schedule to spend the afternoon making me beautiful. As she twisted my hair into a classic chignon, WG popped the cork on yet another bottle of champagne and I began to suspect that, before the day was done, I’d float away in a sea of delicious bubbles.
Just as I clipped my garter belt to my stockings and was about to slip into the gala gown, a gentle knock rapped on the door. The photographer had arrived for an exclusive Antiques Diva ™ Photo Shoot – Paris style! WG opened the door expectantly and I felt like belting out a line from the musical Rent, as our fashion photographer introduced herself with extended hand, “They call me Mimi!”
Mimi Banks, fashion photographer, does freelance photography outside of her day job at L’Oréal. This evening she was our escort, carting us around Paris in a privately hired car for a photo shoot that would rival Keira Knightley’s escapades with Chanel. Though WG and I had lived 5 years in Paris, Mimi brought back that “first time” sensation. WG and I celebrated our perfect night in Paris with virgin eyes, stepping out of the car to pose for Mimi’s flash on Pont Alexander III, in the shadow of the tour-eiffel.fr/index.html” target=”_blank”>Tour Eiffel, near the cafes, chic shopping and cathedrals of touch.com/French_Regions/Ile-de-France/saint_germaine.htm” target=”_blank”>St Germain des Pres and finally in the Place du Concorde where a crowd gathered, curiously watching our photo shoot.
Soon the paparazzi arrived and a few onlookers started snapping pictures,
making me feel more than a little self-conscious. Why were strangers taking pictures of my photo shoot? And why had we attracted such a crowd? I adjusted my strapless dress nervously, fearing it had slipped too low and that I was about to become a Page Three Girl. I overheard a local whisper to her friend as she snapped my photo, “Qui est-elle?”
Suddenly, though my photo shoot wasn’t over, the crowd began to disperse and we could see through to the other side of the fountain where another photo shoot was just ending. There we discovered that Ms. Knightly herself was sharing my fountain for the filming of her latest Chanel commercial. As she packed it up to go home, so too did my crowd. I was a little sad realizing that my reputation as The Antiques Diva™ hadn’t preceded me and drawn in the onlookers – instead, I was an anonymous casualty in Keira’s wake!
Our photo shoot ended in front of the Louvre where we would take the grand escalator down the Pei’s pyramid for entrance to our private party amidst the moat walls. No sooner than I’d stepped past the coat check than I practically swooned, for my favorite chef, Guy Savoy – one of the most famous chefs in the world – was standing at the rooms end smiling an impish grin as waiters passed out tray after tray of caviar, foie gras, sea urchins and parmentiers.
The cocktail hour was overseen by three Michelin-starred chefs (who had 8 stars between them) and who would be catering the entire event. Guy Savoy, who needs no introduction, was stationed in the back of the room. Yannick Alleno, Le Chef de Cuisine Le Meurice, was in the center of the room and Michel Rostang, owner of six of the best restaurants in Paris, commanded the station at the front of the hall. A champagne flute was slipped between my gloved fingers and, though I knew etiquette dictated I remove my gloves when I sat for the formal dinner, I wasn’t sure whether the gloves should stay on or off during the standing hors d’oeuvres.
A well known local Jazz Trio played on an elevated platform in the corner of the room, and I surveyed the crowds and decided I was dressed as well as anyone else. A new friend even slipped her arm though mine and confided that I reminded her of a curvy Audrey Hepburn and I responded in kind, saying that her dress, with it’s feathered boa and intense fuchsia train, was a vision of raspberry delight. WG was in the proverbial hog heaven as he went happily from cook station to cook station, tasting his way through the world’s best and most exotic foods, each prepared using the highest quality ingredients, deftly served with the gentlest touch by the world’s top chefs!
toma+with+wine.jpg”>toma+with+wine.jpg” border=”0″ />The concept of each cook station was that each chef would prepare miniature portions of their six favorite dishes. WG’s favorite appetizer was “Duck Foie Gras Poached in Red Chambertin Wine, Acidulated Dates with Sweet Lemon and Caramelized Sesame Seeds” while I was leaning towards the “Artichoke and Black Truffle Soup, with a Layered Brioche of Delicate Whelk Jelly and Sea Urchin Tongues.”
When the bell rang announcing it was time to move into the next room for dinner, WG and I scurried to the head of our table. I was particularly proud of my husband, for WG had been asked to be “master of ceremonies” at our table, ensuring that all guests seated with us were properly introduced to one another and felt welcome. Conversations dribbled about in Dutch, French, English alongside other languages unfamiliar to my ear and, as I always do when finding myself amongst so many international friends, I had a glimpse of what heaven looks like with all the nations intermingling as one.
The glimpse of heaven didn’t stop with the guests. Fortunately, this celestial sensation continued straight through to dessert. After having sampled 18 different hors d’oeuvres, dinner was relatively simple in comparison. It was served in 3 acts – Michel Rostang prepared our fist course. It took all my self control not to pick up my plate and lick it clean! A red wine, a 1967 Château Palmer, was paired with a “Lobster and Fresh Almond Crème drizzled with a Lobster and Tarragon Syrup” and the 40 year old wine was the perfect compliment for a 40th anniversary celebration!
