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!

The last Saturday before Christmas

I have said it on here before, and I will say it again. I have moments of folly, where lucidity says bugger this, I’m outta here punk! And so it was the Saturday before Christmas. I had agreed to meet a friend in town and help her choose presents for her nephew and niece in Switzerland. I also thought I could get to confession and prepare my soul for the feast that is Christmas.

I was slowly getting used to the Fujifil XT2, and thought, right, I’ll go out early and try and get a space before everyone else has the same idea, and get used to it even more. I arrived at the car park and had to wait at the barrier, but was patient.

I phoned my friend to say that I had managed to park the car and felt slightly smug. I texted her and she said she was still in pyjamas and having her coffee. Ah… Well I wasn’t expecting that. But that gave me some time

Whilst learning photography back in the day when I had hair, I used a 50mm lens, and learnt how to use it through and through. It was years later that I acquired a 28mm lens for my Praktica MTL 3, and really got into it. Later I continued when I got my X100F (35mm equivalent), my Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm zoom lens. So it seemed logic to get a wide angled lens for the XT2. I ended up getting a 16mm which is a 24mm equivalent. Not too much distortion but still nice and wide.

Parked in Feydeau, and just next to the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, or Nantes Castle, I thought why the heck not, and headed up there. I just went with no specific goals, and waited for the photos to present themselves whilst walking around. I discovered a little art gallery that I hadn’t seen before and it was a real inspiration.

I walked towards the Fnac where my freind said she wanted to meet me. She was getting a record player for her girlfriend and wanted my help to choose. We chose, and headed to Sugar Blue Café for lunch, which was one the good ideas I had that day. A vegetarian salad, and for the desert we got to cakes. One was the Christmas cake, which had red fruit, crème de marron (which is a huge favourite of mine), and covered in Marscapone icing, the other cake was a Stracciatella Cheesecake, which was sooooo naughty. That’s wrong, both were amazing, and I’ll just have to go back after they get back from their Christmas break.

I told her that I wanted to go to confession and she said she would go and try and find an Ugly Christmas Jumper for her Christmas meal. We stopped off in a shop that does paper crafts for the presents for the children. We parted, I went to church, and we met up after the rain to go to the Comptoir Irlandais to get all those Christmas goodies that you can’t get anywhere else. I needed bickies, and cake for all the tea that I would be drinking over the holidays. We finished up in the Pub, and I was able to present her to my friends there. The restaurant across the road had no tables left!!!! O disaster! I had a plan B. My plan B was the Reine Margot and although it looks like a fast food joint from the front, the menu tells a different story, and when you get past the initial corridor, you enter the restaurant. We started with snails, then duck, and I finished with a chocolate cake, then back to pub for a swift drink before heading home.

All in all a lovely day, with a lovely friend, and I was happy with the catch of photos for the day.

Out to tea

It’s a slightly miserable Friday afternoon but has been made wonderful firstly, by my boss, who said I could leave work early, secondly, by a friend who works at the Fnac, but doubles up as a pro photographer, and lastly, by those lovely people at the Sugar Blue Cafe .

Those of you who know me, and those of you who don’t, but have read my blog, know that I have a weakness for cake, and cheesecake in particular. That, and a cup of tea.

I’ve been thinking of buying a drone to do some aerial photography, but after having talked to my guy at the Fnac, have decided against it, so no aerial photography on here. Sorry!

So, as I was leaving the Fnac I could see people with drops of water on their coats. My coat of course is in the car. Remember, I am an idiot after all. As I went through the doors, without the intervention of the security guards, I saw people coming in and shaking umbrellas dry. I could see drops of rain falling on the ground.

Bugger!

I wandered through the Marché de Noël, selling all kind of things that I have no interest in buying. At least there was some shelter from the little bit of rain. I went through the rain into the Place Royale where the fountain, which in all fairness can be described as a statement piece, has almost been hidden by chalets selling jewellery, saucisson, food, games, and all kinds of stuff that they want us to put into our stockings at Christmas.

There was the Carousel and I can imagine the children riding the mechanical horses having harassed their parents to the point of giving in. Or was it the parents off loading their children?

Phew. I managed to pass without giving into the urge to do the same as the children. I mean riding on a mechanical horse and not harassing my parents. At 47 years old I think I’ve grown out of harassing my parents, or have I???

It was nice to take some night time photos of the lights in the streets and of the square. I’m usually a right Humbug, which sounds so much better than a grumpy old fart!

Oh bliss, the Sugar Blue Cafe is still open. I do like this place. Oh bliss, the Sugar Blue Cafe is still open, and there is somewhere to sit. On a Saturday it can get very full very quickly, but the wait is always worth it. I love the food they do. It’s fresh, sometimes vegetarian, and always lovely. I ordered my vanilla cheesecake with the fruit of the forest coulis, and a cup of Lapsang Souchong tea, which has been a favourite of mine since I was an angst filled teenager. I had a bit more hair back then…

On either side of me are young twenty something women talking about pregnancy, the fact that her dad didn’t like the book she bought last year for Christmas, a friend who was refused a bank loan for a small business. Telephones are on the table next to their plates and cups. Modern teatime I suppose.

