The Dreaded Christmas Letter, Part 3: Five Stages of Emotion (and our first selfie)

Our first selfie, 2016

Our first selfie, 2016

Yesterday Clive and I composed a draft of our annual Christmas letter, known on this blog as the dreaded Christmas letter.

Previously, I’ve shared my thoughts about this exercise in The Dreaded Christmas Letter, Part 1 BC (Before Clive) and The Dreaded Christmas Letter, Part 2 AC (After Clive): Separated by a Common Language or Maybe Just a Comma.

The process demands a review of the past year and a reckoning with what happened, what we did and didn’t do, how we handled certain events and what we hope for looking ahead.

This year I observe five stages:

  1. Gratitude – for blessings of family, friends and activities we’re able to enjoy.
  2. Guilt – for living far from loved ones, especially my 92 year-old mum because she’s unable to travel to us.
  3. Frustration – that I went off the rails with my weekly blog posts at the end of May and am not making fast enough progress on my Paris memoir.
  4. Self-criticism – who besides us cares about this letter anyway? Everyone has positives and negatives in their lives. That said, we’ve always tried to keep our tone and content positive.
  5. Acceptance growing to satisfaction – send the darn thing anyway. Not all our friends are on Facebook and some tell us they enjoy our letter. As time goes by, the letters becomes valuable to us as a body of words and images that render and reveal and help us remember the stories of our lives.

Despite my stated goal at the end of 2014 to learn how to take a couples’ selfie, we have not exactly mastered this skill. However we did attempt one selfie in 2016. In the interest of honesty and openness I have shared it above, but to me it is prima facie evidence that we have a long way to go to take a proper selfie. Clive says latent skill is evident because we got the Eiffel Tower between our heads.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and joyful holiday season with whatever cards, letters and/or photo traditions you may or may not choose.

Cheers and thanks for reading.

Paris in August

Hello Eiffel Tower & hello koala on the side of the Australian Embassy

Hello Eiffel Tower & hello koala on the side of the Australian Embassy

Paris in August is typically quiet; Clive and I have enjoyed summer visits in prior years. Last week, while Clive tackled another DIY project, I spent a few days in the City of Light, to work on the current chapter of my book. I did manage to get out on a few necessary errands and stop into a favourite shop or two.

Though many Paris businesses shut down for all or part of August, the city’s main tourist sites, department stores and numerous restaurants, cafes and shops remain open.

August morning by the Wepler café, Paris

August morning by the Wepler café, Paris

Added to the usual seasonal sleepiness, tourist numbers are down this year, though not, apparently, American numbers. In July, The Atlantic reported ‘U.S. visitors to Paris have actually risen by 0.6 per cent this summer.’

One result in any case is lower fares and opportunities to experience the City of Light without as many crowds. You’ll still mix with plenty of people viewing museum exhibits, strolling by the Paris plages  (temporary beaches) and bouquinistes (booksellers) along the Seine, relaxing on café terraces and, if you fancy, playing beach volleyball on the plaza of Hôtel de Ville, Paris city hall.

'Beach' volleyball in front of Hôtel de Ville, Paris

‘Beach’ volleyball in front of Hôtel de Ville, Paris

Our local café (Vlad’s café) closes for three weeks in August, but others nearby remain open; the boulangerie with our favourite bread was open but the one with the best pains au chocolat in Paris closed; both Monoprix stores were open — yay! — and so was a family-run chocolatier, where I chose a little treat to take back to Clive.

Two women I spoke with in the shops, when I commented about their working in August, said they’d taken their long holiday (vacation) in July and didn’t mind returning in August.

August rush hour, Paris

August rush hour, Paris

There’s a lot to be said for quiet, or relative quiet compared to the rest of the year – even if some residential streets feel eerie without traffic.

You can walk along the footpath without being rushed or pushed. The buses and metros have multiple seats available. The department store BHV was as empty as I’ve ever seen it, perfect for not only a household errand but also a browse in the stationery and book departments.

Best of all, along with the large department stores, every papeterie, or stationery shop, in town is gearing up in August for the rentrée, September’s back-to-school season. Shop tables, counters and shelves are laden with temptation, overflowing with pens and pencils and multi-coloured papers and notebooks of all shapes and sizes and all manner of cases, portfolios, bags and backpacks in which to carry one’s treasures.

