Waiting at the Gare de Lyon railway station we are reminded of how French the French can be. Each taxi driver gives a little mouth-fart and that one-shouldered shrug after scanning our treasure trove of baggage and choose instead to take those in the queue behind us. I accost the next driver with my red suitcase and he looks like he is about to mouth-fart in my face. ‘Merci!!’ I call and jump in the back of the cab, while Ben charmingly tells the man we are not getting out. That’s only the beginning. ‘Rue Juilette sil vous plait, Gambetta.’ Sounds easy enough, we show him the address written down. ‘Non!’ he says after driving for a few kilometres. ‘Non, non! Impossibley!’ Ben begs him to search the street directory and after a half-hearted glance at it he throws it down. ‘Non Juillette ‘ere!’ Our wonderful friend Janine has lent us her apartment while she is in Switzerland for the week and I’m sure this is her address. ‘Bloody idiot! It’s there! Tell him its there, Ben. He’s not looking! He doesn’t care!’ He’s still driving us to Gambetta but keeps telling us to get out, the address doesn’t exist. Ben grabs the directory now and, being the ambo and all, finds the street in 20 seconds flat. ‘See that, Monsieur?’ he says to the driver. ‘Juliette! ‘ere it is, right ‘ere!’ The driver, not wanting to made a fool of, shakes his head. ‘Non, non Juliette, is Juliet!’ Oh, right, Juli-ay. Ay! Ay! Ay! So we PRONOUNCED it a little wrong and its all our fault ‘cause he can’t make a leap of lateral thinking. Ooops! Desole! When we get there he gives the one shoulder shrug, mouth-farts and is gone.
Janine’s apartment is fantastic and she is kindly staying with her lovely boyfriend Yannick while we are in town. The place is massive by Parisian standards and has a circular bed! One can approach it from any angle. Smack bang in the middle of an area of upcoming cool, it is a stones throw from Belleville, where my sister Lisa lived for many years. Downstairs at the boulangerie we bite into our first croissants of the week, how do they do it? Divine and unmatched is the French croissant and is nowhere in the world like Paris for delicious patisseries.
We love catching up with friends on our travels and we meet Kylie, an ambo buddy of Ben’s in St.Germain. There we feast on rabbit salad and Kir wine in a bistro opposite Jardin de Luxomburg that we surprise ourselves in finding after so many years. The gardens have a festive summer atmosphere, with children sailing wooden boats in the pond with sticks as they probably have for centuries and a brass band plays a bossa nova in the rotunda. In the shade of the trees we lick crazy-flavoured ice creams, salt caramel, violet and lavender.
And then we stroll to our most beloved park in Paris, Jardin des Palantes. When we lived here nearly ten years ago we would come in the winter and spend hours in the terrarium, planning our own tropical garden. The terrariums are closed on account of the heat wave and so is the fabulous Natural History Museum, the most beautiful in the world. Quel domage! Our other favourite haunt however is right behind the museum – the mosque where Lisa and I would spend hours getting steamed in the opulent hamman. Here the mint tea is perfect and so too are the sticky sweet cakes and pastries and the atmosphere is delightful.
Evening comes and it’s the first time in three months I’ve been able to get my ruby-red satin high heels out and frock up! I still have the baby carrier on and Paloma has a little blush on her cheeks and together we are all primped and pretty and ready for THE CRAZY HORSE!! But are they ready for us? With a little convincing – we let the owner hold Paloma – we are allowed in after being told the ‘bebe’ is the youngest audience member ever to see this famous cabaret. It is a spectacle of scantily-clad yet perfect bodies, shimmering and sparkling in their famous light show. High-end showgirls with long flowing manes and gymnastic moves, all set to a sexy French soundtrack with a little fromage in the form of an aging magician thrown in. The French can’t help being cheesy!
By 10 pm when so many bebes are sleeping soundly Paloma wants to party on and we cross the city on the metro for Ave Maria, a the little mad bar which has remained as wild and as fabulous as it was the first time we drank there nine years ago. We down the mojitos to jazz beats and Paloma and I have a dance under the mini disco ball.
Our time in gay Paree is a whirlwind of delicious breakfasts, meeting our show biz buddies Gypsy and Asher in Pigalle and then at some bump ‘n grind spot, a cake for dinner with my Parisian Aunt Suzanne and cousin Eric, afternoon tea with Natasha for her birthday, escaping a freak torrential downpour at La Pompidu Centre, lunch at Chez Prune on the canal St. Martin where Lisa and Matt got engaged and then a visit to the famous Jim Haynes with friends. But mostly we wander the streets we used to live by and marveling at how changed we now are and letting the life of Paris seep back into us once more until we declare ‘Let’s live here again!’
Bastille Day on 14th July has to be celebrated at the Tour Eiffel and this we do in an ocean of humanity flowing into every park, rue and plaza. We get swept up in the wave. The fireworks explode over the Eiffel tower as Edith Piaf sings our favourite song. Paloma is transfixed by the glittering nights sky and the fireworks go on forever to thumping music from speakers around Paris. Tres romantique!
The world’s best hot chocolate in which your spoon-can-stand-up is only found at the once-ravishing establishment of Chez Angelina. With a tear in his eye Ben declares it finally ‘ravished’. Once, only a decade ago, where chic Parisian ladies and their dogs sat in fake Louis the Fifth chairs, now sit groups of tourists with dirty hiking boots and backpacks soiling the carpets. It is summer season I suppose, maybe its different in winter. We shut everyone else out with still-perfect macaroons and drink the still-perfect hot chocolate to the days of old as if we are eighty-going-on-ninety. Paloma has a bit of a chocolate fetish we think!
It must be in our blood or our clothes or something but we seem to be always drawn to the only Gypsy presence in the city. Swirling their skirts and flashing gold teeth in the sun we join in the chorus of ‘Ederlezi’ we learnt before Macedonia as a traveling Gypsy group performs in the Jardin de Tullieries. They are amazing, and the crowd is going wild for them. After we race to their caravan backstage to get a photo of them with Paloma, they are more than happy to oblige!
We are so at home here in Paris and we sense Paloma is too. The scent of the metro conjures up many things and it is a smell you can perhaps only love if you have lived here. Sweat, stale air, roasting chestnuts from winter, the warm cloying scent of history are embedded in the molecules of air, destined never to escape from the vast network of tunnels. I love it. But out in the fresh air of Paris we head to the best marche des puces in the world, Vanves. Over the last few years it has become well known amongst stylists, artists, fashion designers and then the rest as a haven of inspiration and rich pickings. If only we were rich we could go crazy here! At one point I am lost in the stalls of vintage buttons, beads and brooches. Old papers, ribbons and suitcases overflowing with delicate laces stop my heart. Markets are the places of my heart, an ancient tradition where humanity recycles in its purest form. We have lost Ben and I want him to see my favourite stall and tell him of my celebrity sighting of Catherine Denurve! I then remember exactly where he will be. After an hour of picking he is dragged out of a record crate with a neat little stack of EPs, ripe and ready to rip up the dance floor when we get home! This is the best way to spend our last day in Paris, that last day I never want to see the sun go down on.