Initially, the nine year difference in age was daunting.
Eventually, I grew into and rather enjoyed being the big brother of Mary Louise who is better known as Pippy or just Pip.
There was something devilishly impish about her wit and whimsy.
As a shrimp she took scissors to her bangs which enhanced resemblance to her inspiration and role model, the fictional six-year-old Eloise.
Eloise in Paris was published by Kay Thompson in 1955 with illustrations by Hilary Knight. Pip was then six which matched that of Eloise.
She loved to sing the catchy song “Who is the little girl who lives in the Plaza in New York? Eloise, that’s me, Eloise.”
In a large suite attended to by a nanny, the parents are never around, she had the run of the posh hotel. With her pug, Weenie, and turtle, Skiperdee, she ordered from room service, pestered the concierge, and sent telegrams.
Recently, Annisquam’s village newsletter, queried residents about their favorite and most influential fictional character. Pip instinctively dialed up the inventive Eloise.
That inspired me to order Eloise in Paris with copies for both of us. Poring over the clever and engaging illustrated book conjured our exotic adventures in Paris during the summer of 1958.
We chatted about it and Pip readily agreed that it was indeed very much an Eloise inspired adventure.
A commonality between Pip and her fictional inspiration was a world of invention and fantasy.
With busy professional parents she was left to her own devices and imagination in her quasi penthouse suite on the top floor looking down on Beacon Street. It had a warren of closets for hiding out as well as alcoves to perch in and gaze down on traffic and trolley that passed by.
There were dolls, toys and tea sets to play with when entertaining a plethora of phantom characters.
Can you imagine the thrill when, just like Eloise, the family prepared to visit Paris.
Not just as tourists but as members of a debutante entourage that culminated in an epic extravaganza at the Palace of Versailles.
Before that, were weeks of touring starting in Nice. Then Venice, Paris, Brussels for the World Fair, a mountain chateau in Switzerland, and Mayfair in London. It was all VIP with fleets of limos, sumptuous receptions, and grand dining including a restaurant in the Eiffel Tower.
I was fascinated by European service. A warmed plate was place in front of us. Elegant waiters served from platters using nested large spoons to place the meat then deftly add the sauce. One learned to use the silverware from the outside in as courses progressed. If all went well you were left with utensils for dessert.
This culinary education served me well in later years during luncheons at the Ritz with touring movie stars. As a member of the media I dined with Martin Sheen who recounted adventures on the set of Apocalypse Now.
My fellow scribes, a motley crew indeed, were not so adept. The waiters when clearing courses were known to rather rudely correct the cutlery. I recall with amusement Dr. David Brudnoy, a rather pompous fellow, rather crudely attacking a desert soiling both himself and napkin with smears of chocolate. I chortled at the sight having rather neatly dispatched the hard shell of the tart with a large spoon and fork.
It was just a soupcon of the noblesse oblige that I acquired that rather privileged summer mingling with remnants of the ancien regime that we encountered at the exclusive Jockey Club in Paris. Or watching the mounted General DeGaulle leading the parade down Avenue des Champs-Élysées on Le Quatorze Juillet. We celebrated Bastille Day from an elegant residence.
This was indeed to be a once in a lifetime experience. During later trips to Europe I stayed at pensiones and dined at trattorias. Taking a leaf from Orwell I later knew what it was like to be down and out in London and Paris.
During the summer of 1989, for example, I traveled to Eastern Europe to see Berlin after the wall came down. Prague had just opened up and was absurdly cheap. Lunch at a state run cafeteria, for instance, was about $2 and came with two glasses of Pilzner. The pretty lady whose apartment I stayed in was shabby and poor. She was thrilled when I brought her flowers.
Pip as Eloise
Pip and Me 1980s
Pip in fur at Versailles.
Jo and Me at the Ball
Family portrait with Donner
Greeted at the Ball
When Astrid and I visited Prague, some years later, it was jammed with tourists and pickpockets. Rather like the Gypsies in Madrid who made off with her purse. She chased him like a jackrabbit while I lumbered along behind.
Through all this hoopla and folderol Pip deported herself with aplomb. She readily adapted to the courtly protocols which were deadly serious for our sister Josephine and parents but pure fun and pantomime for darling, adorable Pip.
