Published date: 23 May 2012
My favorite room is Le Train Bleu, the crazy belle époque restaurant in the Gare de Lyon in Paris. I have a fondness for belle époque interiors – they are very kitsch and gaudy, and overwhelmed with decoration – and Le Train Bleu is one of the best examples in Paris: it is heavy with red velvet and gilt, chandeliers, wood paneling and ornament.
I live in New York now, but I lived in Paris for 16 years from 1983. It didn't take me long to discover that Sunday nights in Paris are always a problem because everything is closed. Le Train Bleu is the honorable exception. So, if I had out-of-town guests and it was a Sunday night, I would take them there. Apart from anything else, it does a tasty foie gras. In America I think it's almost against the law to have foie gras, because gorging the goose is considered so cruel.
Le Train Bleu was built in 1901 for the Universal Exhibition and several movies have been made there, including Travels with my Aunt in 1972. It was declared an historical monument by André Malraux the same year. Over the years, regulars have included Coco Chanel, Brigitte Bardot, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dalí and the actor Jean Gabin.
One of the chief delights is looking at the paintings hung on the walls and ceilings. There are portraits of the functionaries who ran the train line, the PLM (Paris-Lyon-Mediterranean) and pictures of the destinations – Lyon, the Alps and the Mediterranean.
I wrote a biography of Marcel Proust and I always think of him when I am at Le Train Bleu, because one of his friends, Henri Gervex, has a work on the walls. (He also painted some scenes from Proust's novels.) I don't know whether Proust ever went to Le Train Bleu, but I like to think that he did, the restaurant has the look of his world.
For years I rented a house in Provence so I would take the train from Gare de Lyon and, if it was meal time, I would go to Le Train Bleu.
In Provence everything is simple and peasanty and unpretentious – not terms that apply to Le Train Bleu. So the restaurant was always my final look at what I call 'matronly Paris' – the society matron in all her diamonds and pearls.
Edmund White will discuss his latest book Jack Holmes and His Friend on 1 June as part of The Charleston Festival, 25 May to 3 June.