HAVE YOU EVERY MISSED THE BALLET FOR A MEAL?

Relais Plaza (Plaza Athenee)

It happened to us, unfortunately!

But is it appropriate to say “unfortunately?” I don’t really know… Let me tell the story, and then you can decide:

I had gotten tickets to the “Para-ll-elle” ballet performance at the Théâtre Des Champs Elysées in the front row. The ballet was set to start at 8:30 p.m., and we had arrived there by 6. We perused the Triangle d’Or (The Triangle of Gold), engaged in a spot of window-shopping at the fashion houses on Avenue Montaigne and did some people-watching on the off chance we’d see someone we knew…

Somewhat tuckered out, we decided to head for a restaurant, both to kill some time and to recharge. There are plenty of restaurants that I know in the vicinity – some which I like, and some which I don’t.

The closest to the theater is the Bar de l’Entracte, sitting right across from it. Its name (“theater intermission”) is appropriate for the environs and cute to boot.

On the same side as the theater a little further along is the more popular L’Avenue. The place is one that models in the area particularly frequent for lunch – meaning attention from men is always in abundance. Since not all the models are women, there is no lack of male models and their admirers either. From the greeter at the door to the servers inside, all the female personnel are specially selected gorgeous women – who effectively issue a challenge to the models coming for lunch. As for the male personnel, who’s handsome and who’s beautiful! Altogether, L’Avenue is an establishment that’s posh, young and modern with a bit of swagger.

Coming back from the Montaigne toward the George V, Chez Francis, which takes up the whole corner, is a great place for people looking for a quick bite rather than a bigger meal. What’s more, it’s in a great location overlooking the square, the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. (In Paris, the city of cafés, my favorites are the Francis and the Au Bord de Seine by Châtelet, Café de l’Art at the entrance to “Boul’mich” and Les Deux Magots in Saint Germain Des Pres.)

If you don’t go for Chez Francis on your return, there’s a fish restaurant that’ll come up ahead: Marius et Janette. The seafood is great, the waiters are not! A bit further on the left is Le Cinq, a Four Seasons restaurant with three Michelin stars. Rue Marbeuf on the right, meanwhile, is basically a street with restaurants. Once upon a time, there were a number of good options here, but later simpler and more touristic establishments gained predominance.

Right at the end of the theater, there are two restaurants on the ground floor of the famous Plaza Athenée. The first, Alain Ducasse, is geared more toward those that enjoy “fine dining,” the rich who are curious about what a place with three Michelin stars is like, dirty old men who spare no expense to impress young ladies and diners who have the benefit of charging everything to a company expense account. It is highly recommended that you make a reservation well in advance. Still, I once went a day before a lunch to reserve a table and noticed plenty of empty tables!

The other restaurant, Relais Plaza, is also chic and also expensive, but has slightly less swagger. That’s where we went, at 7 o’clock – still an hour-and-a-half before the start of the ballet! We wined and dined without a care and had a long chat with the lobby manager, who turned out to be an acquaintance. Our fare was without question both delicious and beautifully presented. For a restaurant of this standard and at this price, however, I see such matters as par for the course, so I shan’t dwell on them, but I do want to touch on one nuance: the flavor of the sauce that came with the sea bass. Along the Aegean and the Mediterranean, they simply apply garlic, lemon, parsley and olive oil to grilled sea bass. After all, when you’re eating free fish, you don’t need much else. That’s why I first expressed disdain for the sauce at the Plaza, but I later realized that its taste was worth writing home about. Perhaps the fact that the fennel sauce put one in the mood for rakı also played a roll, but who knows!

Relais Plaza 2

At 8.15, we departed the restaurant and approached the door of the theater next door.

“Jacket!” a rude security guard at the door barked.

“What about the jacket?”

“Open the front of your jacket!”

After comprehending the reason for the order, we were ushered into a completely empty foyer! With nary a chance to even express our surprise at the sight, a more convivial guard approached, informing us that we had come late, that the show had already started and that because there was no intermission, we would only be permitted into the gallery.

“But it’s only 8.20! How could it have started?” we said, only to be confronted with the reality printed on our ticket: apparently the ballet started at 8, but I had kept thinking it was 8.30!

Oh this elderliness! I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone…

We ascended to the gallery with the elevator… The Théâtre Des Champs Elysées is extremely chic and one of my favorite concert halls in Paris. It was constructed with the aim of creating an alternative to the traditional players of the Paris opera and especially to promote modern music, dance and opera. Boasting an Art Deco architectural style, the hall played host to the Russian ballet’s world premiere of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” ballet. The place known as the gallery is on the top floor and consists of boxes above the fourth balcony. We entered a box with an open door, employing our powers of manual dexterity to find some seats in the dark. They called the place a box, but they were such strange cells that even from the seats at the very front, it was impossible to see a third of the stage! You could only view what was happening on the remainder of the stage.

Regardless, it was enough for us! You’ll appreciate that paying a pretty penny for seats right in front of the orchestra pit, arriving at the location hours in advance only to come late for the show and being forced to perch in the balcony is not something just anyone would be able to accomplish. But the two-thirds of the ballet performance that we were able to view wiped away our disappointment… Not because it was really good, but because we hadn’t been forced to view an act of the performance after coming late! It was a two-person ballet… I’ve always liked duets in ballet, but if the whole performance just consists of two people, if one act is solely devoted to movements without music and if the only external audible sound is exclusively directed at French speakers – complete with literary codes such as “you are the home, I am the shelter” and “the thing between us is everything” that are frighteningly difficult to parse after two glasses of wine – then it’s not an easy task to digest such a performance.

It the end, it’s not one I enjoyed!

That’s why I asked: “When you miss the complete ballet, should you bemoan the matter, or be content?”

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