I look just like an old fella typing on his phone. I can’t be really bothered to listen anymore. When I write in English, I seem to block out any French. It’s as if I’m on my weekend now and I’m not interested in making the effort. Now they’re talking about marketing and business communication. You see Dear Reader, you’re not missing anything.

Apart from the cheesecake and tea….

Marianne en Concert

I have a friend who sings, and who really sings well. She plays the guitar too. She also happens to be Australian but we won’t hold that against her! Tonight is her first concert in the pub where she works.

She’s a nervous as heck, but the first song went off really well, and she’ll be fine.

As a musician myself I know what she’s going through. But the thing about being a musician is that you are in your concerts, but you don’t go to many as a spectator. I really should go more often.

Song three, and she’s getting into it. She even smiled. The strange thing isn’t the music, but seeing her going through what I go through every time I gone on stage. Each piece being like a musical journey that I go through.

People applaud and they’re really into her. Friends are watching her and egging her on. Her workmates are there too. She’s surrounded by friendly faces.

Beers are flowing and my pint is slowing evaporating. She’s finished her fast half and is looking relieved. She rocked it. As she works here she knows everyone and everyone knows her. I’m well impressed anyway.

People are coming and going but I’m just happy to see her giving it her all. People are coming up to her, giving her the bise, and saying how wonderful she is. Which is of course an understatement. I’m definitely a fan!

I actually got to the end of this article without talking about cake. Could this be a sign?

Shhhh, the second half is about to start!

Sainte Anne, and the Grue

This weekend I haven’t taken any photos, but as they say so well in Blue Peter, here’s one I made earlier.  These photos are now two weeks old. They were taken from different sides of the Loire. The first were taken in the Hangar à Bananes on the Saturday when I was with my daughter, and the ones overlooking the Loire the day after when I went to see my pregnant friend, who, by the way, is no longer pregnant, and has a new baby at home. 

More important news for the family. My son has passed his driving test.  This is of course wonderful and we are very happy for him.  However it means that he has to have a car to drive and find work.  He had the choice between my “Dad” car, and his mother’s smaller car.  As he’s over 6 feet, he decided on my car. It also has cruise control, and a speed limiter, so there’s no excuse to get pulled over for driving too fast.  This is all well and good,but it means that I have to get a new car. Ah well. Somebody has to sacrifice himself, and so I sacrificed myself.  

Now with a new car, even a second-hand car, you have to get used to it and take posession of the space.  Now I don’t know about you Dear Reader, but I seem to spend quite a lot of time in my car. It’s like an extension of my home.  When you see people picking their noses in a traffic jam, it’s because they are, in their heads of course, still at home and behave as if they were.  I listen to music in it. I eat in it. I drink in it (water of course). And I use it to go to places to take photographs.  

So that Sunday, I thought, ok, I’ll go into town, and I took my camera along with me just in case…  Yeah well, I know “you” believe me.

Where am I going with this?  Yes, the photos from the North side of the Loire were taken on the Sunday when I saw my pregnant friend, at the Butte Sainte Anne, where I had been once before and messed up my film development. Right.  I’d taken the first photos from one side of the river, and the next day, I took photos on the other side of the river. That makes sense doesn’t it?  

The Jules Verne (a native of Nantes) Museum is at the top of the hill, and the statue of the boy is Jules as a boy.  The other statue is of Capitaine Némo with his sextant looking down the river towards the sea.

The Monday was the 11th of November, Armistice Day, and it’s a public holiday here in France. I thought it would be good to spend some quality time with my daughter.

She is my reluctant model, but will allow me to take a couple of shots of her.  Then she starts getting moody, and says, “aller Papa, on se dépêche làààààà!” So I make a noise and continue my way.  And then stop to take another photo. This of course is the last straw and I’m told how “j’en ai marre Papa. Aller!!!” So I move on.  We try and find the Altercafé only to find that it has changed owners and no longer exists. I see her dreams of Orangina and chocolate brownie go up in smoke.  As any father worth his salt, I make sure we find somewhere else. We ended up going to Evil M (or Mac Donalds for the uninitiated). It was during this outing that I took the photos of the huge crane.

I made it up to her this Saturday by going into town and having tea at Chop Chop.  She had a hot chocolate, and I had French Earl Grey tea. We also had a Brookie. It is a concoction which is a mixture of chocolate brownie and chocolate chip cookie.  It’s the kind of thing that makes you put on weight by just looking at it. Bad, and yet so good at the same time.

