Our first “Tale of Two Cities” episode in PARIS! Neil and Andrés have a problem to solve for one listener: how to plan the perfect engagement moment in the most romantic city on earth.
| A Freeform engagement in the city of lights and love |
I’m going to Paris with my boyfriend and I want to ask him to marry me, how should I do it?
Asked by a listener named Monica to find the perfect plan for a proposal in Paris, Neil and Andrés face off in a race to produce an answer.
Jazz and wine, architecture and getting lost, chocolate, cabaret and croissants. Neil and Andrés scour the city, with the help of some locals, to plan the perfect itinerary and the perfect moment to pop the question. Along the way they uncover stories about Charlie Parker, Aida Bricktop Smith, and Serge Gainsbourg. They dig into what Paris actually means to the people who live there.
In the end, they produce two remarkable trip itineraries, and a ton of amazing, local-recommended places to visit. But only one host can win. Find out who – and let us know if you agree!
A Tale of Two Cities may have nearly killed Neil and Andrés but it was all worth it!
MORE TO EXPLORE
This week, 5 romantic places you need to know in Paris!
- JARDIN DES PLANTES
Paris’ botanical gardens are filled with the magic and romance of nature. And nothing is more surrealy beautiful than the Serre de Forets Tropicale where you can be surrounded by the Troppics in the heart of Paris.
- CENTRE POMPIDOU
One of the best views in all of Paris, if you can find it! A stunning panaorama visible from inside Chez George, the restaurant on the top floor of the museum.
- CHAPON CHOCOLATE
Chocolate so good its known to have life- altering qualities!
- 5é CRU
A fantastic place for wine and cheese (or a meal) near the river and the Jardin des Plantes.
- THE RUE DE LOMBARDS
A medieval pedestrain street dotted with bars, cocktail joints, and three of Paris’ most iconic Jazz clubs.
This week’s episode of Passport was written and produced by Andrés Bartos and Neil Innes.
Huge special thanks to Monica for being so up for this and for helping us make the show. Also to Myritlle Monoit, Guillaume from Indolore, Marie, Sabrina and the illustrator Lapin.
Look for Lapin’s beautiful and quirky sketchbook, Paris Je T’aime.
Guillaume’s band Indolore is about to release a new album, so look for it wherever you get music.
Our theme music is by Nick Turner with additional stuff by Indolore, Shaolin Dub, Louis and the Nicolas Chientaroli Trio, Giorgio Del Campo, Music Box and Gabagool.
Eliza Engel is our production assistant. The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.
Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijanksy are warm crunchy baguettes with butter and honey they also executive produce the show…
Which is hosted by Neil Innes and a man who has never been to Paris and still managed to win this thing, Andres Bartos.
See you in the next place!
Banner image: River, Photo by Léonard Cotte on Unsplash
EPISODE 12 – TRANSCRIPT
NEIL: In Arizona at the Grand Canyon with my girlfriend at the time.
ANDRÉS: Sounds super romantic.
NEIL: It was sunset and I turn to my girlfriend and I was like, just so this doesn’t get any more uncomfortable, I’m not gonna propose to you.
ANDRÉS: Oh, Neil, that’s amazing. You did the anti-proposal.
NEIL: I told her, is it okay if we never get married?
ANDRÉS: Is it okay if we, uh, just watch sunset. Oh man.
[PASSPORT MAIN TITLE]
ANDRÉS: A destination isn’t always a place.
NEIL: Sometimes it’s a new way of seeing things.
I’m Neil Innes
ANDRÉS: And I’m Andrés Bartos.
NEIL: From Frequency Machine, this is Passport.
ANDRÉS: Your ticket to everywhere.
[END MAIN TITLE]
ANDRÉS: We live in a world filled with questions about other places, cities, cultures, and people. It’s kind of why we make this show. We thought we’d try out something we’re calling a tale of two cities.
NEIL: Today on Passport, Andrés and myself will take one listeners question about travel in one city and see if we can work out the best possible answer or two of the best possible answers.
ANDRÉS: The catch is that neither of us will know what the other is working on. After, we’ll call the guests and let them decide who has answered their question best.
NEIL: Simple… on paper.
NEIL: So we got an email from Monica in Los Angeles, California, with a question about Paris. A proposal, jazz, art, and wine.
NEIL: How are you doing Monica?
MONICA: I am good. How are you?
NEIL: Tell us about this plan of yours, Monica, if that really is your name.
ANDRÉS: If that is in fact your name.
MONICA: Okay. So my boyfriend and I have been together for a very, very long time. Um, we just have never really been, neither of us has been that interested in getting married.
NEIL: I thought you were gonna say in each other just then.
MONICA: In each other… We’ve never really been that interested in each other, but you know.
ANDRÉS: So then, did something change recently or what?
MONICA: Really for me, it was just like the state of the world. And we now have a daughter together who’s three and I just want them to be protected in case anything happened to me. I want our daughter to be protected in case anything happened to us and, and the easiest way for that to be recognized, for our relationship to be recognized is to get married.
