All the times I’ve been to Paris – A list [in reverse chronological order]
1) I was treated to an impromptu weekend in gay paris by Flo so that I could watch her sing. Tragically it meant missing out on the family anti-Brexit march, alongside 2 dogs with 7 legs between them and my mother holding a sign that shouted “BOLLOX”. Didn’t feel particularly great about myself as I inappropriately fucked off to Europe whilst most of London campaigned for my right to do so, but there we are. Perhaps it’s for the last time.
Any negativity was swiftly blown away by being greeted in the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental with a glass of champagne. God I love hotels. My room came with a yoga mat and a 17€ mini tub of pringles! We went to celebrate being elsewhere with a steak and a thousand orders of fries at Hotel Costes – an irredeemably sceney place built entirely out of undulating red velvet, YSL 10 denier legs and Gauloise flavoured vape smoke. The waitresses carried their little order pads in chain strapped handbags, stomped about like they were doing aggy dressage, and couldn’t give a single fuck about you and your pathetic requests. It was like a Guy Bourdain panto. Or, we decided, possibly an Ashley Madison networking event put on by all those women that write the “if only you looked as nice as a French woman” books. The food was fine. The atmosphere pounding. The company excellent.
At breakfast the next morning I put away a respectable amount of butter. (text from Flo: Shit man the butter in France is so good. Get ready.”)
The real joy of Paris this time around was being given the unexpected gift of freedom. Thanks in part to the fact that my companion very smartly doesn’t wake up until noon but mostly to the glorious technological advancement of Google maps whispering directions into your ears as required while you listen to music. I cannot stress strongly enough how freeing and empowering I found it, to stride across the left bank with my hands in my pockets listening to “Cool for Cats” without worrying about consulting a map, feeling lost and vulnerable. Google just said “turn left” when it was time to turn left and her murderous pronunciation of beautiful French street names was so appalling I laughed most of the way there.
I saw men wearing actual berets. I saw expensive looking ladies in furs and headscarves waiting for their cavalier spaniels to finish shitting. The light was different, as though we were in an oil painting. All the buildings were bathed in a beautiful pearlescent glow, regardless of what the weather was doing. I smelt garlic wafting through open windows. I walked past a building called Société d’Encouragement and wanted to go in for a hug. The thing about Paris is, it really does deliver. It plays all the hits.
When we turned up the venue – I never found it out which one it was or where we even were – catering had put on foie gras and tarte tatin and wheels of camembert as well as a roast beef for les rosbif roadies. I availed myself of the first two options, several times over and sank heavily into a sofa backstage. Young Fathers did some mesmeric techno drums and dancing. Then Flo sang.
As much as I wish I could remain grounded and cool, that would be ungenerous. My friend is extremely good at her job. In fact, more brilliant each time I see her do it, it makes me weep. Slinking around the stage like a chiffon-clad panther, leaping wildly into the air (miraculously without shouting “PARKOUR”) and testing the blood pressure of me and her security guard by disappearing into a pile of audience limbs while streams of what looks like giant tagliatelle reel and unreel above her head. The Machine almost exclusively wear flares. The entire set looks like a late night episode of Dick Cavett as designed by Zaha Hadid.
This time my heart swelled up out of my chest with pride and adoration and practically took off through the roof. We danced around. Paris defied all expectations by jumping and snogging and swaying and screaming and not being remotely chic or unrufflable as we feared they might. Flo said that was probably thanks to the gays setting the tone. Backstage again for a glass of red wine and a sweaty hug. After the show we are delivered home to various lodgings by driver Ozzy who says he is the first person that Rod Stewart calls when he’s in town. God give me the confidence of an enormous French rock n roll chauffeur. He drives me through Pigalle and grumbles that whenever he drives Drake, he must then spend the latter part of the night dropping various lapdancers back at their flats through a cloud of weed.
I get out in St Honoré in far more moderate circumstances. Next morning battle through an impassioned dispute at the Boulangerie to stock up on ham sandwiches for the train home, and find that Brexit has completely screwed up the Eurostar.
2) Work trip for ‘Men in Black’. Staying on Place St Sulpice in an elegant but teeny tiny little hotel who, frankly, do not know what’s about to hit them. We visited a costume hire place in which all the kitchen fixtures and fittings are lime green and the owner has built herself a mezzanine level to house all her vintage dungarees. We sit among the straw hats and eat sushi with lime green chopsticks off lime green plates.