Now this week I decided to go back to the cathedral for mass.  I was seeing a different friend this time, and we hadn’t seen each other for about a year for various reasons, but she got me when she said she’d baked a cake!  A rather nice one too. I said I would bring the tea. 

The French are great with food, and cake, but tea is not their forte!  Every time I go back to the UK I always stock up Yorkshire tea, which is like drinking a cup of home each time I make a cuppa.  My friend is Algerian and appreciates tea about as much as I do. It’s always the small things you miss. It has been known for me to spend a lot of time and effort just to go and find that little something.  When we were on holiday in Honfleur this Summer, they had an English section in the local supermarket. Needless to say, the children and I bought a big bag full of stuff, and had to go back to get what my French wife had told us to get…  Oops.

Soooo…  We talked, drank tea, ate cake, talked again, drank more tea, and ate more cake.  I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon when the weather is so depressing outside.  However I didn’t make the same mistake as I did last time. Oh no. I had learnt my lesson. I peed before going off to mass.  I made sure I had enough time not to have to walk at a brisk pace and with purpose. The service was lovely and the music was amazing.  It adds so much to the mass, and the organist played at the end of mass while I said my rosary. I left the cathedral and headed off to get a burger.

In the street where the pub is, there’s a new place that sells vegan burgers, and it’s such a refreshing change, and the owner is a great guy.  And as I’m a well brought up gentleman I went to the pub to say hello to my friends working behind the bar. Again, that is the only excuse you’re going to get.

Mass in the Cathedral

If you’ve read the Lourdes article then you’ll know that I am a practicing Catholic, and after a break away from the Church I’m trying to get back to Mother Church. It was Sunday, and well, I hadn’t been in the morning as I could see the clock turning. I remembered a friend telling me about the 7pm in the Cathedral. I know it sounds like it could be a horse race (try the 7pm in Nantes…) but I thought I could make it.

I’d been in town taking photos; now there’s a surprise! Trying somewhere different in town where the last time I had gone with a film camera and messed up my film development. That will be for another article though.

A friend of mine is very very pregnant and about to pop. I found out when she told me on Facebook but I hadn’t got around to seeing her during her pregnancy and I was so happy for her and her partner be able to start a family. It couldn’t happen to nicer people.

Hang on, I’m missing bits out. So we’ve done photos. Check. We’ve done pregnant friend. Check. Have we done cake? Ah. Not yet.

Ok. Back on track. Right. So I have a pregnant friend about to pop and I asked if I could pop round for a cup of tea. She said yes of course, and I couldn’t turn up empty handed now, could I?

I know a place that does rather nice macaroons. The really nice French ones. The really nice French ones that everybody says, “We can’t eat all those,” but invariably prove ourselves wrong. I saw all the flavours and had to have three of each. I must have come away with about 30 of them. There was chocolate, praline, pistachio, almond, vanilla, lemon, raspberry, mango, salted butter caramel, and I think that was it… oh OK, not thirty, but nearly…

I arrived with my meager offerings and was promptly told that I shouldn’t have, but a large plate appeared and the macaroons were ready to be “tasted” flavour by flavour. We drank Ceylon tea, and talked about the fast approaching birth, and how people should stop giving expecting couples advice on how to raise their children. So I gave them unwanted advice on how to raise their children. Whatever you do to your children, do it with love, and you won’t go far wrong. Time flies like and arrow, and fruit flies like a banana. Before I knew it, it was time for me to leave and head off to Mass, hence the name of this article…

I am obviously a fool. My wife will confirm this. I trusted my GPS to get me to the church on time. Reminds me of a song… I was at the underground car park with only ten minutes to spare before mass. I was at the underground car park with only ten minutes to spare before mass, and, with this very pressing need to pee. That’ll teach me to drink so much tea in so little time.

I remember reading once that “a Gentleman should never run” and with my level of unfitness it has never been easier to be a gentleman… but I will accept walking at a brisk pace. I arrived at the cathedral doors and entered, trying to catch my breath, and compose myself. I saw the Père Hubert already dressed in his robes and in the starting blocks. He gestured to me as if to say, don’t worry son, you’re not late yet…

The music is amazing. They have the Cathedral organist just whacking one out on his massive organ. Yes. You know what I mean and I certainly don’t mean that! This is church after all!

Mass took its usual course but with the echo I couldn’t make out what the people were saying during the readings. The place seem quite full and I was very impressed by the whole feeling of the mass. Looking towards the high altar all light up. And the columns taking our prayers directly to God. I went to communion and regained my seat. At the end of Mass I recited the rosary as if to say thank you and please look after my family. Then I heard a bell being rung as the sacristan told people that he was going to lock all the doors and make sure every one was out. There was a small boy with his parents who seemed really impressed by the whole shebang.

Afterwards, I headed off to the pub for a couple of pints. Well, not really, I just had to find a place to pee!