ANDRÉS: There’s there’s a leap from there because you could very easily just say, ah, why don’t we just set a date, go to the court house and be done with it.
NEIL: But you’ve still got, you’ve got a little romantic glimmer left, left in the, in the relationship.
MONICA: Yes, right. Neither of us have been to Paris before. We’ve both always wanted to go. He is a huge jazz person, so, Paris…
NEIL: Me and Andrés just looked at each other sideways there for a second. This is going to get intense.
MONICA: Our daughter’s name is Parker and she is named after Charlie Parker, who is his favorite jazz musician.
ANDRÉS: Get out. Oh, I like you guys very much right now. That’s excellent.
NEIL: Do you call her bird sometimes?
MONICA: We do, that was actually discussed.
MONICA: So, yeah. So on top of that, his father was an art professor, so he knows so much about art. And so like, yeah. So Paris just kind of calls to us as this like fun, romantic place to go. And I am very, I guess, mischievous, cause he doesn’t necessarily like surprises and this will be a surprise.
NEIL: Oh man.
ANDRÉS: This could be very dangerous.
MONICA: You got to live on the edge a little.
ANDRÉS: Absolutely. And I think it makes it more imperative to do it right.
MONICA: Correct, yeah. Cause I don’t want, I don’t want to go through all this and then have him say, you know, we could have just gone to the court.
MONICA: Uh, we, we met someone who was a singer in a cabaret in Paris and that somehow, he let me know that that’s a dream of his is to be a cabaret singer.
ANDRÉS: Wait, your husband, well your soon to be husband, if we do this properly,
MONICA: Right, no pressure.
ANDRÉS: He wanted, he wanted to be a cabaret singer?
MONICA: He’s a jazz guy and he doesn’t just play saxophone and pretty much any other instrument, he’s also a singer.
ANDRÉS: Come on.
MONICA: But he literally can play anything. He’s got a flute, he’s got a clarinet, he’s really good on the drums, like it’s ridiculous.
ANDRÉS: You should definitely marry this guy.
MONICA: Right? I have to put a ring on it.
NEIL: What about you? What about, what about Monica’s likes? What do you, what do you love?
MONICA: Oh, well, now I have to say I’m a pretty big jazz fan after being exposed to it for so many years.
NEIL: I have, I have no idea what Andrés is thinking right now.
ANDRÉS: That’s good because that’s what I’m trying to, emote.
MONICA: He’s got his poker face on.
ANDRÉS: I got my po, po, po, poker face on. Um, here’s, here’s the question. So as a man myself, who doesn’t necessarily like surprises, what are the things that he would just hate?
MONICA: So I think, you know, if I did like get down on one knee in front of the Eiffel Tower, he would be like, what are you doing?
MONICA: Something very traditional I think he’d be like, oh my god, like who got to you?
NEIL: This is weird, I feel like a wedding planner.
ANDRÉS: I know.
NEIL: I’m getting like itchy on the back of my neck.
NEIL: We’re not going to know, at all, the pod that each other is making.
MONICA: Oh, wonderful, okay.
NEIL: So we’re going to present them to you and then you’re going to shame one of us.
ANDRÉS: Ouch. You’re going to have to choose.
MONICA: Okay. I didn’t realize what I was signing up for. I really, I’m looking forward to hearing what you guys have. It’s going to be really fun.
NEIL: Um, and I guess at this point, we have to sort of swear to secrecy between each other.
ANDRÉS: It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be very, very hard.
NEIL: I know because we live in this box together.
MONICA: This will be wonderful.
NEIL: Alright. Thanks so much.
ANDRÉS: Thanks, talk soon.
NEIL: So, Andrés and I are going to plan the perfect trip for Monica to propose to her boyfriend in Paris. And then we’re going to present both of our ideas to her and see which one she thinks is the ideal engagement story.
ANDRÉS: So this is happening.
NEIL: Yeah. She’s lovely.
ANDRÉS: She’s lovely. We got, we gotta be careful cause we’re going to end up just coming up with the exact same thing.
NEIL: I know. So maybe what we should do is, I mean, do we take, cause there’s what, there’s 18 neighborhoods in Paris?
ANDRÉS: I’m gonna say yes.
NEIL: Should we split them?
NEIL: Oh wait. I totally gave her the wrong day. After we hung up with Monica and organized a time to call her with our stories, I realized something bad.
I totally gave her the wrong day.
ANDRÉS: Oh no.
NEIL: It’s the 14th of July.
NEIL: Oh my god what have I done.
ANDRÉS: I think Neil is having a heart attack. He’s clutching his chest.
NEIL: I didn’t read the spreadsheet correctly.
ANDRÉS: Oh god.
NEIL: Thankfully, we’re planning a proposal.
ANDRÉS: Oh man.
ANDRÉS: Okay. Well, um, I guess we should get to work.
NEIL: Skippity be-bop, do bop.
ANDRÉS: Ba, bam, bam, bop. Um, okay.
NEIL: We thought we each had four weeks to make our story, but no, it was in fact in eight days time. We panicked a little bit.
[Text message audio]
NEIL: I got nothing. Paris is not getting back to me. This is, uh…
[Text message audio]
ANDRÉS: Haha, I know you’re messing with me by the way.