She collected champagne corks that were fabricated into a simulacrum of crown jewels. Of course a lady must have her gems and she flaunted them with insouciant panache. Her merry demeanor was a clever parody of snobbish pretentiousness. For my part, I took it for a droll and unique life experience. That included groping trysts with nubile debutantes in villas and formal gardens. It makes for tales over lunch which was topped by my poet friend recounting swapping tongues with Janis Joplin. As a rock diva she was another variation of royalty.
Paris was particularly adventurous and a bit risqué. A night at the Lido was a bit ooh là là. The show girls were topless and a Tarzan-like stud in a thong swung from a rope and dipped in a small pool.
It was all a bit much for Pip’s tender eyes, or so I thought. We were scheduled for a night at the famous Folies-Bergere. But I put up quite a fuss. Not wanting to spoil their plans Dad had a solution. That night I would baby sit, or chaperone my sister.
Rather than being disappointed it proved to be a highlight of our summer.
Pip and I spent the evening strolling along the raucous boulevards. By then I had a couple of years of high school French as we pretended to be Parisians. Pip skipped and hopped along. We soon discerned that ladies in trench coats with high white boots were plying their trade.
At the randy age of 18, for me, there was an abundance of eye candy to flirt with. Pip basked in the glow of cavorting like Eloise with her big brother.
We stopped for snacks and visited the wax works. The fellow leaning over the balcony never moved.
Things have a funny way of working out.
Years later, not that I’m a prude, during a trip to Copenhagen I declined the offer to join the group taking in a live sex show. That didn’t seem interesting. Why pay a lot of money to watch?
“But you will be all alone” the concierge said. “I will get you a ticket to the Royal Danish Ballet. They are doing something different.”
The night before I attended Swan Lake. To my surprise they performed a nude version of Nevil Shute’s apocalyptic On the Beach. During intermission I rented binoculars. So I had my Danish sex show after all, and free to boot.
We were all gussied up in furs and tails for the amazing ball at Versailles. Pip had a pint-sized gown with a fur stole to match that of Mom and Josephine.
Lining the steps of the Orangerie were wigged servants in livery with silver trays of Nuit à Versailles perfume which was created for the occasion. It seems that the chauffeurs for the debutantes absconded with much of the perfume as well as cases of champagne. Let them eat cake.
At midnight there was supper and a stroll to the terrace to witness the traditional son et lumière. It felt like the court of Louis XIV as we heard French horns and witnessed a blaze of fireworks coming from the manicured woods and gardens.
No wonder heads rolled.
I hooked up with a stunning heiress for the ride back to Paris. She had the chauffeur stop at Les Halles for a morning bowl of French onion soup which we enjoyed as the market came to life.
The next day, the Duke of Château Noir invited us to a reception. With small American flags attached a fleet of limos conveyed us from Paris to his fabled home. Driving through villages people lined the streets. Pip waved to them rising to the spirit of the occasion.
Elegant French debutantes served champagne and canapés. As they bent over, brief flounced skirts revealed glimpses of lace panties. Oh my, you never saw that back in Annisquam.
This is what Pip wrote about Eloise.
A most influential fictional character is never far from my mind. Thank you for the opportunity to reintroduce Eloise, Kay Thompson’s creation.
The zany Eloise along with sidekick, Nanny, Skipperdee, Weenie and fly-by-night pigeons occupied the penthouse at the Plaza on 5th Avenue.
The third floor of 1760 Beacon St. was hardly the penthouse but it was my exclusive abode along with our maid, my second mother, Lillian. Donner, our devoted Weimaraner was a large but equally dedicated stand-in for Weenie the pug.
Growing up, I was a bit orphaned with working parents always on call for emergencies. Eloise’s escapades helped structure my imaginary life. She had a je ne sais quoi, both childlike and mature. She schemed and played tricks. She had allies and targets. Some of her behaviors I would never allow myself like scribbling on the wall. I did wear a necklace made from champagne corks and to demonstrate my devotion, my turnabout painted in the book’s colors, coral and black proudly bore the name, Skipperdee.
When we packed for the trip an important item for my carry on bag was 40 fireballs – one a day with a few in reserve.
Dad packed cigars I packed fireballs!