A favourite Paris papeterie

A favourite Paris papeterie

For many years, the general view was, ‘Never go to Paris in August! It’s deserted!’ More recently, an opposing view has emerged, ‘I love Paris in August! It’s so much nicer then!’

I don’t agree with either; for me the truth is somewhere in the middle. As I get older, what I least like about Paris – or anywhere, really – in summer is the heat. I miss our tree by the sea and Felixstowe’s lovely sea breeze. A Seine-side picnic is a Paris alternative.

Along the River Seine, Paris

Along the River Seine, Paris

Despite — or because of — the heat, I’m sure the quais of the Seine and the Canal St-Martin, the steps of Sacré-Coeur and the lawns of the Champ de Mars stretching beneath the Eiffel Tower were full of young people, whiling away the still-long summer nights (Paris is an hour ahead of the UK) and soaking up summer in the City of Light.

In August, trees and flowers are still in full bloom. I’m so pleased to say those surrounding Ben Franklin seem to be flourishing.

Ben with his summer flowers, Paris

Ben with his summer flowers, Paris

So, if you want to visit Paris and August is the only time you can go, do it! No matter the month, Paris will deliver its special magic.

Cheers and thanks for reading.

ais of the yay! —

Statue of Benjamin Franklin, a Peacemaker in Paris


Ben Franklin in Paris, newly-landscaped May 2016

Ben Franklin in Paris, newly-landscaped May 2016

When you round a Paris corner or cross a bridge over the Seine or stroll down a boulevard, you may come upon someone – in his or her statue form – who draws you in and makes you take notice.

[Note from Clive: This is a long post. Suggest you make a cup of tea before reading it.]

I don’t recall, looking back, the first time I noticed Ben. He would have drawn our attention sometime when we were walking by – because walking is what you do so much of in Paris – perhaps on an evening stroll or en route to somewhere else.

Ben sparks interest

Ben is located on the western side of Paris, at the southwest corner of the Place du Trocadéro. The place is a busy traffic roundabout and site of the Palais de Chaillot, the palace (now housing multiple museums) whose esplanade offers a terrific view of the Eiffel Tower.

Across a side street, amidst horns beeping, locals dog-walking and tourists hurrying to take in the view, Ben sits unobtrusively beneath spreading chestnut trees on a petit green hillside.

Red arrow points to Ben's location

Red arrow points to Ben’s location

Ben’s location is officially named the Square de Yorktown. This commemorates the 1781 Virginia battle in which the combined forces of American general George Washington and French general Comte (Count) de Rochambeau defeated the English, prompting the Brits to begin negotiating an end to America’s war of independence.

Ben’s ‘square’ is actually a grassy triangle, flanked on both sides by the appropriately-named rue (street) Benjamin Franklin. A tablet placed by the Rochambeau chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) provides tribute to the more than 2,500 French who lost their lives at Yorktown.

Once we spotted Ben, his memorial immediately sparked my interest.

The first connection, from American schooldays, was ‘Oh, cool, Ben Franklin!’ This was accompanied by long-instilled admiration for the man known for everything from inventing the lightning rod to writing Poor Richard’s Almanac to signing the 1776 Declaration of Independence and negotiating the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which finally ended America’s Revolutionary war.

An American in Paris – 1700s

Musée Carnavalet, 2008 exhibit about Ben Franklin in Paris

Musée Carnavalet, 2008 exhibit about Ben Franklin in Paris

As America’s first ambassador to France, Ben lived in Paris – actually on rue Raynouard in the commune of Passy, incorporated into the city limits in 1860 — from the end of 1776 to late 1785.

In 2008, Clive and I visited Benjamin Franklin, Un Américain à Paris, an excellent exhibit at the Musée Carnavalet, the museum of the history of Paris. (I also recall Clive’s less than enthusiastic response to exhibit labels and brochures printed only in French.)

And since 2005, my to-read list has included Stacy Schiff’s well-reviewed A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the birth of America.

By all accounts, Ben was much-loved by the French. Not only did they appreciate his statesmanship, diplomacy and wide-ranging knowledge; they adored his philosophical intellect, his wit and his humour which charmed all who enjoyed the great French art and sport of conversation with him in Paris salons.

