November Reflections: Painting (and Patisseries) in Paris, Introduction to a Five-Part Series

Reflection in a room in Paris

One morning in October 2016, when Clive and I were lying in bed in Paris, he looked up and said, ‘That’s not good.’

I followed his gaze to the ceiling. Brown stains, watermarks and spreading cracks revealed that most dreaded of old-building problems: a leak. The photo below was taken a couple of months later, after it stopped spreading.

Just what you do NOT want to see on your ceiling

Though I don’t recall the exact date we first noticed the leak, I do remember the rush of emotion and that mysterious, time-bending thing that happens when, in only a split-second of real time, an entire sequence of images plays out in your mind.

In that instant, I foresaw weeks and months of practical challenges: unfamiliar processes, new French vocabulary, insurance, estimates, forms, experts, contractors, workers and, depending on where the leak originated, my neighbours. I dreaded what I knew would involve significant cost and disruption.

At the same time, I acknowledged to myself that one of many reasons I’d always wanted to have my own place in Paris was to go deeper, to make a commitment to the city and my relationship with it. I wanted to learn and experience Paris beyond the tourist surface (wonderful as it is) and beyond renting or staying in other people’s places (which I also loved doing). Whether positive or negative, I wanted a deeper immersion into all aspects of the culture.

Beneath the practical challenges, many thoughts and feelings flooded my mind and heart about my late husband, Gary. Nearly twenty years ago, he painted the room with his customary care and precision.

My late husband, Gary, painting in Paris

How it hurt to see Gary’s beautiful work stained by the unsightly dégâts d’eau, or water damage. When I bought the apartment, the rooms were uniformly beige, filthy and coated with layers of grease and grime. We saw the apartment’s bones and character and transformed it (more about this in my memoir-in-progress, which thankfully is *not* a ‘renovation disaster’ story). With only occasional assistance from me and our son, Gary did every bit of painting himself.

Of course I had to deal with the leak. I knew as much as it would pain me to have someone else ‘paint over’ Gary’s work, he would be the first, along with Clive, to encourage me, especially after nearly 20 years, to face the problem and do what was required to get it taken care of. Gary never let anything slide. Like Clive, he’d say it needs to be done, and done properly. Properly: a revealing, favourite word of both my highly-experienced, DIY-expert husbands.

The past 13 months have been a long journey, and a learning one — mostly in French, of course. During what I hope were the final days (there was a late problème which still worries me, but more of that later), our routine took on a pattern of overseeing work at the apartment, then doing errands in the late afternoon. For some reason, those afternoons seemed to take us past and/or into a lot of pâtisseries.

Liébaux chocolats et macarons, Paris

If I were to share all the details of each phase, the characters involved, the steps and the mis-steps, I suppose these recent adventures could form a separate memoir on their own. But I already have a Paris memoir I’m determined to finish.

Instead, I offer here a condensed five-part series. The quality of the photos is not always great; I took them only for myself and my son. It now seems appropriate to share a few as part of this petite histoire, or little story, about painting (and pâtisseries) in Paris.

Clive finding a problem with the bed

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next to come: Part 1, The Journey Begins.

6 Responses

  1. Oh lordy, I hate to imagine the pain, the agony of finding the leak, tracing it to its origin, and mending the problem..we’ve been through that a few times with the Ho-Ho-Kus house and it’s not a pretty journey. Can’t wait for your next installment!


    • Martha, you totally get it! Thanks for the smile re ‘Oh lordy’ — couldn’t be more accurate 🙂 It really is not ever! a pretty journey.

  2. A very nostalgic picture of Gary painting. How lucky you have been to end up with two men who can easily do such things as paint and repair beds (and redo bathrooms). This was such an interesting post! Of course we need to know about the next installment!

    • Mary, thanks so much. I agree about the photo and yes, I’m so blessed with my two loves who *both* do DIY jobs properly!

  3. Carolyn, What a beautiful thing, making memories in your favorite place with the Loves of your life. 😘

    Sent from my iPad


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