Parisian Nights. Part I. Montparnasse…

Do you know how sometimes an event in time keeps you going?  It could be getting home after work, leaving work for lunch, or even having a cup of tea and a slice of something nice from the bakery.  What kept me going was the idea of seeing friends, two friends that I had not seen since COVID.  It was Vanessa’s 50th birthday and Dominic, her husband, thought it would be a wonderful idea to take her to Paris for an entire week.  I suggested it might be an idea to meet up in Paris and that I would come with my wife.  Overnight stay so we could have an evening out and not have to worry about getting a train whilst slightly squiffy!

I haven’t been home since 2019, and this was like a bit of homecoming to see me.  I met Dom 39 years ago when I left boarding school and went back into state Catholic education in my hometown.  In between getting my head kicked in by various other pupils at the school, we became friends.  This continued through school, and we found each other on Facebook whilst doing the whole nostalgia thing.  But the friendship from our childhood still held strong.  I met up with him when we were in the UK in 2019 for a week. It was as if time had just gone out to pee, and just came back as if the intervening 35 years just didn’t happen!  I think the fundamentals of our personalities and character traits don’t change all that much, but despite life experience, these fundamentals remain constant.

So when he told me about the Paris trip I thought, well, my wife and I know a bit about Paris, and what a perfect excuse to go up to the Capital and have some fun.  Let’s just say that my wife does not share my passion for Paris.  The biggest part of it is having grown up there, and only seeing the downside.  She once went back with my son when he was little and after having spent time out in the country.  It all felt foreign to her, and the icing on the cake was almost falling for a tourist scam.  She had become a human being.  Since that encounter, she gets worked up at the idea of going to Paris.  She let slip that she felt she couldn’t come with me and that I would go alone.  Not as a slight to Vinnie and Dominic, but because she would make my life a living hell. 

So there you are.  I would go on my own.  I have a friend from Nantes called Sergio, who lives in Paris at the moment, and I added him to the group chat and he was full of ideas about where to eat and not too expensive places either.  It would be good to see friends and introduce old friends to less old friends.

I booked my train and then got emotional about the high prices of Parisian hotels.  I ended up finding one, reasonably priced, and just next to the Montparnasse train station where the high-speed trains from the West of France arrive in Paris.  In between the actual booking and getting on the train, the entire trip kept me going.  I was in a great mood.  It was like escaping from real life for the space of one weekend. 

My wife took me to the station, I found the platform, scanned my ticket on my phone, and was let through.  The booking was for 1st class not because I’m fancy, but for €10 extra, you get a quiet carriage and a larger, more comfy seat. At the very ripe age of 50, and being a slightly rotund gentleman, and I thought the €10 was worth every penny, or centime d’euro.  I told the group chat how my train had left on time and that I would be in Paris at Montparnasse at such-and-such a time.  Nothing more to do than watch YouTube on my tablet and try to find places to visit and magnificent tables to eat at. I waited an hour at Montparnasse, waiting for Dom and Vanessa to arrive.  They seem to be less good at using the metro than I am.  Then we played the game of finding the metro exit.  With modern technology, photos and smartphones, we found each other and headed off to my hotel to get rid of my bag, as my room wouldn’t be ready.  Whilst chatting and walking to a café, Vanessa spied a smoked salmon bagel.  I spied it too, and we went in a got it for her.  Dominic had a chicken curry sandwich, and I spied with my little eye a chocolate macaron.  Did I ever say that I have a weakness for cake?

We settled at the “Café Montparnasse“, sat down on the terrace, had a beer, and then judged people walking by.  So it would not be a dry weekend.  Ah well!  Somehow, with the metro, we ended up at Le Bon Marché, where I wanted to get some lovely socks.  Yes, I’m 50, slightly rotund, and like a certain brand of socks, which were in the sales.  Don’t judge me! Vanessa found some very nice perfume and treated herself.  You’re only 50 once!  We found the Grande Epicerie.  Mind you, it was just across the road, so not overly difficult to find either.  It had everything that we needed for our picnic, including bread, wine, and various goodies, that were perfect for a Parisian picnic.  They were both very impressed!  Sounds good to me.   

We visited the convent where the Miraculous Medal was revealed to Soeur Catherine Labouré.  Now I knew all about it and had visited it last time with Killian.  We got the article up on Dominic’s phone, and they were both suitably impressed.  Even if you’re not Catholic, it’s an exquisite place and well worth visiting. 

Sergio told us about the Convent gardens as a great place to picnic.  We found a seat in the shade, and out came the Opinel and corkscrew.  We opened the Bergerac 2016, and it was right up Vanessa’s wine street.  Even Dom liked it.  I’d chosen a bottle of Muscadet for him for later.  We ate, drank, and just talked the time away.  Can’t think of a better way to spend time. 

Well, actually I can.  I had been a good boy and was therefore allowed a treat.  Not too far from the convent was a bakery.  That’s not much of a surprise. We are in France, after all.  But this one was owned by celebrity Patissier Cyrille Lignac.  I had heard great things about this place and had been convinced by Sergio to give it a visit.  He knows of my weakness for cakes.   The cakes on offer were exquisite as they should be, but they seemed to have even more class!  They looked beautiful.  I’m a fan of chocolate cake and nearly had one, but the Raspberry tart was just screaming out at me.  I bought it and spent maybe too much time thinking about how it was going to be lovely to sink my teeth into.

