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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Three Days in the Marais

Last week we went to Paris. Two nights beckoned without the Pip. In the 1150 days since he’d been on this mortal planet, I’d spent one night away from him.  Last week, the total moved to three; one for each year of his life.

As Pip departed to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for a ‘sleepover’, Husband and I boarded the Eurostar for a mini break to mark our 10 year wedding anniversary. Paris was not chosen particularly for it’s romantic connotations, but rather for it’s ease of accessibility, the relatively short travel time, and the fact, we’d been there before and rather enjoyed it.

One of the things I like best about revisiting a city I’ve been to before as a tourist, is that second or, in my case, third time around, you have more time to relax and enjoy it. The first time we visited Paris, we virtually collapsed in sheer exhaustion at the end of our trip. Eiffel Tower, tick. Sacre Coeur, tick. Arc de Triomphe, tick. Notre Dame, tick.  I remember us walking towards the gleaming, golden roof of Sacre Coeur at the end of a long day on the tourist trail, intent on completing our 'must view' list.  It was like a mirage; never quite within our reach. When finally we got there, our shoe leather steaming, we stayed a while and then returned to the guide book with a ‘where to next?.  Reflecting afterwards, I vowed never to be that sort of tourist again.

Fifteen years or so later, this trip couldn’t have been more different.  We booked into our favourite hotel, located at the Place Des Vosges, in the Marais.  I love Place Des Vosges; one of the oldest squares in Paris, built by Henri IV, it’s grand and imposing. Tall impressive buildings, sit on top of pillared arcades. Grey blue roofs reach up as if never ending towards the sky, with dormer windows that observe the central square below with tall trees and flowing fountains at the centre.  Victor Hugo was one of it’s most famous residents. I like to think of him writing the story of Esmerelda and the Quasimodo, sitting in the window of one of those tall, grand buildings, a mere stone’s throw from Notre Dame.


Our discreet, elegant hotel was located in a peaceful courtyard. It was almost hard to believe that the hustle and bustle of Paris was beyond the doorstep.  A comfortable bed, a room so dark that not even a finger of sunlight could find it’s way through the curtains to wake us early. An uninterrupted nights sleep. Another uninterrupted nights sleep. Heaven.  Breakfasts of coffee, pastries and confiture that couldn’t possibly taste as good anywhere else in the world.

We wandered, lots.  Map in pocket but rarely looked at.  We meandered through the medieval streets of the Marais, marvelling in the windows of the many art galleries, intrigued by vintage homeware shops, enchanted by perfumeries and noses still in air, salivatingly drawn to boulangeries, patisseries and creperies.  I confess, there was nothing mini about the gastronomic proportions we consumed whilst on this break.

Still on foot we eschewed the metro, and ventured further, perusing the delightful shops of the Ile Saint- Louis sat in the middle of the River Seine. The tale of Notre Dame drew me in once again, and after walking through it’s precinct, and snapping the same photograph - 15 years on, we walked across the Lover’s Bridge; the Pont l’Archeveche.

Set behind the cathedral, thousands of padlocks adorn the bridge, engraved with lovers initials. The story behind the bridge is that lovers cement their love by securing their personalised padlocks to the bridge and then throwing the key into the Seine.  The collection of padlocks must amount to thousands, but it struck me, that personally, I would rather someone made a more original declaration of love for me, than merely padlock my name etched on a piece of metal, onto a bridge with many others.  I decided that possibly I was guilty of romantic snobbery.  Perhaps if all you want is love from a person, love that might not be forthcoming or seem uncertain, then any declaration of love from them seems wonderful - even if it is in the form of a padlock on a bridge. 


Later that day, Husband made his own declaration of love. As I hauled him over the threshold of what turned out to be the most expensive tea shop in Paris, in pursuit of a cake I simply ‘had’ to try, he guffawed in part-horror as he looked at the menu and informed me that a cup of tea was going to cost 7 euros.  Aghast - I suggested we leave; even by London standards the cost was extortionate, but Husband refused to deprive me of my desired cake.  I decided he must love me an awful lot to pay 7 euros for a cup of tea...(and the additional for the cake) and that indeed, was far better than a padlock.

It tasted as good as it looked. Happy anniversary to me..

We spent many years together just the two of us, before Pip came along. Whilst we were away, I reflected that we have spent very few extended periods of time alone together since Pip was born. In fact, I hadn’t realised how few. Time alone is limited to eating dinner together in the evenings when Pip is in bed,  the odd meal out at a restaurant or a night out with friends.  (The fact that we don't have family living nearby and a babysitter costs £10 an hour has a lot to do with it). It was fabulous spending 48 hours together alone but, for both of us, I think there was a sense of someone missing.  It’s amazing how children fill your life and consume your thoughts, to the point, that when you’re without them, it takes a while to adopt to a singular mindset again.  I found myself wandering around thinking, is this what my life was like before children? It seemed so very different.

