2020, News

A gift of Paris from Michael

The gift began with drinks at Peter Pennington’s, Michael’s school friend recently found to be living near by in Woodbridge. A gentle man, with an eye for detail and elephant memory of those past years in Birkenhead grammar school. The Mayor arrived in full regalia, with politics on our minds (3 days to the December vote, Michael canvassing far too late into the evenings in the swing town of Ipswich) we were in safe liberal company.

From Liverpool street station we we dallied that evening in St Pancress, a dress rehearsal for tomorrow’s departure, watching – from the champagne bar – the Euro Star  late arrivals into the London evening. Glorious station, cavernous – Auden’s word:

Dear, though the night is gone,
Its dream still haunts today,
That brought us to a room
Cavernous, lofty as
A railway terminus,
And crowded in that gloom
Were beds, and we in one
In a far corner lay.

People, slanted like italic writing, walking with their wheelie suitcases behind, all at similar angles, pursuant on their journey objectives having been stationary for a short period, now on the move.

The old friend Betjeman is still here, one of the warrior word saviours of St Pancress. What did Michael say of The Meeting Place by Paul Day? Vernacular, sentimental?  He is in the company of others as I find:  Gormley (another sculptor of the human form) said: a very good example of the crap out there. Someone else: schmaltzy, sentimental piece of kitsch’. But as we were there, countless were attracted to it, took photos of themselves under the giant legs of the stiletto healed woman, baggy trousered man. As we did. A remarkable freeze of ordinary people, workers, passers by. But is it good art? asked M.

Paris St PancrasParis St Pancras-4Paris St Pancras-3Paris St Pancras-2

Passing a testament to Sir Nigel Grisley (The Duck) I call Tori to ask after Peter (who would know of this man) and hear he is dying. We talk little. She is distraught and sad. Traffic through the night at Greys Inn Road. Street lights. I see for the first time a white file called Paris, in which printed out are our train tickets, museum maps, and brochures. His planning mind has been active. It is my birthday.

Was the first time with John Moss, skirting the town in his Renault 4, on our way to England, staying with friends of his Henri de Turenne.  Such a paltry memory. Way before that I must have come to Paris with my mother, and the only memory I have is of her putting paper on the French toilet seats!  With Bob I came on our honeymoon, staying at Hotel La Louisiane Au Coeur de Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Bob knew Paris, from his days of working here with Greenpeace, France. Here was my last meeting with Tony Peto and his then wife Marie, Rue de Seine at their hat shop. I’d forgotten with Cathy meeting Magali and her father, a theatre performance in the north somewhere. Did I pass Samual Becket on a staircase, wearing a beret. He died in 89. Have I ever been to the Louvre, or just in my imagination?

Michael came here with Tamsyn of course. For the first time on their way back from Corfu, Tamsyn pregnant with Tom, Candy aged 8, they camped in Bois de Boulogne. As an agent for Jean Anouilh he came to work in Paris and this familiarity we both enjoy today.

We arrive on a strike day, and queue with the rest of the Eurostar passengers for a taxi as the metro is closed. An hour observing the human condition, hope, expectation, annoyance at successful shifty queue jumpers and finally success.

Paris Streets



Foundation Louis Vuitton

A perfect re-introduction to Paris. An astonishing boat like building created by architect Frank Gehry, set in Bois de Bolone (camping with the family), amongst trees. It rises with remarkable grace, this steel, glass building, in honour of Luis Vuitton. Luis Vuitton, French luxury fashion house, the company founded in 1854, started in suitcases, some of which we saw on the huge white bare wall of the restaurant, where naturally we began.  A shared plate Japanese style, delicious clean food, sufficient, delicate. Tight black jeans, lean long legs, an offset coloured scarf.

The building, like sails of a ship, like an armored exoskeleton of a giant dinosaur armadillo. Inside, up to the top (M’s good idea) with views over the tree tops, we are in the sails, steel, glass, huge bolts, impressive engineering, complex and impossible to fathom, a pleasure to get lost amongst.

Inside the ‘iceburgs’ is a sole exhibition of Charlotte Perriand. Neither of us had heard of her, yet she had created functional living spaces (in the belief that better design helps in creating a better society) for Picasso, Le Corbusier, Leger. Ah that Chaise Longue, I’d seen it in Blythburgh at the house Tess’s family rents! Historical reconstructions of living spaces show a celebration of the new functional materials, stainless steel. Charlotte Perriand returned to her love of mountains and developed a massive ski resort in Savoi. The ski resorts at Les Arcs in Savoie, combined her interests in prefabrication, standardization, industrialization, and mountain architecture, and has been called the climax of her career. One photograph attracted: ‘My hair was crew and I made a necklace out of ball bearings in celebration of mechanism.’

We did not wait for the bus but walked to Pond X just as M&T had done those years ago. The Line A was running.

We are staying on one of the islands,  Isle St Louis, at a delightful hotel, known to Candy who recommended it. A one street island, the one next door to the burnt icon Notre Dame, still shrouded in scafolding after the first a year ago.

December 10th

The paultry nature of memory is saved this morning as I am driven to record this visit. (We are too similar, says M, after I found my lost passport in my pocket) M’s gift to me, carefully packed and wrapped, is a painting, a summer landscape by Christoper’s partner, chosen at the exhibition in Southwold.

Breakfast of the best ever almond croisant at the park end of our island, in the sunshine.

