We started our day in a cafe with coffee and cake. Mum ordered a chocolate filled pastry-thing and a cappuccino. I had a double espresso. An unfortunate habit I’ve developed since travelling Europe, not because it’s a double espresso, but because I tend to have a total of three throughout the whole day.
We’d overslept and were heading to the Louvre much later than we’d hoped.
When we got there the queue was already snaking its way back and forth from the door to an undesirable length. Men brandishing selfie sticks tried to sell us unofficial tickets repeatedly as we hovered at the information board, deciding what to do.
It was another beautiful day and it was due to get warmer. If we queued for the Louvre then by the time we came out again we wouldn’t have time to do or see anything else. We decided to skip it.
We walked around the grounds instead, looking at the building itself. The architecture so detailed. Statues of men chiselled with such precision. And to think that it had all been done by hand.
There was an Asian couple with a child dressed in formal wear posing for photos for a girl with a professional looking camera.
Throughout my travels, I’d seen loads of Asian brides and grooms posing together in front of various beautiful buildings for photographers, but I’d always assumed they were models for a magazine or something.
This, however, was different.
The couple in formal wear was obviously an actual couple and the child their son.
I was reminded of the conversation I’d had with Volmer in Cesky Krumlov about the phenomena of social media making or breaking a job in Asia.
I looked at this couple, their family holiday with their little boy who couldn’t be older than one. I thought about the girl we’d seen the day before. What memories were they forming? Was this a holiday or a business trip for them? A necessary part of life perhaps. Travel. Take the perfect pictures. And leave again. The mother had two different pairs of shoes, one flat pair for walking in and the other, a pair of high heels that she put on for the photographs.
In theory, it looked like a great idea. If you can afford it that is. Go on holiday and hire someone else to take all of the photographs. Capture all of those perfect moments that you’re too busy enjoying to pull a camera out for.
But that’s not what was going on here. The photographer wasn’t capturing those natural smiles, the bursts of laughter, the uncontained glees. These were staged moments. The moments that their friends, family, and acquaintances would perceive them to have had once they got home and uploaded them.
Mum pointed the family out to me. We’d both been thinking the same thing. “What a great opportunity if you’re a budding photographer though.” She commented.
Everywhere around us people were taking photos of one another. So few people were looking at the beautiful building they were standing in front of. There were even plinths seemingly designed and positioned specifically for people to stand on so they could pose in the best places with the large glass pyramids erected above ground, looking down on the parts of the Louvre running beneath us.
We wandered away from the site towards the Pompidou Centre. I’d read online that the architecture in that area was well worth visiting.
On our way, we saw armed guards. Mum took some photos in stealth mode.
“Are you photographing the army again?” I teased.
“Yes, but I’ve just been spotted.”
She pointed her camera at a tree and then the archway to the left of us.
We had mussels.
They brought us out two large bowls each, two small dishes of french fries (which I later learnt, courtesy of Sion, actually originate from Belgium!) and a basket of bread. We ordered two glasses of chardonnay and a bottle of tap water.
“People don’t do this in Britain,” Mum remarked, “we don’t have this sitting-out-doors-culture that they have here in Paris with cafes and restaurants. It’s always menacing in the UK when people loiter outside of an establishment. They only ever do it if they’re smoking.”
I knew what she meant.
Every cafe in Paris we’d seen so far had outdoor seating. In most cases, I’d observed that more often than not the indoor seating would be completely empty, whereas the outdoor seating would nearly always be packed.
It wasn’t just that though. People took their time here in Paris.
“In Britain, you feel as though you have a time limit,”
“As if someone’s watching you, and waiting for you to finish your drink.”
We finished our food and ordered another glass of wine.
Midday drinking with lunch was something I could absolutely get used to.
The relaxed and leisurely attitude towards drinking I found in Italy and Paris is something that we don’t embrace as well in the UK. We are binge drinkers by nature. Social drinking is not really our forte.
