Welcome to Paris, where we find ourselves just outside the Gard du Nord, the imposing railway station in the north of the city, for another stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels. You may remember that we previously visited the ‘city of lovers’ almost a year ago, when we caught up with Laura and Greg from The Silver Locket in the Père Lachaise cemetery.
As I explained then, Paris was as special to Laura, as it is to me, and I drew heavily on my own experiences of visiting that wonderful city when I was writing the book. Paris was the first overseas location to which I travelled with my husband, back in 1985, when we were very, very young. We visited the city during the Easter Weekend, travelling by ferry and train, and stayed in the two hotels mentioned in the excerpt below – for the very same reason.
Laura was just opening a tin of soup for her lunch when the phone rang. It was Greg.
“Hi, Law, what are you doing next weekend?”
“I’ve nothing planned, Greg. Why?”
“Come to Paris with me. I’ll send you the plane ticket.”
“What, Paris, for the weekend?” Laura had to admit she was excited at the prospect. This was more like the old Greg. “That’s a bit extravagant, isn’t it?”
“The thing is, I’m down to go to a conference there the following week, but I thought if I arrived early, you could come over and we could make a special weekend of it. I know you love Paris, we could stay in that same hotel by Gare du Nord.”
“That would be fabulous, really, Greg.”
“Okay then, it’s settled, I’ll sort out the tickets now. You should get them mid-week. Just make sure you get yourself to the airport in good time.”
“Yes, Greg, of course, listen I…”
“Sorry, Law, gotta go, duty calls.” He rang off abruptly.
Laura looked at the receiver. Well, that was a surprise, a very nice one too. Laura did love Paris, and it was special to her and Greg too. Their first trip away together had been to Paris. They’d gone for a week. They’d spent the first two nights in the Hotel Apollo, opposite the station, but couldn’t afford to stay there longer, so had moved to a cheaper hotel round the corner. She couldn’t remember its name, but she did remember the very squeaky bed. Laura shook her head in embarrassment, her face feeling flushed even now. Everyone had stared at them smirking at breakfast, or at least that what she’d thought at the time.
Ahem. On with the tour…
The glass pyramid outside the famous Louvre Museum hadn’t been built when we first visited Paris, although it was finished by the time that Laura and Greg went there in 1989, several years before Dan Brown made it really famous in the Da Vinci Code.
I’ve always enjoyed visiting museums and galleries, but one of my biggest disappointments in the Louvre was the size of the painting of the Mona Lisa, which we, like Laura, found was surrounded by a tightly-packed crowd of tourists. As I remember, Leonardo’s La Giaconda was encased in a thick glass cabinet, making it even more difficult to see. Still, there were many, many other wonderful exhibits to appreciate, as well as the gift shop!
Laura showered and dressed. There were still several hours before she was due to meet Greg, but she was quite keen to have another look around the Louvre, particularly since Greg’s attention span for such places was considerably shorter than her own. She remembered she needed to get a present for Helen; there was sure to be something suitable in the museum shop and if she still had time to spare she could always wander around the nearby gardens.
Laura drifted around the museum. Normally in a place of this size she would be systematic and plan a route around the things she really wanted to see, but today she was too preoccupied with her feelings about Greg and whether she really did want to go with him on this new posting. He’d not really convinced her about the job she’d be doing, although it had to be better than the one she had in Brussels. No one seemed to miss her from it anyway. There had certainly been no problem extending her leave of absence. The decision was really about her relationship with Greg. Yesterday, up on Montmartre, she’d convinced herself that she they had a promising future together, but now he’d gone off to this urgent meeting, and she’d had time to reflect on her own, she wasn’t so sure.
She found herself behind a group of Japanese tourists. Laura smiled to herself. They would be jostling for position to view the Mona Lisa. Laura mingled with the crowd, moving gently through them to the thick glass cabinet which contained the famous portrait.
And so to ever-so-romantic Montmartre, with its galleries, artists and cafés, and probably the most expensive gin and tonic in the world.
In June 1993, budget airline, Easyjet started flying from Liverpool to Paris, and with Liverpool’s John Lennon airport just down the road from where we lived, we decided to treat ourselves to a weekend in Paris. On this particular trip, we decided to enjoy an afternoon drink after visiting the wonderful Salvador Dalí Museum and Gallery. We naïvely selected a pavement café on the edge of the main square above, ordered two G&Ts and discovered the cost was €12 (about $13.50) – pretty pricey now, extortionate then!
We made our drinks last, and it was suppertime before we moved on. I can’t remember where we ate, nor specifically where we finished our evening, but it was in a small, softly-lit bar where a pianist serenaded us, the only customers. He played several songs we recognised, including one of those ‘our tunes’. Some of you might recognise the Tom Robinson version, ‘Yuppie Scum’, but listening to the tune being played on the piano in that Parisian bar that night makes this clip seem far more appropriate for me to share with you.
That concludes our little tour for today, but even though I may never return, my memories of that wonderful city will continue to be a source of inspiration to me, for like Bergman and Bogart, We’ll Always Have Paris.