My absolute favourite fact about Ben in Paris is that, along with his diplomatic activities and scientific projects, he pursued a lifelong interest in printing and typefaces and established his own printing press in his house at Passy.

What a great online blogger Ben would have been. He wrote and self-published, in English and French, pamphlets, opinion pieces, invitations, letters, and short pieces called the ‘Bagatelles’ – many of which can be found in an inexpensive reproduction of Luther S Livingston’s 1914 gem, Franklin and his Press at Passy.

It tickled me no end to find the statue of Ben, sitting comfortably on his hillside, looking for all the world as if he’s ready to start conversing with you in a Paris salon.

A statue for Ben’s 200th – 1900s

Beneath the spreading chestnut trees, April 2014

Beneath the spreading chestnut trees, April 2014

Ben’s Paris statue, by John J Boyle, is a replica of one now located at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

On the pedestal, two bas-reliefs by French sculptor Frédéric Brou depict Ben being presented to the Court of Louis XVI at Versailles in 1778 and the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

All thanks for this memorial are owed to Mr John H Harjes, another Philadelphian in Paris, who gave this statue to the city in 1906 to mark the bicentennial of Ben’s birth.

Harjes was a founder of the Morgan bank on Place Vendôme and also the American Hospital at Neuilly, just west of Paris. Apparently a bust of him resides in the hospital entryway.

I’m no statue connoisseur, but everything about Ben’s Paris statue appeals to me.

The location is in the midst of Parisian life, with much to offer in addition to Ben himself – museums, walks, the Seine, shops, cafes, gardens, the view of the Eiffel Tower and multiple metro lines all close by.

The setting is a gentle hillside with residential buildings behind Ben, the Place du Trocadéro in front of him, the walls of Passy cemetery across the street on one side and the tip of the Eiffel Tower peeking above the Palais de Chaillot on the other. From his perch on the hill, Ben gazes out over the whole scene.

Ben’s size seems just right — larger than life, but not so immense as to exude ‘airs and graces’ or project the kind of military prowess or personal pomposity some statues radiate.

Ben’s body position looks relaxed; he’s sitting down, with his left forearm resting on the arm of the chair and his right hand holding a copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Clive says the pose reminds him of a smaller version of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

Finally, Ben’s expression strikes me as friendly and rather bemused, as if he’s listening or reflecting or perhaps silently composing his next pithy quotation or witty and wise observation about the state of the world.

The whole feel around this statue is positive. Even when the evening is dark or the temperature freezing, whether the trees are in leaf or leafless, the simplicity and humility of it feel warm to me.

Ben in the snow, January 2013

Ben in the snow, January 2013

Over the years, as we passed and paused by Ben, I did notice we could never get up close to the statue because the gate around it, low as it is, was always locked.

I found this slightly annoying and thought it perhaps one of Paris’s ‘keep off the grass’ edicts for certain green spaces. To the list of a million things I always want to do and see in Paris, I added a vague mental note, ‘I should learn more about it’ — not in an urgent way but a pleasant ‘it would be interesting to know why it’s locked and I’ll try to find out more in due course’ kind of way.

Mostly, though, I just wanted to see Ben sitting on his hillside, watching over the world.

Wanting to see Ben – 2000s

Ben at night, January 2014

Ben at night, January 2014

My deepening affection for Ben snuck up on me.

I didn’t recognise it while it was happening, but at some point I began tweeting photos of him in all sorts of seasons and weather.

Then I included him in blog posts, whether about Paris in Winter (see #7), writing in Paris or Paris Spring Sensations (see #7).

Until recently, I hadn’t given much thought to exactly why I like the statue so much. I just knew I liked it.

My affection blossomed into a small but meaningful Paris tradition, especially on arrival: I always want to walk to Trocadéro and say hello to Ben. (The nearby Eiffel Tower view is admittedly another draw.)

An upsetting sight – 2014

WHERE IS BEN!?! 6 October 2014

WHERE IS BEN!?! 6 October 2014

This shocking scene greeted us in October, 2014.

How distressing to find Ben’s hillside ripped up, the pedestal boxed up and NO SIGN OF BEN himself. Still mourning the prior year’s departure of Vlad, our favourite Paris café waiter, I didn’t want to lose Ben, too.