My boss gets incredibly excited about a shit shoe shop over the road selling knock-off Stella McCartney wedges for €20 and Perspex stripper heels. Gets excited again at a Chinese plastic bucket emporium, embarking on what is presumably their biggest ever sale. She is like one of those crack-addled squirrels outside Brixton Ritzy, shovelling hair extensions and novelty plungers and disco coloured lurex scrubbers into her basket as if they were nuts (or bags of crack) for winter. She gets excited a third time in Uniqlo once we’ve knocked off for the day, but then again that can happen anywhere, she’s only human. We drag back about 15 giant laundry bags full of tchotchkes to the formerly bijoux lobby. A shimmer of surprise escapes from the impassive manager’s eyebrows.
I go out after dinner to meet my friend who owns a factory in Mauritius and has arrived in Paris for a meeting. Feel like a teenager slipping out of their bedroom window, despite being a 30 year old adult who has finished work for the day. A girl at the table behind us is complaining at length in French that she needs her lips doing and solicits an opinion from every person sitting out on the cobbles. She is not happy with my lips being unfilled. We encounter some unbearably obnoxious drunk lads to whom I am very rude as I have had almost an entire bottle of rose and feeling a bit fist-of-justice. Have an enormous job of masking the hangover the following morning, but thankfully the hotel has a big platter of baguette and ham and a sympathetic expression.
3) Work trip for ‘Mulan’. First Paris work trip! We go straight over to Les Puces (the flea markets – so-called because puce is the colour of blood which is what you can see if you squash a flea) to the infamous Chez Sarah. CS is a shop the boss traditionally likes to go to buy antique textiles, chateau curtains, frothy silk ribbons, gigantic tassels made out of gold bullion thread, admiral’s buttons, exquisite vintage dresses made out of thin air and sassy bits of Mugler. She can easily drop 20 grand in there without even blinking. Also not blinking is Sarah herself, who has seen this rodeo a thousand times and barely moves a muscle to deliver her sales pitch. The boss delights in comparing her to a 1940s prostitute, but I think that would require far too much effort. Her skin is the colour of one of her handbags. She wears a deep-set, world-weary expression, blue eyeliner and elaborately strapped wedges and smokes with a fervour you don’t often see these days. Her smile is as convincing as a pair of haribo lips sellotaped onto a block of granite. She is a human gif of a one-shouldered shrug, a cracked eyebrow and the French word “bof”.
Next up is a new lead. A visit to a dealer called Agnes L’Estrange, who appears to have been invented by Agatha Christie. She is a practical looking woman, short and sturdy with a haircut that could have been woven out of flax. I feel she could just as easily sell us a selection of ayurvedic tinctures, or parallel park our caravan as provide us with some vintage dresses.
Upon hearing that we are largely in it for quantity over quality, she quickly ushers us down into her subterranean garage. It is filled with pile upon pile of cardboard banana export boxes, a filthy old porsche, some drunk looking mannequins and barely any light. Lucy and I try not to think of Silence of the Lambs. It turns out to be good stuff, so rather than being chillingly murdered and never heard from again, we emerge into daylight with a good haul of vintage linen sheets (The Boss’s most pervasive vice), a bit of Chinese inspiration and lots of abstractly printed fabrics to make into villagers clothes.
To mark this triumph The Boss buys us all a staggeringly delicious and nerve-rackingly expensive meal of a sole meunière and a braised ox cheek at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant as, “he keeps sending me notes telling me to go.” [we believe these may have been email newsletters]
4) In Paris on a buying trip, scouting for fabrics for our start-up fashion business. Friend-of-a-friend Chloé said Daisy and I could come and stay with her again. I can remember almost nothing about the “business” aspect of this journey whatsoever, as our night out with Chloé has surpassed all else. We had intended to go out for dinner at one of the many “Chez George”s around the city but when we arrived they shrugged unsympathetically and said they were full. One cartoon waiter steered us forcefully out the door and straight into the bar opposite, saying, basically, ‘oh chill out have a drink, you’re English aren’t you’, and promising he’d come and get us when there was room to sit.
