The Partner and I usually go to Paris every September.
It was during our last Parisian holiday in 2008, that I proposed. Yet this was no spur of the moment idea – I had been planning to propose on our final night in Paris for months.
But before popping the question, I thought it would be fun to do something interesting and different in Paris that day to make our ‘engagement day’ even more memorable (as we had already made our annual pilgrimage to all of Paris’ large monuments and museums earlier in the week).
So I proposed ‘by the book’.
As some of you know, the Gay Groom enjoys wearing his master’s degree in literature like other people wear a Rolex watch and can often be insufferably pretentious when the conversation turns to the subject of literature, literary criticism or philosophy (though I must admit it’s usually me that turns the conversation to these areas – often by saying something like “well you know what Roland Barthes said…”).
So I decided to spend our last full day in Paris hunting down some famous literary places in this, a famous literary city before proposing to the Partner over dinner in the evening. Or perhaps I thought if I he was thoroughly exhausted after a long day of sightseeing, I would break down any resistance he might have and he would be more likely to accept when I asked him to marry me.
The Partner still refers to this as our ‘forced march’ through Paris.
Because our hotel was in the heart of the Marais (in the 4th arrondissement), one of Paris’ oldest and most dazzling quarters, we started our literary tour of Paris with the Maison de Victor Hugo at the Place des Vosges which is now the Victor Hugo Museum depicting various periods of the writers life and also contains a (rather morbid) reconstruction of Hugo’s death chamber with the bed he died in.
Moving to the 5th arrondissement past Notre-Dame Cathedral, your humble blogger and his Partner first stopped by Shakespeare and Company at 37, rue de la Bucherie (where I picked up a copy of Satre’s La Nausée). In retrospect, an odd choice for the day I was to propose – though the pre-proposal butterflies were indeed beginning to flutter in my belly.
We walked to The Panthéon. Called a “Temple to the Nation,” The Panthéon serves as the resting place for Voltaire, Jean-Jaques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Andre Malraux and Alexandre Dumas among others. As an extra special bonus, The Panthéon had a special exhibition to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Panthéonization of Émile Zola.
I thought about proposing while we were having a coffee at the Brasserie Lipp at 151 boulevard St-Germain (a favourite haunt of André Gide and Oscar Wilde – and even Marcel Proust had Brasserie Lipp’s beer delivered to his home on Boulevard Haussmann) but I ultimately decided it would be better to stick to the original plan and propose after dinner.
Looking back, I wonder if a proposal at Brasserie Lipp would have been more fun. We could always say we got engaged where Oscar Wilde sipped his cognac, said witty things, and cruised the young men of Paris.
Nearby was Les Deux Magots another famous café in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of Paris. It was once the rendezvous of the literary and intellectual élite of the city. Patrons included Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus and Pablo Picasso. The Deux Magots literary prize has been awarded to a French novel every year since 1933.
After our coffee we started down to 27, rue de Fleures to see the home (and salon) of Gertrude Stein and her companion (read lesbian lover) Alice B. Toklas in the 6th Arrondissement. Here she hosted some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century such a Picasso, Juan Gris, Matisse, Hemingway, Pound, and (Thornton) Wilder (as Stein wrote about in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas). Alice was also famous for her brownie recipe (if you’ve never heard of Alice B. Toklas brownies – look it up, my friends).
Then the Partner and I headed down to 74, rue de Cardinal-Lemoine to see the first Paris apartment of Earnest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley (who I always thought looked a bit too much like a boy – just saying, Hem). Hemingway also wrote about those days in his ruthless memoir, A Moveable Feast.
Also in the 6th, we hit Laperouse at 51, quai des Grands-Augustins. Founded in 1766 by a wine merchant, this restaurant was later frequented by Émile Zola, George Sand, Alexander Dumas and Victor Hugo. They can now add The Gay Groom and the Partner to their illustrious list.
Near the Eiffel Tower we saw the apartment at 7, rue Edmond-Valentin where James Joyce lived from 1935 to 1939. I’m still wondering if I can find an page from my favourite book, Ulysses, that would be appropriate for a reading at our wedding – anyone who has read it knows that finding one sure as hell won’t be easy.
And nearby at 14, rue de Tilsitt we took a lookie-loo at where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived with Zelda and their daughter, Scottie.
By now your humble blogger and his Partner were getting tired.
But we kept right on marching through Paris…
102 Boulevard Haussmann was the address of the great French novelist (and fellow homosexual) Marcel Proust (1871-1922) who, wracked with asthma, spent much of his life writing in his cork-lined bedroom. Being a fellow asthmatic (and homosexual) I’ve always felt a great affinity with Marcel Proust (as well as other asthmatic writers like Elizabeth Biship, Djuana Barnes, John Updike, Ann Radcliffe…).
Then we strolled down to 44, rue de l’Amiral Hamelin where Marcel Proust actually died of pneumonia in 1922. Today the building is the Hotel Elysee Union. A plaque over the door commemorates the site.
Finally, after a quick change at the the hotel, we took the metro up to Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. The largest cemetery in Paris, it is the final resting place of some of the most notable literary figures in Western History, including Balzac…
and Moliere, Gertrude Stein and Marcel Proust.
Then I proposed.
Well not right there on Proust’s grave, that would be très gauche (almost as gauche as using french phrases in English sentences), I proposed later that evening at a little restaurant in the Marais.
The waiter had just brought our dessert (most likely something chocolate, knowing the Partner) and I tried to remember the words I had been planning for that moment. I’m supposed to say something about all the years we’ve been together… and there was something about growing old together… and how much I loved him…
The Partner began to eat the dessert in front of him and my nerves finally got the best of me. As the waiter poured us a cafe au lait I finally blurted out –
He said yes.
And the waiter, who was most coincidentally named Marcel, then congratulated us and took our photograph.
59 days to go.
Jeffrey, The Gay Groom