This little treat of a book opens with the arrival of a flying saucer near the Chateau Saint-Antoine vineyard in 1954 which transformed that year’s ordinary Beaujolais into an extraordinary wine. The vintner was never able to reproduce such a remarkable vintage again.
Then we cut to 2017 in an old building in Paris where because of unusual circumstances four people celebrate when one finds a bottle of the 1954 Beaujolais from Chateau Saint-Antoine. The four are: Hubert Larnaudie, whose family built the building in 1868, Bob, a 60-something Francophile tourist, just arrived from Milwaukee, and two tenants, Magalie, a 32-year-old antique restorer, and Julien, a bartender at Harry’s Bar. The four wake the next morning in 1954 and the fun begins.
Besides being befuddled, they have no money and their phones don’t work. Bob hadn’t changed his money to euros, so he was able to get his dollars changed to francs and 1954 Paris looked just right to him. They had adventures individually and as a group involving Edith Piaf, Jean Gabin, François Truffaut. They toured Les Halles, the fresh food market in Paris that was demolished in 1971. They gathered at Harry’s Bar where Julien could get work for the day, and met Harry himself, who died in 1958.
When Magalie passed Passage Choiseul, a covered shopping and restaurant area, she couldn’t resist. She went into the dressmaking shop of her grandmother who had raised her, and immediately recognized her grandmother who was 31 in 1954. Mr. Larnaudie had been scheduled to meet a man for business in the Dali Suite of a hotel. The desk clerk was mystified by the mention of the Dali Suite and Mr. Larnaudie was mystified by the entrance of Salvador Dali himself. Bob made his way to the Louvre and regretted that he would not be able to admire the pyramid that would be built in 1988 outside the museum. Julien’s great-grandfather Pierre was known as Mr. Flying Saucer because he spoke about seeing it in 1954. He had disappeared, along with his dog, in 1978. This had created a great interest in UFOs for Julien and so it was very exciting when he learns his great-grandfather had disappeared after drinking a bottle of the magical Beaujolais and giving a bit to his dog.
This is a book celebrating Paris of the 1950s, and while time travel is the mechanism, it is not the point. Having been a Francophile, I loved the focus on Paris and the little bit that was about time travel just made my head spin.
Antoine Laurain, Vintage 1954, Gallic Books, 2019, 208 pages (I listened to the audiobook).