I type this under a threatening grey sky as drizzle that has attempted to form rain all day makes fairly pitiful in roads, bringing very little respite to the discomfort brought by the steam that hangs in the air. Yesterday was so hot that my legs stuck together in a cafe and I had to waddle home like a duck, and today the promise of a cool change has yet to deliver.
In more glamorous news, I’ve spent much of today in the laundromat drying sheets and laundry, and about an hour ago as I jammed more coins into the machine, I was approached by a man with two bolts in his nose, a cap on backwards and a sharp spike emerging from his lip. He asked for my assistance, and because I’m feeling so upbeat at the moment with my hair sticking to the back of my neck in an almost permanent state, I obliged. Only half an hour earlier I had been searching online for local conversation groups to join as a means of improving my spoken French, so his questions were met with an internal glee. I pointed at each section of the machine from softener to powder and everything in between, feeling quite chuffed with myself, before returning to my seat with pretty awful smelling fabric softener all over my hands.
The laundromat punk will never know that his very simple questions probably made my day.
Yesterday marked the end of two amazing weeks with my Dad. We spent day after day whizzing around in our hire car on the Somme and parts of Belgium (me on my debut and he as a seasoned visitor), as well as covering each and every corner of Paris on foot during the days when he first arrived and then in a final, very memorable last week.
We got in a routine of meeting daily for an early walk around the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg before breakfast followed by endless explorations around my new home city which I’m fairly sure, has stolen a little part of his heart. We’d leap on and off the metro after whirling around underground, before walking for miles averaging about 17 kilometres a day. Not a day went by where his enormous brain wasn’t boggling and madly making space for the next bit of information that was inevitably thrown his way. His approach to the French was in English and they nodded furiously as he spoke furiously, and I loved every second of the time we spent together, where I threw all the silly little burdons I’ve carried about improving my French in timeframes and at a rate that are probably not even humanly possible. Tiny jars of honey were transported in his top pocket to add to his daily café crème and a pen was always on hand to write down the names of people and places we’d seen.
On the Somme and in Belgium he showed me war grave upon war grave, each one with a story of its own and one that he’d diligently researched- I was as blown away as anyone would be and absolutely fascinated with the knowledge that he has of the seemingly hundreds of individuals he’s researched and who came to serve in the First World War. I watched proudly as he lay a wreath at the Menin Gate in Ypres (fondly known as Wipers by the boys who were based there 100 years ago), and found my eyes tearing up as the last post was played before the end of the evening service, a daily ritual that has taken place each day with the exception only being during the German occupation of Ypres in the Second World War, and upon their departure, the horns sounded once again on the very day that they left.
In Ypres we drank Wipers Ale and feasted on moules de frites and back in Paris we started a pre dinner routine of gin and tonics and a dozen of the juiciest oysters from Normandy, freshly shucked and absolutely delicious. Boiling hot days were broken with lunch of the coldest gaspacho and a freezing cold beer, and our dinner routine of Sancerre, plats du jour and non stop conversation was highly enjoyable and will always be fondly remembered.
We arrived back from Ypres last Wednesday after experiencing endless road closures on our way to Amiens, where we were due to catch the afternoon train to Paris. Expletives were muttered under our collective ‘breaths’ as we passed again and again under ‘that bridge’ which became tiresome after making an approach from seemingly ten different directions. I’m surprised the GPS was still intact when we returned the car after it had decided (with about half an hour to spare), that having a sleep during a traffic crisis would be a good idea. There was also the moment where Dad decided to help the leader of our bike tour around Versailles after ‘Grammar’ the grandma from middle America fell off her bike and sprained her wrist, unable to finish the ride. I watched in a perplexed state as he wheeled her bike (while riding his), before sailing precariously towards a hedge. To be continued… Last Thursday morning when we met for our morning walk, I found him sitting up in the reception of his hotel looking fresh and ready to go, hair parted, shoes clean, shorts ironed and wearing his very smart pyjama top. The laundry service had gone into meltdown with the following day being a big national holiday celebrating Bastille Day (leaving him with no clean shirts) and while I promised not to tell anyone and reassured him that he actually looked quite suave, I have sent the photo I took under the beautiful plane trees that line the paths of the Jardin du Luxubourg, to anyone who has shown an interest (available upon request).
And now I type this from Cafe de Paris which has always been a little neighbourhood favourite, reflecting on all of our conversations from our time together as well as the comfortable silences that are standard on long car journeys, filled with pensive thoughts designed to redesign ones life. As I type, I experience a new type of silence, even though a man plays his clarinet on the street corner, bikes whizz past- their riders sounding a shrill bell as pedestrians scatter towards street stalls. My favourite waiter from the cafe across the road has just arrived for his night shift, and my neighbour who has an endless collection of bright tartan suits just walked by with his very beautiful wife.
As sad as I am that the last two weeks are all but over, the things that are becoming familiar in my new life here excite me and I will forever treasure that incredibly special moment in time avec mon père.
Pictured: its back to coffee for one, taken today at Cafe de Paris where I wrote this post.