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!

La Rentrée – or Back to the Grindstone

Summer has officially come and gone, and I have finished my first week of work.  Is Summer just the month of August or does July count?  Whatever the case is it now time to look back and take stock? 

2020 has been a strange year, going for the understatement of the year…  At work instead of the usual four weeks off we were off for only three  weeks. We relaxed during the month of lockdown but I don’t think it could be described as holiday even though I was more than rested when I went back to work on the 22nd of April.

Fast forward to July.  In early February I had planned and booked a trip to my hometown of Hull for mid July as a kind of pre-vacation.  How very French of me! Well, that was the idea. Then Covid came and said maybe you might want to think again about that.  So I thought about it again and stayed in France.  I still went on leave, but stayed in France.

I went to Nantes and did some architecture photography, and Kate wanted to go to Paris, so we did.  Then it was off to Bretagne for the rest of the weekend. I got shouted at and escaped to do more photography, and offered a photoshoot to my sister in law and then my niece and daughter wanted to get in on the act.

Soooooooo….  my proper leave starts and my wife and daughter go off to see a friend and then on to see my mother in law. That Sunday I go off to do a photoshoot for a friend who wanted to record her pregnancy and share the sex of the baby.  It was great to see n old friend and share something so intimate with the couple.  They have asked asked me not to show the photos, but you can take it from me, parenthood suits both of them.

That night I was going to become a resident of Nantes. It was the first night of the holidays for a friend of mine from the pub. I knew that I was going to have a drink or two, so thought it wise to book a hotel room, as it would be less expensive and so much wiser than driving home under the influence….

The following Tuesday I had a photoshoot for a friend who does Yoga.  She wanted some photos outside so we went to the Chaussée des Moines just outside Nantes. 

The Thursday of that week saw me in Paris with the hero of the moment, Jean Guillaume! A great day out!  It was also the day that I required my now old camera.  The Olympus Pen EE S. 

I put a roll of film in it and took it out for a test drive.  What better place to do it than in the Voyage à Nantes. I have just finished scanning the negatives and might even get around to dedicating a whole article to it.  My daughter fell in love with it and has claimed it as her very own. I am presently in negotiations to reclaim it.

I finally gave into my daughter and she took the Olympus Pen, some colour negative film, and are had a father and daughter day in Nantes visiting the Voyage à Nantes again. She can be affair and a very fussy eater but hot that day.  Miracles can happen! That day I was test driving my new old Olympus Trip 35. My old one had decided that time was time, and it was time to retire. This new camera was made in May of 1971 so is older than me. I will scan those negatives today. Update: they are scanned and turned out the way I wanted so go me!

The last week of my hols arrived, and as the impetuous fool that I am, I had promised my daughter a last trip to Paris. That will teach me to make promises. Photos will follow. Honest!

I know this article as been a bit strange but it has allowed me to clarify things in that mess of a mind of mine so I suppose hasn’t been completely useless. At least you know what to expect in the coming articles.

Thank you Dear reader for bearing with me during this befuddle, and now you have an insight into how my brain works. I suppose I have to say it’s great to be back at work with structure, rather than the life a photographer for a short time. But I did enjoy the freedom to do what I love and keeps me going emotionally. I think back to when music was taking over my life and time away from work. Maybe photography is doing the same. I sincerely hope not. When I’m out taking photos, I don’t think. I do. It’s almost like a visual meditation. I feel free. I feel like I’m taking up a challenge to get the best images from what is around me. Sometimes that is the Eiffel Tower which is notoriously bad at playing hide and seek, or it can be the local duck pond, or of the vines. I really must start going to work earlier to catch the countryside that I drive through too. Lately on my drive to work, it’s at the exact time that the morning dew is evaporating and it gives a surreal look to the countryside. I reckon we’ll soon find out if I managed that.

Have a great week, sorry for not having written earlier but I needed to do my mental filing and sort out my memories of what Summer was all about. Whatever it was about, it wasn’t your usual Summer. But I’m not the only one that felt that. I, like a lot of you I think, crave a return to a relative normality where we can shake hands and hug our friends, where we don’t have to constantly worry if we have a mask or not, where we can connect again, and where we can become fully human again. And don’t mention Brexit!!