I was a free woman in Paris…

About five years ago I packed a little floral bag and went on a trip to Paris. I stayed in the Marais area in an odd hotel with heavily-patterned carpet up the walls as well as on the floor. I had chosen this particular hotel as they only spoke French and I wanted to be forced into practising the language.

I spent four days walking around the city, drinking coffee and making friends with eccentric Parisiens, one of whom owned a vintage clothes shop and offered to show me Paris-by-night if I returned to the shop by 5pm that day. I visited Notre Dame and The Louvre, Jardin du Luxembourg and then noticed it was ten minutes to five. I jumped on the Metro, went a few stops too far, panicked, ran down the road to the shop – expecting him to have left – but he was just pulling down the shutters.

That evening he took me to an amazing wine bar, with a hidden library out the back, and we ate delicious cheese and drank red wine. Next we went to a smoky underground jazz bar (this was the weekend before the smoking ban hit Paris) and for French onion soup in a gingham table-clothed cafe. He was a photographer and philosopher and I attempted to discuss the arts and philosophy with him in my somewhat broken French.

The rest of my time in Paris was spent writing poetry and ideas, and doing amateur sketches, in the beautiful book my sister had given me:

Here are some of them… (click on the images to enlarge)

I was sitting in a cafe one morning and noticed a woman sitting across the room, painting me. She kept glancing up and occasionally our eyes would meet. I wrote a poem about her painting me, as she painted…

I later re-worked the poem – removing some of the pronouns:

A Painter in Paris

By Annie Ridout

With eagle eyes she scours
me. Showers me in painter’s pretence.
She uncovers, discovers me –
pulls on the strings and I become
her puppet.
Each move becomes magnified
and she mirrors my sequence.
Then with ease and elegance, she
gathers her painter’s picnic,
takes one quick sip of coffee and
walks off into the city.

I found that being alone in Paris made the experience romantic in a different way – as there was no one to taint the magic. But also, looking back through my poesie book, there’s an obvious theme of loneliness – I was observing lone women around the city and, perhaps, reflecting my own (temporary) loneliness onto them.

I remember walking miles to the Eiffel Tower, down la Seine, one night and it was lit up and looked so beautiful. I couldn’t work out if it would be better to be there with a lover, or not. Now that I am in love, it seems obvious that being there with Rich would enrich, not detract from, the experience.

But I think that everyone should make a trip ‘toute seule’ to Paris, or Rome – or any other romantic European city, to be reminded that romanticism has to start within oneself before it can be shared with someone else.

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