Well, not to be too Pretty Woman, but that was a big mistake, huge, as the bar opposite was brilliant and we were resolutely “on one” from the minute we sat down. We fell in love with the bartender and drank a considerable amount of rosé, and chatted bollocks with a party of wine-dealers who eyed us up as though we were a load of dithering rabbits wandering straight into a high-stakes poker game down a foxhole. Eventually the waiter “George” came back saying ‘you can sit down now’ and we said ‘absolutely not no thanks we are happy and smashed and can see no merit in eating ever again.’
Things continued in this vein for some time, until the bartender became exasperated and stood up and told all the other clientele he was closing and that they had to leave. I mean that is thrilling in any drunk person’s language. A French lock-in! We put on disco and he brought us a jar of pate and a loaf of bread and we drank more wine and smoked fags and danced on the bar. And to be honest that is where it all stops. I cannot remember another thing. Apart from, maybe my friend had a nice jumpsuit on.
5) A mini break with my friend Notting Lil. We went to stay at Sam’s flat on Rue de Verneuil, the antique dealer’s district, which was once the home of Serge Gainsbourg and therefore the most French street you can be on. We drank a heroic amount of red wine at Café Voltaire. Ate ice creams and moule frites on Ile-de-France. Went on a fantastic marathon tour through the Musée d’Orsay, had a small numinous experience in front of the actual waterlilies and fell in love with a lot of Hungarian fauvists. I bought a really beautiful pair of black leather Chelsea boots from a shop in Montmartre which I have since mysteriously lost, to my great disappointment. With each glass of Beaujolais our linguistic confidence grew and we spoke quite theatrical franglais to the bald contempt of everyone we encountered who answered us in very clear crisp English with an extended sigh.
6) Chanel! We were invited to go watch Flo singing from inside a gigantic white clamshell for Chanel’s under the sea themed ready-to-wear show at the Grand Palais. I now can’t believe that that sentence is about my life.
Flo had to crouch down inside the shell and gradually stand up as it opened – which sounds like the absolute worst conditions for being about to sing in front of thousands of people. Her dress was an ephemeral sequinned jellyfish and she was flanked by a scoop-necked spandex-clad lifeguard as she sang ‘What the Water Gave Me’ with furious eyes before being escorted down the catwalk by Karl Lagerfeld, his legs encased in some kind of scrunched up black cardboard. The models’ skin and hair were sprinkled with pearls, although I always think a spot-sized pearl under you lip or on the side of your nose just looks a bit pus-like. Even Beyonce couldn’t pull that off.
I was wearing a vintage Chanel dress that my boss had given me, and had the same tragic experience I’d read about in Nancy Mitford’s The Persuit of Love [“it was the floating panels…all over again”] ie thinking you are looking pretty good for about 12 seconds until you walk into a room full of serious couture. Try feeling like anything other than a hobbit in a smock in the presence of Uma Thurman. Grace recalls going backstage, mortified to be in black denim hotpants at Chanel, and seeing Uncle Karl tailed by a small boy who was carrying a goblet of diet coke for him.
There was an after party in David Lynch’s club Silencio, which I remember as being covered in red velvet but whose walls in fact had a textured effect as though tiled out of golden post-its. We went back to sleep at Chloé’s, a friend of a stepbrother’s friend who had let 3 strangers stay on her living room floor in an act of unprecedented generosity. She was complete heaven and took us for a bottle of wine at a nearby hipsterish bar – which was the first place I’d ever seen in Paris that wasn’t straight out of Amélie.
I remember two further meals, one at a zealously decorated place with art nouveau mirrors and swans adorning every conceivable surface and one considerably less ornate at a brasserie where I ordered steak tartare and was given a square of squiggly beef mince straight out of a packet and a DIY selection of condiments, which I was too hungover to deal with.
7) School trip. Was bloody freezing. Never been so cold in my life. Stayed at a lovely French family’s house in the suburbs, who fed us solely on meat and bread and cheese. Went up the Eiffel tower. Discussed at length whether Paris was “big” or not. Went with “not”. Had a croque monsieur and salty chips with mayonnaise and hot chocolate out of a bowl which I thought was incredibly exotic. By the end of 4 days we were crying out for some form of lettuce. Never imagined a coachload of teenagers could be so desperate for greens. Paris not nearly so fun if you’re a kid it turns out.