Bonne Année from Paris

Madame Eiffel in the mist

Bonne année 2020 from Paris!

I wanted a beautiful photo of Madame Eiffel this evening, to celebrate the new year *and* my recent completion of the first draft of my Paris-themed memoir. There must be a metaphor with the above photo, about life’s path not always being clear and our best-laid plans veering off-course and the ultimate beauty that lies around us.

Have you ever had a heart connection to a place, even from the other side of the world? It took me 20 years from my first visit — and a few little detours — to get a key to the City of Light. One of my 2020 goals is to shape this manuscript into a book.

A completed first draft. Whew!

Avec tous nos vœux de bonheur et une très belle nouvelle année, with Clive’s and my wishes for happiness and a beautiful new year for all.

Happy Birthday to Mr Original

Clive on his birthday, in Felixstowe

10 November 2019

Happy birthday to Mr Original, resident music man and technology, DIY and spreadsheet guru, the guy who makes me smile even when I don’t always get his (self-labelled) warped sense of humour, who never fails to sing a cheerful tune, who faces his challenges with courage and strength and the world’s greatest attitude to living every day and who chose to spend his birthday with just me and a stroll in sunny Felixstowe: my hero, the one and only Clive.

A great way to start the day: Skype with (most of) the family in Australia

Some of you have seen this post on Facebook but I wanted to share it on my blog as well (if a bit late). Thank you to all who sent Clive birthday wishes via email, snail mail, FB and in person.

Watching the ships come into Felixstowe on Clive’s birthday


Cheers to my wonderful husband and may we celebrate many more birthdays together, wherever we may be.

The memory lens: a reflection about one Paris day, sixteen years after my first husband’s death

Gary photographing rooftops in Paris

My first husband, Gary, died 16 years ago today.

I’ve written about the night we met and how lucky I felt throughout our marriage; about the kind of person he was and the gifts he gave to the world; and about my tradition of scattering red rose petals in his memory.

Gary and I had both visited Paris before we met. Our first time there together occurred the year after we married.

One Paris Day

We began one day by taking the train to Chartres, so Gary could see the cathedral. I’d been fortunate to visit it once before.

On our walk from the Chartres station, we came upon a square which had a white van selling glaces (ice cream) and a grey one selling frites (French fries) and boissons (drinks).

The Chartres glaces van

The frites van was old then; now Clive says it looks like something out of Heartbeat, the TV series set in the 1960s. I can’t disagree. Nor can I remember exactly what Gary and I ordered — possibly glaces *and* frites.

Gary waiting for our order at the Chartres frites van

I only remember we were delighted to find this unexpected source of nourishment on our walk from the station. We happily parked ourselves on a bench and savoured our treats.

That afternoon, back in Paris, Gary took photographs from the external escalator platform of the Beaubourg (Pompidou Centre), as shown at the top of this post.

I watched him as he framed his shot. He moved, as always, with characteristic calm and steadiness. Unbeknownst to him, I snapped a photo with my point-and-shoot camera.

Later, we came by chance upon an Édouard Manet exhibition at the Grand Palais.

Manet in the afternoon, Grand Palais, Paris

Here I viewed for the first time Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe, Luncheon on the Grass. The painting’s sumptuous sensuality astonished me then and continues to do so every time I see it at the Musée d’Orsay.

The Memory Lens

Memory’s a slippery little trickster. Sometimes you look through the memory lens and see big events blazing. Sometimes it’s the little images that flare and shimmer.

You remember the Chartres frites van more than the cathedral; a photographer composing a photo more than the photo itself; and an afternoon in Paris with no planned itinerary when you were awed by one of the world’s great paintings.

And you’re grateful for all of it, for the place and the time and the memories, and especially for the person who made them with you.

Gary on the Left Bank after a day at Chartres, the Beaubourg and the Grand Palais

Today I talked with my son and scattered red rose petals for Gary in the Felixstowe seafront gardens. As I also do each year, I came home to Clive and gave him a red rose for his desk. Red roses for love, for Gary and Clive.