An Internet search revealed the reason for Ben’s absence: RATP, Paris’s rapid transit, work on metro Line 6, ‘yards of sand blasting … and sealing work … ballast discharged through two wells drilled in the roof and swept away by truck‘ [note: this work was/is different from the 2014-2018 works on the Trocadero terraces].

Ouch! I never realised how protective I felt about Ben and his patch of green until I saw it all ripped up. The box teetering on the edge of a giant hole did nothing to help, though its presence at least indicated the statue would one day return.

A week later, when we had to say goodbye to Paris, the digger was gone but the box’s position still looked precarious. I just wanted Ben back in his usual place.

Still no Ben, 13 October 2014

Still no Ben, 13 October 2014

Instead I had to trust the city of Paris, which continuously and mostly brilliantly maintains and improves the city’s historic and current buildings and transport systems, that we would in time see Ben again

Ben comes home – 2015

Ben unboxed, first sight July 2015

Ben unboxed, first sight July 2015

Last summer, I nearly dragged Clive to Trocadéro in my haste to see what we’d find.

Ben’s back! To my deep relief and happiness, Ben had returned to his hillside. What a joy it was, and is, to see him again.

His pedestal looked cleaner. He had a new, paved path. But the grass – or weeds — beneath him were scruffy and unkempt. And we weren’t sure about Ben himself. He still looked like he needed a green-clean.

Still, my spirits soared to see Ben again. I hoped a future visit would reveal more care given to the hillside around him.

Sure enough, last December it appeared some preparation work had occurred on the grass immediately in front of Ben.

Ben at night, December 2015

Ben at night, December 2015

Curiosity rekindled – 2016

By February this year, the area had been further tended, with small green plants poking their heads above the dirt.

Planted area in front of Ben, February 2016

Planted area in front of Ben, February 2016

I looked forward with great anticipation to see what, if anything, would greet us on our next trip.

Finally, last month, we arrived to find that the area in front of Ben appears to be fully planted, as shown in this post’s header photo and repeated here. The gate surrounding the square remains locked.

Ben newly-landscaped, May 2016

Ben newly-landscaped, May 2016

Is this as far as Ben’s ‘renovation’ will go? His unboxing and fresh landscaping have rekindled my interest in finding out more about his statue and the time he spent in the city that means so much to both of us.

To that end, I’ve added a few items to my Paris to-do list and emailed queries to several organisations. Highest on my list:

Ben’s statue

– What department or organisation is responsible for maintenance?
– Is there a budget or some sort of fund (and can I contribute)?
– Will the statue have a green-clean?
– Who has the keys for the gate? Who decides when it’s open? When will it next be open? (It would be unseemly, we feel, to climb over the gate …)
– Who decides what to plant? Find out what kind of tree the smaller one is on Ben’s hillside (I’m fairly sure the larger ones are chestnuts, but check this, too).
– Once I know when the square is open, try to be there and pay my respects up close.

If and when I find some answers to these pressing matters, I shall share them in a future post.

Ben’s time in Paris

– Read Stacy Schiff’s book, which I’ve finally purchased. Enjoy paging through the delightful, also recently-purchased Franklin and his Press at Passy.
– If and when we’re at the American Hospital at Neuilly (no hurry on this one), find the bust of Harjes and thank him.

Always, of course, where to next is — to Ben! To see and greet him on our arrival in Paris and when we’re passing by.

My journey with Ben and his hillside memorial has taught me that, beyond schoolgirl admiration, more than anything else Paris connects me to this great American and friend of France.

The City of Light isn’t perfect, nor was it ever. But two centuries after Ben walked the streets of Trocadéro and Passy, I share his love of the city’s quartiers, its people and – notwithstanding strikes, demonstrations, security concerns, floods and ongoing change – its way of life.

A peacemaker

Ben and his gate, January 2013

Ben and his gate, January 2013

The DAR tablet at Square de Yorktown contains a quote from Ben, ‘the best of all works – the work of peace.’

I wonder what this great peacemaker would think – and write – about events in today’s world. Surely he would have much to say about the USA, the UK/EU and many other national and international topics.

Ben left Paris in July, 1785 to return to Philadelphia. In 1787, he was the oldest delegate to America’s Constitutional Convention.

