Anne Hailes: A wonderful trip back in time to Paris, 1965
LOCKDOWN has resulted in lots of surprises, phone calls from long lost friends, a card here, a letter there and a lot of early spring cleaning which has revealed treasures I thought were long lost too.
It was a great joy to come on a faded photograph and a small university notebook, each page crammed with my mother's neat writing telling the story of our unforgettable week in Paris – not a lockdown Paris as it is today but a city steeped in romance and glamour. She began at the very beginning.
24th April 1965
Flight Aldergrove to London – snack meal chicken and ham salad etc and coffee. Then by Comet flight 364 to Paris 40 minutes in the air. 529 miles per hour at 21,000 feet. 200 Kingsize cigs for 20/- (£1 today) 10.45 landed in Le Bourget.
:: Paris here we come
My French Huguenot descendent mother had researched our trip and polished up her schoolgirl French and was convinced she was fluent, although the gendarme at the Arc de Triomphe didn't think so. However, undaunted, she battled on and between miming and her few words she got the information she wanted and a salute from himself.
It was moving to stand at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Flame of Remembrance and realise legions of Nazis marched through this hallowed spot in 1940.
The day she wanted tissue paper to wrap a gift was something of a Les Dawson sketch. She acted out a sneeze – atissu atissu – followed by ‘papier'. Logic did not win in this case and we left two confused assistants muttering about the ‘English' and without our wrapping.
She notes that the bidet was a mystery but useful as a foot bath after a day's adventuring or sitting planning our day while breakfasting on croissants and apricot jam.
In those days Paris was the centre of elegance, ladies in fabulous couturier Coco Chanel suits, picture hats and poodles. Handsome men who thought nothing of following a young girl with her mother to hand over a little bunch of flowers – romantic or what.
As the songs says, ‘April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom', their white and pink flowers like candles only outdone by the scent of the lilac trees in the late evening.
:: Living the history
The Palace of Versalles and the Hall of Mirrors, 246 feet long with 400 mirrors, reflected the history of the French kings, especially Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette.
On the way we passed the Paris television centre, the largest TV studio in Europe at that time. The racing stables of Marcel Boussac, then the richest man in France, who owned Christian Dior fashion house.
A bateau mouche for our evening meal. As the riverboat sailed the River Seine we were shown to a window table on the top deck. It was getting dark and soon the lights on the boat were turned off and we were lit by candles. All was nothing until we reached Notre Dame.
I don't need mummy's diary to remember that moment. The walls rose from the water and the cathedral towered above us, the famous and beautiful Rose Window lit from inside; it was breathtaking. Fortunately it survived the fire in 2019.
That night the glorious carved stonework stood out in the sympathetic floodlight. It was awesome in every sense of the word. As we approached, the music was Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring but at just the right moment, Bach's Toccata and Fugue took over, filling the boat and bouncing off the walls of the cathedral, adding to this majestic experience.
The waiters were ultra attractive. Frenchmen appreciated women in love with their city and they were most attentive.
Romance was in the air and April in Paris 53 years ago was life changing for both mother and daughter, especially the afternoon she was chatted up as we sat at a pavement cafe in the sun. A wealthy American gentleman offered to show us the city – “It must be difficult for two girls alone in Paris at night.” Didn't like to disillusion him by telling him that we'd already done a dubious night club and walked the Champs-Elysées at midnight, eaten snails – escargots sounds better – frogs legs and escalopes. We rejoiced in the smell of garlic; surely we were Parisians by now.
:: The music of romance
Memorable also was the evening we spent in the Pam Pam restaurant, a place with a history which had been recommended by our hall porter at our quaint little Hotel D'Angleterre.
Always music in the restaurant, he said, at one time Stéphane Grappelli played, so did Count Basie; Ella Fitzgerald sang there; it was the go-to place for Charles Aznavour, it was Edith Piaf's rendezvous and film stars from Rita Heyworth to Roger Moore graced the banquette seating which, according to Mummy's note, was in soft beige.
The head waiter conducted us downstairs to the grill, where we sat for about five hours, an evening meal, drinks and fun for £2/16 for two, less than £3 in today's money.
Not to be outdone by my mother, I was chatted up by Gilles, a Peugeot employee, and although I turned down his invitation to meet the next day he gallantly walked us back to the hotel and the following morning he'd left his business card and a huge bouquet of flowers at reception, much to the delight of our romantic hall porter.
I think I sent him a thank-you card – I hope I did as it was a beautiful, life-affirming gesture.
Since then I have visited Paris half a dozen times, always a great experience, eating in chic restaurants or picnicking in the Tuileries Garden, being a street artist, paying homage at Oscar Wilde's grave... but nothing touched April in Paris 1965.
I came home with a close-cropped haircut and a white crocheted suit and a real confidence in myself – thank you, dear departed mother for keeping your diary.