“So, where are you headed man?”
“Oh, we’re off to Paris for a few days.”
Daniel’s laughs, “I’m off to the Caribbean with my wife and children, life’s a party man, sun, sea and……..sand and lots of drinking to be done!”
“Well, you can drink in Paris as well you know and we won’t be short on sun and yes ok we’ll have a river instead of a sea and a bit limited in the sand department but there will be drinking.”
“Not the same though is it man, you’ll be visiting museums and seeing art and stuff!”
I couldn’t disagree with him on that.
“Each to their own man!” I couldn't help but reply.
He leaves us with his best wishes and eventually we finish our Prosecco (2nd bottle) and take flight to Charles de Gaulle enjoying a glass of whites. I never get tired of the experience of taking off and being above the clouds. I raise my glass to Howard Hughes and privately thank him for the advances he made in flight experience and safety. We land safely and make the walk to Platform 24 to catch the train to Gare de Nord taking in the Stade de France the national stadium of France and Sacre Coeur in the distance on the hill appreciating that for me this is the true symbol of arrival. From Gare de Nord we jump on the metro to arrive at Blanche in Montmartre. It’s always a reassuring site to run up the steps and be met by The Moulin Rouge on the right but more of her later.
It's a short walk to our hotel of choice the Royal Fromentin at 11, Rue Fromentin. We sign in at about 6:00pm and admire the lobby, once a popular cabaret Le Don Juan which according to the hotel preserves the charm and spirit of the 1930s with its original wood panelling and theatrical decor. For me the lift which dates back to the 1930s is the star of the hotel. We may be on the second floor in Room 24 but the lift just has to be used even though it’s a squeeze even with 2 tired Englishmen making their way to their temporary home.
After unpacking and having rested a little we decide it’s time for tea at the famous Chat Noir bar and restaurant. Ahh, the Chat Noir now in its 3rd incarnation but such a history is attached to its name. The Chat Noir, where its original owner Rodolphe Salis served wit and intelligence as bread and salt are served on a common table. The Chat Noir had been moved by its owner Salis from its original home in the Boulevard de Rochechouart to the Rue Laval (now Victor Masse) but that was back in the 1890s (worth further study). This incarnation can be located at 68, Boulevard de Clichy and you are guaranteed a warm welcome with a fine choice of wines and great food. Tom and I selected the steak and fries and washed them down with a beer before making the decision to head up the hill to Sacre Coeur by foot.
Sacre Coeur was commissioned as atonement for the deaths of 58,000 people during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 and the bloody events of the Commune. Money was donated from across France and the first stone was laid in 1875. The Basilica having overcome many issues was finally completed in 1914. World War 1 intervened, and Parisians had to wait until 1919 before its consecration. It’s without question an impressive landmark and the gleaming white stone plays beautifully against a bright blue sky. This is usually the classic photo snap. I always like to see the sculpture of one of my heroines Joan of Arc who with St. Louis guard the entrance to the basilica. It’s a very spiritual place and I don’t think you need to possess a faith to acknowledge this. I sit on one of the pews taking in its magnificence while Tom takes a good look around. This is a pose I have struck many times as I like to sit and remain still to reflect on certain people and times. I see many budding tourist photographers taking their snaps but I have never felt compelled to join them. Instead, I’m happy to soak it up and store the memory deep within. I think you lose something living behind the camera lens and even though they are there snapping away they somehow don’t really see anything. That’s just me perhaps. I have to say the sitting was very welcome at this time as my feet were starting to feel a little sore after the uphill trek.
I moved to sit on the steps outside and noted the light had turned to dusk, Tom eventually located me and the decision was made to head back to the Chat Noir.
As was our habit when we visit the Chat we ordered a bottle of Chablis and settled back to listen to the pianist who was going through his repertoire of both French and English classics. He approached Tom and I and presented us with a sheet which he explained was his playlist. Hmmm, I selected one and he responds, “Hmmm, that is not my best please pick another.”
“Oh, ok, how about “Bridge over Troubled Water?”
“Hmmm, not good also please try again.”
I was starting to doubt that this was his playlist. We finally settled on The Long and Winding Road and Le Vie En Rose, I was confident he would know the latter. To be fair he was really good and created a relaxed atmosphere about the place.
Tom, who has a friend called Sarah who lives in a rented apartment in Pigalle decided to get in touch with her with a view to extending the night. It was getting close to midnight but thought it would be good to stay awake for as long as my body held out. Tom having made contact got her to meet us at the Chat and then he left to look for a supermarket so that he could purchase 2 further bottles of wine to take back to hers. Before she arrived Tom informed me that he hadn’t seen her in some years and that he thought she was a dancer if not now but certainly for a spell in the past. She joined up with us and I could see straight away that she could pass as a dancer having it seemed to me the right attributes.
We went back to her apartment which I enjoyed. How many times had I walked passed hundreds if not thousands of similar apartments without taking a peek inside? It surprised me just how large the interior was with its many rooms that were taken up by her room mates who were away this particular night. We settled down to our wine and chatted about her life in Paris having moved away from England some 10 years or so before. I was jealous of her life having made the decision I completely failed to make many years before.
The early start, flight, food, drink and walking finally caught up with Tom and I and we left Sarah and headed back to the hotel. I was happy to find my bed and couldn’t help but smile at the thought of being back in my beloved Paris and all she meant to me. I slept soundly.
To Come on Day 2 – Picasso, Notre Dame, Shakespeare and Co, Pere Lachaise and The Moulin Rouge.