When you enter through that facade with large windows and blue door frames, in the heart of the Marais, you get the best “balva” in Paris. Oh! And served in a unique way by Brigitte, who perhaps without ever having read “Dom Casmurro”, stole Capitu’s hungover eyes.
Perhaps there are so many more Brigittes in the French capital — and so many more delicious and fragrant calvados. But none reach your glass with that “nonchalance”, and perhaps even a certain pride, displayed by Brigitte behind the counter of La Belle Hortense, that half-bookstore, half-basement place on Rue Vieille-du-Temple.
You can find Belle Hortense in more than one guide to the most visited city in the world. But to be invited into Brigitte’s sought-after circle of clients, you have to go there to get to know her up close.
I went myself because one of my brothers, probably looking for an open place for a last drink in the Marais one mid-week morning, passed by and decided to go in. And I told countless friends, I mentioned it in articles I wrote about Paris and I’ve seen comments from fellow travelers who accepted my suggestion and weren’t disappointed.
I think it has to do with the way I talk about the times I went to that place. From the look on Brigitte’s face when she serves me this apple brandy at 1:30 am on a cold Wednesday morning. These things don’t appear much in travel guides. Much less in those written by artificial intelligence.
I remembered Brigitte when I recently read, in The New York Times, a report about a new type of scam applied to unsuspecting tourists: guides made by artificial intelligence.
Published by this same Sheet, Seth Kugel and Stephen Hiltner’s excellent article focuses on a “new” published author named Mike Steves. Which, in fact, is as invented as his photo, also generated by AI.
Mike’s “tips”, they say, are the most generic possible, collected from other texts already written. Most of the time, informative, but devoid of charm, experience or unexpected curiosities that we travelers love to know.
The report reveals a wave of fraud that deceives travelers with truisms: the places are unmissable, all the attractions are unforgettable. And it also sabotages competent flesh-and-blood authors whose books, infinitely more elaborate, cost more.
Readers who purchased the generic guides, according to the newspaper, were extremely disappointed. Also, you could! Why pay for a bunch of disorganized information that you can get from Wikipedia?
Recently, commenting on searches I carried out on ChatGPT about tourism, I shared here my astonishment at the inaccurate, if not grossly wrong, information I found. But the worst thing, he concluded, was the lack of the human factor in the responses.
Tourism is essentially a tutorial subject. Yes, we want to know if we should take heavy coats to Paris in April, but it’s not much better to make a mistake with your clothes and get a little cold than to miss the chance to meet Brigitte in the late hours of the bohemian “troisième”, as the city is known. Belle Hortense neighborhood?
We who love these experiences around the world know that they are not in the most complete AI databases. And that, if we want to feel the pulse of the cities we visit and make others fall in love with them, only stories told with passion and memory are truly enchanting.
And that’s why, dreaming of being in Paris now, I end by asking: “Brigitte, s’il vous plaît, encore un bald!”.
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