[Text message audio]
NEIL: Hahaha. I got someone. Hehe, dude.
[Text message audio]
ANDRÉS: So I’ll be at the office in about 20. I just have to do my call with the medium to get in contact with Miles Davis’s ghost. Um, I hope you’re doing well with Paris, man.
[Text message audio]
NEIL: Hey man, it’s 3:44 in the morning. I’m nearly there.
NEIL: Oh shit. Ah, [censor beep] coffee.
[Text message audio]
ANDRÉS: Hehehehe. I bet you want to know what’s happening in the South. There’s a lot of things happening in the South, Neil.
[Text message audio]
NEIL: I’m lying on the floor of the studio.
[Text message audio]
ANDRÉS: I just finished. I’ve got like, what, half hour before we have to do this call? I just exported, I think it’s ready, I don’t know. Um, I’ll see you in a bit, man. Oh my God, I’m going to get run over.
NEIL: Me and Andrés had somehow managed to keep our secret for eight days and make it to the deadline, just
ANDRÉS: So it’s time. We’re going to call Monica and show her our stories.
MONICA: I’m so excited. I had a little bit of a hard time sleeping last night cause I was like, this is going to be so great. I can’t wait.
NEIL: I had a hard time sleeping last night too.
ANDRÉS: I know nothing about what Neil’s done. We’ve been torturing each other. Leaving each other, confusing audio messages,
NEIL: Trying to psych each other out like, aw, man, I’ve got no idea what I’m doing.
I learned a lot about jazz and wine and food and a lot of things that I wish I’d known about the last few times I’ve been in Paris.
MONICA: This will be hilarious if you’re at the end, like, and now I have tickets booked. I’m going back.
NEIL: Yeah. The people who come out of the bushes to play for you while you’re proposing will just be me and Andrés with fake mustaches.
ANDRÉS: Accordions, baguettes under our arms.
MONICA: Oh my God.
ANDRÉS: It’s good. It’s part of the process. You figure it out as you go. And I don’t know if we figured it out, but
NEIL: Well, this is, we’re going to find out. I think, I think what we have to do is, we’re gonna flip a coin,
ANDRÉS: I have a coin in my pocket. I have a real. I use it specifically for this purpose.
NEIL: Oh, my goodness.
NEIL: You just got a little bit more French.
ANDRÉS: Heads or tails?
NEIL: Okay, heads. Damn. I’ve already lost.
NEIL: Dre, do you want to intro it a little with something?
ANDRÉS: I am not good at following instructions, so, uh, have fun.
ANDRÉS: After we hung up with Monica and we realized we had one week really to produce this episode in which I’ve been tasked with finding a way for someone to propose in a city that I’ve never been to. I felt like a complete fraud. I mean, you can Google street view your way around this the city as I’ve done, which is beautiful, but what does the city feel like?
I mean, how can you plan something if you don’t know what it’s like to walk those streets? Quickly it became clear that there was no way I can do this myself. So the first person I thought of talking to was Guillaume. Former lead singer of the band Shine, he’s currently front man to a new project called Indolore. I mean, when I think of Paris, I think of Guillaume.
Thing is, I didn’t realize how perfect he was for this chat. He started with a confession.
GUILLAUME: You’re talking about Charlie Parker. Charlie Parker, in a very modest way, changed my life.
I had to buy a gift for my father. So I say, what can I get, a book? Oh, jazz, jazz, old. I remember the name actually, of the tape. It’s called Memorial: Charlie Parker.
It’s white, white sheet, white sleeve, and a bird on it. My mum was driving me, so I get, I go back to the, to the car and I put the tape in the tape player. And then I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I mean, it was like, it blew my mind.
[Jazz music playing]
GUILLAUME: The 10 first seconds. This is what I gotta do. This is how I want to express myself, through music.
ANDRÉS: So to my surprise, turns out Guillaume arrived in Paris as a young tenor sax player inspired by Charlie Parker and looking to make his way in the jazz scene there.
It became crystal clear that I wasn’t going to get a top 10 list from him.
Cause if there’s somebody that I would want to talk about love and Paris with, it would be you.
GUILLAUME: Oh god. How much time do you have?
ANDRÉS: Is Paris the city of love?
GUILLAUME: It’s the city of hate and love. If you think that Paris is a city of love, you missed it. Here, we hate the city, we hate each other, and we love each other. And we love the city. It’s a whole package.
When you move to Paris at the age of, let’s say 20, you never become a full Parisian, you’re like a dreamer. You remain a dreamer.
And when you dream, sometimes you wake up and you dream again. You know, having expectations coming to Paris, high expectations in terms of beauty and love, you have to know that it may happen or it may not happen. And if it doesn’t happen, that’s good too.
Okay, of course you have to see the Eiffel Tower but you don’t have to go to the Eiffel Tower. You can see it from somewhere where you experience something. The landscape is still around you.
And memories, it’s like, it’s, it’s about letting yourself go and letting your, everything you have in mind, or your expectations, go.
