Monday, 8 June 2015

An Unremarkable Photograph.

This photo has very few redeeming qualities, either technically or artistically. Or even culinarily. It's a photo of a fairly ordinary sorbet dessert (cassis and citron) in a fairly ordinary glass, outside a fairly ordinary café in Montmartre, Paris.

What you can't see, however, is that after finishing the dessert, I leant back in my chair, full of the goodwill that comes from having a nice meal, and realised that after all those years, all those visits, I had suddenly got what people saw in France.

This was in September 2002, almost 25 years after I had first visited Paris. I had always more or less enjoyed it, but after London, Amsterdam was "my" town, and I couldn't honestly see what all the fuss was about with Paris.

And then it happened - I had eaten a nicely cooked but unremarkable cassoulet and a sorbet dessert, sitting outside a cafe I had discovered rather than planned on visiting using a guidebook, at a table I hadn't booked: and yet it was delicious and inexpensive, the atmosphere was relaxed, the sun was shining, and there was beer to be drunk. This wasn't the Paris of "Europe on $15 a day", this was Simon's Paris.

Three years later we started our planning for a new life...


  1. I think that there is a spam sandwich on the menu...

    1. Aha... you threw it in the bin!
      With all the lovely French food around...
      there is no need for spam!

  2. I think we all have our 'eureka' moment and it has been interesting to read yours. What is striking is that your moment was captured by the ordinary and not the extraordinary. These are the things our real lives are full of and keep us seeing the delight in everyday happenings and things, and not in that endless search for something elusive. By this I mean that although it is very easy to fall in love with the wonders of something like the Notre Dame, this isn't ever going to be our everyday.

  3. For Pauline et Moi... it was originally Bruges... but that got extortionately expensive after the "City of Culture" bit....
    and then we "discovered" France on a walking holiday in the Ardennes....
    and then stayed around here for a visit to the area that Pauline had cycled through on a "gourmet" cycling holiday...
    but I still think it was a little Red 2CV, made in Portugal, that wanted to see its true "country"....
    so broke down just opposite the Eye-full Tower... just for an eiffel...
    that really made us choose slow, relaxed France over expensive, hyperactive Belgium!

  4. people are always asking what we plan to "do" when we visit France (for several weeks later this fall....yay) but we prefer to just wander & not plan much at all.....cafes, cheese shops, etc are my favorite things to "do"

  5. you have to follow the ahhh of small blisses.

  6. I like your story, Simon. Thank you for telling it so well. I fell in love with France when I studied French at school and we watched a TV programme about a family living on a péniche. And when I finally got to Paris on 17th September 1975 and walked along the quays, it was like being part of an Impressionist painting! And I've been here ever since ...

  7. So true and so close to my own experience that it sent tingles down my spine.
    Like Gaynor, it's the extraordinary joy that comes from the ordinary rather than the extraordinary that makes France so special for us. If ever we start to take it for granted we just have to go back to the UK for a week or two to remind ourselves how lucky we are.
    Our moment happened sitting outside the bar in Le Grand-Pressigny. After days of fruitless househunting elsewhere we suddenly realised that we would like to live right here, amongst the extraordinary ordinariness of life in rural France.