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!

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!