I’m lucky to have visited Paris three times, and each time has revealed a new layer of beauty, culture and inspiration.
A week on from the attacks in Paris, I wanted to revisit my favourite Parisian places and the memories of it that I cherish: to (and for) Paris with love.
Wandering around Paris, even in the finger-numbing biting cold of February in the snow, is an inspiration. For me and so many people, Paris is the perfect place to visit at any time:
For romance, for writing, reading, life, living, being in love, thinking about love, dreaming of love, experiencing everything in exaggerated technicolour (tricolore). The sting of cold cheeks and the emotion of the city, absorbing it all: faces, places, spaces, the dark streets laced with wet streaks of rain and snow, freezing, freezing into the ground and preserving memories in footsteps and in photographs. The Seine and the lights of the Eiffel Tower and a wander through the Jardin des Tuileries.
I remember wandering around and every few steps I had to stop and take another photograph to capture the moment; so elusive yet vivid, and filtered through my own romantic perceptions.
On my third visit in 2013 I wanted to experience my own version of ‘literary Paris’, following in the footsteps of greats such as Hemingway, Joyce, Scott, Camus and Oscar Wilde.
On my 32nd birthday I had lunch in Les Deux Magots. While I was there I thought of Hemingway and wondered whether he would still pop in to write if he was alive today?
I hadn’t thought to look up the address of the Shakespeare & Company bookshop until the morning I was leaving Paris, but it turned out to be just round the corner from my hotel. I think I could have seen it from one of the windows in my room if I looked hard enough. I should have looked.
Instead, I had maybe half an hour to browse the literary gems in what I consider now as my favourite bookshop.
I knew that one of my friends had hidden a little note in one of the books at the back of the shop, but I didn’t look for it; it wasn’t for me to find after all. Instead I snapped a few pictures of the poetry section using my phone, knowing it was forbidden but unable to resist (I bought the book about the bookshop, so that helped to salve my conscience).
Upstairs I adored the teeny writing cupboard complete with typewriter, and the children’s books and the reading areas and the old creaky floorboards where the famed writers of yore walked before me. Windows opened out onto a literary reading nook, complete with plastic dinosaurs and all sorts of funny objects adding to the aura of magic.
I had brought George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London to read while I was in Paris, but in Shakespeare & Co I wanted to read everything.
I bought postcards and left change in the ‘well’ for starving writers. Everything about the place was wondrous.
And then there was Gertrude Stein – ‘A rose, is a rose, is a rose.’
And the plaque commemorating her and Alice B Toklas above the entrance-way to number 27, rue de Fleurus:
Not far away, in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, I searched for Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre.
The graveyard was serene and beautiful, unlike Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, which I had visited previously to see the graves of Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison, (and to satisfy myself that I had been to all the places referenced in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind).
It was a place I would have liked to spend a bit more time.
And then there were the after-dark shots.
The streets were slick with rain which caught the lens of my camera resulting in this, my favourite Paris photograph:
I think it is one of my favourites because it reminds me of the glamour of this City of Light, even in the rain. And the unexpected moments of wonder that happen when you aren’t really looking for them.
A distorted blur of Notre Dame, the magic caught in that second that I pressed the button and moved, because I couldn’t stay still – spinning, spinning – with happiness and shivering from the cold and the champagne and being right there; midnight in Paris.
Paris will always be a multicultural montage; a cosmopolitan city, fizzy with adventure.
I look forward to returning for a fourth visit (and a fifth, and a sixth…) and delving further into this wonderful city that will not be cowed into submission, into fear, into anything other than showcasing its magic, wonder and strength in the shining bright white of the Champs-Élysées and the proud tricolore of the French flag, echoed around the world.