The idea for Remembering Paris is vignettes. Rather than a continuing story, I’m presenting little tastes of my memories of visiting Paris. And as Hemingway said so eloquently ‘if the reader prefers this book may be regarded as fiction.’ Of course all this happened years ago, and while these vignettes feel as though they are tattooed on my brain, there’s a very good chance I am Remembering Paris through rose-coloured glasses.
On paper, staying in Phillippe’s apartment was a crazy idea. What on earth was I thinking; taking up the option to stay, with my new husband, in an apartment belonging to my ex-lover? My French ex-lover. That does make it seem terribly romantic and a little dangereux. It had certainly seemed pretty intense at the time but we’d had a holiday fling, really. I was young and…there’s no other word for it, broken, and he was going through a messy divorce and a – lot – older than me. My mum would have had a fit.
Admittedly, that week in Paris had been…fun, but I lived on the other side of the world. Sure, I’d toyed with the idea of moving to Paris (doesn’t everyone?) but meeting the man who would later become my husband kind of put that idea out of my head. He knew all about my French ex (oh it does sound so romantic when you put it like that…) but my very sensible hubby has the opinion that ‘what happens in Paris really should stay in Paris.’ He didn’t really care to meet the guy but was very happy to have two weeks’ free accommodation in Paris.
When I met Phillippe, we had both been going through heavy emotional trauma and after I went home to the opposite side of the planet, we had been there for each other, via fax and letters at least, while we were both trying to sort ourselves out. I tried to help him be a good single dad, he tried to stop me drinking so much. He was a great dad and so kind to me, but I was a hot mess. It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that I broke his heart when I told him I’d met someone. I really thought it would be nice to stay friends. (We didn’t. After a disastrous meal a few months after this stay in Paris, we realised that we all needed a bit of space, for, like, ever.)
But before it all turned to shit, we would be staying in Paris with his daughter Grace to show us the sights. Paris like an insider! Everyone’s dream!
Grace had been out to stay with us at the beach and was looking forward to sharing her Paris with us, especially with my new husband who had never been there before. Phillipe and Daisy, his new partner, would be away for two weeks avoiding any unnecessary awkwardness.
On her visit to stay with us, she’d asked me straight out ‘did you break my parents up?’ I was mortified at the time and probably responded with something like “God, no, she’d already left with her Personal Trainer.” Or Tennis coach. Or whatever. But to be honest, I didn’t really know. I had simply believed him when he said she’d left, like so many people do. I was so gullible I would have fallen for anything to be honest. Yes, I did wonder about the sequence of events, but all those years later, I didn’t care enough to ask. It was just so much water under the Pont Neuf.
Catching the coach from London had been another great idea. I had flown between London and Paris previously and while the tunnel had been a bit claustrophobic it was nice to step off the bus into the historic centre and not have to negotiate the airport. It was the beginning of April and the new leaves were filling out the Horse Chestnut trees. We left the coach near Montmartre shouldering our packs through afternoon commuter traffic on the Metro.
We heard Grace before we saw her; ‘my friends!’ she hollered. So much for Parisienne chic. She was running towards us and launched herself at me, enveloping me in a hug and kissing my face three times.
My Australian sister,’ she said, tears running down her face.
As we followed her lead back to the apartment, she excitedly pointed out the local sights including the boulangerie that would provide our morning croissants and the cave that had the best wines. The following day was market day in the tiny square near the Metro, she said. We could buy bananas. She had remembered that they were my husband’s favourite fruit.
We were so happy to arrive at the apartment. It was in a quiet street that came alive twice a week for the local market. It was technically outside Paris but was really just a few extra Metro stops from the Louvre. Perfect.
Grace had prepared an amazing afternoon tea for us, complete with a tasting plate of cheeses supplied by her father. We tasted our first fromage de chevre or goat’s cheese, some of the creamiest Brie I’ve ever eaten and a blue cheese that smelled ungodly but tasted divine. We sat and drank wine and talked until late, taking in the view over the rooftops to the distant Eiffel Tower. Not such a crazy idea after all.