Thank you for reading and may at least some of your memories, whatever size they may be, bestow comfort and light.

After the Fire: Notre-Dame de Paris, Our Lady of Paris


Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris has been closed since the devastating fire of 15 April 2019. Its perimeter is fenced-off, with several bridges and roads also closed. The view across the Seine, and occasional gaps in the fence, give glimpses of the damage and early repair efforts.

Clive and I spent one evening and another afternoon taking it all in.

Our Lady of Paris

Map from Grand Paris Pratique, Éditions l’Indispensable

Notre-Dame is located on Ile de la Cité, an island in the heart of Paris and the city’s ancient birthplace. As shown above, the cathedral occupies a rectangular plot, running approximately west to east.

Notre-Dame’s two monumental towers and main entry doors face west. At its eastern end is the sweet Square Jean XXIII, a pocket-sized park beneath the flying buttresses, and Pont St-Louis, the pedestrian bridge over the Seine to the other central island, Ile St-Louis.

The cathedral’s north side is approached from bridges on the Right Bank and streets on Ile de la Cité. Its south side runs along the Seine, across from the Left Bank.

Left-Bank view, rue St-Julien

Years ago, I read the origin of the names ‘Left Bank’ and ‘Right Bank’ and how to remember which is which.

To do so, simply stand (or imagine standing) on the Place du Parvis de Notre-Dame, the large plaza in front of the towers, with your back to the cathedral entrance. Perhaps stand on the plaque marking Point Zéro, the place from which all distances are measured in France.

Point left, and that’s the Left Bank. Point right and that’s the Right Bank.

Approaching from the south, Left Bank side

First glimpse, rue Dante

Last Sunday evening, after the weekend heat wave, we walked up rue Dante for our first sight of Notre-Dame.

What a moment, to see those towers. From a distance, our initial impression was how clean they still look on the outside, lighter than we expected with no apparent fire damage to their exterior and no major charring or blackening.

The towers of Notre-Dame, from Pont St-Michel

Closer up, we came upon the huge exclusion zone, with police manning the barricades 24/7.

The two bridges closest to Notre-Dame, the Petit Pont (leads to the beginning of the Parvis, or plaza) and Pont au Double (leads to the front entry doors) are closed to vehicles and pedestrians.

The south side of the cathedral can only be viewed from across the Seine, with the river acting as a partial moat.

Some of the scaffolding in view

We noted the enormous amount of scaffolding, and Clive thought some of it looked quite precarious. We couldn’t always see where (or if!) it was fixed at regular intervals to the exterior.

Scaffolding and Rose Window

As we contemplated the vast extent of the damage and what herculean efforts will be required for restoration, Clive said it reminded him of the Ken Follett novel Pillars of the Earth, and how workers spent their entire adult lives building a cathedral. Notre-Dame now needs, and will provide, guaranteed work for specialist tradespeople and expert artisans for years to come.

We wondered, too, about the difficulty of finding the right craftsmen and women available right away, or precisely when needed. Surely this will be an ongoing challenge, though surely also many will be keen to work on Notre-Dame.

Walking east along the river, you can see one of the Rose Windows, stained glass removed, covered with plastic and wooden scaffolding.

Rose Window, south side of Notre-Dame

At the easternmost end, the Pont de l’Archevêché, a bridge to the Left Bank, is open. Here what strikes me most about the view is everything that’s missing, most notably Viollet le Duc’s iconic mid-1800s spire and the vaulted wooden roof. A flat-topped edifice remains.

Though much remains, much is missing

By this time, darkness was falling and we were feeling a bit overwhelmed. We decided to return the next day to walk around the other side, from the Right Bank.

Approaching from the north, Right Bank side

Notre-Dame towers visible from a Right-Bank café

The Right Bank bridges to and from the Ile de la Cité are all open. However, more police and barricades at Pont Notre-Dame immediately divert traffic onto the Ile’s outermost street, with no access to the cathedral.

