These Days: Life and Death in Paris

Beauty, splendour, opulence, grief, obsession, and loneliness were the themes that rang through the glorious Musee Nissim de Camondo in Paris (8th arrondisement). It was originally the home of the wealthy Camondo family, but the house was redesigned and constructed in the late 19th century by Moise Camondo to assemble his eighteenth century collection of French paintings, furniture, carpets, tapestries, porcelain in the most perfect setting. Do take a look at the photos on the website and if you get to Paris, do go and see it. Camondo left his house to the French State on condition that nothing was ever touched, moved or lent, so it’s set up exactly as it was lived in. I have never seen so many exquisite artefacts in one place. I discovered its existence after reading Edmund de Waal’s ‘Letters to Camondo’ which is a wonderful book and tells a very sad but true story. A highly recommended read too.

the sitting room Musee Camondo

I had a wonderful time in Paris! I love the city’s boulevards and avenues, the bustle of the rues, the Seine, the parks, the ‘places’, the boulangeries, epiceries and patisseries, and the metro, not to mention the wine and food! Of course, the company was great too. I was travelling with Lesley Courcouf who had come to spend a few lovely days with us in Wimereux and on Thursday night after we TGV’d up to Paris, we met up with good friends of hers, Peter and Alison Kahn to celebrate Peter’s 75th birthday. I vaguely knew Peter 40 years ago (he was a councillor while I was worked at the Association of London Authorities back in the early 80s) but I had not heard of him since. However, as soon as I met them both, I felt a wonderful sense of ease and familiarity. I fitted in as neat as a puzzle piece into the conversation which ranged around politics, family, the state of the world etc. It was the day the queen (sadly) died. We raised a glass to the future of republicanism (not American, I hasten to add), and proceeded to eat scallops, tuna, swordfish and turbot in celebration of life. Delicious. Unfortunately, Lesley and I got a tad lost on a wildly busy Rue St Denis at midnight trying to get home, but eventually an Uber came to our rescue.

Peter investigating the Turbot

Talking of Queenie dying…she could do worse than to be buried in the Pere Lachaise cemetery, an oddly glorious and extremely moving place. Wandering around the Pas de Calais and Paris, I’m struck by how much the French honour the dead of both of the world wars. In Pere Lachaise there is an avenue which marks all nineteen (I think) concentration camps built by the Nazis with amazing sculptures and monuments to memorialise the people who died in them. The wall of the cemetery lists the names of those who fought and died in the first world war, year by year. It is at least a kilometre long. I photographed the name Petitjean who were killed in action as that was the name of my French grandmother from Paris.

But life goes on, and the next morning, over coffee and croissant, we watched a wedding spill out of the Mairie where we were staying in the 18th arrondisment. A glamorous French bride, surrounded by excited children, and stylishly dressed grandparents, brothers, sisters and friends poured in and around the café in the weak sunshine. They illustrated  perfectly the buzz and excitement of a Saturday morning in a ‘place’ de Paris and would have been a perfect subject for Monet, Manet, Renoir, Pissaro, Seurat, Van Gough whom we went to see next at the Musee D’Orsay. Those paintings make my tummy twirl and I’m determined to try the post impressionist style with the oils I brought with me. Maybe there will be a pixilated painting of the view as I sit here (back in Wimereux) in the next rendition of this blog! You may hope not!

After Lesley flew off to Corsica on Sunday morning, I wandered around Montmartre in glorious sunshine, and had tartine and coffee. I thought about getting another Montmarte artist’s impression of me. I had one done ten years ago with Roisin, my daughter, which, rather delightfully, made me look younger than her! But, on reflection, I thought I didn’t want to see the comparison between now and then!

I wandered slowly down to the Gare de Nord, buying chilis and ginger en route as the local Intermarche in Wimereux never seems to have heard of fresh chilis and ginger. The station has been tarted up. I remembered it as a rather seedy, rundown area. I guess the arrival of the Eurostar prompted renovations. It’s light, airy and totally unthreatening now and it doesn’t have all the tacky commerce and glitz of the St Pancras, thank God. So, I clambered into the top floor of the TGV, and watched the French fields waltz by in the sunshine. Back to Jerry and Poppins…the latter who had been chasing rabbits and would you believe, is covered in burrs, again! She won’t let me touch her this time, and sadly is rather poorly. I think we have to find a vet. I hope my french is up to it!

Entrance to the Port by Seurat; inspiration for my next painting. These are the colours of the Kate Ennals flag

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