It’s getting close to 6pm, and you should be thinking about leaving the office and getting ready for Valentine’s dinner.
Chaps, if you haven’t secured that restaurant booking by now, you are in deep shit; more shit than a Weeribee duck, or as a mate of mine says, “It’s like being in a shit shower and some bastards got the tap on full!
And to make you feel even worse and setting the bar even higher, I am going to share with you my nauseously prodigious Valentine’s Day consummation, albeit two decades ago. I have to say, I even surprised myself in achieving such dizzying levels of romanticism moreover, pre-planning and organising, none of which are my strengths.
QF1 arrives at Charles de Gaulle at 4.55am and with 19 hours of arse-numbing airtime, and having been woken 2 hours before landing at stupid O’clock, it’s probably not the best of ways to kick off Valentine’s Day.
Still, we are in Paris, the most romantic city in the world – the city of love. My wife (to be) is completely oblivious to the fact it is Valentine’s Day, something that has never really factored in our relationship or her emotions. However, I have been plotting for months on how I will ask ‘The Big Question’ and the crescendo of anxiety, or is it adrenalin, must be taking its toll, as she looks at me, “Are you alright? You look like death itself.”
Yes, I know it’s pathetically predictable to propose on Valentine’s Day, but this does not abate the dramas I went through in the weeks prior, and she had no idea of my duress, what with the procurement of a sizeable rock and outlay that might have otherwise paid for a brand new car, not to mention tying a string around her wedding finger when she was asleep to get the size right, and at one stage looking like the ring would not be ready in time!
Moreover, a week before our departure, she rang me to say, “We have to postpone the trip; my boss says I can’t possibly go, as someone on the dealing desk has resigned and I will have to cover him.”
Sacrebleu was my immediate reaction, deciding the only thing to do was phone the boss and explain the stratagem. His reply was, “You’re assuming she will say yes!” He was however an empathetic boss and I sensed somewhat impressed by my scheme or least the lengths I was going to and allowed her to go, with the caveat she fly back earlier and he would pay for the ticket changes.
This had certain complications in itself, that he could not implicate me in this compromise as it would give the show away for sure. A lot of planning and effort had gone into this, and I was now having a bloody heart failure that the element of surprise would be lost. Alas it was not near death, just mentally exhausted and relieved we were actually here.
Our chauffer is waiting for us as we emerge from baggage collection, holding a most conspicuous white sign with the gilded letters ‘Hotel de Crillon’ and the crowd parts seemingly aware we either prosperous or important.
It’s 5 degrees Celsius as we step outside, the cold air stabbing at our lungs. It’s still dark although light by the time we reach the hotel, the journey to Paris taking so long grinding through the chaotic peak morning traffic.
It is my first time in Paris, indeed my first ever trip to France and as our chauffeur jockeyed his way around the Place de la Concorde it all became clear to me, that is why the Hotel de Crillon concierge replied over the phone, “Mon Due, c’est pas possible!”, when I asked if we could have our pre-dinner wine served to us under the Obélisque de Luxor.
I now realise I put this poor chap through hell with the inane questions and demands I had for the nights proceedings; he must of thought I came from Mars not Australia such was my complete naivety of Paris, or the real world.
Of course our room was not ready, as Paris hotels rarely are until the early afternoon. However, it did not take long for the concierge to communicate with the rest of the hotel staff that this Antipodean was completely mad moreover the two of us sprawled out asleep on the hotel foyers canapé was not a good look.
We were politely woken by the restaurant manager who courtly invited us to have breakfast, with the hotels compliments in the Les Ambassadeurs restaurant, including Champagne of our choice, to which we gracefully accepted and made our way to our table. The sommelier smiled as I ordered the 1971 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne as did our waiter with the nod of approval with our selection of scrambled eggs with fresh black Périgord truffles, “Choix excellent monsieur”, both raising their eyebrows and now fully au courant that this uncultured country hic had good taste.
It was nearing midday by now, finishing off the bottle of Comtes de Champagne in the restaurant bar lounge but our room was still not ready, and unlikely to be until late afternoon. To which the concierge perceivably picked up on the rising level of tension with Mademoiselle, moreover we were back on the canapé and almost horizontal.
“Perhaps lunch” he proffered with a shrug of the shoulders. “Why not” I said, “But not in the hotel, I think a walk would do us good. What is close by that you can recommend?”At this point the head concierge intersected, and with most impressive aristocratic English accent, “It is Valentine’s Day. There is not a free table in all Paris!”
