The first time we met, my now husband and I kind of struggled for things to talk about (clearly things have looked up on that front), until we happened, completely by accident to discover a mutual disdain for your very self. We both absolutely, unequivocally, disliked everything about you. The dog poo in your streets, the rudeness of your railway staff, the extortionate nature of your prices, the ineptitude of your hotel receptionists, the staleness of your baguettes, the closed stations of your Metro, the Euro of your Disney.
I know it’s not very nice to hear that someone doesn’t like you, but I think you’re probably big enough to handle it. Plus it seems every other madam, monsieur and their poodle loves you enough for you to feel pretty good about yourself without us making too much of a dent in your self esteem.
So it was with great dismay we found ourselves, in 2008 the parents of a kid who was so determined to the do and be the opposite of everything we expected that by the age of three she was a fully fledged, card carrying, tri-colour waving, Francophile. For the past four years our darling second born child has gone to bed dreaming of wearing a pink and black dress, walking a white poodle and climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower – up the outside! I’m not game to ask if she intends to wear the skirt and take the poodle up the tower with her……
Either way we’ve made it abundantly clear over the years she was going to have to keep that dream boiling for a looooooong time before it was likely to become reality. I do believe the phrase “if you want to see Paris you’ll have to take yourself there” might have escaped my lips on occasion or two.
Except in November last year we just happened to be driving right past your front door, on our way back from circumventing Western Europe. Even at your glamorous and serious best even you dear Paris would have to agree it would have been pretty mean spirited of us to deny the poor Francophile a quick glance at the Tower on our way past.
We decided to gather up our big girl pants, stash our mean spirits into a box for the week and took the plunge. Me, my monsieur, my trois enfants and the petite chateaux we’ve been calling home for the past few months trundled in to town on a dubiously grey Sunday afternoon. You may remember, we were the ones who tried to go the wrong way up a one way street onto the motorway, on the way to the really nice Indigo caravan park on the river.
Perhaps you’ll remember seeing my daughters face light up when I woke her up that night and took her out in the freezing night to show her that we could see the lights of the Tower through the trees of our campsite.
Maybe you’ll recall the pure joy in her eyes and the grin that stretched across her face the next morning when after walking 6km into the city she was actually, really, seeing, the real, actual, Eiffel Tower, for real, in actual real life, [OMG] [squeee].
Perhaps you’ll remember her running up every single one of those 704 stairs (inside!) the tower and being so very excited and grateful to have gone with her Dad in the elevator to the very top of the tower, despite the disappointment of it being a total white out.
Do you remember us eating croissants and drinking hot chocolate, and making cheese baguettes on our laps on the river in the freezing cold, and me riffling through piles of stinky old vintage clothes looking for the perfect souvenir, and trying to find the non existent artists at Montmartre and trying to pick only five pieces of gateaux at the patisserie and trying to get past the buskers in the Metro without the baby dancing to every single one and all three kids playing ponies along the Champs Elysee and walking 5km home after promising we were catching the metro all the way back…..?
Probably not. But I will. And I want to say thank you.
Thank you for being different to what I was expecting. Thank you for being nicer and kinder and friendlier than you were in the past. Thank you for being softer around the edges and lighter of heart. Thank you for making my child’s dream come true, whilst we were there to experience it with her.
I sincerely hope the tragic events in your streets the week after we left don’t change those things.
In the words of my French friend “you are lovely”.