by Cari Borja
“Music has always been a matter of Energy to me,
a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel.
I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car
with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.”
—Hunter S. Thompson
At salon dinner #66 on April 25th, I recited the above quote during my opening toast. It was a poignant moment because my daughter Royal and I had returned the week before from a beautiful, transformative nine days in Paris and I was in the midst of writing this article. The day before the dinner she was chased and bullied by classmates in a small village not too far from her middle school. She was alright in the end, but her first response to how she felt was to shut herself in our car, whilst I was on the phone outside her school, and turn the radio up as loudly as possible, and sing—forcefully and passionately—with her best friend. After a couple of songs, she opened the window, called to me, and said “I feel better now, let’s go!”
So I thought about it for a moment, reflectively, and asked “What is my fuel,” and I wonder—what is yours? For Royal, it is very much music, or more specifically her voice. It’s her singing Ella Fitzgerald’s “Cry Me A River,” Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball,” The Weekend’s “Earned It”—singing with a sense of ferocity, anger and deep intensity all at once; a very emotional calling for a 12 year old. But her fuel is also her friends—both in real life, and through images and emoticons on all the forms of social media she has access to. And it is sugar in any form, but most particularly in the guise of pastries, chocolates, dessert.
For me, my Fuel or my Energy is creating clothes. It’s making food, writing stories and literally eating and drinking. It’s also listening to music, watching films, dancing and traveling—alone, but also with those people I care for. What all of these things have in common is that sense of the Japanese idea of “waku doki,” which I’ve conjured before, because this idea to me is so striking, in many ways profound. Even the other day in the trailer for Jake Schreier’s Paper Towns (2015), this was the dialogue that stuck with me:
I could feel my heart beating in my chest.
That is the way you should feel your whole life.
“Waku-waku” is Japanese for when your heart is pumping with joy, and “doki-doki” is the sound of your heartbeat. It is that feeling of anticipation, thrill and excitement—the adrenaline rush you get when you are about to do something exciting. It’s anticipation. And for many of us this is what we get when we are about to go on our first date, about to experience our first kiss, go to a premiere, meet someone for the first time. It’s very much about firsts. And Paris was Royal’s first; although I had been to Paris a dozen times over the years, I got to see it through her eyes. It was like seeing it for the very first time. Maybe this is why we have children, or at least one of the many reasons … we get to do it all over again. It’s waku-doki, encapsulated.
—Vincent, in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994).
“You can’t escape the past in Paris, and yet what’s so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn’t seem to burden.”
“Paris is always a good idea.”
— Sabrina in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina (1954).
My daughter Royal adores Audrey Hepburn—her style, her accent, her look. They were even born on the same day—May 4th—74 years and 5,525 miles apart. Royal’s first introduction to Audrey was in George Cukor’s My Fair Lady (1964), where she was transfixed by Eliza Doolittle’s transformation from a cockney flower girl into an elegant duchess. Audrey as Sabrina in Billy Wilder’s 1954 classic was also a very poignant film to her—the before-and-after of her exposure to and the inhabiting of a city that left its mark on her stylistically. Her mannerisms, her dress, and her sense of taste had been altered and elevated. Later Royal was entranced by Stanley Donen’s Funny Face (1957)—in particular the initial “Bonjour, Paris!” sequence—and for much of our structured and spontaneous itinerary, we hit the places in that particular scene, to see how things have changed. Not at all—and that’s the beauty of Paris, its ever-present past in this very present moment. For Royal, the Eiffel Tower is associated with Jo in Funny Face ; for me, it’s associated with Carrie in the finale of Sex and the City ; and for my husband Lloyd, it’s associated with Remy and Linguini in Ratatouille , which he worked on as technical director for two years (and later, again, as the lighting supervisor on the Ratatouille ride at Disneyland Paris).
Every time I enter a city I think of all the previous times before—where I was in my life, who I was with, and why I was there. What was I searching for? Although there are histories of romances and inspirational moments, there is also a very deep feeling of being introduced for the first time to those things that matter most in my current life—being taken to the Yohji Yamamoto store on 4 Rue Cambon by my dear friend Jean Pierre Gorin; having a cappuccino for the first time on the second floor of Cafe de Flore; enjoying an amazing meal cooked in the intimate home of David Tanis; seeing Rickie Lee Jones in concert; drinking my first glass of Henri Germaine Meursault at Willi’s Wine Bar, and a shot of vodka with my favorite filmmaker Chris Marker in his home. These magical moments revealed, in their own way, a sense of possibility. This is what I wished on this trip for 11-year-old Royal, who I’ve told time and time again that her name was inspired by Port Royale in Kingston, Jamaica, and a “Royale with cheese” in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction .
So how does a mother/daughter trip come together and see itself though 9 days of 24/7-ness? Part planning and part improvisation—with suggestions thrown in by Lloyd, who was sending us there—this trip to Paris mixed structure with a bit of waku-doki anticipation. Each afternoon and evening we would head towards a destination, with a couple of planned stops for hot chocolate or wine, and discover things along the way. In between I had lunches, dinners and cocktails with friends who would throw us off any predicting path, into a beautiful unknown. Below are some of the highlights, with a little pause in the middle, when we finally felt fully grounded on day 5.
Day 2: My friend Michelle Meere, whose apartment we were staying in, gave me a list of local places to go to, and from the start, Cafe Le Progres directly across from us became my every-morning go-to place for a cafe crème. At times we tried their dessert, or a croissant, but it was where we began our day, even if our day began at 2 p.m. So our first full day in Paris we awoke and headed directly for Le Progres for a cafe crème and crème caramel. Then to Popelini; Hotel de Ville; Notre Dame; Patrick Roger; chocolat chaud and a glass of Chablis at Les Deux Magots; across the street for salade aux lardons, steak tartare and lasagne at Brasserie Lipp; and a walk along the Seine and through the Louvre, where Royal was wowed by I.M. Pei’s Pyramid, all lit up.
