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Posts tagged ‘Paris’

The soft look your eyes once had

I was fortunate to have two Grannies when I was small.  In fact I had two until I was nearly 16 but unhappily one succumbed to dementia and was in a nursing home for nearly 8 years before her life extinguished.  So, at the time, half of mine was spent with her vibrant, outspoken and faintly outrageous personality, full of bell-like tinkling laughter chiming through her house replete  with rather exotic and eminently touchable artifacts and half with a shrinking, fading somewhat pathetic reminder of whom she had been.  I remember being vaguely scared of her when we went to visit as she evaporated slowly away.  She was withered and bent and painfully thin with skin parched and almost transparent through which the vessels carrying her aged blood were defiantly visible.  Dessiccating.  She had the faint odour of care home and often didn’t utter a sound except the thinnest of hints of breath in and out.  When she did speak she had a habit of rambling in guttural spitty Arabic having lived in Egypt in the 1920s and 30s during the up-market tourist boom of that era when my grandpapa was chief accountant for Thomas Cook.  Sadly it was a relief to be sent outside to play with the nursing home dog – an unfeasibly large pyreneen mountain dog called Uggles who resembled Nana in Peter Pan and was similarly hard-wired to nurse-maiding children.  When she died at the age of almost 92 there were few left to mourn her so her funeral was tiny – eight of us including my cousins, my elder brother and I.  So feeble were our collective voices that the crematorium put a cassette tape of the Kings College Choir singing our chosen hymns to bolster us up.  Outside it was cold and damp and I realised my father was crying.  I realised my father was a son.  I realised my father was a feeling, emotional creature just like me.  It was a seminal moment.

As I’ve grown older I miss her even though I barely had opportunity to acquaint with her and I wish I’d had the moment to know her better.  I’m told I’m like her.  I take it as the greatest  compliment – she lost an arm in the First World War when nursing in France.  Gangrene.  Not carelessness, just caring for others in greater need.  When we were small children she used to swing one armed into a string hammock and then pull us all in with her, one at a time and read us stories under the lilac trees.  She also had a wonderful and positively enormous cat called Kim who resembled an overstuffed fur cushion.  She was, therefore Granny Kim.

This lady sitting in les Jardins de Luxembourg hijacks me, reverses time and  delivers me to a presentday now past and long forgotten yet seamlessly evoked.  A time I wish I had noticed when the then was now.  She knows nothing of her curious power of course as she casually soaks in the sunshine.  Behind her the children play, the lovers drift hand in hand, friends gossip on benches.  Every one of us growing older as time relentlessly moves us forward.  Carpe diem.


I post the picture in response to The Daily Press Weekly Photo Challenge entitled ‘Time’ – you can see all the other, far worthier interpretations here

PS:  The title is from one of  the most touching and bittersweet poems I know ….

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

WB Yeats

Joie de vivre

Here is The Bean in a bag.  A Bean bag if you will.  She looks so full of life, so vibrant.  Which she is.  A positive ball of energy madly running around nose to the ground sucking up whatever scents are assaulting her snout with a joie de vivre that leaves us breathless much of the time.  This particular day was excessively hot so we popped her in a handbag to save her overheated, fatigued legs.  We are careful of this Bean.

Last September we made the trip from home in the Cantal to Paris (about five and a half hours by car).  I had an appointment with the US Embassy and in deference to my tense disposition at the thought of the impending Green Card interview, my husband booked us into our favourite Hotel des Dames du Pantheon.  We have stayed before and The Bean is treated like royalty and always referred to by name by the excellent and delightful fully multi-lingual staff.  As ever we were given a room with a ‘vue impenetrable’ of the Pantheon in all it’s beauteous glory.  I had an appointment with an Embassy endorsed physician (there are two of them in Paris) for my medical.  I was nervous.  I’m not very good at medical for me.  During my morning away being examined by this charming Irishman, having chest X-rays and blood tests and vaccinations for things I have never heard of and am sure I certainly don’t want to be acquainted with, The Bean reclined regally in our room.  She had taken the air of the Cinquieme Arrondissement before breakfast, enjoyed a little smackerel of brekkie stashed in a napkin and smuggled back to the room for her delectation and was entirely happy to be fully relaxed and generally recumbant.  In the afternoon we walked.  She doesn’t get to run much off the lead in Paris but people are largely very dog-friendly and she is always happy to take a petit café an apero or better still, a meal with us because folk have a habit of slipping her a pat and a morcel of something nice.