At the Palais du Luxembourg, surely one of the loveliest parks in Paris to take a small child, we both looked at the small sail boats for hire, with wooden poles to push them round the miniature lake, and wistfully smiled.  As we relaxed in the deckchairs in the sunshine, there was a sense of what we’d be doing if Pip was there. (Rescuing the pole from the lake...or explaining to the boat man in broken french that his pole was somewhere at the bottom.)
 

We allowed ourselves to amble without direction or structure for three days.  We had the opportunity to talk, to laugh, to discuss our ‘house project’, potential names for the Pipling, and to finish previously half finished conversations without a little voice interrupting to say; "Please Mummy, can you stop talking".  I embraced the freedom of our mapless, relaxed approach, and enjoyed our free spirited jaunt around Paris, yet, a little part of me, the part right at the heart of me, felt lost in a different way.  Life without the Pip felt odd, even just for 48 hours.

I wondered what was wrong with me. Why I couldn't just relax completely.  I told myself it was good for him and for me/ us to have this time apart. Perhaps it was pregnancy hormones, perhaps it was the fact that I knew he had woken crying for me at 4.30am the first night, and refused to be lulled back to sleep. (Thank goodness for Grandpa and his torchlit treasure hunt at 5am.). I tried to work out whether it was completely natural to feel this way. I couldn't decide. Oddly, despite my feelings about Pip, I felt annoyed at myself for not being able to give myself to Paris and our trip completely.

Back in London, my parents bought Pip to meet us from the Tube.  I don't think I'll ever forget the moment when from a distance, he spotted us across the park and broke into a run, leaving his crocs behind and continuing shoeless across the grass; running as fast as his little legs would carry him, until he threw his arms around us. It was heart stoppingly wonderful. As I scooped him up in my arms, I felt anchored once more. 

In my post Parisian haze I have wondered whether what I felt was normal? I'm sure the experience was good for both Pip and I, in different ways.  Does leaving your child (for the night) get easier the more you do it?

12 comments:

  1. Looks like a fantastic mini break, lots of lovely photos too. We have had only one night away from Alex in his nearly 3 years and if we are ever out for a day without him, as lovely as it is, there is always that something missing and me and James seem to always be saying "I wonder what he's up to? If he's being good? If Alex was here he would love ..." but the return home to them is always the best. Sounds like he couldn't wait to see you both again!

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    1. Thanks, yes it was a lovely break, I agree, the return home is best. Especially when you get a great welcome.

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  2. Pip is such a part of you, I'm not surprised you felt that way especially as you haven't been away that often. I feel very similar when I'm away from Little A - she's always there, in the background of my thoughts - they never leave you!

    Anyway, congratulations on your 10th wedding anniversary - a landmark occasion, and what a way to celebrate it with a weekend away in Paris. Sounds like you had a wonderful time - and a very casual, laid back experience of viewing the city - the food (pastries in a particular) sounded mouth watering. I love French cakes! Your hotel sounded lovely too ...

    Grandpa sounds fab - what an imaginative thing to do at 5.00 am! ... And the reunion with Pip was just lovely. I am sure it will get easier leaving Pip from time to time, especially as he's in very good hands, and especially the older her gets ....

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    1. Thanks OM. Yes, my Dad is ace. I think he was exhausted by the end of his babysitting stint though! Am sure it will get easier leaving him over time. Just need to make sure it's not another 3 years until the next time :0)

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  3. Happy 10th, what a lovely weekend away. I haven't left TC yet and it took me 9 years for my first! Don't use me as an example though, its just the way I am, you are so lucky to have the best grandparents for Pip. I love Paris & France in general, spent many happy times there with & pre-baby, must take TC. Love love love the losing of the crocs, Pip reminds me so much of a time gone by with mine xx

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment. Wow - 9 years to leave your first. That must have felt very strange when you finally did it!

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  4. What a wonderful way to celebrate your anniversary - Paris is one of my all-time fave places as I spent a year there as part of my degree. I do think it's so important to spend time as a couple once children arrive, it's so easy to lose what you're about as an individual and as a couple. I am sure you have some fab memories to treasure and thank goodness for grandparents eh?!

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    1. You are so right, it is important to spend time as a couple/ and as an individual. Even though with no 2's impending arrival it will get harder to do it, this trip was a timely reminder of how important it is. x

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  5. Happy Anniversary Mummy Plum! I can usually go two days and one night child free before I am craving their cuddles and smell. I think childless time with the other half is invaluable though and am so pleased you got a wonder break away to celebrate an amazing achievement!x

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    1. Thank you MotherDuck. Yes, can hardly believe it's 10 years this year. Although strictly speaking the anniversary isn't for another few months, it's just getting away with a 3 week old baby will probably be impossible!

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  6. That was so beautifully written. We have been away without the little man and I have felt exactly the same. While it was so lovely (and important) to be the two of us, even just for three days and two nights, there was a part of me that felt missing. It does make you wonder if you will ever be able to be just the two of you and feel like you did before you had children - able to give yourself completely up to enjoying yourself without missing them. But as you say, isn't it wonderful when you are finally reunited?

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment. It's nice to know someone feels the same way.

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