My first trip to Paris was at the age of 14, with my BF Janet Lindup aka my darling ‘Tart’. I return whenever I can, even if it’s just for 1 or 2 days in transit to another destination. My visit this year (2019) it will mark my 11th time in the City of Lights. I’m updating this post as Paris is much on my mind today as the world watched the Notre Dame Cathedral burning last night.
The original version of this story first appeared in Khuluma inflight mag in January 2018)
Parisian memories & sentiment
Paris is under my skin, deep in my psyche. We go back a long way and every time I visit I’m overwhelmed by memory and sentiment. As I walk down the Boulevard Des Capucines towards the magnificent Opéra Garnier my mind throws back to Little Me walking that same path 40 years ago, en route to watch the brightest stars of the Paris Opera Ballet Company perform at one of the greatest theatres in the world. Being back is like having 1978 on repeat and it’s magical, every time.
It all began with the ballet
One of my return trips was with Janet in 2016, celebrating 40 years of friendship. The occasion was to attend the premiere of a programme of neo classical dance by acclaimed choreographers like Peck, Pite and Forsythe. The theatre interior is nothing short of magnificent – tiers of balconies and rows of boxes, and the immense twinkling crystal chandelier that hovers above the audience, framed by the exquisite Marc Chagall painting in the domed ceiling. A lyrical hum drifted up from the orchestra pit as the musicians tuned their instruments, and with bated breath we stared at the stage, hearts racing in anticipation. Back then, we were waiting for the curtain to rise on Rudolf Nureyev in Balanchine’s Apollo. This time around it was to watch glorious new works by choreographers like Peck, Pite and Forsythe performed by a new generation of étoiles. As the conductor took to the podium, the hum in the audience was stilled. He pricked the air with his baton, and up rose the music and our thrill was exactly the same.
My history with France is wrapped up in two classical ballet tours with my incredible ballet teacher Mignon Furman. Aside from London, Tel Aviv and Amsterdam, our trip took us from Cannes, Nice, Monaco and Paris. For an aspirant ballerina bewitched by tutus, tiaras and pointe shoes, it was the ultimate and each time I’m there (I’ve been 11 times) I am transported, often just by the sheer sight of it.
The Opera Garnier
The Paris Opera in the 9th arrondissement is an outstanding symbol of French architectural opulence. It is hailed by many as one of the most exquisite theatres ever built, a showstopper inside and out. The Neo Baroque façade and ornamentation of the dazzling interior are attributed to teams of expert craftsmen and artisans that included fourteen painters and seventy-five sculptors watched over by architect Charles Garnier who built the Renaissance inspired structure in the Beaux Arts style of the Second Empire. He successfully created a lavish monument to the Performing Arts, dripping in drama and spectacle, and Napoleon was trés delighted.
The Opera Garnier atriums are made for mingling. The Grand Foyer, the most spectacular of those spaces, is a shimmering reception hall and the jewel of the theatre, as opulent as the Palais de Versailles, with gold finishes, fine detailing and elaborate Paul Baudry murals. Over the rims of our champagne flutes, we people-watched as we’d done once before, as the stylish crowd drifted gracefully up the double marble staircase, another masterpiece in design.
Chanel, coffee, chocolates and Bloody Mary’s to blow your hair back
Over the next few days there was much merriment – wine, champagne, the Louvre, Montmatre, and champagne with our friend John Maytham, who was joining us on a Le Boat sail through the Languedoc region. A Voice Map walk that took through Le Marais and in Coco Chanel’s footsteps to bookshops like Galignani, Angelina’s for hot chocolate and to Harry’s New York Bar for the best Bloody Mary’s known to man! Of course finding the best coffee was essential and we got ours at one of my regular haunts in Le Marais, Boot Cafe.
The Eiffel Tower
“I ought to be jealous of the tower. She is more famous than I am”. No matter how many times I’ve been and seen it, the Eiffel Tower makes my heart skip a beat, like so many other icons and landmarks in the city. I’ve walked up it as a teen and taken my son Oscar up as well, when he was 10.
Accommodation: Jules et Jim in Le Marais: http://www.hoteljulesetjim.com/en/