There was a time when, for a taste of France, one had only to go to West 4th Street. Up until a few years ago, the infamous Claude ruled the roost at his eponymous patisserie, and buying one of his ungainly croissants was a minor gallic ordeal. Claude was unfailingly unpleasant, the coffee unfailingly terrible, the place lacking air-conditioning in the summer. But the croissants were good, and it was always entertaining to see people attempt to ingratiate themselves with the proprietor, invariably rebuffed. When Claude retired, he sold his business to a hard-working and kindly employee and things go on much as before, save that now the customer service is more or less normal and it's not the adventure it used to be. I happened to stop in for a pain aux raisins and one of those awful coffees the first day they reopened, just by chance, and the experience was fascinating. One fellow bellied up to the counter and said in a confidential fashion,
"Man, am I glad to see you. Claude was a piece of work. Came here every day for 10 years and couldn't get a friendly word out of him."
He was clearly looking for commiseration, but got only a noncommittal smile from the new owner, and went away with his desired status as "beloved regular" still very much in question. No sooner had he left when another man, who'd overheard, approached the counter with an equally confidential air.
"I heard what that guy said," he said, "and frankly, I never understood people like that. Claude liked anyone reasonable. You just had to act like a human being. I mean, he and I got along great."
He also was rewarded only with a vague smile, and it seemed clear that, despite the change in demeanor, the place's general no-favorites policy was in no danger.
(Personally, I like anonymity; I've been known to give places a wide berth if I feel my privacy might be compromised, and I hate anyone to feel compelled to give me special treatment. There was a gourmet takeout shop near the store where I used to stop for a jelly donut maybe once a week. The same young guy waited on me each time and one day, said, all jocular, "If this keeps up, we're going to have to roll you out of here one of these days!" Give me Claude's indiscriminate hostility any day.)
But for the true French 4th experience, you need to continue up the block to Ludivine, where everything is neutral and terribly Parisian and exorbitantly expensive. I buy my Nuxe products there, and lately have been stalking a pair of rosy-hued heels that the salesman and I agree are perfection, but whose price strains credulity.
All and none of which is to say, speaking of Paris, I'll be an editor of some description at the Paris Review come late May. After three years at a job I love, it was time for a change. I hope my friends from Jezebel will drop by. Although I'll, of course, still be here.