Saturday, 27 October 2012

Flying my Empty Nest for a weekend in Paris!

Sitting back in my empty nest, not a twig out of place or a feather ruffled, so to speak,  I sip a warming cup of coffee and smile to myself, as I remember back to early December of the year 1999.  My nest, at that point in time, was only empty when both children were at university in Scotland, but the emptiness was a new concept to me, and I missed my brood!  Katie was spending her year abroad in Paris, and, as I shut the door for work on a cold and frosty December morning, I dreamt of sharing an espresso with her, in a little café in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

Placing the post on my boss's desk, I wait for his usual preoccupied acknowledgement, but this morning he looks up over the rim of his tortoiseshell reading glasses and enquires, "Your daughter is studying in Paris at the moment, Heather, am I right?" Rather taken aback and, quite pleasantly surprised that he had remembered, I reply, "Yes, indeed, Mr Williams." "It's just I heard on the radio, while driving in this morning that one of the budget airlines is offering return tickets to Paris for £7.50."  Thanking him for his kind observation on my behalf, I return to my desk and share the news with my colleague, Jane. Needing no further persuasion, I make up my mind to go for it and, to my surprise, Jane announces she has never seen Paris and would love to join me. A quick phone call to the airline and we find ourselves booked in and scheduled to depart two days later, all for less than £10!

Leaving the runway behind as we take off for Paris, I confess to Jane that flying is not my forte.  With a twinkle in her eye, she reaches for my hand and laughingly suggests I think of it as a roller coaster ride at the fair. For the first time I get just what she means and, throwing caution to the wind, like 'Thelma and Louise' we head off to join Katie for our French adventure.

In her little flat in the Opera district of Paris, I hug my daughter and looking around, take in this tiny but oh so Parisian space. In the living room, a long window looks out across the narrow street at a similar architecturally beautiful building opposite, mirroring the ornate wrought iron work adorning the façade of Katie's apartment. The floor is of ancient dark wood with a rich sheen from years of polishing. Over an ornate mantle piece hangs a shabby but chic mirror; the mottled spots of age only adding to its allure. Jane and I, quick to absorb the French ambience, 'fait le tour' and inspect the rest of the flat.  It doesn't take long.  The bedroom adjacent to the living room is about the same size, with two beds and similar French charm, although this time somewhat hidden under the clutter of student life! A tiny kitchen looks down onto a small courtyard below and finally, a minute shower room approached by two steps, completes the tour of this bijou Parisian pied-à-terre.

Over the next few days, Katie shows us the sights of Paris, as we take in the shops on the 'Boulevard Hausmann'.  Laughing under the sparkling lights of the 'Galleries la Fayette', we try on designer outfits one can only dream of buying. Later, queueing for hours next to the famous glass pyramid at the 'Louvre', we bathe in the splendour of the old masters, each of us trying unsuccessfully to mimic the famous enigmatic smile of the 'Mona Lisa'.  Later on, worn out by walking, we share an espresso at the café 'Les Deux Magots'. Sitting in the same seats once frequented by the most influential writers and philosophers of the 20th century, we discuss Sartre and the meaning of life, until it begins to get dark.

On our way back to the flat later that evening, Katie takes me by the hand and whispers, "Follow me, Mum!", as we disappear down an alleyway off the busy street, closely followed by a curious Jane.  Passing by the walls of a huge ornate building we finally turn the corner and step out onto a huge terrace.  The view in front of me is something I will never forget, for there, stretched out before us, is the whole of Paris lit up against the night sky. Right in the middle, the 'Eiffel Tower' rises up, announcing the year 2000 in bright iridescent lights. Standing to one side on my own, I look out over the city in wonderment, while welling up inside a feeling of elation fills me with hope for the new millennium, and love for 'la vie française'!

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