Typical intersection: blocked-off street on Ile de la Cité, Pont Notre-Dame

Access to the front is also prohibited, with gates and barriers about halfway down Quai du Marché-Neuf (white van on left side of photo below) preventing vehicles or pedestrians from getting closer.

Notre-Dame from Pont St-Michel

The main street from the Right Bank across to Notre-Dame, rue d’Arcole, is open only to pedestrians. You can walk up rue d’Arcole to the edge of the Place du Parvis, where a giant fence begins and police protect the entrance for workers and their vehicles.

Walking up rue d’Arcole with police barrier at end

Crowd viewing Notre-Dame from end of rue d’Arcole

Beyond the fence are tents, sheds, workmen, tools and heavy machinery. Clive said the work crews must be grateful for the large plaza area in which to store all their equipment.

Clive taking in the view from end of rue d’Arcole

Inside the barrier

Based on the two days we spent around Notre-Dame, it appears that even in its damaged state and perhaps, sadly, sometimes because of that, the cathedral will remain a tourist destination, albeit now for a painful reason.

Looking back down rue d’Arcole

From this point, you can walk along the footpath (sidewalk) of the street named Cloître Notre-Dame, which runs next to the cathedral’s north side. The street itself is totally fenced off, except for one or two gaps which provide close-up and rather distressing views.

What you can see above the fence, Cloître Notre-Dame

First gap in the fence, Cloître Notre-Dame

Looking up: scaffolding everywhere, Cloître Notre-Dame

View through the gap

Continuing down Cloître Notre-Dame

Rose window, north side, with plastic covering and wooden scaffolding

Although this work began fairly recently, you can already see evidence of other countries providing equipment, such as a large yellow crane apparently from Germany.

Second gap in the fence

Cranes and other heavy machinery behind the fence

Inside the fence, from the end of Cloître Notre-Dame

Always a close police presence

From the back – the saddest view

Photo taken this week

Photo taken (by me) a few years ago

Finally, coming around to Quai de l’Archevêché and the back of Notre-Dame, the pedestrian bridge to Ile St-Louis remains open. Square Jean XXIII, one of my favourite small Paris parks, is entirely fenced-off. Before the cathedral comes into view, all you can see is a fence inside a fence.

Fence within a fence, Square Jean XXIII

What remains, behind the fences, Quai de l’Archevêché

Police on Quai de l’Archevêché

We ended our exploration back at the Pont de l’Archêveché bridge, completing the circle – or to be precise, the rectangle.

For me the view from the back is the most emotional, largely due to the absence of the spire and vaulted roof, along with the presence of so much scaffolding. No doubt the cumulative effect of our evening walk the night before and the day’s closer-up views also played a role.

The beloved cathedral

A violinist on Pont de l’Archevêché captured the moment as he played a slow, mournful version of Hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Notre-Dame, violinist on Pont de l’Archevêché

The Aftermath of Loss

I honour and respect Notre-Dame’s centuries of history and its place in French culture, literature and the French psyche. The cathedral holds great meaning, regardless of religion, for many world citizens, and the scale of the fire damage is heartbreaking.

But I also can’t help reflecting that – as magnificent as it is — Notre-Dame is still a temporal, earthly creation in a world I believe possesses a mystery and divinity beyond our understanding.

What a blessing no lives were lost in the fire! And what a blessing the heroic pompiers (firefighters) saved so much of Notre-Dame, including the main structure and the priceless rose windows, which remain intact.

It’s early days after the fire, and the city feels like it’s still getting to grips with the damage. Clive commented that with so many re-routings and street and bridge closures, Paris will likely and by necessity tolerate dislocated traffic for many years.

Fences and closures and barriers, oh my

The French state has owned Notre-Dame since 1905. On 27 May 2019, about six weeks after the fire and after rampant speculation about what modern architectural designs might be approved for Notre-Dame, the French Senate voted to restore the cathedral to ‘its last known visual state.’ (Any new law must still be agreed with the National Assembly.)

A few days later, a survey by The Local reported 78% of respondents agreed with the Senate’s view.

