The Paris Catch 22

Published in The Sunday Times

She waits for the waiter to pull her chair out, sits down as he pushes it in. She pulls her tight black leather dress down, her Hollywood legs still well exposed, and struggles to tuck one ankle behind the other. Four inch red heels are difficult to manage. Even for Mary Louise Parker.

I’m watching her every move, covertly and calmly, despite being so close to someone so famous. I’m not used to this…

Mary brushes her black hair behind an ear, showing me her cheek as she sits to the side. Her skin is as pale as the Parisian sky this October. The star of the series Weeds, she’d be a much better choice for a Tim Burton film. A rival to Bonham Carter. Parker’s posse swoon around her, knocking my chair as they pull out their own. At her table is one friend, one PA, one film assistant. Three women and Mary.

Mary is sitting on top of my boyfriend. Basically. Seated with his back to her, at our table at this popular bistro in St Germain des Prés, he’s twitchy-giddy. He feigns coolness, reclining closer to Mary’s lap to eavesdrop. I sit by patiently. We sip our whiskey, spoon Bleu de Gex fromage and jambon onto a cracker to nibble, pretending as though our romantic lunch date, a very long and expensive way from home, has not been ruined by the TV star.

There are probably many other stars who would excite me more. I imagine Charlotte (Gainsbourg, obviously) slipping into a seat next to me, or Gérard (Depardieu, duh) standing beside me, his fingers lingering by my shoulder… I picture myself screwing it up royally, spilling jambon on his crotch, slipping into a coma of shame. Perhaps Mary is a safer bet.

Louvre Palace

Eavesdropping Boyfriend returns his attention to me, shares tales of our star’s recent divorce and the reason for her whereabouts: she’s in town filming a new series. Everyone at the table is focused on her. TV has elevated pale-faced Parker to a godlike status. Boyfriend wants to shag her. God, I want to shag her. Her tiny body stitched into that leather scarf of a dress, those red heels… Catwoman of the 6th arrondissement.

Boyfriend and I try to talk about something else. Like how foul the cheese tastes, how much the whiskey is going to our heads – or is it just Mary’s perfume, how we couldn’t have picked a better spot for lunch.

Selecting between the vast array of cafes and bistros and restaurants and bars in Paris is harder than trying to sneak a photograph in one of the five tiers of the Ralph Lauren store on St Germain Boulevard. But after some time rubbing shoulders with stars, you start to get a feel for it. It happens naturally. You start to think Parisian. You can spot the right eatery by the clothes of the clientele, the elevated chin of the waiters, the cotton of the serviettes. Are there posters advertising German beer, with half naked girls in Dirndls, hanging above your table? Are the draughts going down when the sun has only just come up? You’re probably not going to spot a star there. Well, maybe that Colin Farrell.

Streets of Paris

After Mary disappears into the wet Paris afternoon, her wolf pack scuttling after her, we cannot spot anyone else of value. Only the usual petite Hepburns sashaying over the zebra crossings, the beautiful French men with their tortoiseshell Tom Ford spectacles, and the dear tweens poised in catwalk heels and leather jackets, holding up buns and Vogue Slimmers. It’s difficult not to feel inferior. Especially as we’ve just finished a bicycle tour of the city, like good tourists. Takkies and frizz don’t scream sex or stardom. I want to Superman it in a red telephone booth and return dressed as Parker.

It’s the Paris Catch 22. Being surrounded by the glamorous, especially in St Germain, once the haunt of everyone from Hemingway and Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir and Monet, is precisely what we love about the city. But it’s a painful reminder of how much better the French are than us.

Boyfriend and I pay our bill and settle for each other. We leave lunch for the privacy of our dollhouse, I mean hotel room, down the street, to lay down our takkies and frizz, hidden from the Mary Louise Parkers of the world.

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