The following day we made our way by car (which had hitherto been parked in the underground carpark nearest the hotel) to the Place de la Concorde.  We were a little late out of the starting gate and had to be at the Embassy promptly at One to get through security.  These were our emphatic and clear instructions and we did not want to put a foot wrong.  We had about 49 minutes to park the car,sneak a quick lunch, return to the car to deposit dog and get in line for the main event.  Lunch would need to be somewhere around Fauberg St Honoré which runs along the back of the Embassy and about 5 minutes walk from the car.  We hot-footed it, taking lengthy and rapid strides towards our goal of a likely lunchery.  The street is fairly narrow and we were stuck behind a posse of rather bulky people walking excessively slowly.  So I put my  foot on the imaginary throttle and powered past, The Bean (the Athletic Bean as she perceives herself) gambolled along behind me.  It must be noted that I was at this point in my life uptight to boil-over point.  We had been waiting for two years for this moment, jumping through a seemingly endless series of hoops and I had absolutely no idea what questions I was going to be asked.  It is rather akin to being asked to interview for a job but with no job description to guide the prep.  As I passed the entourage a woman’s voice rang and twang in my ears ‘oh that poor little thing being dragged and choked near to death’.  I snapped.  The world slowed down as I span round like Wonderwoman and eyes flashing squared up to the offender.  ‘She is neither dragged nor choked so I suggest you SHUT UP!’ I spat – my clipped, polished and perfectly enunciated English worthy of Maggie Smith at her most pithy.   The woman was clearly appalled at this deranged firebrand addressing her.  I imagine she had assumed I was French.  Assume as my youngest daughter reminds us makes an ASS out of U and Me.  For my own part I have only just recovered my equilibrium, so livid was I at the unjustness of the flung accusation.  It was only as I glided on my way, sure in the knowledge that I had put that wench squarely in her place, that it occurred to me. She being American and in the street that runs down one side of the Embassy building that she might, might easily be the same person who would interview me for the fabled Green Card that very afternoon …. mercifully this was not to be an occasion to add to my overstuffed portfolio of ‘oh bugger’ moments.  If she is on the Embassy staff she at least wasn’t confronted by me twice that day.  But not for the first time, I wished I was that person who has the ability to just waft by situations.  Lunch did not slip down easily as the lump in my throat expanded.  The Bean, yet again was the winner …. she rather likes saumon fumé au fromage frais de chêvre though I believe she was less than enamoured of the salade.

Bean Bag!

Bean Bag!

PS:  I post this in response to the Daily Press Weekly Photo Challenge entitled Vibrant.  For me vibrancy is about a state of being not simply about vivid colour (though that is a reasonable interpretation of the word and many have quite brilliantly here) and The Cruelly Treated Bean is vibrancy incarnate.

I don’t care what the weatherman says ….

‘If the weatherman says its raining, you’ll never find me complaining’ goes the Louis Armstrong classic ‘Jeepers Creepers’.   Which some days, in fact some summers – this we are told is the worst for 100  years for sunshine and the worst since 1977 for rainfall,  is just as well.

You might recall that we had started out for Paris at midnight or thereabouts and arrived just before 6 a.m.  By 11 O’Clock I was clear of the Embassy and we walked a little before heading back to the car and out of the city for the long drive home.  And it is still a long drive – that 500 km to get to Paris is exactly the same on the way back.  We decided to stop for lunch in Orleans, capital of le Loiret in the region known as Centre because that’s just exactly where it is.  In the centre. And in the centre we found a lovely restaurant which filled us full of fish (me) and pork (him).  The waiter had clearly stepped straight out of Le Cage aux Folles sporting the skinniest of skinny jeans, a very chic loose white shirt with a smattering of flowers, Converse low-tops which matched my own and hair tied back in a tiny tight bun. He spun and pranced with zesty aplomb and I could happily have taken him home and put him in my wardrobe to pull him out when I need a breath of fresh air in my life.  The rain had persisted down on Two Brains and The Bean whilst they waited for me in the park opposite l’ambassade and it increased as we drove south.  We were cold and wet when we arrived at the restaurant but a replete belly does much  to improve damp spirits and after a quick flick round the city in the car and a decision to visit in the dry some day we set off again through the rain towards our ultimate goal.


Some time ago, I expressed a desire to see Bourges (capital of the Cher also in Centre).  I pass by the signs whenever I do the long drive to Calais or back (or, indeed the slightly shorter trip to Paris).  Where Orleans is a pretty plateful – half timbered buildings, a cathedral that ranks with the finest in France and the river running stately through the middle, Bourges is frankly gluttonous.  Everywhere you turn are cobbled streets lined with those beauteous half timbered houses reminiscent of Stratford (upon Avon not Olympic Central).  The Cathedral is enormous, monstrous even.


Overall and oddly Bourges didn’t do it for us.  It stuffed us full but left us feeling empty.   It confused us and that was the problem – Bourges doesn’t quite know what it is.  But the fact is that it is so much easier to have a strategy when you are one thing.  If you are a small and perfectly formed medaeval or whatever epoque village or even a middle sized or large one you have an identity and your planning can and should encapsulate that.  If on the other hand you have been an important place since Roman times, have a plethora of half timbered Shakesperian houses, a volume of 17th and 18th Century masters dwellings and a cathedral which mushroomed in a mere 60 years to be a soaring gothic monster you have an identity crisis in your melting pot.  DSCF8516Of course a melting pot can work,  but the real problem comes when the place has been ripped to bits by allowing nondescript modern buildings in the centre and no thought has been given to the way they harmonise with the old.   Of course the heavy hitters all over the world, the big iconic cities, can cope because they have huge budgets born of investment and commerce but for a place like Bourges with an embarrassment of historic gems but a total reliance on their tourist income it must be beyond challenging to manage.   If someone comes along with an idea and a desire to be in the city then taxes and the prospect of employment force the good folks of the town to say yes, eager to enhance the towns coffers – those same coffers that must be stretched to breaking by the voracious needs of so many historic treasures.  We have since discovered that the town has quite the problem with vandalism and youth crime – this, it seems is the fate of such places the world over and I wish I was smart enough not just to question but to dish out the answers.   The people, though,  were thronging and despite the looming skies and damp underfoot it still looked the fine historic town that it is.