Politicians may aim for full restoration within five years, in time for the 2024 Olympics. Many experts say the timeline is too short. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what should be done, and by when. Various financial elites (individuals and corporations) have donated hundreds of millions of euros to the cause.

A police boat speeding up the Seine

As with human loss and trauma, rebuilding and healing will – and should – take whatever time it needs to take, to do what must be done until, eventually, a new reality is reached.

Progress and setbacks will occur. Changes of direction may be involved, perhaps some dramatic. Judgments will be passed, whether asked for or not. I know we’ll continue to visit Notre-Dame often, even if we can’t get very close, and we’ll watch with so many others as plans progress.

French Senate vote notwithstanding, the renovated structure won’t be exactly the same. It couldn’t be. But it will incorporate this latest event into its present and its future.

May the reconstruction proceed smoothly, however long it takes. May no lives be lost in the process, and may you always bless the heart and soul of this city, Notre-Dame de Paris, our lady of Paris.

Still a stunning silhouette, Notre-Dame de Paris

Meilleurs voeux, best wishes from Paris and merci for reading.

 

Saturday Snippet: A Paris Park Named for Franco-American Friendship

Evidence of a hot day: benches in the sun are empty, Place des États-Unis, Paris


On a short sojourn to Paris, Clive and I avoided the city centre on our first full day due to the heat, weekend crowds and possible gilets jaunes disruptions, which thankfully didn’t occur. Instead we headed to the Place des États-Unis, a little square dedicated to Franco-American friendship.

At one end of the square: Memorial to American volunteers in French Foreign Legion, WW I

The gated area of the Place is named after Thomas Jefferson, who was Ambassador to France from 1785-1789.

Official name of the gated park.

Aahhh a bench in the shade. We sat here and read for a while.

A welcome shady area

The park wasn’t as empty as it looks. I just didn’t photograph the group of cute, noisy French kids running around the play area or the little boy kicking a football (soccer ball) with his dad and granddad in the separate enclosed area.

Looking west up the park, there’s a tall plinth topped with a bust of Thomas Jefferson.

Middle of photo: tall bust of Jefferson

Entry gate by Jefferson statue, recognising some of his accomplishments

Another view of Monsieur Jefferson looking out at Place des États-Unis

Not to be forgotten, at the other end of the park is a large statue of Lafayette and Washington, allies in America’s Revolutionary War.

Lafayette and Washington, shaking hands

Two great men and behind them the flags of their two great countries

Just a block or so from Place des États-Unis, and thanks to a news reporter’s recent tweet, we discovered an authentic, old-fashioned confiserie (candy shop).

A wonderful, old-fashioned confiserie

Here we had a chat with the lovely owner, who asked what we planned to do in Paris. When I mentioned paying respects to Notre-Dame after the fire, she understood completely but said she hasn’t yet been back herself, because it makes her too sad.

I forgot to take photos inside, but a close-up of the window gives a glimpse of her edible treasures. Long may the shop continue, though I fear ones like this may not last beyond the owner’s days.

Confiserie Saint Pierre, rue de Chaillot, Paris

We bought nougat lait (small nougat bars covered in milk chocolate) and had to eat them right away, because it was too hot to do otherwise of course.

The high temperatures (33C/91.4F today) really take it out of us. Fortunately they’re supposed to break tonight. Also fortunately, you can always find a café for a refreshing cold drink or a kir.

Traditional kirs on arrival

Cheers! and thanks for reading. À bientôt and more from Paris soon.

Paris March Mélange, Part 3 of 3: Ngala Wongga (Come Talk), a vital slice of Australian culture in Paris


Whether in the Western Australia outback or the Paris city centre, language, culture, identity and landscape – or cityscape – are inextricably intertwined.

Following Part 1 and Part 2 of our March mélange (medley), this final post in the series may, I hope, inspire a visit to Ngala Wongga (Come Talk). This free exhibit is running at the Australian Embassy in Paris from 30 January – 06 September 2019.

