When in Paris, the only reason not to stay at the Ritz is if you can’t afford it.”   – Ernest Hemingway

Awning over a window with the Ritz logo

I can’t say for sure but I suspect Hemingway was right.  I’ve never stayed at the Ritz in Paris, and if the Hall of Temptations is any indication, I can’t afford it.

I was at this iconic hotel in October to attend a culinary workshop at the École Ritz Escoffier. The registration package I received included instructions to enter the school through the service entrance off Rue Cambon. Really? The service entrance? I felt like a scullery maid as the receptionist ushered me down a deep stairway into the kitchens of one of the world’s most luxurious hotels, but my indignation was quickly forgotten as I spent the next four hours immersed in the wonders of haute cuisine. After class, I asked my translator, Sophie, if she could show me how to get to the Hemingway Bar without having to go back out on the street. (Truth be told, I just wanted an excuse to look around.) Sophie escorted me only as far as the elevator since students and employees of the school are not allowed to enter the public areas of the hotel.

I stepped out of the elevator and into the Hall of Temptations. The Ritz consists of two buildings – the original on Place Vendome and another on Rue Cambon. The Hall of Temptations is a very long corridor that links the two. Royal blue carpet with a buttery yellow floral pattern runs the length of the hall while glass display cases flank both sides. Behind the glass is a wildly eclectic mix of the most luxurious and unusual items that Paris has to offer. Need a new tiara? A new gem-encrusted walking stick? Maybe a crocodile handbag or a pair of alligator shoes? Cartier diamonds? Couture from Dior  or Chanel? An exotic hookah pipe or maybe an absinthe fountain? Well, you’ve come to the right place. But you won’t find any price tags in the Hall of Temptations, presumably because if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

It seems like there are almost as many luxury food shops in Paris as there are luxury hotels. Some of the most famous gourmet stores specialize in just a single delicacy like caviar, or lobster, or macarons.

Window display of prunier caviar

display of fresh seafood in Paris seafood market

coloured assortment of macarons

Taking Metro Line 1, I left the Hall of Temptations and the luxury food shops surrounding L’église de la Madeleine behind and headed back to my apartment in the Marais. At the top of the stairs coming up from the Bastille Station (on the same corner as the Banque de France), I burst out of my little champagne bubble and back to reality. Not everyone living in the City of Light is putting on the Ritz, dining on truffles and fois gras.

I almost tripped over a family of four living in a pup tent they had pitched on the sidewalk. I had walked past them at least a dozen times during my stay in Paris. On warmer days, they all sat together on a mattress in the open air – a handsome man, a woman, and two small toddlers – but on this particular night it was raining and they had taken shelter inside a tiny red tent. Each time I saw them I wondered what had brought them to this place and these circumstances. How had they lost their home? Where were they from? Where were their families? I would never know their story but their situation contrasted so sharply with the excesses of the Hall of Temptations (so fresh in my mind) that I could not just walk by. The tent’s zipper was open and I could hear the children playing inside.  I inched closer, held out the last of my euro and said,

“Monsieur bonsoir.  S’il vous plaît.  Pour vos enfants.”

This post was submitted to Nathan Bransford’s 3rd Annual Heifer International Fundraiser blogging event.

Happy Holidays!

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