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An Embassy Fête

Our columnist's mother, the wife of the ambassador to France, brings Thanksgiving to Paris

The residence of the United States Ambassador to France, is one of the most beautiful in Paris. Its current occupants are my parents, Ambassador and Mrs. Felix Rohatyn. Constant entertaining is part of the job; my parents prefer small dinners where conversation takes precedence over protocol. On Sunday nights they like to screen films in the ballroom, then offer a buffet supper (often pot-au-feu) in the state dining room. Having guests over so often requires a stellar support team. My mother has one in the form of her assistant, Caroline Pacquement; her majordomo, Patrice Quidu; and her florist, Marianne Robic, who creates exquisite arrangements at her Paris shop (011-33-44-1-803-47). The whole crew swings into action on Thanksgiving, my mother's favorite holiday. Needless to say, Thanksgiving is not a red-letter day in France, but that has not deterred her!

thanksgiving rituals
My mother is a true believer in tradition and at Thanksgiving tries to recreate the same atmosphere every year. Throughout my childhood in Manhattan, that meant paper pilgrims and turkeys perched on a bed of fall leaves on the table, with the odd gourd tossed on for good measure. Dinner was roast turkey (Mom and I love the dark meat), cranberry jelly (Ocean Spray), brussels sprouts (not all kids hate them) and marrons (chestnuts)--a tribute to my mother's school days in Switzerland. Dessert was pecan pie made with Karo syrup, a staple of Mom's hometown, Memphis. In Paris she's kept many of these traditions and adopted some wonderful new ones too.

dinner at the embassy
On Thanksgiving, my parents entertain in their private quarters. A kitchen staff of five, headed by chef Joël Aubertin, plans the dinner well in advance to get the ingredients they need. (Once I looked out my bedroom window and saw the undercarriage of a delivery truck being checked by a guard wielding a large stick with a mirror.) Mom begins the meal with a velvety pumpkin soup, followed by turkey, cranberries, brussels sprouts and marrons. She serves American wines, such as Saintsbury Pinot Noir. For another touch of home, she sets the table with Darte Frères and Nast china, which she bought years ago at Christie's, and her monogrammed "EFR" linen napkins. She also uses silver salt and pepper shakers handed down from her mother.

the holiday finale, with noodles and nobu
Some years we are just a small group of family at Thanksgiving; this year, the marines who guard the embassy were invited with their spouses. My mother is of the old school and always writes out the place cards herself. People tell me that my voice is exactly like hers, but I'd trade that any day for her beautiful penmanship. The yellow cache-pot decorating the room seems to follow us everywhere--one reminder of Memphis. Pecan pie is another. But this year the pie I brought on a plane from America met with an accident in the air, so we settled for our second favorite, lemon meringue. As long as I can remember, my mother has always taken a brisk postprandial walk, with me as her companion. One year she had us all get up and walk after each course (that was pushing it a bit too far!). In Paris we stroll through the embassy gardens, accompanied by her two spoiled babies, Nobu and Noodles--"the girls," as she calls them.

Published November 1999
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