I was going to Paris and wanted to read something set there to get me in the mood, so what better book than The Hotel on Place Vendome? The hotel being referred to is, of course, The Ritz and the book focuses primarily on The Ritz during the German occupation of Paris in World War II.
I knew before I even started reading this book that I’d love it. The Ritz for most of the 20th century, including the war years, was a fascinating place. This is where all the most influential people in Paris hung out, and quite often misbehaved. So yes, The Hotel on Place Vendome is a little gossipy, but in a way that is truly revealing on the social history of the time. All sorts of luminaries are mentioned from Coco Chanel to Hemingway and his crew, from Wallis Simpson to Hermann Goring.
The Ritz was the center of both the Nazi occupation and the Resistance, with a wealth of intrigue, danger liasons, affairs and subterfuge. It is almost comedic how much was going on there, right under the noses of the Nazis.
Who would like this book? The Hotel on Place Vendome is one of those truly accessible books of history. Though well researched, Mazzeo keeps it light. Of course that is bound to happen when you are dealing with the champagne soaked shenanigans that were going on. She does a wonderful job of uncovering the social history of The Ritz – how it got to be the place to go at the end of the belle epoque, why the Germans were so anxious to make it a seat of their power and why everyone else was unwilling to let go of it. In some ways it reminded me of Inside the Dream Palace (review) about New York’s Chelsea Hotel, as both tell the story of hotels as cultural institutions. Are there still hotels that play that role? Or is that something of a by-gone era?