I’ve been home from Paris for a week now, catching up with the 932 emails that awaited me and then a week of editing, sorting the final competition entries for the June round of novel, short story and poetry awards (most people seem to enter in the last week with most of those in the last two days), catching up with accounts and working on book covers – the back cover for Sue Hubbard’s Girl in White and the cover of the second in the series of poetry anthologies translated from minority language Italian poets – this one from the Romagna region.
Paris was wonderful. We stayed in an apartment in the Canal St Martin district – a busy multicultural area with a flat in a typical court-yarded old building complete with quirky plumbing and oozing character. We walked and walked and walked. We loved the Place de Vosges and especially Viktor Hugo’s house there – a dark. atmospheric place full of his incredible drawings and manuscripts – as with the Writing Britain Exhibition I was struck by the forcefulness of works in an author’s hand – and of the sounds of lyrical dark passages that whispered from the walls. We saw the Rodin museum and lingered over sculptures that turned marble to flesh – I’m sure if I’d held one of those feet I’d have felt the blood warming it. We saw the Impressionists in the Musee D’Orsay and could have looked for hours at just one Renoir, one Van Gogh, or gone back again and again to symbolist artists we hadn’t met before. We saw both the Mona Lisa (who was worth all the fuss, but sadly is hardly looked at in the frenzy of the crowd to snap their own pictures standing near her) and the Venus de Milo in the Louvre, but most enjoyed Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, The Greek Collection and the Egyptian Collection, where the colours where stunning (blues that could alter the mind), the shapes and style so modern and the manuscripts spell-binding – anything from 3,000 to 4,000 years old – prescriptions, judgements, rituals for the afterlife… We visited Monmatre and saw the Moulin Rouge; had lunch at the Cafe de 2 Moulins, where the film Amelie was partly based, and went into Sacre Coeur – wonderful stained glass, but the vending machines of pilgrim medallions and the conveyor belt crowd were less than inspiring. We went to the Eiffel Tower and the boys went up while read a novel in the twilight and then we walked down the Champs du Mars where there seems to be a permanent party. We got good at the Metro and the batobus, found a favourite tea shop in the streets behind Shakespeare and Co, bought cakes from the local boulangerie. We searched out the Arcades beloved of Walter Benjamin and went to a reading of Kapow by Adam Thirlwell at Shakespeare and Co and then stayed to hear the Senior Yale All Women’s Acapella Group, who were enormously talented and entertaining. We explored the Marais, loved Notre Dame (especially outside) and walked along the Seine. We ate amazing food and got back to the flat exhausted and full of the vibrancy of the place every evening. We were there on midsummer’s day when Paris holds a Fete de la Musique and we heard drums and pop and jazz on the streets.
In short we fell in love with Paris and hardly scratched the surface of all there was to see and do.
But back at home it’s taken me a week to sit down to this blog. Paris was fantastic, but I’m always happy to be in Meirion House, but this week, for the first time in ten years, I felt apprehensive about returning and the week that has followed that apprehension has been borne out.
While we were away our cat, Molly, had a stroke and kidney failure and we had to make the decision (by phone to the vet) to let her go. Molly moved in by force and cunning not long after we moved to Wales – she had decided that she was going to live at Meirion House; had abandoned the kittens she was too young to care for (she was barely more than a kitten herself) and by stealth and appeal she soon got her wish. She came as a starving waif, got terribly overweight after a lurcher almost killed her and she became timid and sedentary, but later slimmed down to her sylph-like self. Molly was affectionate, but ornery, a cat of great character and even greater will (and I know that’s terribly anthropomorphosising) and we loved her.
We were so grateful to have wonderful neighbours looking after her while we were away, including a young veterinary assistant and friends who are not ‘cat people’, but still sat with her through a night and made the journey to the vet with her. She was sedated soon after being really ill and left not long after that, which was a gift.
In a world of economic crisis and any number of tales of inhumanity and human suffering, not to mention human illness and loss, mourning a cat can seem maudlin and self-indulgent, but I hope it is also a mark of humanity that I sat with my sons and shared our tears on the morning we had to make the decision and then shared phone tears with my daughters. Molly was a life that we had made a commitment to; she was beautiful and comforting and gave character to Meirion House for the decade plus that we have been here; she was part of our daily rhythms and rituals. And grief is not about weights and measures – we loved her and lost her and that matters.
We carried the sadness around for an amazing week in a captivating city and came back knowing that it wouldn’t be the same to open the door. We were right and it’s taken me a week to adjust sufficiently to Meirion House without it’s cat owner to be able to reflect at all on that week away and the one that’s followed.
The body learns slowly – I keep putting the milk out of reach (ha!) or closing doors or thinking I hear her. There is part of me that can’t make sense of how any life can disappear so utterly, but it is the absoluteness of that – the finiteness of life that ultimately makes it so precious. Finiteness gives life a value that immortality could never bestow.