Apology: this is a re-publication of a letter I wrote on my last day in Paris. Saying goodbye to Paris was inextricably linked to letting go of my mother and it was important to me that I wrote my final letter from France on the day I was leaving. I even missed the start of the Queen’s funeral to do it. I discovered in Dubai that not only had I not achieved my publication goal, but that diywoman.net had fallen off the internet altogether. She remained in the twilight zone for six long weeks. Of that there will be more later. For now, please forgive this repeat post if you were one of the few who managed to read it before the Crash of September 19 2022.
I’ve just come back from a late afternoon stroll in the Place des Vosges, a green square flanked on all sides by beautiful 16th century buildings. There is a chill in the air despite the rays of sunshine beaming through the threatening bank of cloud.
I had a strange out-of-body experience there. As though I was a human camera tracking the movements of the other park-frolickers: a group of three young children chasing each other, threading through the avenues of trees; a young couple on the grass, their legs entwined like two adolescent grasshoppers; a woman on a sunlit park bench, self-contained, raising her face to the warmth; a little girl chasing bubbles.
I wove though them all, Albinoni in my earbuds and a spring in my step. I think I’ve reached a point where I am so darn happy to be in Paris, I’ve forgotten about being self-conscious in front of the Parisians. There is a smile on my lips and they respond to it in kind. I try to tame my aeroplane arms in their company – this is not Tramayes, Elizabeth! – but the exquisite strains of the oboe in my ears are making it hard to keep them by my side.
We have so much to catch up on mama. The past month has been the party end of the trip and it has been a most wondrous five weeks. Since I left Tramayes I’ve spent time in Beaune, Paris, Siena, Bayreuth, Reims and now Paris.
I could tell you about the opera in Bayreuth that exceeded all expectations. Or the sweet young man at Canard-Dûchene in Champagne who took an hour out of his busy day to make sure two fans all the way from Australia – via the Gellibrand Liquorland – weren’t disappointed.
But I’d like to start with the gentle young man at the corner shop here in Paris. He crossed the generational divide to ask an older white customer where she had come from and why she had studied French at school so long ago and so far away.
No one has ever asked me that question. I told him I had been in love from a distance with the culture, the language and the history of France all my life. When I told a group of writer friends yesterday about this encounter, one of them said ‘You must have inherited that love of France from your parents.’
I can already see your eyes crinkle and hear you laugh uproariously. You and I talked about your one and only overseas experience a couple of Letters from France ago. And Dad only ever travelled for business. But it got me thinking.
Do you remember my two youngest children studied French through to Year 12? I was blown away to think they might share my enthusiasm. As far as I remember I didn’t push them to do it. I modelled my parenting after yours. That’ll get another laugh from you. But seriously Mum, you always said you didn’t know what you and Dad were doing because you were both only children. But you knew enough to let us make our own decisions. These days it’s called benign neglect. In your letter to your great granddaughter you described it this way:
‘Don’t find fault with your children as they are growing up. That only makes them resent us.’
When my friends heard me read this the last time we were together, a number of them told me afterwards they wished you had been their mother. Or that they could have been the mother you were. Astrid will be able to read that letter from her ‘little gran’ in a few years and learn from your wisdom.
I’ve certainly gone off-topic, haven’t I? Luckily we have always been able to follow each other’s threads. I’ll have to sign off shortly. I have a plane to catch. I’m reluctant to say goodbye this time Mum. You’ve been with me the whole way – I’m loving wearing your engagement ring by the way – and now that I have to go back to reality I’m afraid I’ll lose you.
My life will be so different now my Monday and Tuesday nights are free. You will be rejoicing in my freedom but I will miss my weekly dose of open fires and endless re-runs of ‘Pride and Prejudice‘. I will be coming home to a new apartment without having said goodbye to the old one. But maybe it’s for the best. Goodbyes are so painful.