ANDRÉS: It’s the moment when we forget that we have a phone.
GUILLAUME: Yeah. Yeah. That’s, that’s a criteria of a good time. I have an advice, if I may.
GUILLAUME: Never sit at a table, always the counter, just go to the counter directly, directly, just sit there because there’s always something happening there.
ANDRÉS: With this kind of very specific and very French piece of advice, always sit at the counter or the bar depending on the place, Guillaume was trying to tell me something about those intangible moments in Paris.
GUILLAUME: Paris still has this, this feeling of magic. It could be shit or magic. It could be, I mean, this could be a good definition of Paris.
ANDRÉS: Shit or magic
GUILLAUME: Shit or magic, sometimes both.
ANDRÉS: Are you, are you right now in a moment where you’re falling in love with Paris again, or are you in a moment where you’ve made peace with Paris?
GUILLAUME: There’s a French singer who said, Alain Souchon, in a song, he said, people will really love each other, they don’t say it to each other. That’s good.
We are, we are a bit of a crazy people, you know, we just, we can be boring, but we can be, we can go crazy. We can end up dancing on the counter, we can be dancing on the tables, they happen, French have moods, we have moods.
ANDRÉS: Moody fuckers.
GUILLAUME: Yeah. I’ll take the compliment.
ANDRÉS: In your Paris, do you live Paris by foot?
GUILLAUME: Yeah, I, yeah, I’m an excellent walker.
GUILLAUME: When I walk out, I always go, I always, I’m always attracted, uh, by the river. I think it’s a very instinctive thing still. We all have to go or be attracted by the way, by the water. The river is friendly.
ANDRÉS: So I’d been swept up in this freeform jazz conversation about travel and memories and dancing on counters.
I did start to feel like a new Paris, just a little bit. I wanted to go there, but there was still something kind of stuck in the back of my mind.
Do you think it’s a good idea to propose to someone in Paris?
GUILLAUME: Um, three words, at the counter. Do it there, do it when everything’s happening around you, some yelling, some drunk guy, maybe it could be noisy, whatever.
I don’t say that it should be exactly this way, obviously, but, uh, whenever the both are at ease at some, in some spot, nothing happens. Nothing really special is happening, but you just feel good, just comfortable and no conversation needed and then marry me baby.
ANDRÉS: That’s the best advice I’ve heard so far.
GUILLAUME: I wish her and them the best, obviously.
ANDRÉS: It’s what I’m thinking about more and more as I think about this, which is, the minute you plan it, the minute you say we have to be at the sunset at the Pont des Arts, then you’re nervous and there’s, there’s no space.
GUILLAUME: You can plan it to go there but be ready for something to happen on the way. Magic in life, it’s about, it’s not about walking to a destination, it’s about stopping. So yeah, put down the phone, make plans and be, be, be open to stop on the way. Come over. It’s going to be great.
ANDRÉS: Somehow, getting lost became a constant in making this piece.
I got lost in my conversation with Guillaume and it was wonderful. And then as I started putting together your options for a day in Paris, I got lost constantly, wandering down random streets and alleyways.
So Monica, this is my list of places to miss. These are not the most amazing places necessarily, but they’re close to each other and Parisians recommended them to me.
Plan to go there and get lost on the way. There can be rain in October, so ideally save this for a day when you can walk. Wear comfortable shoes and bring a bag to be able to stock up on things as you go. Prepare to be unimpressed, and you might get your mind blown.
We’re on the left bank of the Seine, the Rive Gauche. Wake up late. Take the Metro to Saint-Suplice. Or if you’re adventurous, as a friend Marie recommended, take a scooter. According to her, it’s a great way to see the city.
Right outside the Metro, there’s a café, Café Du Metro and on the opposite, there’s the Vieux-Colombier.
If there’s a table and you’ve yet to pretend to be Ernest Hemingway, nab it. If not, forget about it, there’s plenty to see.
Walk down the Rue de Vieux-Colombier where you walk past shops to the Saint-Suplice Square, which might have a market on it, depending on the day. And if not, you’ll see the ridiculous facade of the Saint-Suplice church.
There’s more cafes on the way. You’ll walk by Chapon Chocolate, which have chocolate that will change your life apparently.
If you’ve yet to eat, take a left on the Rue de la Seine and head to Maison Mulot, a block up, where you can get some ridiculously good pastries, croissant, bread, you know, the works. And if you’re not feeling the pastries, go right instead. And half a block down you’ll find Univerre Paris, where you can start day drinking or just grab a snack.
Now you should be a little more in your element. It’s a nine-minute walk to the Sorbonne, the University of Paris. After all, you met in college, you can walk in, just use your cool and check out the amphitheater classes that are open, the ridiculously Marie Antoinette looking library, or sit on a 17th century bench, which will be uncomfortable, but I’ve been told it’s quite a feeling to sit where students have been gossiping for hundreds of years. There’s no rush here, so it’s worth wandering around.
Another 10 minutes away, you’ll find the Jardin des Plantes, the plant garden. The entrance is easy to miss, so ask someone, Ou est l’entrance a le Jardin des Plantes, silvouplais. Inside, there’s a glass house that has amazing tropical plants. The Serre de Forets Tropicales Humides, because there’s nothing sexier than tropical plants.