The sense of despair was palpable; “c’est pas possible!” Our head concierge reached for the phone, in an expressionless conversation, returned the receiver, glancing over his reading spectacles exuding omnipotence, “It will take you about an hour to walk to Le Grand Colbert, and you are to ask very kindly, for Philippe, who will tell you when a table might come available, and I would also show your appreciation in the gratuity” turning to his underling with a bayonet look and without a word spoken, completely understood that he would take over from here with further instructions.
Got it! And that’s exactly what we did, stepping out onto the Place de la Concorde, by which stage the temperature rise to a warm 8 degrees! The walk certainly did us a world of good and we were otherwise totally refreshed, and hungry.
Philippe was utterly accommodating and told us to walk the block for 20 minutes and a table will be ready. This was time enough for my partner to discover a fabulous clothes shop just around the corner in La rue Vivienne and make a significant purchase. It’s extraordinary thing, how woman can shop under pressure!
Unbeknown to us, Le Grand Colbert is legendary and we were dining on Valentine’s Day lunch at the most impossibly hard to get a table venue in Paris. Clearly our head concierge had unparalleled power, mind you we had to share the banquet with a very large full-sized Poodle, and what appeared to be her date, an even larger Labrador, and two bejewelled Parisien Dames – strange strangers indeed.
That did not deter us from hoeing into plates of freshly chucked oysters washed down with Muscadet, and Charcroute and Steak Frites a piece with the Beaujolais flowing, by which stage we were quite out of it, both intoxicated and completely knackered from the day, or days accumulative journey.
We should have walked back, but decided we were too tired, and drunk, our taxi dropping us off around 5pm. Thank good our room was ready, to which we collapsed in bed.
Next thing I recall, the phone was ringing, answering to an irate concierge, “We are you Monsieur Marsh, the restaurant is expecting you, the chef is expecting you and it is 9.30pm!”
Merde! I had passed out – we had passed out!
I leapt out of bed and tried to wake my seemingly unconscious wife to be. Let me tell you, it took some persuasion, without letting the cat out of the bag, to get her down to dinner, eventually convincing her that I had to an exorbitant amount of francs, and pay for the entire dinner upfront as it was Valentine’s Day and the hotel only took prepaid bookings, which was true.
It was nearly 10pm by now, and as we walked into the restaurant, it was obvious where our table was, the only table empty left and their very best table right in front of the fireplace. The whole restaurant followed our every move as we proceeded to the table and the wine arrived immediately, which I had pre-ordered.
And gentleman, just as an aside, don’t order Champagne just because everyone else does; show a little panache and sophistication, order a riesling – to be precise, I had selected from the incredible Les Ambassadeurs wine list a 1989 Trimbach ‘Cuvee Frederic Emile’ Riesling, one of the great white wines of the world.
We proceeded with our first entrée, it being a set degustation menu, however I could sense that all the staff, if not the entire restaurant were gazing at us in anticipation, suspecting the concierge and Maitre D had told everyone of the plan, and all were waiting for the drama; would she say yes – or no.
Well, as it turned out she said “Yes”, thankfully, and the whole dining room clapped and cheered as they all knew exactly what was going down, thanks to our overzealous Maitre D.
So, it all worked out perfectly… well not quite to plan, but the right result. We had a wonderful meal, and needless to say, the last ones in the dining room, having also liberated a bottle of Cote Rotie.
The Maitre D’ suggested we retire to the bar and that digestives were with his compliments. Poor chap did not release that my wife to be drinks Grappa like its water, and I recall it was around 3am when the Crillon barmen left us with the remainder of what was as a full bottle of Jacopo Poli Pinot Noir Grappa.
We were completely high by this stage, deciding to go for a walk along the River Seine and hanging out on the Pont-Neuf, all very romantic, even if it was raining and probably 5 degrees Celsius, we didn’t feel a thing!
It was almost sunrise by the time we staggered back into the Hotel de Crillon, the armed Gendarmes in front of the hotel giving us a wink, and a beaming smile from our normally stern hotel security men.
If there’s a moral to this story, planning is good but rolling with the flow and making the most of any situation, as it is in life, is the key. And drinking great riesling is not only good for your health, it’s good for your marriage.
We have been back to the Hotel de Crillon, as one does for nostalgia, more so just recently in July taking our daughter to show her we daddy proposed to mummy… and we ordered a 1996 Trimbach ‘Cuvee Frederic Emile’ Riesling, and a bottle of Michel Ogier Cote Rotie… and a DRC Marc de Bourgogne… ah the memories.