We’ll al­ways have Paris

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - John Cole­man

NOS­TAL­GIA is a curious thing. The more you re­turn to it, the richer it be­comes. For in­stance, my wife and I are back in the same ho­tel in Paris where we hon­ey­mooned 40 years ago.

It was mod­est then but all bright and new, booked through the Bank of New South Wales (now West­pac) travel ser­vice in Lon­don where two Aussies, one a strug­gling writer, mar­ried.

Lit­tle about the ho­tel is changed, apart from a dis­tinct fad­ing of all the new­ness. We’re in the same room, the same brass dou­ble bed, the same match­ing bur­gundy wall­pa­per, doona, drapes and car­pet, same rick­ety, wood-en­cased fridge stocked with drinks, the safe in the closet: who, among the clien­tele, is wealthy enough to use it? We hear the same noises from the ad­join­ing rooms.

Air­con­di­tion­ing? Then, as now, open the win­dow and all the sounds, smells and at­mos­phere of the street pour in.

Down­stairs, the caged lift, too, with room for three or four, is the same, well oiled and work­ing smoothly. In the in­ti­mate lit­tle break­fast room, An­thony, the smil­ing Sri Lankan waiter, serves us hot rolls, crois­sants, jam and cof­fee, as he did four years ago and five years be­fore that. We just can’t re­sist com­ing back.

We re­call an­other smil­ing Sri Lankan waiter who served us 40 years ago. An­thony’s fa­ther, per­haps?

The foyer is also un­changed, the same tall, glassed cabi­net with mag­nums of Bollinger, for show and not for sale. The red vel­vet wait­ing room chairs and set­tee, the desk with stacks of maps and brochures that guided two in­no­cents to the Moulin Rouge, the Crazy Horse, the Lou­vre and all the magic of Paris.

The re­cep­tion staff greet us as warmly as old friends; for such re­peat guests there’s a spe­cial rate with break­fast in­cluded.

In the streets out­side the ho­tel, win­dow­shop­ping Parisian fam­i­lies drool over the choco­late cre­ations and gourmet foods in the Fau­chon stores.

By night, the street girls con­tinue to ply their trade. We no­tice the smartly dressed, age­ing one in the door­way and won­der whether we saw her all those years ago and time has sim­ply taken its toll. Across the road, the big red neon sign above the adult shop con­veys its mes­sage in uni­ver­sal lan­guage: Sex.

We eat again and well in the same cafe up the street, de­li­cious ham and cheese omelets, the odd drink and pitcher of Bordeaux, all for less than $100. My wife, at­trac­tive as ever, is amused to get a wink from the waiter.

The Church of the Madeleine, de­signed with its mas­sive corinthian col­umns as a tem­ple to the glory of Napoleon’s army, dom­i­nates the area.

We marvel once more at the stun­ning view of the Place de la Con­corde from the top of the church’s 28 steps. Inside, we re­mem­ber and savour all the grandeur and the soar­ing high al­tar where two an­gels take Mary Mag­da­lene to heaven. The church is an oa­sis of peace, si­lenc­ing the roar of traf­fic tear­ing around the Con­corde.

To­day is busier than usual, with ac­cess to the El­y­see Palace cor­doned off and thick with gen­darmes, for France’s new Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy is be­ing in­au­gu­rated.

He prom­ises to bring pro­found change to France, but for us the Paris we love and the lit­tle ho­tel, call­ing us back time and again, will al­ways be the same.

So much so that we share the nos­tal­gia and send our son and his bride to ‘‘ our’’ ho­tel for their hon­ey­moon.

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