Another 10 minute walk and you can go to the 5é Cru, a wine bar that does lunch, maybe grab a bottle for later, just in case.
Now that you’ve recharge your batteries a bit, take the Boulevard Saint-Germain, all the way past the Saint-Germain church, you can maybe pick up some more cheese or charcuterie on the way, or just check out the shops and head to the Rue de Saint Peres, take a right and head towards the river.
On the way you can stop by the house of Serge Gainsbourg, which is now a temple to graffiti that changes constantly.
Keep heading to the river and go to the Pont des Arts, the pedestrian bridge on the Seine. Here, you can crack open your wine, if you feel, have a break and watch the people go by.
Once you’ve had a rest, walk along the riverbank to Île de la Cité, the southernmost side of the island, you’ll have an amazing view of the city with Notre Dame as a backdrop.
And you’ll have to forgive me, but if you guys take the Boulevard du Palais on the island, into Neil’s section of the city, cross the Pont au Change, past the Place du Chatelet, up the Boulevard de Sébastopol, you’ll find the Rue des Lombards.
Three jazz bars are packed tight in here, including the Duc des Lombards. You can have dinner, watch some jazz on the very street where Guillaume began his time in Paris. You can sit at the counter, forget you have a phone and when the time is right and in a French accent, say marry me, baby.
MONICA: That was, I’m literally I’m wiping tears from my eyes. It was so good. And I took some notes because I wanted to tell you what I loved about it.
ANDRÉS: Oh, that’s nice.
MONICA: Uh, I loved his reference to Paris being the city of love and hate. Because one thing that Rob and I have always said about our relationship and love is that I love him more than anything in the world, but there is nobody in the world who can piss me off faster than Rob.
MONICA: We’ve always joked about that but like that’s when you know you have, uh, I actually, I think a good relationship because it means you’re close. Always sit at the counter or bar, such great advice.
ANDRÉS: It’s one of the things I had to cut was this great story that Guillaume told me, which was a night that he had, where he met, um, this girl for the first time.
And again, they couldn’t sit at a table. They sat at the counter and he described this kind of Godard nouvelle movie, where he felt like Jean Paul Belmondo would come in at any moment and he had this amazing night. They went their separate ways, he went home and then he was like, I’ve never been able to find that bar again.
MONICA: Oh my god!
ANDRÉS: I was like, how French can you be? My god.
MONICA: You have no idea how perfect exploring the college as part of this is. It’s one of Rob’s favorite things to do is explore campuses.
NEIL: Have you guys been talking to each other?
ANDRÉS: We’ve been emailing each other.
MONICA: And then proposing in a jazz club? I mean, really honestly, in the French accent, it’s hilarious because Rob is really good at doing accents and I am terrible at them, and so he would, he would find that hilarious. I just loved his advice of like, just do it when you feel like it’s right. And then I couldn’t stop laughing. Cause I was like, if I turn to him and in a horrible French accent…
ANDRÉS: I almost have to hear it Monica.
MONICA: Marry me, it would be ridiculous, there you got a hint of it.
ANDRÉS: You got to get the baby in there. That’s the key. It’s so funny. Yeah, no, I really liked, I liked the fact that, he, he stripped away all of the pretense of Paris in that, like the things that you have in your mind, he’s like, yeah, just get rid of it. Just get rid of that stuff. It’s useless.
MONICA: Right, right.
NEIL: You’re a really nice man. In the end, even though you stepped in my territory a little bit.
ANDRÉS: I had to. I had to cause my, my jazz area is not awesome.
NEIL: There’s a few, there’s a, there’s a tiny little tiny, tiny crossover.
ANDRÉS: I was imagining that that was going to happen. What I was worried about was,
NEIL: It is miniscule.
ANDRÉS: Okay. What I was worried about is that we were going to have basically the same episode on two sides of the Seine.
MONICA: Well, that would make my decision super easy.
ANDRÉS: Yeah, I guess so.
NEIL: It’s going to be interesting actually, cause there’s a lot, I think, your personality is definitely in there and the context of it is definitely more romantic than mine.
ANDRÉS: Okay. So yours is probably going to be more useful,
NEIL: But then I started to think, Andrés can’t be more romantic than me.
And then, and then you dropped the line, there’s nothing sexier than tropical plants. And I was like, nope, nope, I’m going to be okay.
NEIL: The rambling nature of, of that, of that story and Guillaume,
NEIL: Definitely feels like Paris.
ANDRÉS: That’s the thing, like I was flying blind.
MONICA: You got good advice. I love, I love the, you know, the chocolate shop. I’m very excited about that. Um, it’s wonderful.
NEIL: Well that was intense, but we’ve got to take a quick break.
We’ll be back in a minute with the second tail. My tail. I think I’ve still got it in the bag. See ya in a bit.
ANDRÉS: Now we need to go to the other side of town. I’ve been waiting for this for days.
MONICA: No pressure, Neil.