Two years later, in his beloved France, the Bastille fell on 14 July 1789. The following year, on 17 April 1790, Ben died of pleurisy in Philadelphia.

The engraved quotation at the base of his Paris statue is from the Comte de Mirabeau, a voice of the French people during their own revolution. Translated from the French:

‘The genius who liberated America and poured upon Europe torrents of light, the wise man whom two worlds claim ‘   Mirabeau 11 juin 1790

Ben on his hillside, May 2016

Ben on his hillside, May 2016

This modest statue in its great location is well worth a stop, especially if you’re interested in the enduring friendship between the USA and France.

Change is constant, but with any luck, on our next trip to Paris we’ll say hello to Ben on his hillside and sip coffee at one of Vlad’s tables a few blocks away.

Cheers and thanks for reading.

Paris in Spring: Seven Sensations

Spring afternoon in the Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Spring afternoon in the Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Paris in spring, as in winter, offers endless opportunities to stimulate the senses. Here’s a stroll through seven experiences you can enjoy right now.

[note: normally I post on Thursday or Friday, but due to a change in personal plans, we decided to return to Felixstowe a few days earlier than expected. Somehow it’s already Monday so Happy Bank Holiday to UK readers and Happy Memorial Day to those in the USA.]

  1. Paris in spring: Tip of the Tower
Above the trees: tip of the Eiffel Tower, May 2016

Above the trees: tip of the Eiffel Tower, May 2016

You never know where you’ll glimpse the Eiffel Tower – riding a bus, rounding a corner or reaching the top of the metro steps.

In spring you may see the tip of the tower rising above chestnut and plane trees in their full bloom.

It’s quite a contrast to the view in winter.

Through the trees: view of the Eiffel Tower, December 2015

Through the trees: view of the Eiffel Tower, December 2015

  1. Paris in spring: Parks and gardens
Children’s boats in the Luxembourg Garden, Paris

Children’s boats in the Luxembourg Garden (where I also saw two special people from Michigan), Paris

Whether the larger parks and gardens or smaller squares all over the city, Paris’s green spaces are a joy year-round, including in spring.

Evening in the Tuileries, Paris

Evening in the Tuileries, Paris

Hanging out in the Ranelagh Gardens, Paris

Hanging out in the Ranelagh Gardens, Paris

You might even find a square with concrete benches made in the shape of open books.

Benches in the shape of an open book, Square Gabriel-Pierné, Paris

Benches in the shape of an open book, Square Gabriel-Pierné, Paris

Clive found an open book a good place to sit and read.

Clive reading on an open book, Square Gabriel-Pierné, Paris

Clive reading on an open book, Square Gabriel-Pierné, Paris

  1. Paris in spring: Café terraces
A sun-soaked café terrace, Paris

Sun on a café terrace, Paris

Café-sitting is a year-round Paris pastime, but in spring an extra magic seems to infuse the atmosphere, as everyone turns their face to the sun and soaks up the season’s natural warmth.

As I wrote in my previous post, ‘Vlad’s Back’, Clive and I were especially thrilled by our spring café visits this year thanks to the return of a favourite waiter.

  1. Paris in spring: Tea and pastries at Un Dimanche à Paris
Pastries at Un Dimanche à Paris (and merci to our friend Barb for the photo)

Pastries at Un Dimanche à Paris (and merci to our friend Barb for the photo)

I love everything about this chocolatier/patissier/tea salon, Un Dimanche a Paris: its location in Cour du Commerce Saint André, a cobblestoned courtyard in the heart of St.-Germain; the modern, warm design of the tea salon and restaurant; the mellow instrumental soundtrack playing softly in the background; the classy shop at the other end, which contains freshly-made, beautifully-displayed (with detailed descriptions in both French and English) pastries, chocolates and gift items; and most of all, of course, the mouth-tingling taste and texture sensations of the individual offerings, not only the pastries but also the homemade tea blends. As an added bonus, we were able to catch up with our friend Barb, who kindly took the above photo.

Un Dimanche à Paris in the cobblestoned Cour du Commerce Saint Andre, Paris (the arch leads through to Blvd. St.-Germain)

Un Dimanche à Paris in the cobblestoned Cour du Commerce Saint Andre, Paris (the arch leads through to Blvd. St.-Germain)

  1. Paris in spring: Art, outside
Silhouette of the Louvre Pyramid from Cour Carrée

Silhouette of the Louvre Pyramid from Cour Carrée

Approaching the Louvre through the arches of the Cour Carrée courtyard, the Pyramid — at least three sides of it – look the same as they always have.

