Le Bon Marché. Photo: François Rejeté

Columnist Theadora Brack has a Catherine de’ Medici moment in a Paris department store

Thanks to a pair of new patent-leather bluchers with waffled, tri-coloured wedges, blisters are on my mind and my mind is on blisters. I had tumbled for the discounted brogues, inspired by designers Pierre Hardy or Stella McCartney, but now my feet are paying the price. Distracted by the pain, at first I miss the question.

“You are a writer?” stylist Cécile repeats in a stage whisper. The couple next to me giggle. Rocking head-to-toe Burberry, they’ve selected a vintage camera icon for their coat of arms. They’re beaming.

“Well, what are my other options?” I ask.

“Pizza enthusiast?”

It’s a rainy Saturday night in the City of Light, and I’m not only braving the crowds at the Bon Marché, but about to customize a tote bag with a personal crest. They can print them on the spot and then off you go, new bag in hand.

According to Cécile at the pop-up atelier, the available emblems include – yes – a pizza, quill pen, book, camera, racing car, handbag, bicycle, beach chair, violin, the Roman Colosseum, or Bon Marché’s own escalator, designed by Andrée Putman.

The mind squeals.

Icon, therefore I am? No cats? What would Catherine de’ Medici do? Her family crest featured balls – big magical balls – with a handful of fleurs-de-lis for good measure. But what would tell my story? And how did I allow this existential crisis to happen?

A writer’s life. Photo: Fotolia

Here’s how. Jump back to the Rose Bakery Tea Room on the second floor. That’s me in the corner, gazing down on the parade of parapluies hustling along rue de Sèvres outside. Humming to REM’s piped-in Everybody Hurts, I’m guzzling a can of organic sparkling soda like there’s no tomorrow. As long as I’m hydrated, I’m alive. Then suddenly, I’m weeping.

Saluting my fellow diners with my empty soda can, I head to the bookshop.

But not before a quick nip to the shoe department because, well, sometimes it pays to take comfort in friends, but other times it’s better to reach out to shoes. There in the store’s winter garden, under a stained-glass ceiling, I meet my match, on sale, with wiggle room.

For once, I don’t hesitate, but pounce on the platforms, plunking down the plastic without a test stroll, living in the moment. That was when I noticed the sign.

Actually, no, I saw the light after my Princesse Tam-Tam sock-shopping spree. It was buy two and get three for free, so I could hardly contain my cents, or my good sense. After all, here’s where Hemingway shopped for his fashion dudes. My excuse.

Outfitted with new shoes and socks, I make a fly-by through the labyrinth.

Sashaying to the book department, I summon the Fates: When my own book is finally done, we will celebrate its launch at the Rose Bakery Tea Room.

My treat, I promise them, adding a “please” at the end of my declaration, in case the Fates are sticklers for etiquette. Then I spy the customised totes. Mine will be emblazoned with, not a pizza pie or beach chair, but a quill pen and book badge.

Exiting with my new cotton shield to proclaim my destiny, I pop by the nearby Grande Épicerie for a bottle of champagne. Facing my fear of the jinx, I suppose. The blisters have meanwhile bid farewell. I could dance. Suddenly, some woman parts the crowd with a battle cry.

“This is crazy! We’ll never get a cab! Get out of our way!” she shouts, waving a box of Lucky Charms cereal. Amazingly, the crowd obeys and a taxi arrives, as if on cue.

I guess it’s true. Only you can put yourself up in the lights where you belong – or at least in an Uber.

As Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once wrote, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Or, as boss lady Catherine de’ Medici once cried, at some battleground or astrological watchtower, “Balls! Balls! Balls!”

From France Today magazine

Read more of Theadora Brack’s popular columns here:

Montmartre, Movies and Machine Guns
Pet Peeves Laid to Rest
Of Spies and Cheese
A Passion for Fashion
Flying Frenchman
Dancing with Zelda

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