Ah, Paris. The city of a thousand clichés. The city where actually mentioning all the clichés is, in itself, kind of clichéd. All I need do now is throw in some vaguely self-conscious, somewhat deprecating references to Amelie and the Eiffel Tower and we can all be done with this and go home. Well, except, that wouldn’t be terribly interesting – either for me writing, or anyone reading. So, let's begin again.
Over the summer, I went to Paris for three nights. I’m not a huge traveller (at the moment – although I’ve promised myself this will be rectified), particularly as work in a variety of forms often keeps me more UK-bound than I’d like during holidays. I flit in a triangle between London, Oxford and the hills all the time, but rarely make it further afield. So this was exciting. It was something I’d been saying I would do for a while, but wasn’t sure I’d actually manage to organise. Thankfully I did.
I stayed with my beautiful (and extremely well-dressed) friend Mina, whose mother lives there. My one and only previous trip to Paris had been at 14 for a modelling job (see here), carefully chaperoned by my mum. This time, with a hell of a lot more independence, Mina and I indulged in a mix of the touristy and the offbeat, alternating between sitting outside the Notre Dame at midnight and sifting through some excellent thrift stores in East Paris.
Part of my reluctance to write about the trip was due to that very touristy nature of our various exploits. Who wants to hear about visiting Shakespeare & Company, or wandering along the Seine at midnight? These are stories that have been told over and over. Old news. And yet, as recognisable (and predictable) as some of these activities may be, it in no way diminishes the intensity of those first glimpses, those marvelous experiences.
Yes, every individual with a sniff of a love for literature ends up at Shakespeare & Co – but it doesn’t stop the gasp of “wow” on first seeing that tiny space crammed high with books, each corner packed full with more volumes than you’d think possible. It doesn’t stop the vague wistfulness of wishing that you could work there too.
And yes, going to the Pere Lachaise cemetery is not a revolutionary idea – but it doesn’t lessen the incredible curiosity it provokes; the compulsion to want to see as much as possible. After two hours spent climbing stairs, tramping along walkways and skirting graves and chapels so elaborate they resembled twisting streets and villages dedicated to the dead, we found Oscar Wilde’s grave. Another typical sight? Tick. In fact, we were almost a little disappointed – perhaps hoping for something more - until an elderly man with long, flyaway hair clutching a folder and a handful of Gertrude Stein leaflets approached us purposefully. He grabbed my arm, pointed at my lipstick and proceeded to tell me, my friend and a small assembled group all about the women who came here to kiss the grave (he also indulged in some less salubrious details about why Jacob Epstein’s statue was missing its penis, but we’ll leave that for another time…) It was unexpected, but it felt oddly appropriate to encounter such an eccentric character at that point, in that location – fitting, in many ways.
What else did my trip include? Wonderful food, wine sipped outside in the dwindling light, a hidden cocktail bar, a museum we managed to get quite lost in, plenty of coffee (including in The Used Book café), catching up with another friend over piscines of champagne, more wonderful food, returning to the Notre Dame to sketch in the midday heat… An assembly of instances I will remember fondly. But beneath them all was the pleasure of being somewhere new with a good friend, our conversations threaded through all that we did – several days of adventure and intellectual discussion. And for me, that’s as good as it gets.
This second-hand navy shift dress with lace inserts was one of the best souvenirs of the holiday, found in a particularly delectable thrift store for 15 euros. Here I wore it with my mum's black translucent slip underneath (purposefully longer) and a favourite suede jacket picked up at a jumble sale - I think it was 50p? The chelsea boots are now established old favourites - they're second hand men's Russell & Bromley. The bag was from a charity shop. Evening summer light while driving high up through the hills of home to see friends: serendipitous.