Day 3: Our third day in Paris happened to be Easter Sunday. We started off across the street from Le Progres at Le Bistrot/Resto, which was right below the apartment. I thought I would attempt to compare cafe crèmes, but to me they all taste more or less the same. On our way to Musee D’orsay, we stopped for a quick bite to eat at La Sancerre that ended up being our Easter brunch. We arrived at the D’Orsay to hundreds of people in line, and instead, got into a rickshaw-like bike to Place de Concorde, then walked down the Champs-Elysees, saw Cinderella in French, walked to the Arc de Triomphe, and took a taxi to Palais Royal (I wanted to eat at Le Grand Colbert from James Brooks’ As Good as It Gets (1997), but it wasn’t open). I also wanted to see Restaurant Vefour (opened in 1784), or at least its menu, its prices, its space—which I had read about in a little guide to Paris that Lenard Pitt sent me—but that was closed, too; and so was Willi’s Wine Bar. So we got macaroons at Foucher, ate steak frites at Le Relais Paris Opera, had our first ride on the metro, walked through Places Des Vosges, ate our first crepes at Le Royal Turenne, and returned “home” by 1 a.m. This was the evening I discovered Gossip Girl (yes, the series that began in 2007), and that evening I got hooked, making myself fall asleep just after 5 a.m. It was a perfect day.
Day 4: The day started with a little solo rendezvous with a cafe crème at Le Progres and a stroll through the neighborhood where I bought my Harry Potter lightning bolt ring at Delphine Pariente, right across the street from our apartment. I picked up Royal and we headed to Bastille to Cafe de l’industrie that my dear friend Franckie Diago recommended. We took the Metro to the Louvre to go to Musee L’Orangerie, which again had hundreds of people lined up (I’d forgotten it was Easter Monday), and Royal looked at me and said, “Mom, the whole outside of Paris is a museum.” So we walked through Tuileries Garden to Cafe Marly for sorbet and Chablis. It was here overlooking the Louvre that we spoke of Audrey Hepburn and that memorable scene of her at the Louvre, descending the Daru staircase. We then headed towards the Rue Saint-Honore, where I fell in love with a white chocolate egg at La Duree de Marquis. Hungry for one of our family staples, we then walked to Pizzeria Pino for lasagne bolognese and pizza perfection. For dessert we found the Laduree on Champs-Elysees, and bought a box of gorgeous macaroons and a Sonny Angel Laduree baby. We got the pistachio baby, aka religieuse pistache.
Day 5: I decided I needed to take notes of our trip and learn more French, so I headed to Cafe Charlot to try their version of cafe crème. Their crème seemed better, but maybe it was the atmosphere, the wood, the details. I couldn’t tell precisely what made this space seem like home, but it did. If I lived in Paris, this would be my cafe. I left to meet my old friend Camille Labro to go to what was probably one of my favorite dining experiences in Paris, Le Servan. I hadn’t seen Camille in 4 years. The last time I saw her we celebrated Chez Panisse’s 40th anniversary in Berkeley, and experienced David Kinch’s genius at Manresa in Los Gatos. For me, Le Servan was just as perfect—its juxtaposition of flavors, its textures, and my company. I left in love with the chef’s knives (made in Thailand), and her vision. By this time, 3 p.m., Royal was ready to go, so I picked her up and we made it to Musee Picasso before it closed. I decided to keep Royal on her California schedule. It worked, somehow. I got the best of everything—alone time, friend time, and focused time with her. I realized in Musee Picasso that this was for me. I needed to re-see his work in a new context, from a different perspective. Royal will remember Picasso later, when the timing is right. What she does remember are the caramels we got at Meert, and the sales person’s pink bow-top that I photographed, the Jordans that she wanted at Colette, and her favorite burger across the street at Cafe La Coupe d’Or. I’ll remember the Montlouis at Willi’s Wine Bar with Heidi Liebes and Niki Sky; eating sushi around the corner; running home at 11 a.m. to meet my dear friend Pam Esterson (who was arriving from London to stay with us); and Pam and I closing the downstairs bar La Mary Celeste, drinking Annika Fuhrer’s Curados on the rocks, and laughing all the way up the “Floor 7 1/2” elevator when the lights finally went out at the bar.
Thinking back, what’s amazing about Paris is its breadth. At any moment, it has Brasserie Lipp across the street from both Les Deux Magots and Cafe de Flores, and the history within that triangular space is unfathomable. But it also contains the more contemporary Le Servan and Le Mary Celeste, as well as Tsumori Chisato and Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, Chris Marker and Gaspar Noé . Within its borders is both history and a deep respect for it, trumping that very place from which one stands. It’s this juxtaposition, or even contradiction, that is so beautiful, so quintessentially Parisian, and so inspiring.
“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters… But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you chose. But get drunk.”
— Charles Baudelaire
For more on Paris, visit Cari’s FashionFilmFoodFilm blog.
Cari Borja began her career as a clothing designer while earning her PhD in anthropology and film at UC Berkeley in 2001. Since then she has created collections inspired by film and food, and has become known for her salon dinners in her Berkeley atelier, where she weaves together people from different disciplines and professions. Cari is currently writing a book of interviews with dinner guests featured on her FashionFilmFood blog, and she also consults with start-ups and other companies curating dinners and connecting people. Click here and here to read about Cari’s salon dinners in Berkeley.