If the first course was heavenly, then the main course was down right sinful. Yannick Alleno prepared “Veal Chops scaled with Cepe Mushrooms, served with ‘Pays de Sault’ Spelt and Béchamel Leeks”. It was presented with pomp and circumstance as entire halves of the calf were paraded around the room on giant trays by 100 waiters. Once served, a waiter came around the table with giant bricks of gold, from which shavings were sprinkled on our plates as heavily as if it were Parmigiano Reserva. It rolled into thick curls and queues as it glittered and reflected the candle light. Taking
my first bite, I made an assumption that, since they were serving it to me, totd.com/articles/477/edible-gold” target=”_blank”>gold leaf must be thoroughly digestible and that my stomach and intestines wouldn’t be gold-lined forevermore, causing me to set off metal detectors for the rest of my life.
Such perfection was this course that WG took his freshly pressed napkin from his lap and wiped a tear from his eye when he tasted the accompanying wine. What I am about to tell you will shock you. You might even be appalled by the flagrant ostentatiousness of the moment. But this was a once in a lifetime experience that WG & I will remember on our death beds – that for years to come we will recall in erotic and titillating detail, rolling it around in our minds and tasting it again and again on our tongues and the hollows of our mouths. While the sides of veal were being paraded about the room, another, more important, parade had begun. This was the parade of the wine, a ritual reserved for only the most demanding and esteemed of wines. Our waiter proudly uncorked and presented us with a 1995 Double Magnum Château Pétrus.
WG, otherwise known as “The Wine Guy”, moaned in my ear, “That bottle of wine must have cost about 3,000 Euros”. His CFO brain went to work as he scanned the room, counting the nearly 100 tables and continued, “On this wine alone, our host probably spent half a million US dollars!”
I gasped audibly, thinking of children in 3rd world countries, made a mental note to make a charitable contribution the following week, then tucked heartily into the dessert prepared by my favorite chef. Guy had taken into account all the rich foods consumed throughout the evening and my thighs thanked him as he opted to serve a relatively simple fruit-salad creation called “L’Exotique”, paired with a luscious 1997 Chateau d’Yquem.
As the last of the dinner plates were whisked away, the crowd started buzzing. We’d all been waiting to see French President Nicolas Sarkozy and word was that he’d give the opening speech for the entertainment. Imagine our surprise when Sarko didn’t come to the stage, but instead some bugger from the Wallabies Rugby team who was apparently the only thing close to a celebrity our host could secure once Sarko went AWOL. An Australian sitting behind us grabbed WG’s shoulder and muttered, “I came all the way from Melbourne to see my neighbor?”
In Sarko’s defense for raining on my parade, lest I sound a little bitter, this was the night before he tol/news/world/europe/article2648498.ece” target=”_blank”>announced his upcoming divorce and the rugby finals along with important officials were in Paris – two things he had apparently not considered when rsvp’ing to attend our fete! Sarko’s “no show” was the disappointment of the evening, but fortunately it was the only disappointment of the night.
As our dessert plates were cleared, Michel Leeb, “L’homme Spectacle”, came forward to emcee the event. Though Michel is not one of those guys you know by name, his face is thoroughly recognizable from his many forays into French TV, and his zany sense of humor set the stage for an amusing array of evening entertainment. As Leeb’s act ended, WG’s heart began thundering as he identified the unmistakable roar of The Count Basie Orchestra. Our host had flown all 20 band members to France from the USA for a private concert. WG was a trumpet player in another life and had often wondered where the road would have taken him had he pursued a musical career. With The Count Basie Orchestra performing in front of us, his two lives crashed into one musical finale. At least we assumed it was the finale, as it was already one o’clock in the morning.
Then, in an explosion of coolness, Jamie Cullum thumped his way onto stage, belting out the cover lyrics from his hit cd “Twenty-something”. For another hour, we were serenaded by one of Great Britain’s most talented artists in a private concert that would have wowed a concert hall anywhere in the world. And we had him to ourselves as he walked into the crowd and melted hearts with his tomer-reviews/B00006J3WL?ie=UTF8&customer-reviews.start=11″ target=”_blank”>pointlessly nostalgic voice and lyrics. As if this wasn’t enough, when Jamie sang his last good-bye, French sensation Arielle Dombasle took to the stage with “C’est Si Bon” for another hour of entertainment that brought every French guest in the room to their feet in a rousing round of standing ovation.
Juiced on fine wines, good food and an IV of champagne that had started flowing again after dessert, WG looked to me and kissed my temple, telling me he loved me and that I was beautiful. I felt beautiful, I felt wonderful and I felt thoroughly in love! Though I had teased WG mercilessly the past two months, calling him “Penguin Boy” whenever I had the chance, I sighed and fell into his arms more in love with him after 11 years of marriage than I was when we first started dating 15 years ago. As the room stopped spinning around us, The Gospel of 100 Voices began dancing and singing a cappella “Feel the Sunshine”. And surely we did as we walked out of the Louvre into the crisp early morning air and pre-dawn light.
It was clearly “A Night to Remember”.
The Antiques Diva™
Check out the Living La Diva Loca Series!
Part 1 – Haute Couture Ball Gown Shopping
Part 2 – Shoe Shopping
Part 3 – Tuxedo Shirt Shopping
Part 4 – to.html” target=”_blank”>A Night To Remember
Part 5 – Little Black Book