NEIL: I feel, I feel good because mine is very different.
ANDRÉS: As it should be.
NEIL: So it is literally going to be two very different cities.
[Tape recorder clicks]
NEIL: Dearest Monica. Oscar Wilde said that when good Americans die, they don’t go to heaven. They go to Paris.
So welcome to heaven.
NEIL: La Ville-Lumière, or the city of lights, is not only considered the center of Europe for Europeans, but for many people around the world. It holds the finest art, culture, architecture, wine, and food, all things you’re incredibly fond of.
There’s an image that comes with this iconic city too. Cooler than thou, galouse smoking, Goddard worshiping, hep cats, cocktails, and cool jazz.
Now I’m no buff when it comes to knowing my bebop from my hard bop, I mean, I know what I like, but my laconic French friend, former Paris resident, jazz fan and double bass player Myrtille Monoit offered me and you some words of wisdom.
Do you ever play jazz as a bass player?
MYRTILLE: Yeah, yeah. There was a club.
NEIL: All right.
MYRTILLE: I was kind of bad.
NEIL: Myrtille lived for many years in Montmartre, the village like, hilly neighborhood to the north of the city. On the same street is one of the nation’s national treasures.
MYRTILLE: You know, it, it was like where Gainsbourg was living, too.
NEIL: Serge Gainsbourg. Is that why you live there? You’re like, I’m going to be…
MYRTILLE: Yeah I was so proud. I was so proud to be in the same path.
NEIL: Music is never far away in Montmartre. So if you like the free wheel improvise bebop and scat through your plans, Montmartre is the perfect neighborhood for you to find your own groove.
MYRTILLE: It was a village like outside of Paris.
NEIL: It’s known for is winding, steep, cobbled streets, colorful houses, cafes, and was the quiet inspiration from many, many artists.
So, my proposal for your proposal is to go above the city. Because historically, Montmartre was known as the Harlem of Paris and it didn’t get that way by accident.
MYRTILLE: You get a lot because they sell like beer one franc less than inside Paris. So the guys are like, okay, we just have to cross the street, we cross the street yeah? And it was the same for prostitution.
And so you get like an older rich people from Paris come there too, like, I’ve got some.
NEIL: MYRTILLE thinks cheap drinks and a red light district which wouldn’t break the bank is the real reason artists move there. The beauty of the place must have had something to do with it.
Easels line the streets, paint splatter the squares, like Picasso, Miro, and before them Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and Van Gogh, painters have for a long time made this place their home.
Writers too. Steinbeck, Hemingway, Salinger. Jesus can you imagine hanging out with those three fucking depressors? We need some happy jazz.
NEIL: So wake up sleepy heads, get ready for some fun and head to the top of the city by cab or Metro, but we’re not following the masses to the, Sacré-Cœur, the giant church, which overlooks the city in the center of Montmartre. We’re going to start at a beautiful little spot about 200 meters northwest of the it.
The Hotel Particulier is a boutique hotel and old mansion once owned by the fashion focused Hermes family. With an amazingly Parisian outdoor garden, if you fancy a fueling brunch in a local quiet secret, this is the perfect place. Before 11:00 AM and for about 20 euros, you can fill up on fresh breads, juice, fruit, and eggs however you like them.
Monica, if you want to pop the question early on, you know what to do.
A short walk behind that monstrosity of a church and a little down the hill to the east, you’ll find another unique place. It’s the only remaining vineyard in the city. Clos Montmarte Vineyard.
In October, every year, the grapes are harvested over a five-day party in the neighborhood. Apparently half a million people fled the streets to drink a ridiculous amount of wine, eat great food and listen to swing and jazz pouring out of every cafe in the neighborhood.
MYRTILLE: It’s like a big party. It’s very cool. You got like some DJs, you got some old people and everybody’s drunk.
NEIL: This little vineyard produces about 1500 bottles of wine, which are around 40 euros, but all of the money goes to neighborhood charities.
MYRTILLE: I think that this year is going to be a big homage of one guy, old gay guy always dressed in blue, called Michou.
NEIL: Michou, always decked out in blue suits, blue hats, blue glasses sadly passed away this year.
MYRTILLE: Every time you go there, he was with the tourist, like drinking champagne, all the time.
NEIL: He and his cabaret club had been a fixture of Paris nightlife for more than 60 years. This year, the wine harvest will be all about the local legend Michou and his beloved fountain of life.
NEIL: Walking clockwise around Montmartre and through its cobbled streets, you can head down the hill and west towards Pigalle. And this is where jazz came to the city of lights.
The 369th infantry was an African American regimen sent from a racially segregated U.S. to fight in the Great War. James Reese Europe, an accomplished ragtime and jazz band leader is believed to be the first African American officer to lead troops in a wartime attack ever.
He was also the first to do something else. He played the first jazz gig on European soil. According to all reports, it turned France upside down.
MYRTILLE: No, you can easily influence very quickly because the music from twenties in France is like, and then twenties, everything just,
NEIL: Everything changed. By the end of the 1920s, Louis Armstrong, Cole Porter, Sidney Bechet were hitting Paris directly from London, and they brought with them Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith, who would change Montmartre forever.
