There are very few places in the world where I can feel truly at ease. A handful of feelings supply me with the sensation of being home, such as the initial exit from the aeroplane at Ibiza airport. Also, the initial exit from the airport at Ibiza airport; walking through the cold blast of recycled air, the doors sliding apart and the warm, welcoming handshake of the Ibizan hospitality as the humid environment comes to celebrate my return.
I feel at home in Ibiza. I only go to a few locations – Ibiza Town, San An, Santa Eulalia – but I feel like I know them well enough. Santa Eulalia is my spiritual home on the island. The first beach in the Balearics established as smoke-free at the other side of town to the street of restaurants. The old gaol next to the old police station, opposite the new familiars. The town hall sitting atop the high street with market stalls and the water features that run the length of the road. The jewellery family that have served me since 2005.
Yet, there are even fewer places where I can sit and feel like I belong. Somewhere I could use as a bolthole and be welcomed, not be judged and not be bothered. Almost like a regular extra for Cheers, back in the 80’s and 90’s.
One place used to be Daffers in the restaurant street in Santa Eulalia; unfortunately, they’ve been closed for a while now. Another, was a barber’s shop in East London where I used to go to relax, get my haircut and forget about the world. A Costa Coffee (in fact three of them). I used to study there and only converse when I wanted to. That was a pleasant feeling. I have a few pubs where I sit by myself, but I’m simply a face there. I’ve probably got my own nickname, but that’s a part of the anonymous charm which solitude provides.
I thought, after watching, liking and interacting with Croissant Show on Instagram, I’d feel a sense of pride or even recognition when I visited them in Ibiza Town last year. But nothing like that at all. At most, I felt dejection and an anti-climax similar to when meeting an old mate after many years apart, only to find the connection had run its course, after many years apart.
Okay, so what has this all to do with Paris? I’ve found my haven; my writing spot, my joie de vivre, my meeting place and rendezvous. Even my je ne sais pas quoi (I don't know what) place. Actually, je ne sais pas comment appeler mon lieu d'écriture is probably a better fit. My French is very poor and equates to many a quick flick on Google Translate. It’ll do for now, I guess. And for those wondering, including myself when I look back in many years, it means “I don't know what to call my place of writing”.
I am sitting in what I can easily and comfortably say will become my regular spot. Through the single main door, over on the left, back to the wall and one seat away from the corner table. I know it’s not busy so I get to choose for the time being. I know the cat sitting beside me wasn’t a deciding factor until I put my bags down but once sat here, things happened. Future memories flashed through my mind, the sense of belonging washed over me and even the waiter accepting my order in French. I’ve wanted to visit here since 2017, and now, in 2020, during the time of Lockdown, Quarantine and Isolation, I finally made it. Ready to write alongside some famous name like F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), Ernest Hemmingway (The Old Man and The Sea, For Whom The Bell Tolls), Victor Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Les Miserables) and Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Ernest, The Picture of Dorian Gray). I suspect these authors wrote other things, but these are what I know them for without further digging. I also imagine that not all the quoted works were written in Paris. Similarly, I cannot be sure of how many words were actually written in Paris by any of these authors. I’m sure you get the general impression I’m trying to create, though.
My little round table (with the round paper tablecloth, placed with matching beer mats before my drinks were expertly served by Nicolas) creates the finishing touch to where I can see myself holding interviews with locals, reporters and people of interest. It would also serve well as a table to eat and drink at whilst entertaining friends, family and my girlfriend. However, because of the size, it could only really be one at a time. But I’m sure I could get round that (intentional pun).
Being English, I’m still not totally comfortable sitting in a place like this and writing. It feels like a restaurant and at any minute I’m going to be asked to leave. I’ve been reassured by my favourite Marseillean, who also happens to be my girlfriend and my reason for annual trips to Paris, that it’s all good. To be fair, I think during this Covid Crisis, businesses are pleased for the footfall through their doors.
I miss C&A in Ilford. Many an afternoon on a Saturday spent slaving away, scanning the shirts, looking for anything to wear for my night out with my mate, Steve, that evening. Bright colours with black trousers and shoes. That was my thing. I still like bright colours, but trousers tend to be jeans or another colour of trouser. And dancing is virtually non-existent, especially in a disco. But just down the road from Galeries Lafayette, on the way to Printemps, is an actual C&A. I was first aware of their survival back in ’07 when I took a trip to Bruges and spotted one down a side street. Hope was revived, but I had to wait another ten years before finding this one. And to be fair, it could’ve been a main street in Bruges as they all seemed pretty narrow. On my first solo time mooching around Paris, I ended up buying a hat from C&A. A very nice hat. Yet, no colourful shirts were there for me. I have to visit Primark to get these. Not just Hawaiian shirts, but polo shirts, too. Incidentally, there’s a selfie out there of me and the Père Tranquille chat – I’m wearing a purple Primark polo shirt.
This time around, I donned my disposable facemask and took my steps over the threshold of C&A and up the escalator to the men’s department. No hats, one heavy “summer” shirt and a slim brown belt that was too small even for my slimmed-down waist. No purchase made this time. But they had a huge sale on throughout the men’s section. Thirty to seventy percent off of a vast range of items. The same was happening in the luggage department of Galeries Lafayette. I didn’t spend over €150 on a new piece of hand-luggage. I didn’t spend at all, at those prices.
I’ve been sat writing for about an hour now. I’m nesting with my diablo menthe avec limonade et un verre d’eau. Yes, it seems like my French is coming along well. Except I pretty much took this straight off the menu and added a little schoolboy knowledge to it. I’ve had these since ordering my croque madame and yet aside from Nicolas wanting payment to finish his shift, I’ve been left alone. This is nice considering the heatwave and the creative flow that I’ve found myself with. Last night was a different story…
My girlfriend and I left Novatel 17 for a quick G7 cab ride to Creperie A l’Etoile d’Or, just off Avenue Wagram. This was a road I traversed many times last year and how I came to find Boulangerie du Parc Monceau – the café noisette shop. The evening was expectedly quiet for Paris, especially during these times. The older man sat there, glass in hand, appeared to be slightly put out when requested to serve us. He explained that many hotels and restaurants had closed at the beginning of the French pandemic and few had survived to reopen. The summer had provided no respite as either tourists didn’t come, or locals stayed away. The Egyptian, with his correctly placed facemask, had a sad expression in his eyes. During our two-hour stay, only one other table sat to eat. He also gave a bottle of water away to a man that was asking us and the Italians for money. Not a successful night for the owner. Second spikes, air-bridge collapses, quarantines for returnees and the flu season all look set to place a huge crevice in the profits of the tourist trade. Globally. Things aren’t permanent and at some point, it shall recover. But whilst governments still flip-flop about and not face the facts (as well as granting huge contracts to silly companies for useless equipment), nothing will be solved. Results will still be fabricated and sent out to the public creating false answers to questions not asked.
And questions asked will still remain unanswered.