Monday, May 4, 2020

Paris and Cathy Ace

Continuing with responses from friends who love Paris as much as I do.

When I asked Cathy Ace what she missed most, or what she might want to do when first returning to Paris, she said - 

"I love Paris in the springtime…

Okay – I’ll admit it, I love Paris at any time of the year, and have been fortunate enough to have visited it in every month of the year except February, I believe.

The first time I saw Paris it was 3am. April. 1979. The rain had just stopped. The light from the moon and the streetlamps bounced off the wet cobbles. I remember it in black and white. Air heavy with petrichor. It was magical.

I’d caught a bus in Cardiff during the Easter break of my first year at university and was due to get off in Milan. When we reached Paris, the driver had taken a few backstreets then parked on a wide boulevard so we could refresh ourselves at a café. I initially suspected the young couple snuggled into the corner drinking wine between passionate caresses had been hired to add another iconic layer to the experience. But, no, they were on their way home from some function which required a long red frock for her and a bow tie for him, now casually hanging, unknotted, around his neck. His dinner jacket was draped over her shoulders. Of course. The dream was shaken, but not broken, when I headed to the loo…which was unisex, with the sort of doors you usually see at the front entrance of a wild west saloon. They offered the bare minimum of privacy. Ah well…vive la différence!

My trip to Italy continued, (and was wonderful) but I knew I’d have to get back to Paris again, sometime. And I did. Many times. Ironically, I should have been in Paris on April 30th 2020, on my way to Wales to see my mum to celebrate my 60th birthday with her on May 2nd, but I’m at home, safe, in Canada instead. So…sigh. One day I’ll get back to Paris, I know.

It helped that I had a friend living there, close to the Eiffel Tower, and he generously hosted me. Often. Maybe more often than he’d expected when he first told me I could visit whenever I wanted. On one visit he also generously (foolishly?) took a lengthy walking and Metro tour of Paris with me so I could see as many examples of Le Corbusier’s architecture as possible, which I adore. And I dragged him around galleries, cemeteries, street markets, and restaurants almost, but not quite, ad nauseum. I sailed on the Bateaux Mouches by day, evening, and night – eating and drinking all the way. I hit the Sacré-Cœur, got squashed by the crowds, which I hated, and trailed along endless avenues where the shopping was sometimes Five Star, sometimes barely One Star. I marvelled at the ancient rose windows at Notre Dame, and Sainte-Chapelle. On one trip my then-boyfriend proposed to me beneath the centre of the Eiffel Tower – the view from the top of which is something I think everyone should see at least once, if they possibly can. (I said yes, but, no, we didn’t end up getting married.)

I should mention my favourite restaurant: Le Train Bleu at the Gare de Lyon. Odd that a restaurant in a railway station should be so sumptuous, but it was the place where folks ate before embarking on the journey south where they’d waft about on the Cote d’Azur for The Season, so it had to be posh, I suppose. If you’ve never seen the movie “Travels With My Aunt” starring Dame Maggie Smith, do yourself a favour and watch it…the restaurant is featured, and it hasn’t changed a bit since they filmed there. (See photo and here: ). Please note that I have put in an extraordinary amount of research to come to this conclusion, and it recognises not just the food and general ambience, but the significant décor of the place!

When the Eurotunnel opened it meant I could take an early morning train from Waterloo, London and be in Paris in time for lunch, then an afternoon of – whatever – followed by dinner and a late train home the same night. I recall my initial horror at, then growing admiration for, Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre, and I happened to be in Paris the day President Mitterand opened the newly-renovated sculpture display there in either 1993 or 1994 – can’t recall, sorry. I was in a queue with no ticket to the invitation-only event, so I just looked haughty, and they let me in! A bit of a lapse in security on their part, especially considering Mitterand’s presence, but I was ever so pleased because I got to see the new exhibit…and it was a chilly day – I’d spent as much time as I could at the Opera and still had to wait for my chum to finish work!

I know the question is “What do I miss most about Paris” and I have to say it’s a really difficult question to answer. I haven’t visited since 2012, when I had a brief but wonderful day there; I manage to get a “Parisienne-ish fix” by staying Paris, Las Vegas whenever I can, and always eating at Mon Ami Gabi there. But what I miss most about the real Paris is…slipping over for lunch and a bit of Christmas shopping at Galleries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann with my sister. It’s a glorious place. Utterly over the top, in every possible way. We enjoyed that. We adored that. I miss that. Most. But I was lucky enough to do it, and it’s true what they say…Paris always lingers in the memory, and the heart. Thank you, Paris x"

Cathy Ace was born and raised in Swansea, Wales, but has now migrated to Canada. Having traveled the world for many years, for both business and pleasure, Cathy put her knowledge of the cultures, history, art, and food she encountered to good use in The Cait Morgan Mysteries – a series of traditional closed-circle murder mysteries featuring a globetrotting Welsh-Canadian professor of criminal psychology. Ace’s other series is The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries, which features four female professional investigators (one is Welsh, one Irish, one Scottish, one English). They tackle quirky – and quintessentially British – cases from their base in a converted barn at a Welsh stately home, set in the rolling countryside of the Wye Valley. Her standalone tale of psychological suspense, The Wrong Boy, has become a #1 bestseller on amazon. Cathy now lives on five rural acres in British Columbia, where her ever-supportive husband ensures she’s able to work full-time as an author, and enjoy her other great passion – gardening. She’s been shortlisted for the Bony Blithe Award three times in four years, winning in 2015; she’s also been shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story.


Cathy Ace said...

Thanks ever so much for inviting me to think about my time in Paris - it came at a particularly bitter-sweet moment, when I should have been there, but am safe at home instead. May everyone reading this also be safe, and have the ability to remain that way, so visiting Paris can be in all our futures!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Thanks so much, Cathy. I loved reading this and yes - let's all try our best to stay healthy and meet up in Paris one of these days!