I seem to have skipped over the part where I explained that I took the Eurostar from London to Paris, so let me step back and do that now. On Tuesday I hopped on a train and got off in a completely different country just over two hours later. I love Europe.
The night before I left London, my dad called me from Canada to sort out some mail that arrived while I’ve been away. We ended up reminiscing about a trip we took to Paris when I was eight. My dad wanted to show my brother and I the wonders of the Old World, which is an admirable sentiment, but he got very upset when we were most excited about the moving walkways in the airport. May I repeat, I was eight years old and my brother was six.
During this conversation, though, he managed not to yell at me about that (again), and I started listing some of the things I remembered about the trip. We rented an apartment near the Pompidou centre. We saw Napoleon’s tomb. We broke the washing machine in the apartment and flooded the bathtub. We visited the palace of Versailles. My brother and I both got strep throat.
I think because of that conversation with my father, I’ve been trying to recapture some of the experiences from when I was a child. I bought a bottle of Orangina, because my brother and I drank that the whole time we were here. It didn’t exist in Canada at the time. Neither did KinderEggs, which we also loved on that trip.
The Pompidou Centre is the Paris gallery of contemporary art. (When I was eight there was a giant boat that had knives unfolding (as in: they moved, folding and unfolding) from it like a swiss army knife as part of an installation on the ground floor. That is one of my clearest memories. This year, there is a wrecked car surrounded by caution tape.) Inside, they have an extensive collection, including Picasso, Chagall, and Kandinsky, among many, many others. The outside of the building is notable as well, with all its technical guts on display. All the heating ducts and plumbing pipes and gas lines are on the outside of the building, colour-coded for ease of identification.
Despite a long day of walking on Thursday (I did three separate walking tours of Paris during the day – more on that later) I insisted on schlepping across to the Pompidou centre before heading home just so I could walk around the outside of it. We stayed in that neighbourhood when I was eight and I feel like if I just closed my eyes for a second I might be able to retrace my steps and find our little apartment. (I asked my dad if he had a record of the address anywhere and he laughed at me.)
When I was eight, my dad wrote the address and phone number down on a piece of paper – in case we got lost or separated, I could tell a police officer where I belonged – and I zipped it into this little side pocket on my pink running shoes with the velcro straps. I distinctly remember I never took that paper out, even after we got home. Sadly, though, the shoes are long gone.
I didn’t find the apartment, although I think I figured out roughly what direction it was in. I’m not sure what I would have done if I had found it, but it felt important to try.
This next part I probably shouldn’t even admit out loud, but we’ve already established that I’m a geek. I had a huge fondness for the television show Highlander back in the day, and it was set in Paris for about half of every season. So there are a few places in Paris that are indelibly linked in my mind with that show. The Seine near Notre Dame where the barge was moored, the church of St-Julien-le-pauvre that was Darius’, and the bookstore Shakespeare and Company.
Shakespeare and Company is a tourist stop in its own right (and it is so crowded this week they have someone stationed at the door to control the flow of people). It is famously linked to Earnest Hemingway and James Joyce and the Lost Generation in Paris.
In addition to just being a wonderful English-language bookshop, it hosts talks and readings and events. There are a couple of different writers’ workshops based there. And I hear they also offer crash space in exchange for two hours’ work a day at the shop, although I have no idea how you would go about arranging that.
And it is just a stunningly beautiful shop in its own right – warren-like, crammed with books to the very ceiling, supported by ancient, pitted wooden beams, with a library upstairs full of chairs and cots for sitting on, and even a tiny writing cubby. (There is even a picture of the eponymous Shakespeare, framed and hung out in the air shaft (..?), visible through a window at the top of the stairs. The frame has a little ledge on the top edge to keep the rain off.)
But I will always love it because the Watchers owned it on Highlander. Hey, it’s the little things that make me happy when I’m so far from home.