I’m going to Paris in May, I regret to say my first visit back to the City of Light since my twenties. Childrearing, work, finances and other travel agendas have all conspired to keep me away for decades. It’s odd, really, since six-year-old Eloise, created by the unique and multi-talented Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight, was my first literary heroine. She inspired me, among many other things, to first aspire to parler français. Like her, I dropped “pas de quoi d’accord et zut alors!” into casual conversation, just because.
Eloise and I have a special bond. My Great Aunt Emma introduced me to her when she first arrived on the literary scene in 1955. She and I were the same age, though our worlds could not have been more different. Eloise, as surely you know, lived at the Plaza Hotel in New York City with her Nanny, her turtle Skipperdee and her dog Weenie. I lived in Somerville, New Jersey with my father, stepmother, half-brother, two stepbrothers and a stepsister. No turtle, no Nanny, no dog, no pigeon named Emily. It was “rawther booooring” in comparison.
Eloise was impulsive, high-energy, risk-taking, outgoing, adorably likeable despite her penchant for creating chaos. Clearly fatherless, she had a society mother who rarely appeared, leaving this impish little girl to raise herself with the help of not just her exasperated elderly English nanny but legions of bellboys, concierges and assorted other paid employees. Dressed in her signature white blouse with puff sleeves and Peter Pan collar, black pleated skirt held up (mostly) by suspenders, knee socks and black patent leather Mary Janes, Eloise sklethed, clabbered, scampered, scurried and narrated her way through life with nary a care for what others thought of her.
I was a shy bookish child, small in stature and presence, blonde, blue-eyed and semi-orphaned, constantly attempting to be invisible so as not to attract the unwanted attention of bullying stepbrothers or the notice of a resentful stepmother. Oh, to have Eloise’s freedom, her exotic life on the top floor of the Plaza, her adventures travelling first class to Paris, London, Moscow! How I wished to be an only child in reality, and not just in the way I felt in my blended family, the result of two untimely deaths and a divorce. No matter that Eloise seemed not to have loving family relationships; she was an indefatigable role model of skibbling merrily through life nonetheless, with a rich imagination as her most important coping skill. I understood.
Eloise and I are now “women of a certain age” despite the fact that she hasn’t aged a day since 1955. I would love to have tea with her some afternoon at the Palm Court now that I live in New York City. What would she be like today, not six but her chronological age? I think we would be great pals. I have learned to skibble and sklethe more, to worry less, to become visible and, I hope, engaging if not charismatic. She, I would like to think, might have mellowed a tad, yet still kept her joie de vivre and irrepressible frankness. I would tell her about my upcoming trip and ask her for her recommendations.
“Just reread Eloise in Paris, mon Cherie” she would likely say.
And I have. And guess what—it is an excellent guide to the sights and not to be missed experiences of Paris, and up to the minute too, including getting the appropriate shots. Here is Eloise’s advice on how to do it:
“you have to fall down on the bed and hide and count the pillows for a while with your head under it and pull everything on top of you and glue your eyes and be stiffer and stiffer and sort of disguise your arm under the comforter and then slowly sklathe it out about an inch or so and zambo sting sting stinger then you have to have your head bandaged with cold compresses and hit Dr. Hadley with the flyswatter and clink clank pick up that phone and call Room Service to send up four peach melba and three straight Johnny Walker Black without ice and charge it please, merci beaucoup”
Which pretty much describes how I wish my COVID vaccine experience had gone instead of my sitting in a dingy CVS being jabbed by a distracted pharmacist and then going home to sulk and order bad Chinese takeout.
Anyway, pas de quoi, d’accord and zut! I plan to skibble my way through Paris channeling Eloise and remembering that life is, after all “rawther merveilleux!”