Was it this same attitude which made seating outdoors in cafes so much nicer here? It certainly contributed, but I also think that perhaps it had a large part to do with how smoking has not be demonised here as it has in Britain.
Across Europe, I’d seen a total of four or five e-cigarettes in use. Everyone was still smoking rollies and straights as though they didn’t yet know that smoking causes cancer. I liked their disregard for it. It made me miss smoking.
(Note. I managed to get halfway around Europe without breaking my status as a non-smoker before I tried a cigarette in Budapest. It was absolutely revolting and made me feel ill. Suffice to say, I haven’t been tempted to the same degree since, but the romantic vision still remains.)
We stood at a map notifying visitors of the graves of those deemed noteworthy enough to be on a tourist information board.
I found the names of Beauvoir and Sartre and announced to mum that they were in section one.
I considered taking a photo of the map but decided we were unlikely to need it again, and that there would be others around if we desperately needed it.
We walked to the other side of the graveyard where section one resided and began to zigzag across it from opposite sides. After twenty minutes we’d covered the whole area and still not found them. We searched again. And again.
“I really need a wee, and they’re not here.”
“Let’s look one more time.” Mum was determined.
“Only if you let me have a wee in one of those little grave houses.”
“Firstly, they’re called mausoleums. And secondly, absolutely not. Don’t be ridiculous.”
Just to put my request into context, I’d needed a wee for well over an hour, and the notion of searching this plot of gravestones and mausoleums again for two graves that clearly weren’t here was akin to torture at this point.
Time was ticking and I could hear the guard at the front blowing his whistle to signal that everyone needed to leave.
I found Mum and we walked away feeling disappointed. “At least we can say we came here.” I tried to sound reassuring.
As we neared the exit I noticed a public toilet.
When I came out I found mum looking at a sign.
“What were you talking about?” She asked, a frown creasing her forehead.
“What do you mean?”
“They’re not in section one at all. It says here they’re in section twenty-two.”
Suddenly taking a photo of the map seemed like a really good idea and I desperately wished I’d done it.
“I swear it said number one. Maybe the map we looked at was wrong.”
“No. Maybe you’re just a pillock.”
I laughed. It was a nervous laugh.
“Ohh, I’m so sorry Mumma!”
We walked back, arms linked to the Metro. We planned on catching it to the Eiffel Tower and then back to Pigalle where we would get dinner in Montmartre and then head to our hotel.
Mum’s feet were hurting though and I was feeling tired. We were also both still full from our surprisingly large lunch.
Just next to the Metro station was a bar called Le Lithographe. We decided to sit down and have a drink before boarding the metro so we could reevaluate our plans for the evening.
We ordered drinks. Ordered more drinks.
My mumma and I have always been close.
She’s always been the one person that I can unreservedly tell anything to.
She knows everything – absolutely – about me.
We have no secrets.
Being this close to your mum also means you fight.
It’s a common cliche that we hurt the people we love the most, whether we mean to or not.
Love is fire.
Carol Ann Duffy wrote a poem where she describes the love between herself and her daughter. The tension of letting her baby girl grow up. Letting her go.
I remember the times when we fought through that.
My struggle for independence. To be a woman.
My mum, still my mum, still viewing me as her baby.
We are emerging out the other side now.
We are moving into the phase of our relationship where we are developing a friendship of equal parts.
I am still her baby.
But I am also no longer a child.
It is moving from parent-child to mother-daughter.
We shared stories that night. Told secrets. We drank wine. We indulged and we laughed.
When we got back to Montmartre we bought smoked salmon, cold cured meats, cheese, bread, olives, artichoke hearts, champagne, and Pringles from the local supermarket.
We sat on the small balcony of our room in our hotel dressing gowns and slippers, drinking and eating in the cool night air.
We didn’t make it to the Eiffel Tower that night. But we did have a glorious view from our bedroom.
It twinkled and glowed. The moon a cup of light. A final show for us on our last night.