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’.




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:

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

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

Nine Goals for May

AA 4 blue 0

Part of the plan: Paris is always a good idea

  1. Spend time with my son and belle-fille in New Jersey.
  2. Spend time with my mom in NJ and help her celebrate her 92nd birthday.
  3. Find time to connect with friends in the U.S., if not on our short visit in May, then on our next trip in July.
  4. Resume work on my Paris memoir. Try to complete the next chapter but don’t overly stress as long as good progress is made. Write in Paris before going to New Jersey.
  5. Enjoy being out and about in Paris when we return there from New Jersey.
  6. Keep up with friends, activities and appointments in Felixstowe before we depart.
  7. Remind myself we knew the first 6-7 months of this year would involve a great deal of travel, mostly to see family. Try to be mindful of the need to pace ourselves along the way.
  8. Get over lingering jet lag and weariness I’m still feeling from a month Down Under.
  9. Be grateful we’re able to, as per our motto, ‘Travel while we can.’
Clive calls it our travel roundabout

Clive calls it our travel roundabout

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

Happy Birthday, Queen Elizabeth II

AA 2016 Queen bday

Today has been a day of celebration, gratitude and respect in the UK, and much of the world, for this amazing woman who is now 90 years old. She is the longest-serving monarch in British history.

Local celebrations included seaside picnics and lighting of several beacons throughout Suffolk.

Happy birthday and cheers to you, Your Majesty. Hope you’re having a wonderful dinner with your family and wishing you many happy and healthy times ahead.
AA 2016 Queen kids

Clive and I are gradually getting over our Aussie jet lag, reconnecting with Felixstowe friends and working our way through the coming-home checklist.

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

Why I’ve Run out of Energy: 15 Reasons

Five year-old at top of climbing wall

Five year-old at top of climbing wall

  1. Watching Clive’s grandchildren at the amazing climbing centre, including miss no-fear five year-old reaching the top of high walls over and over again.
  2. Watching Clive in his jet simulator session, a birthday gift from his daughter and son.
Clive at the controls

Clive at the controls

  1. Cheering the NSW Central Coast Mariners soccer team in their final game of the season.
  2. Going to church in the morning and bushwalking in Rumbalara Reserve in the afternoon, with views over Brisbane Water.
View from an Aussie bushwalk

View from an Aussie bushwalk

  1. Going to the library, where each child selects 10 books. At home, clever mum gives each one a separate shelf for his or her stash.
  2. Walking through the Japanese Garden and art centre.
  3. Going ten-pin bowling (to be exact, watching Clive and his grandchildren ten-pin bowling).
  4. Watching the boys swim in our hotel pool.
  5. Watching ‘Inside Out’ on DVD and ‘Zootopia’ at the theatre.
  6. Watching swimming lessons.
  7. Walking (adults) and scootering (kids) on the Gosford-to-Woy Woy pathway.
Scooting around

Scooting around

  1. Dinners with the family, including snags and chicken on the barbie, meat pies and home-made nachos.
  2. Dinner at the Star Buffet at Central Coast Leagues Club. So many choices, especially Asian treats, and all so good.
  3. Playing jewellery shop, colouring-in and having my hair twisted and ornamented by little hands.

7 AA hair

  1. Hanging out with three blessedly happy and healthy bundles of energy and their hard-working parents, for all of whom we are very thankful.
Clive & grandchildren at Japanese Garden

Clive & grandchildren at Japanese Garden

We still have four days to go before we head to Sydney airport. Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

My Sydney

Manly Beach and Shelly Beach, Sydney

Manly Beach and Shelly Beach, Sydney

Sydney, like all great cities, offers something different for everyone and infinite experiences and sensations to those who live or visit here.

Clive and I have spent the past few days in and around our former home on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. This is where we both lived for many years before meeting each other. Our first date was for coffee at Manly Beach. We left the oceanfront café and walked to Shelly Beach, one of my late husband Gary’s favourite places in the world.

This week we’ve been fortunate to take ferries past the Opera House, catch up over a long Harbourside lunch at Watson’s Bay with our wonderful next-door neighbours and walk around Georges Heights near my first Aussie home at Balmoral Beach. How priceless are friends with whom you can pick up right where you left off, no matter the time or distance since you last saw each other in person. Thanks Lesley and Ian, Julie and Phil.

with my friend Julie at Georges Heights, Mosman

with my friend Julie at Georges Heights, Mosman

So many people have told us they’d love to visit Australia. I wish I could wave a magic wand and instantly transport everyone here. The country’s natural and man-made beauty never fails to move me, nor do the friendliness of its people and the fair-mindedness of its culture.

If you’ve always wanted to visit the Lucky Country, it’s worth going the distance to experience this fascinating, peaceful and welcoming place. Sydney the Outback, the Great Barrier Reef … no worries, mate, the list is endless and you will find your own magic Down Under.

Sydney Harbour and Opera House

Sydney Harbour and Opera House

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from the NSW Central Coast.