Friday, 18 January 2008

Chez Louisette at the marché aux puces

The Maître's sister and I were making our way round Les Puces, the St. Ouen fleamarkets just to the North of Paris, keen for some tat browsing, and on the M's orders, perhaps even a chaise longue  so we could have something to sit on after three months of cardboard boxes. It was a beautifully clear, cold, sunny day (it would later snow) and we had spent hours dipping in and out of the hundreds of stalls and shops full of buttons, dolls, taxidermy, jewellery, lace, hats, paintings, and of course, all manner of furniture.

Rounding the corner in the depths of the Vernaison market, I saw the sign for Chez Louisette, a restaurant famed for its all day Edith Piaf cabaret, and persuaded Brandon's sister it was the place for lunch.

It may be old hat for some, but nothing could have prepared me for the wonder of what lay inside Chez Louisette. Stepping in from the bright midday sunlight, we blinked as we adjusted our eyes to the gloom, and slowly registered the Christmas lights, the mirrored walls, the disco ball. Every surface, including the ceiling, was covered in red or silver foil, and there, as promised, was the band: an accordion, a keyboard and the singer, belting out a Piaf song in a sparkly top and floorlength skirt.

At one point during our lunch of steak in a lacustrine pepper sauce, I began to feel a bit crazed, driven to the edge by the incessant crooning and crazy lighting, but I recovered and went back to being delighted by everything and clapping enthusiastically after every number. The food was good simple fare, and the staff, charming.

The waitress had clearly been rendered crazed by her work environment, and waved back at us whenever we tried to attract her attention. "Coucou! We're having fun over there in the corner aren't we!" she cried, as we sat helpless, frantically miming signing the bill.

An hour or so later, we reluctantly returned to the real world, and the wintry daylight, regretting nothing.

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