The Aussie Embassy in Paris

Eiffel Tower on the left, Aussie Embassy on the right (taken from Bir-Hakeim bridge)

Located in the 15th arrondissment in western Paris, the Australian Embassy has a superb location just steps away from the Seine and the Eiffel Tower.

The building was designed by Australian architect Harry Seidler, in the ‘Brutalist’ style of simple, concrete forms used in 1970s modernist architecture. Its large, curving structure gives the upper-floor terrace magnificent views across the city.

Australian Embassy with its curving terrace (also taken from Bir-Hakeim bridge)

Clive and I have enjoyed previous visits to the Embassy, first at an Aussie barbecue and pub quiz night in the Matilda (as in ‘Waltzing’) Bar. Last September, we toured Ambassador Brendan Berne’s private residence when the Embassy participated for the first time in les Journées du Patrimoine, European Heritage Days.

Street view and back of the Australian Embassy with its regularly-changing poster

Once through the Embassy’s front entrance Security screening, visitors proceed directly into the large ground-floor exhibition space.

Ngala Wongga (Come Talk): Cultural Significance of Language in the Goldfields of Western Australia

Ngala Wongga exhibit, Australian Embassy, Paris

Ngala Wongga is the creation of Australian artist and photojournalist Martine Perret, who was born in Paris and raised in Bordeaux. She moved to Sydney in 1997, worked as a photographer there and then for ten years with United Nations peacekeeping missions in global conflict zones. In 2013, she returned to Australia and settled in the Margaret River region of Western Australia.

Perret’s interest in indigenous communities and languages led her in 2015 to research communities of the Western Australia Goldfields, an ancient landscape where people have lived for tens of thousands of years. Here she began meeting with Aboriginal elders who became part of Ngala Wongga.

Perret also created Gungurrunga Ngawa (Look Above), a series of aerial photographs over the Goldfields salt lakes, capturing the landscape’s mesmerising shapes, colours and textures. These images also form part of Ngala Wongga.

Clive in his (Aussie Billabong) jacket viewing an aerial landscape of Western Australia

In recent years, this exhibit has been viewed in multiple locations around Australia. At the beginning of 2019, the United Nations declared an International Year of Indigenous Languages. As part of this worldwide initiative, Mme Perret was asked to exhibit Ngala Wongga at the Embassy in Paris.

Language and Culture Intertwined

Entry to Ngala Wongga exhibit, Paris

The small map in the above photo shows Australia’s indigenous regions and languages. About 120 indigenous languages are still spoken in the country, though according to the exhibit, only 13 are considered ‘strong’ while around 100 are ‘critically endangered’.

Some progress has been achieved: as a result of renewed commitment to language programs, around 30 endangered languages have seen a significant increase.

The exhibit is relatively small in size, but rich in content. It comprises eight portraits of Aboriginal elders, eight aerial landscape photographs from Gungurrunga Ngawa, a 12-minute video with one elder’s story, a rolling projection, a soundtrack which runs in the background so you feel immersed in different indigenous languages, and a free booklet, published in English and French.

The booklet is a treasure. It contains the elders’ portraits and stories, selected photographs, background on the exhibit and the projection ‘script’ so you know which language you’re hearing (and the English or French translation of each individual’s song or story). It’s an extraordinary experience to hear each speaker’s own voice in his or her own language.

Booklet for Ngala Wongga exhibit

Inside is the statement: Ngala Wongga is a collaborative project with the indigenous participants of the Goldfields. The subjects in the exhibit and their families have played an intrinsic role in the selection of material for Ngala Wongga. Each participant has authorised the use of their narratives and their photographs, for this project.

We especially enjoyed the exhibition video, Margillee, with its stunning photography and the haunting, heartfelt story of elder Doreen Harris’s life journey, her connection to the land and the significance of her endangered language.

Perret writes for the exhibit, ‘All over the world, language has played its part in defining specific cultural groups. Language and culture are so interwoven it is hard to imagine one surviving without the other. If you lose your language, you risk losing your culture, your oral history, your identity.’

