Was it the Chanel No.5 perfume I was wearing? A dab touched to the underside of each wrist and behind my ears with its centifolia roses and jasmine flowers. Or, our subtle laughter at the door?
The atmosphere was magical. Candlelight quivered from crystal to silver, shifting light and color on the soft surfaces of linens and roses. Shadows on the glass danced against a sweep of city lights twenty floors above the river’s edge as guests crowded to the view. Tango and jazz mingled freely with the sounds of English and French and German. The smells of savory and sweet filled the air.
“Bonsoir, Madame!” said my guest, who was the last to arrive. We had met last year at my holiday party through a friend of mine, who also had arrived only moments before.
Three friends were with me in the foyer coquettishly smoothing hair and adjusting ties or touching up lipstick, each peering through the coterie to see who had arrived, whom they might know, meanwhile speaking to me about last year’s holiday affair. Surprised at the arrival of yet another guest, they turned toward the door as it opened, delighted to meet him again and eager to remake his acquaintance.
“Bonsoir, Monsieur!” I responded.
He leaned his brass-handled walking cane with ebony shaft against the chair and removed his tweed cap, resting it near the cane.
Still wearing a beautiful cashmere scarf with one length of the knit against his lapel and the other flung across his shoulder, he greeted me again.
My hands were at my sides and l lifted them slightly in anticipation of the French-style kiss on each cheek to say hello and good-bye.
His kiss left me breathless.
Gallantly, he bent down from the waist and reached for my right hand. He took my hand as though it were a fragile butterfly about to fly away. Poised, he raised it to the height of his chest and bowed to receive it, not quite touching lips to my skin and with the eversoslightest lift of my hand before giving it back to me.
He offered le baisemain, a kiss of the hand. Considered by some out of fashion. I loved its pleasingly graceful and stylish manner. “Never kiss a gloved hand or the hand of a young girl; kiss the hand only of a married woman, and do so only indoors,” writes Elaine Sciolino, author of the book, La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life about the rules of le baisemain.
After my final guest had left, I stood by the windows overlooking the city with a last glass of champagne, still charmed by the refinement and elegance of le baisemain and my guest. Did the magical atmosphere, the special ambience of the evening draw out such charm? Memories? Fantasies?
Le baisemain, a kiss of the hand. How can a woman not adore its ceremony, mystery and alteration of time?
French to English: Vocabulary
Bonsoir: Good evening.
Baisemain: Kiss of the hand.
Coterie: A small, often select group of persons who associate with one another frequently.
Madame: Courtesty title of respect before the surname or full name of a woman.
Monsieur: Title of respect, equivalent to Mr. and Sir.
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris™ blog, French Lessons: Where to Kiss in Paris. What’s a romantic rendezvous without a little sweetness? We’ve paired our favorite spots from the book entitled “The Best Places to Kiss in Paris – Romantic Rendezvous in the City of light,” by Thierry Soufflard with chocolateries and patisseries that are nearby each locale.
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