The email came today, the news I had been dreading. Our friend D. is letting his apartment in Paris go. The one on the Île Saint-Louis. The one on the top floor of the 17th century building with the vast interior courtyard and dramatic marble staircase and plaster rosettes on the ceiling and views of the Seine. The one he doesn’t even live in, so husband and I could visit whenever we wanted.
I wrote back to ask why, trying not to act too upset. Apparently he is buying land in Australia to build a house. Australia for God sake. I wanted to reach out through Yahoo! mail and shake him. What’s Australia got that Paris doesn’t?
There’s time for one last visit. A final chance to catch the faint whiff of vinegar when you first open the wedgewood blue door, followed by the uber detergent smell of ultra hygiené French dish washing soap; to walk on the creaky parquet floorboards past the gloss royal blue dining room wall hung with the mounted jackelope; to hear the sound the hot water heater makes as it chugs into action when you turn on the shower in the bathroom with the broken skylight and the mirrored wall; to lay in bed and watch the ceiling rosette turn pink with the lights from the tourist boats gliding by on the Seine below; to unwrap a paper package of fresh croissants on the coffee table with the tall windows thrown open.
It will be April in Paris for our last visit, perfect weather for the simple luxury of an evening out in the Marais where visit after visit we repeat the same routine. First to Au Fer au Cheval where we will hope they will offer with our drinks a plate of tortilla or little pieces of bread with ham or cheese or gherkins, not the peanuts! Then across the street to La Belle Hortense where the middle-aged and vaguely Goth barmaid (forever in my mind wearing an electric blue dress and black boots) pours wine and makes coffee and smokes. Then back across the street to Les Philosophes for a dinner of tomato tatin and carnard confit in miele with Cote du Rhone blanc.
The first time we went to Paris after moving to London, D. suggested we make ourselves a copy of the key at the BHV, that marvel of a Parisian department store. I’ve carried that key around with me ever since, a symbol of our new European life. The truth is that since we got our Cotswold cottage, we’ve been neglecting Paris. Its existence will soften the blow of our lost Paris hideaway. Still, I think I’ll keep the key.