We made our way to a cafe and as we sat down the sky unzipped and a deluge of biblical proportions (not the first and not the last of this journey) flashed down.  We sat outside, The Bean sensibly hiding under the table which, though protected by an awning began to puddle nicely. The place was staffed by three men – the oldest, clearly the boss and a younger man who swiftly took our order, coffee and creme brulee for me and chocolat chaud and a mousse au choc/vanille for Two Brains.  Picked up off the table and cradled like a baby in our arms, it remained dry enough to eat swiftly.   We watched a young woman with a baby in a buggy all enveloped in a rainhood with the older child wearing her coat to protect him.  Sleeves down to the floor and dragging feet he clearly felt it unfair that the baby had the luxury of cover whilst his mop of hair was stuck to his head with cold water that then ran down his cheeks in pesky rivulets.  She smiled and smiled and the little boy will look back one day and realise what a good mummy he has.  We attracted the attention of the youngest of the trio of staff and asked for more drinks.  He looked at our now sodden bill, loped inside and 15 minutes later was still affecting to clean behind the bar.  Older man passed.  We said we had asked for coffee and he leapt indoors shooting the boy a look and saying a very few words that proved suffficient to galvanize, nay ignite the youngster.  Smiling to himself the boss retreated.  One day the boy will look back and remember what a good boss he had ….


PS:  Like many I’m a sucker for a gargoyle and amongst all the amazing carvings surrounding the cathedral was this absolute gem who looks for all the world like Voldemort in J K Rowlings Harry Potter series.DSCF8508

We’ll always have Paris ….

Last week the usual suspects – the two of us and the extremely small  dog got into the car at midnight ten and headed for the bright lights of Paris.  It’s about 500 km to Paris and we had an appointment at the US Embassy just off Place de la Concorde at 08:50 sharp.    Dog settled under her blanket in the soft basket she travels in when we drive – the definition of a ‘litter’ is a mode of transport powered by humans (often slaves) in which the high-born travel in luxury.  That pretty well says it in terms of The Bean in transit.

The two of us are well versed in long drives living where we choose to.  So one of us drives for 2 hours and then we swap, the theory being that you get some sleep.  We at least rest.  Nonetheless, arriving as we did in the City of Lights at a little before 6 a.m was slightly hallucinagenic.  I was driving as we headed down the right bank of the Seine and Two Brains snapped like a Jap as le Tour Eiffel loomed ahead.  Frank (pronounced Fronk after the wonderful wedding planner in ‘Father of The Bride’), our SatNav, called us ever onwards to our destination and was surprisingly accurate in finding a carpark right opposite our destination in Rue Gabriel.  So amazed were we that he had pinpointed what we had asked for (he has a talent for getting tired and emotional at the most inopportune moment) that we drove past and had to do a sweeping circuit back again.  Safely parked we surfaced into the great iconic square and this is the point – it was almost empty – insignificant traffic around, the sky lightening and for once an almost uninterrupted view of a landmark.


The drive was entirely worthwhile.  Whatever awaited in the Ambassade (and for that you will have to wait) somehow didn’t matter in that moment in the slicing chill of the early morning which could only come close to being spoiled by a hugely rude waiter at breakfast.  And believe me, he tried ….


PS:  The quote is, of course, from Casablanca and is attributed to Howard Koch one of several screenwriters who came and went in the process of producing that miracle of a film.

Le Coq Sportif

I’m not a football fan, though if pushed I own to supporting The Arsenal (the fault of Granny – she lived within hearing distance of Highbury when first married and made it conditional of watching Grandstand that The Gunners were your team) …

But it’s pretty unavoidable this Coupe de Monde thing and I must confess that I support France (and not because England didn’t cut le moutarde


– that was inevitable and when the collective English eventually realise that unless a manager is allowed real time to develop his team of players who actually never see one another let alone play together because their high fallutin-tootin teams won’t release them from the gilded contracts to bond properly with their internation team-mates, there will never be that glorious collective ‘YES’ as they bring back international silverware). No I’m not a mealy mouthed ex-pat – I love the French Game (Arsenal – remember has a French manager) and I live here and for me it falls into the politeness bag.

So in a few moments I will be turning up my TV and yelling ‘allez les bleus’ … Let’s turn those Germans to dust mes braves


PS:  In Paris a week ago outside the very ritzy Jardin de Luxembourg, we found these boys … never underestimate the power of a world class tournament to bring sport to the masses #lovefootie