We’ll always have Paris
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.