Paris Breakfast Morning

Followed by a coffee and brunch at Cafe de Flore, 172 St Germain, and another coffee at Cafe deux Magots where Wild, Camus, Satre and Simon de Beauvois met before tourists began to crowd them in so they debunked to the Flore – habitually the haunt of the right wing, but looked temptingly empty.



The functional objects of Charlotte Perriand keep returning, and i find myself looking at door handles, window catches and admire. Art in everything, as William Morris said. I am determined when I return to elevate my mundane stuff to art, sculls, kitchen, wood.

Only men waiters, their narrow hips, tight bottoms, skin tight black jeaned legs. Will I remember the woman writing at the next door table? carpaccio, Jacques Croque of Chevre.

At Saint Suplice a DelaCroix painting

Vincent van Gough

Our immersive experience. As M observed afterwards not dissimilar from our Singapour immersive experience in the gardens. The design is an immaterial success story. A massive old industrial hall, empty but for a gallery, and hundreds of camera projecting Van Goughs paintings in chronological order on the walls, floor and ceiling. We could walk around or stay in one place. We could see the paint brushes.Sometimes pipes emitted smoke, rivers rippled, boats swayed, sunflower heads moved, crows flew. It was the brainchild of an Italian team.

Here we are in a Highland Pub! Guy Savoy does not open until 7. We have time to get our note books out and catch up.

Tony was there when we arrived. Dapper, with sharp dark coat, greyer hair, but the same smile. It took them 5 minutes and a wait for someone to come off the phone to get permission for an extra chair to come to our table for Tony. With some reluctance we were given 10 minutes to catch up on 27 years. His news was a new marriage to Vanessa (known for 10 years), and settlement in Dublin. He’d just flown into Paris that day, why we never knew. Still in hats, perhaps business. News of Dick Roberts death, 2 years ago. Had I been in touch with Gilly ? No madness. Dublin on Grafton Street, yes doing well, lots of horse people. A terrible photo but here it is

Paris Guy Savoy Tony Peto


Our Menu from Guy Sovoir

Amuse Buche – fungi and beef consome
Soup artichoke
Chestnut in celery sauce
Sweetbreads in 2 stages. With a Parsley smoothie and crutons
Artichoke with black truffles, broiche butter, mushroom stuffing.
Duck foi, cut with a spoon
Duck pheasant game
Goats cheese icecream
Iced mushroom
Rice pudding

Our theatre: The cast
American Baseball hero and his girl (mainly on the phone) had the tasting menu.

Spanish footballer and new girlfriend (affectionate) she likes her food, noticable under his pressed white shirt are his biceps.

Father and 2 daughters, recently widowed, its his birthday, he recounts his past which they have heard before. We change this relationship as the women get up to use the bathroom, its a wife and daughter.

The Diplomat table. In honour of an oriental man (Japanese?) and his wife. They are from Honda, and based in the UK, the French have invited them over to woe them over here post Brexit.

The male dominates. All male waiters. The knives given to a man are different to those to a woman.

It was not possible for me to look at the menu prices, I was shocked. Soup nearly E100. But we are in a theatre. We’ll never do this again, we are here. ‘It is your birthday, it is my money’, M said beautifully. The waiters are the continuity characters, Hubert, from Berlin (27?) A chinese man, with smiley eyes. When they look they look away.
How long have you been here, I ask Hubert. 27 years he says

Was it the Spanish football player and fascinator who were smoking on our way out over the red carpet?

Our midnight walk back passed the Highland bar still football on, the Brasserie of the previous night, to see our last night waiter snatching some food in a side room.



The next day

Dull sky, 1926 Juan le Pins. Exhibition “Picasso. Magic paintings” anticipates the power of Guernica a decade later. Heads. What happened to Marie Theresa. Harlequin. Emotion.

Père Lachaise Cemetery

M’s gift to me.  Oscar Wild, the tomb donated by an unknown female friend, sculpture by Jacob Epstein, of a flying Egyptian.

Marcel Proost (are you looking for Proost?, a knowing cemetery worker asked. On his grave are  fresh flowers

Philosophyers, politicians, grand, super grand, a hill to climb. Phone ran out of juice, forcing me to just look!

Meanwhile M enjoyed a salad in an ordinary French bar catching up on his writing.

The final Puppet

We are back in time to find the puppet shop open. The notice which we’d read a few times, said ‘The last puppet shop in Paris. Our future is uncertain’ . A young man and oriental woman inside a small room floor to ceiling with puppets. M buys one for me. He picks it out, his good eye finds the most interesting. The grumpy man with huge shoes and beautiful hands. I feel overwhelmed, resigned to his enormous generosity.

As we wait for Eurostar we wonder where all the characters in our last nights theatre are today. The sportsman practicing in the rain.

French grey.

An Algerian taxi driver: Ah you are better off leaving Europe. Italy wants to follow you. These streets are full of homosexuals who voted for her. They think she is good as she made all these cycle tracks. The taxi drivers are crazy. He’s been 2 years as an Uber driver. He had to leave his profession doe to carpel tunnel problems in his wrist. He agrees with the strike, contra Maccon, far too arrogant, lives in the pockets of the rich.

Guy Savoy? Yes, the chemical chef. Expensive, was his summary.

Delicious salad, easy boarding, smooth as pancake ride, unlike the jolty squeaky train to Ipswich. Soup at the Great Eastern, with far fatter people in dull coloured clothes. Inside we are still warm and full of the colour and design of Paris.



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