My love affair with France seems to have been conducted in a series of glorious and hugely varied bursts of heightened awareness – an album of snapshots that span decades and miles. At the centre of each snapshot my face smiles contentedly, my mind relishes the romance of the language and history, my body relaxes into the freedom of all that space and my senses savour cassoulet, tarte aux abricots and pungent vin de pays.
It started long before I set foot in the country. From my first school French lesson, I was hooked. I would surely fit into a place where boys might murmur, ‘Je t’adore, mon amour, tu es si belle.’ When I spoke the language, I became Juliette Greco or a heroine of Francoise Sagan - someone as chic as Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy, sophisticated and mysterious as Paris itself. When would I get to stroll across Pont Neuf with a well groomed poodle in tow?
I’ve walked beside the Seine several times now, most memorably in the summer of 1995, madly in love (with an Englishman, since you’re wondering) and blissfully happy watching ducks preen against the Gothic backdrop of Notre Dame. At the Pompidou Centre we ate crepes on the roof and lingered in the Museum of Modern Art, pondering the messages behind its installations; in Montmartre we gazed at mime artistes and invoked the spirit of Picasso; through the lanes of St Severin we found a world of restaurants and café culture; outside the glorious Gare d’Orsay gallery we spotted a flowery straw hat on the ears of a statuesque marble horse; in the Jardin des Tuileries formal pond, boys were bravely launching boats; in the Louvre glass pyramids we spotted architectural reflections of the iconic Tour d’Eiffel.
Writing about France for French Connections regularly reveals delightful discoveries and prompts poignant memories. Images crowd in of Dordogne sunflowers, Honfleur sails, the Tarn gorge, Roman Arles – but they are for another time. The City of Light is my first snapshot. Paris, je t’adore encore.