Memories of Paris

The city of culture and lights was my spiritual home for 30 years. Paris was my lover and my mentor. A city of books and literature, conversation and observation, art and culture, fashion and style. An international gastronomic city where it is impossible not to be aware of food and wine and indulge.

The city where I met foodies, food writers, poets, photographers and myself. Moi-meme. Jilliana. A city that gave me an identity and a profession that would last 30 years. A city where  collectors and dealers gathered every weekend at the antique fairs and flea markets in our crazy non-reality world of antique collectables. My favourite was the antique paper fair at La Bastille and later Porte de Champerret. I was an Ephemerist, a dealer in juvenilia, prints and books as well as conjuring and its allied arts, pre-cinema, games and puzzles, consumer advertising and packaging.

Paris nourished my Mickey Mouse world. I loved my world and the characters in it. The real world of war and peace was outside my safe global bubble and I was oblivious to the news unless it influenced my tax returns!

I changed my style of dress. Away with long maxi skirts, de rigeur throughout the 70s. Trousers enticed me in the 80s and still do today in one form or another beginning with the Harem style from Morocco. Back in the 80s it was especially the Sonia Rykell label that seduced and influenced me. Black and gold velour tunics and matching trousers with the inside seams outside. Always black with another colour combo, black with red, black with silver and of course statement fantasy jewellery. I was frenchified. I was Parisian. I was very Left Bank! I was chic with my silver fox fur coat made by my furrier Polish Mr Kummelrich on Boulevard Saint Germain with my name embroidered inside and a matching Zivago fur hat. I had my own style always wearing a wool red beret for the weekend flea markets, my trademark. I was even called by the dealers of Marche Montreuil, ‘chaperon rouge’ or ‘Little Red Riding Hood!’ They told me that despite being English, I was forgiven for my ancestors killing Joan of Arc!

Unfortunately I put on weight eating, not only creamy Normandy dishes which I loved and steak with frites washed down with red wine, but also Japanese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian and Korean food. My palette became more discerning. More Parisian. Ooh La La I became a Foodie and it showed around my waist! Slender Jilliana was no more.

I remember meeting a sophisticated blonde American woman in La Coupole in Montparnasse who invited me to her flat in the 14em for lunch. I recall the day well as a bomb had gone off in the cheap department store Tati in the 18em and there was a suspected bomb alert in the post office right next door to the woman’s flat. The police had cordoned off the road and I took refuge in a jewellery shop. I really wanted to spend time with this New Yorker who seemed so knowledgeable and sophisticated. Lunch was simple. A mixed leaf salad with the perfect vinaigrette accompanied with a crisp fresh baguette from Poilane with Brie de Meaux and a bottle of chambre Beaujolais.

 ‘Servez-vous!’ Said she pointing to the creamy ripened Brie.

That was the end of our friendship!  I took the cheese knife and cut diagonally through the pointed end of the portion on her olive wood cheese board. She exclaimed with disgust at my ignorance.

‘Jamais on fait ca! Mon Dieu! One slices down the side, a sliver otherwise you would be left with la crotte!’

I left. Wiser. Never to return!

I became an Alpha woman in business, travelling between London and Paris before our two countries had thought of the tunnel. Eventually it was the collectables triangle including New York, the ultimate city of my materialistic dreams. Yes, in those days I thought of business 24/7. Money and profit. Profit and money! Acquiring more than I needed. I was in a relationship with objects and visual images, not people! I was not a writer or a creative Being in those materialistic days I am now ashamed to confess. I did not understand,as I do today, that less is more!

The enticing smell of roasted chestnuts on the Boul’Mich in autumn, wafting aromas emanating from bakeries early morning, warm flakey crispy butter croissants as only the French can bake. Oh how I miss my morning fix with filter coffee but without the dunking! Jamais! I am English. Well not entirely......

The romantic stroll chez les bouquinists along the banks of the Seine searching for that hidden first edition within the exciting literary chaos of the new and the old. Looking in wonderment at the glory of Notre Dame and the nearby Shakespeare and Company bookshop founded by George Whitman in 1951 and renamed in 1964 forever an institution.

The Left Bank with its smell of coffee, the clatter of cups and the familiar hiss of the machines in Montparnasse at The Select, Dome or La Coupole.  Or another corner of coffee culture in St Germain at Les Deux Magots or Cafe de Flor next door.

I would hang out at my local Le Select where I met my lifelong friend Arlene. How I miss her, my American Outsider artist and poet friend, New Yorker Arlene Hiquily. Gone! Willy Maywald, the fashion photographer and his salons, where everyone creative would go on Saturday nights.  Where I learned how to introduce myself with confidence to a complete stranger, where I learned the art of more meaningful conversation and observance of people walking their talk. Gone!

Yes, I became a cultural snob, a culture vulture thirsting for knowledge and education. I became an international collectables dealer and began my professional life in Paris when business was carefree and fun. Those days are gone forever but the memories linger. 

If I had to relive my life and chose a city, it would be Paris. A city that one can always return to.

Vive Paris!

Written in at the Casa Isabel hotel, Cartagena, Colombia on  26/1/18.
Updated for BHCR ‘Your voice matters’ on 17.8.18.