A compelling collaboration

Australian landscape and elder’s portrait, Ngala Wongga

We feel this exhibit fully succeeds in intertwining the stories of Australia’s indigenous people and the significance of their language, landscape and culture. It’s very low-key (we wished each portrait included a label with the individual’s name, though their names are included with their stories in the booklet) and on the day we visited, we had it to ourselves.

Each element – the portraits, the aerial photographs, the video, soundtrack and booklet — is compelling in its own right. Combined, the whole feels much greater than the sum of the parts. The exhibit may be small in physical size but it’s large in importance and impact.

Ngala Wongga seems truly to be a labour of love, created with great care, respect and quality. We’re not surprised Mme Perret’s project is being showcased at the Embassy in Paris.

A fond farewell for this trip

I’ll end this three-part series with one of the most enduring aspects of life in Paris and France: the local café.

Despite the lovely, accurate image of customers taking time to relax and appreciate life on a sun-drenched café terrace, what really puts a lump in my throat is seeing a well-lit café in the hours before dawn or after dusk. Something about the twinkling interior, the movement of a waiter going about his work or a patron nattering at the bar or a simple row of tables and chairs, all facing outward on the footpath, gets me every time.

Farewell for this trip, our little café. Until we meet again.

Cheers and merci for reading. À bientôt, see you soon.

Paris March Mélange, Part 2 of 3: Une relation bienveillante (a caring relationship) at the Musée d’Orsay, continuing renovations at l’Eglise St-Germain-des-Prés, a bookshop and a noix de coco (coconut) creation

Noix de coco (coconut), the simple name our neighbour gives to her divine dessert


Continuing on from Part 1 of our March melange (medley), we maintain our slow(ish)-paced adventures in the City of Light, from a world-renowned museum to a very personal dessert.

A well-loved museum

Beneath a historic railway station clock, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

The beloved Musee d’Orsay, home of France’s main Impressionist collection, was originally a railway station, built for the 1900 Paris Exposition (World Fair). After abandonment and then a striking renovation, it was inaugurated as a museum in December 1986. It now houses artworks from 1848-1914, from the succession of France’s 2nd Republic to the start of World War I.

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

For various reasons, we visited the museum on a Tuesday, which according to its website is one of its busiest times. We held to our strategy (especially for big museums) of buying tickets online beforehand (to get the usually-shorter entry line), and arriving when the museum opened.

Even on a busy weekday, I had some time alone with Edouard Manet’s Olympia and, in the same gallery, his equally-wonderful Emile Zola.

Olympia, Edouard Manet, Musée d’Orsay

Emile Zola in his study (with ‘Olympia’ on his wall), Edouard Manet, Musée d’Orsay

In the fifth-floor Impressionist galleries, we visited old favourites, wove our way through impressively well-behaved school groups and finished with a restorative lunch in the café on the same level.

Busy day at Musée d’Orsay –a school group studying another Manet masterpiece, Déjeuner sur l’Herbe

I took my time with Camille Pissarro’s La Bergère, the shepherdess who’s been my dear companion (well, a print of her has been with me) for almost 40 years, ever since I first met her at the Jeu de Paume (the museum that housed the Impressionists before the opening of Musée d’Orsay). She sometimes travels to other exhibits but her permanent home is the Musée d’Orsay. I never tire of seeing her.

La Bergère, Camille Pissarro, Musée d’Orsay

And among the countless works by Claude Monet in these galleries, another favourite which my late husband Gary also loved. After several visits to Monet’s garden at Giverny, we purchased a large print of this painting for our home.

Claude Monet, The Artist’s Garden at Giverny

The following mundane notice is in fact about an upcoming exhibit I am beyond excited to see.

Berthe Morisot, Female Impressionist: 18 June – 22 September 2019

Une relation bienveillant, a caring relationship

Back of Les Gracques (The Gracchi, 1853), Eugène Guillaume, Musée d’Orsay

As Clive and I made our way back to the museum’s entrance/exit, he looked up and pointed to the back of a small ‘half-body’ sculpture. Two young men wearing tunics stand side-by-side, with one man’s arm draped around the other man’s shoulders.