When you stroll around to the part of the Pyramid facing the Tuileries, it seems the Pyramid has disappeared.

Louvre Disappearing Pyramid

The Louvre Pyramid 'disappears'

The Louvre Pyramid ‘disappears’

This trompe l’oeil is the work of French street artist JR.

I love the actual Pyramid and its four-sided clarity, but also love that Paris encourages and supports the creation and display of so many different kinds of art.

Sculpture on the Pont des Arts

Sculpture on the Pont des Arts, Paris

Sculpture on the Pont des Arts, Paris

A temporary sculpture exhibition of works by French artist Daniel Hourdé is currently on display on the Pont des Arts.

This beautiful bridge is also a perfect place to stop and rest, admire the view in both directions and/or examine your macarons (we saved them for later but I couldn’t resist opening the box to admire them).

Macarons from Un Dimanche à Paris on the Pont des Arts

Macarons from Un Dimanche à Paris on the Pont des Arts

The real beauty: Pont des Arts, uncluttered

Uncluttered beauty of the Pont des Arts

Uncluttered beauty of the Pont des Arts

Best of all, the most beautiful spectacle is simply the recently-uncluttered Pont des Arts itself. Well done, Paris.

  1. Paris in spring: Art, inside

17 Marmottan 2016 May

A visit to the Musée Marmottan, a favourite mall museum with a large permanent Monet collection, never disappoints.

In addition to viewing excellent temporary exhibits (the current one is depicted above), you can linger in the Monet galleries on the lower level and the Berthe Morisot rooms on the first floor.

The Marmottan gift shop / bookshop is one of my favourite museum shops in Paris, loaded with books in English as well as French (many related to Monet, of course, and Impressionism), gifts and stationery. The art-related notebooks and paper goods are irresistible.

  1. Paris in spring: Statue of Ben Franklin at Trocadéro
Statue of Ben Franklin at Trocadéro, Paris

Statue of Ben Franklin at Trocadéro, Paris

Ben – as I refer to and think of this statue — is looking good at present, though we think he still needs a green-clean. He’s newly-landscaped but his grass still needs cutting.

Over the years, I’ve developed huge affection for this modest memorial to a monumental American and friend of France. Ben has undergone significant upheaval in recent years. This will be the subject of a future post.

Please be sure, if you find yourself at Trocadéro for one of Paris’s best views of the Eiffel Tower, to pop across the street and say hello to Ben.

He sits peacefully on his hillside, a wise and reassuring presence watching over his little corner of Paris.

Merci, Ben and merci, Paris. Until next time.

Eiffel Tower from Trocadéro, Paris

Eiffel Tower from Trocadéro, Paris

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little taste of spring sensations in Paris.

Cheers and thanks for reading. My next letter will be from Felixstowe.

Vlad’s Back: Reunion with a Paris Waiter

A Paris café

A Paris café

Clive and I had a joyful reunion this week at our local café.

The café

Café with its former façade, December 2008

Café with its former façade, December 2008

I wrote my first post about the cafe in 2008, when it still had one of the traditional red awnings I adore around the city, along with its neon-lit, diamond-shaped ‘TABAC’ sign.

Clive nicknamed ‘our’ waiter ‘Vlad’ in light of a remarkable resemblance to Vladimir Putin. Paris Vlad seemed to like Clive. At some point, Vlad starting greeting Clive with a handshake and a friendly-sounding babble of French. This thrilled me no end, signalling a connection and familiarity, that we were not only recognised but also welcomed back.

The wave

Night of the wave, January 2013

Night of the wave, January 2013

One winter night we arrived in Paris, laden with backpacks, and looked across the street to the café. Vlad happened to see us trudging along.

To our delight, he waved his arm high and gave us a huge welcoming wave. I was so excited about this I immediately wrote a blog post, ‘A Wave that Meant the World’.

Closed!

Closed!

Closed!

Only days after following the wave, we awoke on a Sunday morning and to great shock discovered the café closed and emptied.

