FAIRY TALES have long been objects of mild fascination for me. My particular tooth fairy didn’t believe in leaving coins under my pillow; I’d wake up, gap-toothed and sleepy-eyed, to find editions of Trina Schart Hyman‘s illustrated fairy tales or volumes of folk tales from various cultures. Celtic tales, Italian tales, Aesop’s fables…these were my tooth fairy’s idea of wealth. To this day, I’m convinced that the heart of any culture lies in its stories.
Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain is a fairy tale built upon details: cups and saucers, extended frames where characters stare off into middle distance and consider the world around and inside themselves, reflections in glass windows, colorful vignettes of life in a busy corner of the world.
Parc, on Rittenhouse Square, is much the same. The attention to detail is exacting. You step through the corner door and find yourself transported. Jessie and I, seated at a small round table by the window, kept finding ourselves throwing in small French phrases, simply because it felt right. The atmosphere is so perfectly attended to that you’re swept up, as if in a modern fairy tale, and phraseology is just one of the symptoms.
In the midst of an embarrassing series of voilàs and je ne sais quois, Jessie and I noticed a Strange Trend. We were sipping our coffees — hers a café au lait and mine a café vietnamese with a layer of sweetened condensed milk — and beside us on the street were strangely garbed people, walking mostly in groups, but all following the same path. They wore large bunny-eared head pieces; some had backpacks, and most had pink water bottles. Some waved, some peered into Parc, others marched right past as if on a ritual quest. Circling the pack on a bicycle was a man in a spiny-fish headress. (I still don’t understand that one; better visibility from a distance?)
It turns out they were part of Philly’s three day Breast Cancer Walk (sponsored by Energizer‡, hence the bunny ears). So as we ate our egg white omelette (with herbes and raclette cheese) and omelette espagnole (featuring a scrumptious ratatouille), and dipped the excellent pommes frites into the accompanying sauce, we waved to the walkers and wondered where we’d been when the sign-up sheets had been posted. Sigh. Next year.
The thing about Parc is that by entering the restaurant’s doors you are not only stepping out of your own century, but you are also sidestepping the city and peering out from behind your café with eyes brightened by wonder. The interior is spell-binding. Lace curtains, floors tiled with mosaic-sized stone, yellowed lights, and long bistro-style menus only add to the sense of enchantment. The addition of the pink bunny-eared Breast Cancer Walkers only added to the sense of mystique; it was a rainy Philly day, but inside Parc was a magical wonderland where everyone — from our waitress to the people outside — could be new friends, and every moment was filled with laughter and new realizations.
And like every good fairy tale, the ending was as satisfying as the beginning. The two heroines — Jessie and I — snaked our way out of the restaurant, and began to make plans for the next adventure. Apple picking, anyone? Because if there is anywhere a fairy tale heroine goes after an enchanting afternoon of making new friends, it has to be going after the enchanted apple.
À la prochain!
‡ Here’s a piece of trivia for you: this year is the Energizer bunny’s 20th anniversary! As the website says, “Keep (the party) going.”