Sunday, 5 October 2014

On Paris

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.


Closet Fashionista said...

Such a great outfit and location!!
Ahh Paris! I'm hoping to go in April with a friend, I have previously only been there for like 10 hours during a trip to London. It will be nice to have a few days and just explore :D

Ivana Split said...

and for me it is as good as it gets:) wonderful photos and trip description<3

Melanie said...

I get a strong sense of Paris and autumn in this post. They say (sorry, cliche alert) Paris in the springtime, but now I think autumn is best.

Suzette Barnett said...

Love your jacket in this photo shoot!

Izzy DM said...

I don't frequently comment on the loveliness of your photos, because it goes without saying, but these photos have a very special regal quality, and the outfit makes me think of some 1930s bohemian French poet or artist or muse to the artists probably back then.

I've never done most of these things, all of the times I've been to Paris with my family! Same reason, as a New Yorker, I guess I've never been to the top of the Empire State Building or seen the Statue of Liberty. But now I really want to see that bookstore and wander along the Seine at midnight :).

Yasumi in Worshipblues said...

Oh my darling! I feel almost the same way about Paris.

But then I started hanging out with Japanese people who've lived in Paris for an age and it opened up curious possibilities for exploring for me.

I tell you what I find odd about people who visit Paris and write about it...they all write similar things. And it is often so far away from what I experienced. That said, I spent some time talking a couple of elderly ladies of the night in a council estate then found an abandoned once human zoo - remnants of one of those strange Expositions they used to have yonks ago....I wrote about it on my blog. However, most people want to veer away from stories like this and would much rather read about the Eiffel tower over and over again.

Michelle Wang said...

Beautiful... I have two dear friends with who I have 'flaneuring' expeditions. On our latest flaneur we caught a ferry on a whim and ended up drinking a delightful italian white wine from the bottle and savouring bufalina pizza from a tiny, intimate pizzeria under the sydney harbour bridge.. talking from our souls and watching the sun set... it was perfect; and your wanderings around Paris remind me of that sense of sweetest companionship, surrounds and conversation- now if only one day we were to get to Paris too!
Love Michelle

Mandy Bajwa said...

beautiful photos and outfit!

Vix said...

A secret cocktail bar? Now you're talking!
I loved Monmartre and Pierre Lachaise. Jacob Epstein is a big part of Walsall, his widow bequeathed his work to the people of our town, but his other part? How odd! xxx

The Foolish Aesthete said...

As my filmmaker brother and sister in-law say, it's the Magic Hour. That golden light, though fleeting, is so worth waiting for and capturing! Gorgeous photos. And how wonderful that you were able to go to Paris with your friend.

Paris ... I think we can all be forgiven for indulging in all the cliches. I didn't realize the significance of Paris being called the "City of Light" until I began studying the Belle Epoque and Impressionism. With its new electric lights illuminating boulevards and cafés at night, it truly was the City of Light!

Your excursion reminds me of my first trip to Paris. We were a couple of wide-eyed university kids going across the Channel for the weekend. We were fortunate that one of our friends was half-British, half-French, and so his (inundated but very kind) mother hosted us all in their home in Paris. At the time, I knew nothing about Paris beyond the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, so I was so happy bringing up the rear to the Musée d'Orsay, Centre de Pompidou, and the beautiful Saint Chapelle. In the years after, I was able to visit Paris a few more times and finally enjoyed those little Parisian things that people remember, like eating crepes, sitting in the gardens, or lingering over books and old prints along the Seine. And I felt I had crossed the bridge of time in that enduring, Parisian way. My parents in their youth had also brought home second-hand books and old prints picked up along the Seine.

Lovely post ... xx Jenny


It's interesting, besides my father, in my family I think I am the only one that didn't visit Paris until I was a bit older and in uni. I love art, and there are many wonderful places in Paris to see, but oddly it was never on my top list of must-see locations. My sister-in-law has French family, so it's nice to learn more history with them. I'm glad that you enjoyed good food, and wine during your time there. This outfit nods to the simplicity of Parisian fashion sense and the peek of sheer and autumn colour palette is beautiful! :)

rebecca pearson said...

I adore Paris! All you have to do is walk around and you feel Parisified!

It was my first modelling stay abroad and I just adored being on my own in my tiny studio apartment from which, if I angled my head just so, I could see the Eiffel Tower.

Even the tourist spots feel better than our Leicester Square type spots!

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