vintage shop Paris
Photo: Roger Manley

Rain starts spattering the pavement in Place de Clichy as I arrive, sans parapluie, panting from the mad dash down the hill from Montmartre-Abbesses. I rap-a-tap-tap not so gently on the locked mustard-coloured door, desperately seeking a divine prescription. Miraculously, the chandelier inside the minuscule 19th-century herboristerie is still glowing. With its floor-to-ceiling cubbyholes jammed with waxed paper bags of tea and bottles of essential oils, here is where I always hustle my bustle to score some tranquility and splendour in herbs.

Bon soir!” I croak, then, “Merci, madame!” as the pharmacist snaps back the deadbolts, swiftly and with a smile. I exchange my wet, crumpled list of symptoms for a mouchoir Kleenex. With my sore throat in her well-manicured hands, she says, “Oui, Mademoiselle, I think we have a remedy.”

The timing could not be more perfect. I need a lickety-split wellness treatment. I need to be cough free. You see, earlier in the week, I had registered for one of the coveted few openings in choreographer Édith Lalonger’s danse baroque class in the Marais, now just hours away.

Earlier that morning, I had started preparing for my studio debut by studying the dance scenes in Gérard Corbiau’s Le Roi Danse film. Following in the Sun King’s red-heeled dancing shoes, I purchased a pair of my own, in noir with silver-plated heels (from Zara, and at a discount, I freely confess – a Versailles budget I do not have, yet).

I pored over old newspaper accounts of a “minuet revival” in the late 1800s. If those correspondents could be believed, big dance numbers in stage productions like Edward Jakobowski’s opera Erminie had reignited a love affair with the stately bigwig court dance all over again.

“Because you cannot be graceful without it!” insisted one no-nonsense reporter. “The minuet is the one dance that embodies all the others, and until you have mastered it and can go through it perfectly, flawlessly, gracefully and calmly, you might as well content yourself to sit down on a chair along the wall and watch the others dance!”

Eager to reveal my own grace, as I wait for the pharmacist to prepare a remedy for my tender throat I try an impromptu pas de bourrée.

“Two drops, three times a day!” the pharmacist sings on high from across the shop, snapping me out of my reverie. She hands me the bottle of essential oils. With dance on my mind, and my mind on the dance, I empty my wallet in one fell swoop, also agreeing to buy the recommended tea, which I learn is helpful for warding off witchcraft, as well as the urge to cough.

Inspired by this revelation, in a stage whisper, I inquire about the infamous royal poisons – not for me, of course, I explain with a wink.

Removing her glasses, she laughs. “Bien sur! You can still find herbs in le Jardin des Tuileries. You just need to know where to look,” she says. She pauses, then adds, “It’s all lethal. It’s all in the mixing!”

Just like dance steps.

The next day, I feel fit as a fiddle. In fact, my sore throat took flight sometime during the night, in between the sixth or seventh round of turpentine-tasting essential oils. And now, on the wings of piped-in Jean-Baptiste Lully, with the sun beaming through the dance studio windows, I am floating in a most peculiar way. That is, until I trip back to Planet Earth on a loose silver shoestring…

From France Today magazine

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