We arrived in Paris in monsieur P’s Citroen DS in the early evening and my clearest memory of that glorious moment is l’Arc de Triomphe as we drove up the Champs Elysées in the dusk. I fell in love with Paris that evening and have loved it ever since.
Staying with the family in their apartment in the 16th Arrondissement was so lovely to an unsophisticated sixteen year old. Our flat in London was furnished with reasonably modern furniture but this apartment was full of French style antiques (or copies). The very best bit, to me, was the sunken bath surrounded by marble in the bathroom. The kitchen was fairly basic, I have no memory of the bedrooms or the building (other than we had to walk up several flights of stairs as there was no lift).
My week long stay in Paris was memorable in other ways! Francine had many friends, all at least two or three years older than I was, and they were used to going out in the evenings to clubs to dance and drink wine. She arranged for us to go on a ‘double-date’ with Patrick and Philippe. Philippe had a 2CV which rattled and shook but which got us from A to B. We all went to a ‘dive’ somewhere and after dancing till we were ready to drop, we got back in the car and drove to Les Halles where we had snails and onion soup. We got back to the apartment at 4:30 am!
We went out during the day, as well, of course. Patrick and Philippe took us to Notre Dame one day and on another to the Eiffel Tower. My favourite place, though, was Sacré Coeur which looked, to me, like it was made of sparkling white sugar! I loved all the steps to get up to it (now, I’m not so keen!)
Our sojourn in Paris was over too quickly and we piled back into the DS to drive back to Le Touquet, stopping on the way at Grandpère’s house in Amiens. Here I had the worst experience of my entire trip! I had woken up with a migraine and felt fairly sick most of the day, anyway, but when we arrived ‘chez grandpère’ I was disgusted to find that our meal, lovingly prepared for the occasion, consisted of ‘tripes à l’oignon’. I didn’t have a clue what tripe was but found it the most revolting food I had ever had the misfortune to be given! Luckily, because of the migraine, I was able to leave the table after a couple of mouthfuls.
(Grandpère as we were leaving his house (and the tripe!)
We left France the next day but I was happy when Mme P. invited me to return and spend two months of the summer vacation with the family in Le Touquet!
My visit to Le Touquet that summer was full of incident including my first ghastly experience with being drunk, visits to more French cinema including Les Quatre Cents Coups, La Vache et le Prisonnier, and other French films. I must have been having a great time as I wrote nothing about it in my diary (which has been helping me remember other times). I spent much of each day on the beach where the P. family had a beach hut until I met Jean who became my summer romance! Jean drove a Vespa and we travelled around the town on it, though I don’t remember ever going very far. My favourite memory of that romance is of the evening in the picture below.
(Above is Jean holding the net and me holding the torch in our attempt to catch ‘crevettes’ in La Piscine in Le Touquet.)
In Le Touquet and probably in other parts of France, too, one evening entertainment is Le Rallye. It is similar to a Treasure Hunt in that written clues are given to a car-full of contestants who then chase around the countryside working out each clue and going on to the next ‘answer’ where they find the next clue. One of the final clues led us to “La Piscine”, not, in this case, a swimming pool but a large tiled pool for fish in front of a big building (a hotel?). There Jean and I had to fish for tiny shrimp known as ‘crevettes’. I held a lamp so he could see what he was doing. We actually won that round by catching the most little shrimps though I can’t remember whether our car won the whole rallye or not.
Aside from my social life during those two months, I actually started learning to speak and understand French as there was no one in the immediate family who spoke fluent English – Francine spent much of that holiday in London. As a result, though I wasn’t much good at the grammar side, my vocabulary improved and I even started thinking in French from time to time.
I never again spent such an extended period in France but I have visited many times, going to Paris to see the P family; visiting Le Touquet several times with my mother and sisters; a road trip with Julian, my daughter, her best friend and Julian’s brother, which took us from Calais to St Tropez via Switzerland and back; a ten day trip to and around Dordogne; a three day visit to Dieppe with a group of friends and three holidays in Avignon which is a wonderful place full of art, restaurants, and cafés where we could sit, have a glass of wine and watch the world go by.
One especially memorable journey to France occurred in 1960. My sister, Judy, and I hadn’t been well and were both quite thin (difficult to believe, now!). The doctor gave my mother a tonic to give us but it was disgusting and we ‘forgot’ or pretended to have taken it but didn’t. Eventually, the doctor suggested we go away for the winter half-term holiday and my mum decided to take the three of us girls to Nice for a week. We crossed the Channel, feeling quite seasick, and took a train to the south of France. In those days trains in France were slow and pretty basic – no restaurant cars and no Pullman carriages with comfy beds. We had to sleep on things called ‘couchettes’ which were hard wooden platforms with thin mattresses and a blanket or two. For food we had to wait until we arrived at various stations on the way where there would be people with baskets of baguettes, cheese and fruit and probably bottles of water.
We arrived in Nice at 8:30 in the morning and went to our hotel, the Hotel Suisse, which was situated at the far end of the Baie des Anges, which is still there, very near to the flower market and facing the sea. We walked, visited nearby villages in the hills behind Nice and ate wonderful food. At one particular restaurant we looked at the menu which was in French, of course. One item there grabbed the attention of my sister, Jennie who asked, “What is ‘petit poulpe’?” Judy immediately spoke up and said, loudly, “It’s the fish with the big testicles.” There was a moment of silence followed by quite a few smiles and some laughter as our mother pointed out that octopi have tentacles! Nowadays, here in England ‘petit poulpe’ is better known as ‘calamari’.
(From left to right: Me, Jennie and our mother, Patty. Judy must have taken the photo.)
We returned via a short stop in Paris where we visited the P. family who made us a wonderful dinner, then after a night in the Hotel Palma which is very near the Arc de Triomphe, we set off back to London and school.
Note to Americans: I’m not sure if ‘tripe’ is known in America so will just say that it is the inside of a sheep or cow’s stomach! Yuck!!!
Part Three soon!