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!

Rest and Recuperation

Rest and recuperation, or R and R for those who know, is so underrated in these modern times where being busy is seen as being a virtue and shows how very productive you are, and yet it is vital and something we so badly need.  Yes, I’m talking to you burnt out millennials who are just seeking validation by being so into your careers to replace the love you didn’t get from your baby boomer parents.   You’re still not as screwed up as Generation X who are experts in coping with mental health. When we were kids, we just didn’t talk about it and it has led to a generation of very “interesting” people.

Anyway.  Rest and Recuperation. The clue is in the name.  For those who don’t know me, I’ll bring you up to date.  I suffer from Arthritis in my right knee and have been limping for what seems like forever, and it hurts like buggery.  I gradually have got into CBD oil in a big way and enjoy the relief it gives me, but it’s just enough to keep me vertical.  I know I’m rambling, but I want to give you a little context, or even a large context, for the rest of this article.  I also live in France and we enjoy quite a few public holidays, a majority of them being religious holidays, which I always found a tad strange for such a fiercely secular country where “laïcité” is the national religion!  So the 1st of November is All Saints’ Day, where the French will go to the cemeteries to put chrysanthemums on the gravesides of the dead, and remember what the people were like and reflect on their own personal histories.  Note to self, if I ever get flowers for my mother in law, it might be wise to get anything but Chysantemums…  I might be sending the wrong message otherwise.  In the UK, they’re a flower like any other but here they’re just for dead people.  Halloween isn’t as big over here as it is In Ireland, the UK, or the US, but Gen Z have worked out the trick or treat thing and are well into it!  So it might decide to stay after all.  In the John Mc Byrne pub, they had a right old knees up and were all dressed up!  I decided to decline.  I was resting.

Now we’re getting to the crux of this article.  As of Thursday, I have been suffering from a cold.  That’s bollocks, I’ve been dying of Man-Flu.   My nose turned into a water fountain, and for two days the tap was open and I felt awful.  Thank you brothers for your solidarity and good wishes.  But I was able to get into the car and get to work and therefore not dead, and able to work, even off my head.  Fortunately, I wasn’t working on Friday afternoon, so, was free.  My wife had left on Thursday morning to go and see her mother, minus the chrysanthemums, and would only be coming back on Sunday.  Feeling like death I thought the best thing was just to go to bed and stay there for as long as possible.  Fortune shone on me again, and there was no Friday night OHC rehearsal (insert plug here for our concert “the Planets” on the 14th of November, tickets still available here, and don’t forget the comfy seats…)  I had my dog sleeping next to me in her basket on my bedroom floor.  I would go down from time to let her do her two p’s.  Pees and poops. 

I had a call from my son asking if he could come home with a couple of friends for a soirée.  I agreed on the basis that there would be no noise and they would leave the living room (which was to become the drinking room) spotless the next day.  The friends would kip on the pull out sofa in the living room.  At least nobody would have to drive.  I drifted between sleep, going to the loo in the middle of the night, and then back to sleep.  I had a Vicks vapour stick, and by then my nose was leaking less and was staying relatively dry.  I took the dog down at 10 am to let her do her business and saw two of my son’s friends asleep on my sofa and I could not get into the kitchen.  The huge sofa bed takes up quite a lot of space.  It’s always delicate when people are staying over…

I went back down at 3pm feeling a little peckish, but they were still out for the count.  There was only one thing to do.  Get in the car, and go to MacDonalds to get my lunch.  I got back and saw my son coming out of his room looking somewhat delicate, he asked where I had been and explained why, and he just said, oh yeah and went back into his room.  I must have gone back to sleep because when I woke up they had taken the dog with them but the living room was spotless!  #DadGoals!

My wife and daughter arrived on Sunday at what seemed like mid-afternoon, and so it passed.  The house was no longer quiet.  I still rested though.  My daughter went out with some of her friends in the quest for sweets, and my wife filled up a whole bowl with sweets for children coming ringing at the door.  I was shouted at for eating some of those sweets but the return to childhood was immediate.  Emotion and food isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Monday came around and I was worried about going to work, and not feeling up to it.

Monday came and went, and on Monday evening that I wasn’t limping and hadn’t taken any CBD.  Maybe Rest and Recuperation go together