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Turning 50 in Paris: The ‘immortal’ dinner we won’t soon forget

The writer and her husband outside Auberge Nicolas Flamel.

Courtesy of Arlene Stinchcombe

Sometimes things don't go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures from the road.

When visiting Paris, one lives to eat. What better way to celebrate the half-century birthday of my husband, Brad, than lunch at Paris' oldest house- turned-restaurant, the original residence of Nicolas Flamel. Legend has it that the infamous medieval alchemist and his wife, Perenelle, both obsessed with immortality, had indeed discovered the elixir of everlasting life and are still alive in Paris. Brad's curiosity was piqued.

During our sumptuous three-hour champagne lunch, we engaged in progressively outlandish discussions about our immortal hosts – envisioning their laboratory within these very walls. Our server delivered kir royale starters, confirming that the restaurant's basement kitchen was originally the Flamels' laboratory. Our imaginations soared. Chefs were using Nicolas's cauldrons still laced with residues of deadly mandrake root and eye-of-newt elixirs from Perenelle's herb gardens.

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When Brad's pot au feu arrived, we were finishing our second kir royale. Our server expertly decanted and poured the wine and; as Brad forked a cluster of long-stemmed wild mushrooms, we exclaimed "everlasting eye-of-newt!" Toasting the Flamels, Brad challenged their spirits to "immortalize the day" for him. Then his drunken hand bumped the waiter's arm, splashing a bit of wine. We apologized to the equally contrite server and manager. A complimentary (third!) kir arrived with dessert. As we staggered out, we couldn't decide between tours of the catacombs and sewers. Brad tossed a fated coin that just may have been intercepted by our ghostly hosts.

We joined the line, snaking around a side street, all anxious to see six million bodies, dating back to the 1700s, relocated from various Parisian graveyards to these central catacombs. Brad was oddly quiet.

As we descended the 130 steps, everyone was lulled into reverential awe. When our eyes adjusted to the dim sconces, seemingly endless configurations of bones lay before us.

"The air's … uhm …" whispered Brad. "A bit cloying," I agreed. Then he mumbled, "My stomach's funny." He reported chewing on his third anti-acid. "How's my colour?" he asked. I said, "Fine," but the skulls looked better.

Suddenly, he shoved the camera at me and bolted. I pushed through the crowd to keep up but soon became captivated by wonderfully artistic displays of tibias and femurs. Near a pyramid of skulls, I nudged against something … soft. In a dark corner, Brad was kneeling, his forehead against a skull head.

"Did you throw up?" I asked.

"Not here," he panted, "too rude." He moaned softly, then bolted again.

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Later, I found my poor husband communing with a sewer grate. I blamed either copious drinks or his mushroom allergy but he insisted that the Flamels had won his coin toss, the last laugh theirs.

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