She was born in West Virginia in 1894. She’s better known as Bricktop. She moved into cabaret in Chicago and New York, but by 1924, she was in Paris tagging along with Cole Porter, throwing parties where she was hired to teach people the popular dance moves at the time.
Soon she was managing the clubs she was performing at. And in 1929, she opened her very own: Chez Bricktop. At 66 rue Pigalle, just near the Pigalle Metro is a Montmartre institution: Bouillon Pigalle. Bouillon means broth or stock. These kinds of restaurants, they used to exist all over the city until the chic bistros and brasseries took over as Paris began to shine. But they’re coming back.
MYRTILLE: They do like five entrees, five plates, steak and fries, stuff like this, and they write it on the…
NEIL: On the table cloth.
This is seriously good food at a low cost. And the square that Bouillon Pigalle sits on was once a center of jazz and cabaret. Inside the restaurant, you almost feel like you’re eating in the 1920s.
With a full belly, a half hour stroll along the foot of Montmartre to the north seems in order. Behind it, you can visit the jazz museum. If that feels a little stuffy, you might be surprised. French jazz musician Alain is the owner of this half boutique, half time capsule, and he loves to chat. A jazz freak if ever there was one.
As the sun sets in Paris and you try to escape from Alain and the jazz museum, he’ll probably tell you to go to one place and one place only. So head back up the hill to Montmartre’s most picturesque street, Rue de l’Abreuvoir. Head for the pink house, you’ll see it. And you might also see if the light is just right and he’s looking pretty good, and another perfect opportunity to pop the question. I’ll leave that up to you.
[Café door opening]
NEIL: This tiny cafe has been here since around 1850 apparently. The truth is, nobody really knows. The art history in this place is worth an episode all of its own. Painters, writers, musicians have been coming here since the 1920s. And it has seen every single step of Montmartre’s jazzy, artsy, history unfold.
NEIL: And with that in mind to celebrate your new fiancé, Monica, the only place to go is Bab Ilo. Don’t worry. It’s just around the corner. To end a perfect day, tucked away on Rue du Baigneur, off the beaten and tourist track, you’ll find this tiny, perfect local pub with great cocktails and world jazz, most nights in the basement.
MYRTILLE: In Paris, to do music, you have to
NEIL: You have to be underground.
MYRTILLE: Because of the sound and the density of population.
NEIL: See above the city of love and lights, it celebrates the global music influence on and of the great neighborhood which was once the absolute hub of musicians and artists in Paris. It’s truly one of the best parts of the city.
And I hope you thought so too.
MYRTILLE: They come with the city of love and they go back with a disease of love.
NEIL: I look forward to my invite to the wedding in the mail, much love.
How are you doing?
MONICA: I’m good. I’m emotional again.
MONICA: It’s a good sign. I just have to say, you both did such a great job of just like capturing who we are and what we would find interesting about the city.
NEIL: You gave us such great info.
MONICA: I took notes again, because I was like, oh my gosh, this is so great. Um, I love that you gave me multiple places as options.
MONICA: The brunch thing is so sweet and so wonderful. I love off, off the beaten path. Of course, the vineyard, I took multiple notes because that just sounds like an amazing experience. And then I wrote down cabaret club with like four exclamation marks.
And then I wrote down several notes about Chez Bricktop, because West Virginia.
NEIL: Oh, of course.
MONICA: I was like wait, that’s where Rob was born, was in West Virginia.
ANDRÉS: You did that accidentally?
NEIL: I genuinely did that.
ANDRÉS: You did that accidentally?
MONICA: That’s insane.
ANDRÉS: Well done, Neil
NEIL: Incredible. And there’s this amazing story of her kicking John Steinbeck out of her bar and he felt so bad and she was such a big deal there that the next day a taxi cab arrived out front of the bar filled with red roses.
MONICA: Oh my god.
ANDRÉS: Yeah, it’s also, it’s like going to two very different movies.
NEIL: I feel like yours is like Last Tango in Paris, let’s just see what happens. Without the sexual assault.
ANDRÉS: Thank you.
NEIL: And mine is like Amélie.
ANDRÉS: It’s called leading the witness, I think.
MONICA: I think both agendas have to happen.
NEIL: Oh, this is what we’ve got to talk about.
MONICA: I know, do I really have to pick?
ANDRÉS: That’s the hard thing, I have a feeling like if we come out of here without you picking, we’re going to get yelled at.
MONICA: I know, well, okay. So I, so I have to pick one, but can I just say that most likely I would want to do all of this.
ANDRÉS: Of course.
MONICA: Okay, but I have to pick. Hmm. For pros, for Neil’s, I like that it’s really exploring one neighborhood.
MONICA: Which is great. And I feel like there’s lots of opportunities to just get lost in that one neighborhood and, and who knows what you’ll find around each corner, but there’s also destinations. It’s really great.
NEIL: You don’t have to tell us the bad things, you can just do the good things.
