Monday 25 April 2011
See Paris and love
I love Easter, I love spring and I love Paris. When I combine the three nothing could be more perfect. I got back from a long weekend in the city earlier this evening, a lovely time in a perfect place, my favourite in all the world. Paris holds no more secrets for me; there is nothing fresh to be discovered; I have been so many times before, from early childhood onwards. Yet it never ever fails to charm.
My parents have a small flat close to the centre, allowing me to explore the city and its surroundings, to develop an intimacy with it over the years. I don’t go as frequently as I used to – it’s a year since I was there last - but I make the most of the time I have had. I love introducing Paris to new people, to friends coming to the city for the first time, or who may not know it as well as I do.
But Easter, the feast of Ostara, a time quickening and renewal, is more personal, a time for greater intimacy, a time for long walks, quite talks, leisurely lunches and magical dinners. It was a time for me and the person who is closest to me, just ourselves alone. We didn’t really do anything special, just relished the opportunity to be together and to reflect, to let the city exert its own romance in some of the more out of the way gardens, or bathe ourselves in the magical light of the most perfect gothic church in Europe, lovers hand in hand.
To Versailles also, not to see the palace – there is no more that it has to tell - but simply to sit once again in the shade of the trees and watch Apollo arise from the waters! The chestnut groves here are special to me, a place I came to in my teens, a place I have brought so many others since, to picnic in dreams. Here I always say my own silent prayer for Marie Antoinette, my favourite queen, who last saw these gardens in October 1789, before being marched off to the capital by the canaille vomited out from the city slums.
From the groves of Versailles on to Montmartre, sitting by the basilica of Sacré-Cœur, looking across the rooftops from the highest point in the city, all bathed in a sublime spring light. Sacré-Cœur isn’t an old church, dating no further back than the 1870s, when it was constructed in part as a memorial to those murdered by the leftist Communards of 1871. I find the interior uninspiring but I’ve loved the building itself ever since I saw it from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, that brilliant white edifice punctuated against an empty blue sky.
This morning we went Père Lachaise to lay some lilies on the grave of the Divine Oscar, forever reposed under Jacob Epstein’s ugly flying sphinx. I see the lipstick tributes are as bad as ever, despite admonitions against such desecration and regular clean ups. If you want to know, yes, I did resist the temptation! I first came here with mother, from whom I inherited my enthusiasm for Wilde, on 30 November, 2000, the hundredth anniversary of his death. I was only fourteen at the time, wholly beguiled by the experience, seeing all sorts of celebrants and outcasts coming to mourn, some attired in late Victorian dress!
In the afternoon, shortly before we left, there was one last thing we had to do – go and sit in the little park at the tip of the Île Saint-Louis, possibly the most romantic spot in the most romantic city in the world. See Paris and live; see Paris and love.