Painting (and Patisseries) in Paris, Part 5: Reflections on a Deeper Meaning

It was worthwhile

After the final seven days of repairs and painting, the work in the bedroom was complete. Thanks to Clive, the main furniture pieces were also repaired to near-new condition.

I’d always known that the more time passed, the closer the day would come when the painting would need to be redone. Monsieur P’s leaky tap unleashed months of new activities and experiences.

Despite the length of the posts in this 5-part series, I left out several sub-plots and issues we had to deal with to get everything done. None of the events of the past year are included in my Paris memoir-in-progress, though in a few chapters I plan to share more ‘before and after’ photos from when I first purchased my home away from home.

The repairs and painting

Perhaps our recent journey would have been faster if we’d been on site the entire time. Learning the process, being remote, relying on snail-mail letters from my neighbour and finding each step to be another ‘learn-as-you-go’ exercise all added to the total length of time.

The past 13 months have been a learning journey and one that yet again deepened my experience in Paris.

Going deeper. Paris, je t’aime

‘Why Paris?’ many have asked over the years.

One reason is that from my childhood days in suburban New Jersey, I developed a deep longing to know Paris and the French. I dreamed I might live there one day, and knew I wanted to get below the surface level, magnificent as it is, to more fully experience the city.

The pâtisseries

Another response, when I’m asked ‘Why Paris?’ is that I dreamed of stepping out the door into streets lined with cafes and boulangeries (bakeries) and fromageries (cheese shops) and fruiterers (fruit markets) and boucheries (butchers) and pâtisseries (pastry shops).

‘Where do they buy their baguettes?’ was my constant refrain 20 years ago when we searched all over the city for an apartment. I wanted to get to know ‘my’ local merchants and walk home carrying a warm baguette or a shiny white box tied with a string and containing a little bit of magic inside.

Paris patisserie

Here’s the funny thing about pâtisseries: as beautiful as the creations are, I don’t actually like eating many of them. Often I find them too sweet, or too fruity, or the patissier’s ‘creative’ use of unusual – sometimes, to my taste, downright strange — fruit and flavour combinations strikes me as over-the-top and simply doesn’t appeal. Caviar. Matcha. Popcorn. Cinnamon-blackberry. Truffle.

Then there are the colours: neon green, pink, yellow, red, turquoise (the last being an ‘Oreo’ macaron).Clive is especially dubious, saying he wonders what exactly was added to make such unnatural colours, and wondering whether he wants to eat it.

I go for pastries of traditional, pure flavours. There’s always a wealth to choose from in dark chocolate, vanilla, coffee, caramel and lemon. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but the ever-changing flavours-of-the-season (especially with respect to macarons) sometimes seem nothing more than an ego competition between pastry chefs trying to outdo each other with increasingly far-fetched combinations (cep-mushroom chocolates or wasabi-horseradish macarons, anyone?).

Pure chocolate artistry at a favourite destination, Paris

Quality of life

Nevertheless, I adore pâtisseries. They’re about so much more than the beauty of the creations (except the neon ones), the way they’re displayed and the fact you can eat them.

For me, the deeper meaning is that beneath the surface splendour and sensual appeal to the eye and the palate, pâtisseries are physical manifestations of a country and culture that values a certain way, and a certain quality, of life.

It’s a quality of life that, to be sure, venerates beauty and sensual pleasures. But it’s also a culture that values the time and care and artistry that go into making the creations (well, at least those that aren’t industrially-produced; some top brands manufacture their macarons in large factories, some not even in France).

The culture esteems not only the creations but equally those who create. Skills and qualifications are achieved; honours and titles bestowed to great public fanfare and respect, such as Meilleur Ouvrier de France (M.O.F. Best Craftsman of France) and M.O.F. pâtissier, often shortened simply to Meilleur Ouvrier. I admire and respect them, too, even if some of their flavours are too much for me.

Pâtisseries represent a way of life in which we take time to appreciate foods that nourish not only the body and our physical senses but also our hearts and souls.

Paris patisserie

The value of relationships

I’ve learned so much through this recent sinistre dégâts des eaux saga, about the French insurance process (and ‘friendly’ forms), managers and office workers, contractors and tradesmen, neighbours and friends. Thankfully each step progressed in due course, though not always quickly and with plenty of ups and downs.