The piece is Les Gracques (1853) by Eugène Guillaume, a double bust in bronze of the Gracchi brothers in Rome. The front shows the brothers resting their right hands together on a parchment scroll.

Front of Les Gracques, Eugène Guillaume, Musée d’Orsay

We were both really taken with this sculpture, the way the two young men stand close together, the clasping of each other’s hands on the scroll and the warmth of one wrapping his arm around the other.

On the Orsay website, at the end of this sculpture’s description (link in French), is a list of keywords to search for other works with similar themes. Keywords for this piece include famille (family), fidélité (loyalty) and my favourite: relation bienveillante (caring relationship).

Relation bienveillante: what a wonderful keyword! Next time we visit the Orsay (if we have time after the Berthe Morisot exhibit), we can discover all sorts of other works that show a caring relationship.

I’m so happy Clive was paying attention and looking up and spotted this special sculpture. What could be better or more worthy than to create a piece of art that honours family, loyalty and a caring relationship.

The oldest church in Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, founded in the year 543 and newly-transformed

On the same day we visited the Orsay, we made an afternoon stop at Paris’s oldest church, l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés. A seven-phase restoration project, begun in 2015, is scheduled to complete in 2020.

A 1500 year-old church (parts have been rebuilt over the centuries) is always something to see, though layers of history also meant layers of dirt and grime. The passage of time along with air pollution had done their damage and made the interior dark and filthy. Thanks to Paris City Hall and a majority of funding from French and American donors, the church is being transformed, from the side chapels to the roof and the ceiling, the pillars and mid-19thC frescoes of Hippolyte Flandrin.

Arches and restored 19thC frescoes in l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris

Interior of l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris

As with so many Paris churches, this is a beautiful place to pause and reflect or simply just to rest one’s weary feet, especially if you want a calm, peaceful interlude in the midst of the busy city.

Clive (unaware I was taking his photo) in a moment of reflection at l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris

Candles for loved ones at l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris

Books at the Red Wheelbarrow

Paris is blessed with many bookshops, and taking time for a leisurely browse is one of our special pleasures.

Taschen bookshop, rue de Buci, Paris

Since last September, I can’t seem to be in Paris without visiting one bookshop in particular: Penelope Fletcher’s re-opened and remarkable The Red Wheelbarrow.

At this outstanding independent bookshop, we stocked up on a few new treats, including a local copy of Janet Hulstrand’s Demystifying the FrenchThis is a gem which is based on the author’s own experience and includes reflections from other favourite Paris writers. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in a short, intelligent and insightful look into the country and culture.

Stocking up at The Red Wheelbarrow (taken by Penelope), the best independent bookshop in Paris

A gift from the heart (and the kitchen)

We also caught up with a few neighbours and friends (merci, chers amis!) with whom we had to cancel plans on the last trip, thanks to my temporary back injury.

Our beloved elderly neighbour insisted on making her special treat, a sweet, silky, sensuous dessert she simply calls noix de coco (coconut). It’s a delicious coconut-custard-cakey-caramel creation with a crispy dark-caramel base. She says it’s ‘très simple’ and she makes it for both of us, though I know she also has a soft spot for Clive.

As much as I love the taste and diverse sensations when savouring this dish, the care our friend puts into it — including doing the final, perfect ‘flip’ in the kitchen — never fails to move me.

I know it’s a gift from her heart, and think it’s fair to say we have our own relation bienveillante.

A photo that looks plain but shows the silky, sensuous and delicious noix de coco made by our thoughtful neighbour

Cheers and merci for reading. Next to come: Paris March Mélange, Part 3 of 3: A slice of Australian culture in Paris. ‘You got to talk, talk about sharing the culture. They’re precious words, language and culture. You have to learn the words properly to understand.’

À la prochaine, until next time.