We headed gently back to my hotel so I could check in and I changed shirts and freshened up but tried to hurry about it as Dominic and Vanessa were waiting downstairs for me.  The room was fine, not huge, and the bed seemed as if it would be comfortable, which is always good.

Our venue for dinner that night would be the Café Montparnasse, which is one of those typical Parisian Bistrots with good food and excellent drinks and where you don’t feel judged by the waiter.  I can’t remember what time it was, but it was too late for tea and not quite time for dinner.  However, the French, in their infinite wisdom, have given the world the Apéro, or pre-dinner drinks.  You get a little something to nibble on too.  We told the waiter that despite the three of us, there would be a fourth person joining us.  The gentleman led us to our table on the café terrasse.  We ordered our drinks and got back to “juger les gens et mater les culs.”   

Sergio, thanks to his parents, is Mexican and can have a slightly different idea of time from us, more northern Europeans.  The French also have this concept of having a drink to make the absent person arrive more quickly.  Again, pure genius.  By drink number three, Sergio arrived.  Vanessa and Dom were very English in greeting him, and I, of course, was very French and gave him “la bise.”  Google it.  The more time went on, and the more drinks we had, the camper Sergio got, and it was such a pleasure seeing them all getting on so well.  Dominic had Chicken and chips, but French poulet in a nice sauce, and some frites, if I remember correctly, which is not something I’m good at, I think Vanessa had something quite healthy like a salad, and Sergio and I had fish quenelles, which were just divine.  Vanessa and Sergio have a common love for “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” and were quoting whole chunks of it, and debating the veracity of the language.  It had been decided, after our lovely meal, that we would seal our friendship by having a nightcap somewhere along the Boulevard Montparnasse.  I found my church for the mass the next morning, which thankfully was at 11am.  Vanessa let slip that she had been a majorette and took my cane to show Sergio how to twirl.  Sergio’s life goal is now to become a majorette!  We said goodbyes, and I went to my hotel to get some sleep and be ready for the next day’s activities. Dear Reader, you will have to be patient, and wait for me to write part 2!

Palm Sunday

As a Catholic I celebrate the beginning of Holy Week, culminating on Easter Sunday when we will declare once again, that “He is risen!” We will celebrate the fight of God sending His only Son here on earth as the Saviour of all mankind to vanquish darkness. We will celebrate life over death, the sacrifice of our Lord, and the hope that this gives all of us.

In the Gospel in mass this morning, or last night for me at the vigil mass, we reminded ourselves of the palms laid on the roads by the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem, where less than a week later, He would be crucified and sacrificed to save us from our sins. From treating Him like a king, even though he humbly rode in on a donkey, to mocking Him as King of the Jews during His execution. So during the mass, we hear the Gospel of Luke, which told us of His Passion from the entrance into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, His betrayal by Judas, His trials, His crucifixion and death.

This belief in His sacrifice, the power of life over death, is really the crux of our beliefs. *

We prepare ourselves mentally and, of course, spiritually, for this during the forty days of Lent, which reminds us of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and praying just before taking up His public ministry. It also harkens back to the forty years of Exodus that Jews had whilst fleeing Egypt, (where Jesus grew up, following His birth in Bethlehem, and where Herod ordered all the male children under the age of two to be killed during the massacre of the Innocents). Everything just seems to link back. And not just Egypt but the number forty too. There are so many more that I don’t have the space to write them all here.

So, traditionally we are bound by rules of fast and abstinence. Traditionally, we would give up something to try to add to His sacrifice and our “little sacrifices” as Ste Theresa of Lisieux said, would bring us closer to God. As children, we were told to give up sweets, and I remember being told not to just give something up to do something else by our local bishop. I took this on board when at high school and once went to daily mass for the whole of Lent. This year I was influenced by some of the older men in my village who were known for giving up the demon drink for Lent, and us weaklings would look at them with great admiration. This year, I tried the same thing, and, thank God, I have kept it up. There were a few times at the pub when ordering a coke, I received blank stares, like what the f is wrong with you man???? But as Lent drew on, people got used to it and I could just have to say Carême so that people would get it. All this is on top of the no meat Wednesdays and Fridays, with a little extra fasting just to remind you of the seriousness of Lent. That was slightly harder. We also try to get at least once to confession before the end of Lent to prepare our souls for the feast of Easter.

The extra thing I tried to do, was to say a daily Rosary, which our Protestant friends told me is just idolatry, and worshipping Mary, instead of going directly to Jesus. Unfortunately for them, they don’t seem to have grasped what is so important about the Rosary of Our Lady and her role in Jesus’ life.

The Rosary is above all a contemplative prayer, asking Our Lady to intercede for us to Jesus, whilst meditating on fifteen mysteries or events in the life of Jesus. These mysteries fall into three groups, the Joyous mysteries, the Sorrowful mysteries, and the Glorious mysteries. You have ten Hail Marys per decade (or event in the life of Jesus) which gives you something akin to a metre or acts as a pacemaker. I would urge you to click on the Rosary link to find out more and it’s a website that I use regularly to help me get through it.

When I started doing it every day for Lent, it was slightly arduous to begin with, like taking up a new sport. Easy to be distracted during the meditation, and some days I just couldn’t do it. I would actually fall asleep on occasions! I would even go as far as saying that it was a grind, but as the days went on, I started seeing the benefits of this spiritual exercise. It really is an exercise but becomes easier. I certainly feel better thanks to the daily recital. Maybe I should do the same for this body of mine.

I wish you all a very Happy Holy Week and Easter. And as Padre Pio once told us, pray, hope, and don’t worry!