The French are so much about courtesy and relationships, and this aspect of the culture was repeatedly demonstrated and never meant more to me than during the past 13 months. I’ll always have lasting gratitude for everyone who helped, above all my friend and neighbour Bernard. Nor could I have done it without Clive’s physical and emotional support, and I like to think my late husband, Gary, was cheering us on from above. Vlad’s early-morning ‘Bon Courage!’ helped, too.

Vlad, our favourite Paris waiter, and Clive

Layers of meaning

In the end, what some may deem a simple task of ‘repairing and repainting the bedroom’ was for me so much more.

Engaging in the process and being present as the room Gary painted was repaired and repainted by someone else proved to be a good and right thing to do.

Despite my ongoing desire and appreciation of when I can increase my experience in Paris, I never would have asked for Monsieur P’s kitchen tap to leak and cause the damage it did. But maybe every renovation or DIY project has the potential to uncover hidden depths. Whether a private bedroom or a global city like Paris itself, places contain layers of history and memory and meaning. As places change and grow, we do, too.

Writing helps me understand and reflect upon some of my life’s experiences. The past 13 months, for better or worse, have certainly helped me feel more Parisian, if only part-time. If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-memoir, or petite histoire (little story), of sinistre dégâts des eaux (sinister water damage), people and pâtisseries in Paris.

A happy place

Looking ahead for Christmas

Clive and I have been enjoying November in Felixstowe, the only month this year we’ve been here for a full calendar month. In addition to celebrating Clive’s birthday and our seventh wedding anniversary, we’ve been aiming to end the month with most of those seemingly-endless, pre-Christmas tasks completed. Thanks to Spreadsheet Man, we’re more or less on track.

Why all the end-of-November focus? Anticipation has been building for December, when we’ll return to the City of Light for an early Christmas with my son and belle-fille, then welcome Clive’s Aussie gang for a family Christmas in Felixstowe. As part of their traditional English Christmas, tickets for a panto have been booked.

Meanwhile, I’ve been dreaming of a clean, peaceful room quietly awaiting our return.

Standing under the repaired corner: reflections in a clean and peaceful room

Cheers and thanks for reading. Wishing everyone a joyful festive season.

12 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing the adventure with us…most enjoyable reading…when you talked about all the shops I remembered when Paka asked Lisa Louise what was the best part of Paris and she replied “When Uncle Petey got the croissants…” 🙂 … when we stayed there a few days I was proud of my ability to go out and get the croissants…

    • Merci Larry! I remember that story too — perfect! Going out for the croissants is definitely something to be proud of. Cheers and good on you 🙂

  2. Quite the saga! It was hardly what you anticipated when we saw you the summer before last. I can see clearly that all of this “adventure” took an emotional toll as well as loads of your time. Now that it’s done, and you have your holiday plans lined up, 2018 will need to be filled up with some less difficult situations! I may have to show up…………..

  3. Hi Carolyn, thank you for your most informative writings. Your writing of this journey certainly had me involved and most interested it what would be happening next. Very happy that all is now how it should be.Now to get ready for all the lovely Christmas happenings starting, have fun and enjoy it all. Love us. Xx

    • Merci beaucoup Heather! Appreciate your kind words and Christmas wishes. love and best wishes to you and Stephen for a joyful Christmas Down Under xx

  4. Quite enjoyed this whole adventure with all its characters, stops and starts, mixed in with a good taste of Parisien treasures. Have a Happy Christmas this year.


    • Merci, Martha — really appreciate your comment and sending you and John love and best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

  5. Lovely to read that all has ended well…..
    Enjoy your Christmas celebrations. xx

    • Merci Sue! Not sure our paths will cross in Paris next year (darn!) but hope you have a wonderful time if and when you go. Happy Christmas to you and Brian and a great New Year too xx

  6. I’ve noticed you have read some of my facebook posts and I wanted to say I appreciate it. I think writing is therapeutic, and many of your posts besides telling about neat places allow you to reflect on life.
    I’ve got to say, some of those pastries look very tasty! I’ve never really wanted to go to Paris, but your stories are such that I am changing my opinion.

    • Thank you, mickeyyogi though I can’t tell from your comment link who you are on FB? I appreciate your kind words – merci!

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