This is what Spring looks like at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. I love-love-love this time of year here, but…
When I was little girl my father had business in London for a time, so I lived there with my parents and went to a girl’s school that was a tube and a bus ride away from Hampstead to Mill Hill.
Now, London is an exciting place to live and I loved my school, but in March it can be a little dreary. I was a lucky child and had wonderful parents, but I could be somewhat annoying. I remember I used to campaign, ceaselessly, to go someplace warm and sunny over the Spring break — someplace like Spain. I collected glossy travel pamphlets picked up on the High Street of the Costa del Sol – after (of course) I had selected a pastry at the bakery to tide me over on the short walk from the underground station to our home. Everyday the same route, but always a new pastry. I walked past St. John’s on Church Row and placidly chewed my way through, I don’t know how many calories, while reading the inscription on the Du Maurier’s tomb – Monday through Friday.
Most of the pictures in this post were taken by my father or me, this one I borrowed from Google — it’s the street where we lived.
Our house is the one four doors down, where I was known to announce my presence by hollering through the mail slot, “Greetings from the swamp!”
I distinctly remember having made this alarming pronouncement and walking into the house to find my parents in the reception room having sherry and an exotic dense little cake (well, it was exotic to me) called pan forte with a London film producer and his wife. My mother just smiled and my father introduced me as “our caboose” – translation, the youngest.
This is one of the reception rooms, see what I mean? A little dreary. I would sit on the floor and do my school essays – and dream of warmer climates.
My parents had other ideas for the Spring Holiday, and so we arrived in Paris. Our hotel was a bijou spot on Rue Saint-Hyacinthe where we had milky bowls of coffee every morning with baguette and butter and jam in a dining room with a skylight. I would often look out into the lobby to see beautiful young ladies arriving with no luggage in little black dresses, heels, hose, and pearls – chatting amongst themselves as if the evening were just over and they were heading to bed. When I inquired as to this interesting early morning phenomena my mother said, “I’ll tell you about it when you get older.”
I spent every waking moment running around the city — and the architecture – I learned all about Baron Haussmann, wide boulevards, buildings that have been described as great white slabs of imperial wedding cake, and I loved it.
The shop windows were dressed for Easter with pink silk ribbons wrapped around colossal white nougat eggs and there were spring flowers… everywhere. The predominant color scheme was white, leaf green, and pink. It was a sharp contrast to red brick, and soot stained stone, and grey London. I mean! Just look at this bit of a building:
I remember walking down the Blvd. de Clichy at night and seeing the red neon of Moulin Rouge and I remember shopping at a boutique a couple of days later with my parents seated at a cafe around the corner. The clerk had that shaggy haircut of the period (think Mick Jagger) and the same sinuous narrow hipped build. I probably weighed all of eighty-five pounds at the time, but he couldn’t have weighed much more than one hundred and twenty five – and he was about ten inches taller. At any rate he thrust a pair of jeans into my spindly arms and told me to try them on in a curtained cubicle. When I peeped from behind the curtain and said they were too small he made that particular French sound, “phffft” and exclaimed as he barged in and whipped the gaping zipper closed, “I know your size!” Voilà. My first, ever, French garment. That they made me look even more like a human toothpick didn’t matter.
And then, one day, we were walking down a wide boulevard and people started to gather on the curb and so we joined them. In the distance, coming closer was a procession of gleaming black limousines and as they passed by we saw inside all manner of dignitaries, Africans with leopard skins across the shoulders of their Savile Row suits, Sheiks draped in white, and a sea of black suits, white shirts, black ties. It was President Pompidou’s funeral.
Contrary to everything I had been told, Parisians were so kind to me with my schoolgirl French. Of course my major conversations were about procuring flowers, cocoa, pastry, or directions. My mom sat serenely lovely and uncomprehending (and for her, uniquely quiet) while my father spoke for the family with an assurance and fluency I never knew he had, and when I asked him about his language skills he told me he had spent a lot of time stationed in Belgium and France during WWII. Which — I was absolutely thrilled about when he ordered me what has become my favorite drink, and it always reminds me of the perfect restaurant in Paris, where the waiters treated me like an honorary grownup, and I had my first Kir Royale.
Can I say this? Sometimes parents do know better. It wasn’t the Costa del Sol, but… We saw Moliere preformed at the Paris Opera House in seats so close I could see a vapor of moisture from the actor’s lips as he declaimed his lines. I saw the Louvre, and poked my nose up tight to Toulouse Lautrec pastels at the Jeu de Paume and l’Orangerie (it was a long time ago, now they’re at the Musée d’Orsay). The most memorable Easter of my life, all thanks to my mom and dad.