MONICA: Well the problem is there’s no real bad things, there’s no bad things. How can I say anything’s bad? And then, like, I don’t know. I felt such a pull for the, the sit at the counter in the city of love and hate and, you know, and proposing in a jazz club is like the thing, right? Like, I feel like that’s it, that’s kind of us in a nutshell and I love, um, the visual of everything happening around you and you’re having this private little moment.
MONICA: So I think, I think I have to go with Dre.
ANDRÉS: What do I win?
NEIL: You get to read your saved pins.
ANDRÉS: So wait, this is actually punishment?
NEIL: Let me tell you, let me tell you the point at which I realized that I had lost.
ANDRÉS: You knew already? How?
NEIL: The line that Guillaume told you about shit and happiness and that sometimes they come at the same time and my whole story went through my head. Oh my god, I’ve, I’ve over planned everything.
Everything’s over planned. Yeah, but you circumnavigated it so well, getting a character like that to, to lay it all out. Cause that’s what Paris is about.
ANDRÉS: But anyway, I mean the, the thing I came away with was like a, you can’t go wrong, you know.
MONICA: That’s my takeaway is there, I don’t think there’s any wrong place uh, to propose really, and there’s no wrong place to, to be to experience the city.
NEIL: Have we helped you relax a little bit more about the trip?
MONICA: Yes, absolutely.
ANDRÉS: Monica, this has actually been a lot of fun. I was very scared at the beginning. I was scared of up until we started recording, to be honest.
MONICA: I don’t know that I can express enough, how wonderful they both were. But just kind of overwhelming. It’s weird to go, woah, this person got me.
NEIL: That’s really sweet. I’m teary right now.
ANDRÉS: Now we’re gonna get emotional.
NEIL: We’re pretty easy people to push over the edge these days.
ANDRÉS: Yeah. It’s been a rough year.
NEIL: Thanks Monica for your time and for reaching out.
ANDRÉS: For reaching out.
MONICA: Thank you guys, I mean, honestly, this is, this is so wonderful. I don’t even, I’m at a loss for words, which doesn’t happen to me very often, other than thank you.
ANDRÉS: So that’s it. This weeks saved pins are romantic places in my story, read by Neil, the loser.
NEIL: Thanks buddy. Nice. Here we go.
Number one, Jardin des Plantes. This place is huge and can accommodate any and all plant and animal fetishes. Head to the greenhouse there, it has a spectacular collection of tropical plants, a refuge, and a very surreal experience to be in Paris, surrounded by the tropics.
Number two, Centre Pompidou. At the top of this incredible museum, there is a restaurant, Chez George, which has one of the most amazing views in Paris. Looking through the modern structures, you’ll have a spectacular panoramic of the left bank, overlooking the river with Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. A view Guillaume would certainly approve of.
Number three, Chapon Chocolate. Paris is chocolate heaven, so the options are endless. On the Rue de Vieux Colombier, this chocolate shop is a stone’s throw away from the Saint Germain church, from the Sorbonne, and as we’ve heard, its chocolate has life altering qualities.
Number four, Cinquieme Cru is a small and unassuming wine bar tucked near the river. It has a wide variety of wines, in every price range, and is run, we hear, by very nice people. You can eat some cheese, have a meal, sit outside. Calmer during the day and rocking at night.
Number five is the pin that Andrés broke the rules for: Rue de Lombards. A short walk from the Ile de la Cité, this medieval pedestrian street is now dotted with all manner of bars and cocktail joints. The narrower section of the street has three famous jazz bars, giving you a chance to wander, and find just the right counter to lean on.
If you want to see all the stops from our Paris tails, we’ll be posting them on our Facebook page, along with the poll where you can vote for me or Dre. I mean, come on. Follow us there at Passport Podcast.
If you have a question for us, maybe you need some advice, maybe you just want to hear us battle it out, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
ANDRÉS: If you liked this episode or you’re just a huge fan of the show in general, remember to head to podcastawards.com to nominate us as your faves.
Next Tuesday on Passport, we head to Taipei, Taiwan for a story about vegan food and a cult and a president and a musical. We’ll see you there.
NEIL: This week’s episode of passport was written and produced by me and Andrés Bartos. Huge thanks to Monica for being so up for this and for helping us make the show. Also to Also to Myrtille Monoit, Guillaume from Indolore, Marie and the illustrator Lapin.
Look for Lapin’s beautiful and quirky sketchbook, Paris Je T’aime, anywhere you get books.
Guillaume’s band, Indolore, is about to release a new album, so look for it wherever you get music.
We’ll have all of their details in the show notes if you want to check them out.
Our theme music is by Nick Turner with additional stuff by Indolore, Shaolin Dub, Louis and the Nicolas Chientaroli Trio, Giorgio Del Campo, Music Box and Gabagool.
Eliza Engel is our Production Assistant.
The show is mixed and mastered by Julian Kwasneski.
Stacey Book, Dominique Ferrari and Avi Glijanksy are warm crunchy baguettes with butter and just the right amount of honey. They also executive produce the show…
Which is hosted by myself and a man who has never been to Paris and still managed to win this thing, Andrés Bartos.
See you in the next place!
I’ll fucking get you next time, bastard.
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