My friend Jan is currently in Paris, taking beautiful pictures for Instagram (@clovis_sangrail) and writing more wonderful articles like this one which really make you feel you’re there. He was also kind enough to take this picture of this building where I lived for a few weeks back in 2001. So I thought I’d share some memories and old film photos with you from this time.
Leaving my father grumbling about looking after so many cats for so long, my mother and I packed an enormous suitcase and took the Eurostar. Looking back, it seems like a wonderful dream. A place of our own between the Opéra and the Louvre. Each morning, I drew back the curtains to watch the traffic and commuters outside before taking a morning walk in the gardens of the Palais- Royal. There was once an evening trip at the theatre there to see a French farce with Jean-Claude Brialy and Line Renaud, not knowing that this place had been used many years earlier for the final showdown in Charade starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant.
On other evenings, I watched the crowds gathering outside the Comédie Française until we finally joined them one night in those plush red seats to see a performance of Gogol’s ‘The Government Inspector’.
Of course, that was the year it rained all spring. And rained, and rained. Weddings were cancelled, blossom was dashed, but as you know if you’ve seen Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’, even in the rain, this city is something special. Having so much time here was a true luxury – we visited the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Grand Palais, Les Invalides, the Musée Rodin, the Musée Carnavalet, the Marais, the Pompidou, the islands, Montmartre, the Tuileries and the Jardins de Luxembourg and many more.
Not forgetting the visits to cemeteries – Montparnasse and Père Lachaise where my mother left me alone, only to attract the attentions of a strange man following me who wanted to show me where Yves Montand and Simone Signoret were buried. Once there, he put his arm around me and suggested lunch. “Oh no, not until I’ve found the grave of Maurice Merleau-Ponty”, I replied. He walked away, muttering that he had no idea who that was and I breathed a sigh of relief.
There were also day trips to Versailles, the basilica of Saint Denis and Chartres to admire the magnificent cathedral and stained glass. And when we were not exploring, we were recovering in the Flore, the Deux Magots, Brasserie Lipp, the Closerie des Lilas, La Coupole, enjoying famous ice cream at Berthillon’s or entering into the magic of Angélina’s where I almost overdosed on sugar from their amazing hot chocolate and the Mont Blanc I couldn’t finish.
One thing we had not considered; every time we visited an exhibition or a place, we bought a catalogue or guide book. Then there were all my French novels and the CDs bought late at night on the Champs-Élysées. Our suitcase was impossible to lift and a sense of dread overcame me.
We spent our last morning walking to the Île-de-la-Cité and the Île Saint-Louis, eating croissants filled with goats cheese my mother had prepared under the statue of Henri IV. It was the 1st of May, a holiday in France, when everyone sells lily-of-the-valley. After buying a large bunch from a friendly seller outside the station, I said au revoir to Paris, so sad to leave but with so many great memories.
And the suitcase? In the pre 9/11 days, security was less rigorous. My panic stricken eyes met those of a French customs officer who waived me through without opening our luggage. I have no further recollection of how I got it home.