Quelle horreur! This too warranted a blog post, about the mystery, as did a visit in March when we found our little café behind scaffolding and no hope of a kir. On the day we left, a dark-coloured façade appeared to be in the works.

A dark outlook

A dark outlook

‘Il est parti’

Finally, several months later, the café reopened. Its new look included the dark façade along with black-and-white awnings, as seen in the header photo of this post.

Naturally we immediately checked it out. Everything inside seemed fine – the same owners, the white-haired father and lanky son behind the zinc bar, their wife/mother working the tabac counter, new tables and comfortable seating – with one alarming exception: NO VLAD.

We realised there were several new staff including a couple younger waiters looking rather ‘spiffed up’ in their smart uniforms. No more rather casual, comfortable Vlad though he too always wore a white shirt and black vest.

We asked the owner’s son about Vlad.

‘Il est parti,’ he said. He left. He is gone.

The response couldn’t have been stated any faster or any more bluntly, or with greater finality. The message and body language seemed to be, ‘Il est parti’ and don’t ask me any more questions about him.

So we did not, though I always wanted to ask, ‘Where did he go? Is he working at some other café? What’s the name of it?’

Though we continued to stop by the café from time to time, we didn’t find ourselves there quite as often. The waiters seemed to change a lot (though the nice owners were a positive presence) and without Vlad it wasn’t quite the same.

We looked for Vlad when we passed by the café but from what we could tell, he was never there. One dark-haired waiter bears a slight resemblance to Vlad but we hadn’t yet established a special connection with him.

This week in Paris

Two days ago we stopped into the café around midday.

And there he was, standing in the middle of the lunchtime buzz, looking straight at us and smiling and indicating an available table.

VLAD!!! I hope we didn’t embarrass him too much as we kind of lurched between the little tables and gave him the most hearty handshakes (and I believe Clive stood there patting Vlad’s shoulder a couple times). We were so overjoyed to see him we didn’t ask where he’s been the past three years. I squeaked out some French about what a great pleasure it was to see him again.

It’s hard to explain how absurdly happy this made us and how wonderful it was to have this unassuming Frenchman back in the café.

The day after seeing Vlad again, we departed Paris to see my mother, son and belle-fille in the U.S. Life has been hectic for the past few days but I still smile when I think of Vlad standing in the middle of the café and smiling at us.

Following our family time in New Jersey, we’ll return to Paris. Perhaps I’ll ask Vlad if I may take his photo. I think once again we’ll be spending more time at the café.

Hooray Vlad’s back

Hooray Vlad’s back

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Paris.

Writing in Paris, Inspired by the Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Symbol of victory and remembrance, the Arc de Triomphe stands at the centre of Paris’s Place Charles de Gaulle, still also referred to by its historic name, Place d’Etoile, place of the star. Locals refer to the wild roundabout simply as ‘l’Etoile’.

Some find this monument at the head of the Champs Elysées too cold and too glorifying of war and battle to be appealing. I prefer to look at it with the eye of a memorial and thanksgiving, a monument whose grandeur recognises the sacrifice of those who fought and fell for a worthy cause. The flame at the tomb of the unknown soldier beneath the arch is lit every evening as a mark of respect and remembrance.

I’m spending a few days writing in Paris before Clive joins me early next week. Even on a rainy day, the Arc inspires with its presence and position in the City of Light.

You can walk beneath the Place d’Etoile to the centre of the roundabout to visit the Arc up close, explore its museum and climb its steps for a grand view of the avenues that radiate out from the centre.

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Paris.

Signs of Summer by the Sea

Tree by the sea in full spring bloom

Tree by the sea in full spring bloom

Our tree by the sea is in full bloom. The sun is rising at 5:15am and setting at 8:25pm. Seagulls are squawking at dawn and we are looking forward to summer in Felixstowe.

Before then, we have a few more trips to make – places to go, loved ones to see and events to celebrate. But summer is in the air, and the longer days and warmer nights have their effect in luring one’s mind to the months beyond.

In anticipation, a 1907 British music hall song by John A. Glover-Kind:

  Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside
  I do like to be beside the sea!
  I do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom!
  Where the brass bands play:
‘Tiddely-om-pom-pom!’

Cheers to the summer by the seaside, wherever it may be.

Thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Paris.