Memories of Paris


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By Deborah Wheeler

I didn’t know who Mistinguett was until I stayed in her room. Then, I liked her immediately.  Her furniture was glamorous. The bed’s headboard, footboard, and even the table where she did her makeup were covered in hundreds of tiny mirrors. It was a perfect bejeweled room. And certainly befitting a sparkling performer.

Mistinguett, known as the Queen of the Paris Music Hall, was the Madonna of her time. She was the highest paid female performer in the world at one time and wildly popular.  She was a little risqué and well-known for her lovely legs. Those legs were insured for half a million francs in 1919. Mistinguett (born Jeanne Bourgeois) debuted at the Casino de Paris in 1895 and later performed in famous Parisian venues such as the Folies Bergère and Moulin Rouge. She also performed in the United States, but is not remembered as well as others who later built on her popularity and captivating performance style.

Images of Mistinguett from the 1920’s and 1930’s are iconic. Whether you know her name well, or not, her style captures the essence of Paris in those years. She personifies that era. The excitement and zest of Paris and the Parisians is perfectly captured in her images. Her posters now adorn modern bedroom walls around the world and provide a tiny glimpse into the romance and appeal of Paris in the early part of the century.

Mistinguett’s room at L' Hôtel, situated on the Left Bank, is an art deco gem including the mirrored bed, vanity table, and Lalique sconces. The room is one of only 20 individually themed rooms at the 4-star luxury hotel. The 1816 townhouse hotel, along with its Michelin star restaurant, is situated in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, near the Ecole des Beaux Arts, among many art galleries and antiques dealers. Two famous literary spots of writers such as Sartre, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway are also near there: Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore. The area is considered the intellectual crossroads of Paris due to the way it intersects the great artists and thinkers of the day.

Before Mistinguett, another recognized individual had made himself a regular at L' Hôtel. Oscar Wilde famously lived there, saying, "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death; one or other of us has got to go." He also famously spent his last days at the hotel in 1900, saying, “I am dying beyond my means”.  The writer’s unpaid bill now hangs in the hotel.

After Mistinguett, L' Hôtel attracted the likes of Salvador Dalí, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, and Ava Gardner. Today, the attraction remains and the hotel continues to draw guests both famous and ordinary who desire the heady experiences found only in Paris. The romance, glamour, and sophistication of Paris are all there for the visitor. There can be no sight in Paris more moving to visitors than seeing the Eiffel Tower on a beautiful day or lit in the distance as you stroll on a beautiful night. Their Eiffel Tower still stands to be appreciated anew.

The highlights of any Paris visit can be found near the hotel. The Seine River, Notre Dame, Louvre, Musee d'Orsay, Arc de Triomphe, and Sacré Coeur de Montmartre are easily accessible. The Metro stop, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, near the Latin Quarter, provides convenient access to all the sights and scenes that make Paris so appealing.

The most significant, intoxicating, and indelible memories of my Paris visit include wandering the streets of the Left and Right Banks each day, without a map or destination, practicing my poor French on unsuspecting shop keepers.  Of course, I also managed to hit the highlights of Paris. I toured inside the overwhelming Notre Dame cathedral, took a leisurely boat ride on the Seine, climbed in triumph to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, hiked through the Louvre, and was awed by a day trip to Versailles Palace. It is those memories of Paris that make me feel that I have truly visited one of the Great Cities of the World.

Staying in Mistinguett’s room is one of my most cherished memories of Paris. She spoke volumes to me about Paris while I was there. Mistinguett was known for her love of theatricality and her room matches the woman and the City of Light. Mistinguett helped me understand Paris. Maurice Chevalier once said of her, "She had a way of moving which was the pinnacle of grace. But she was more than loveliness alone -- she was Paris, the symbol of gaiety and good humor and courage and heart". She clearly had a je ne sais quoi, a “certain something”, about her. She had a quality that was captivating and mesmerizing to all, but could never be adequately expressed in words.  Just like Paris. 

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Dr. Deborah Wheeler, a travel writer and clinical psychologist, has worked for more than twenty years in the management and leadership of travel, education, healthcare, and criminal justice organizations. She has appeared on television and radio programs as an expert on child psychology topics of interest to parents and served as a subject matter expert in psychology and business. Dr. Wheele...(Read More)

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