When I was 18 I spent a few months in Paris, I was based in the 6th arrondissement staying in a friend’s flat a stone’s throw from Notre Dame. It was so sophisticated and fresh from an Edinburgh education I found it completely captivating. I rapidly took to sitting in smart cafes drinking coffee and smoking long black menthol Moores. I loved the language, the place, the food and the atmosphere. Incredibly for those who have only met me in recent years, I was stick thin, had styled hair, sported stylish kitten heels, spent hours on make up and outfits and over a few weeks, mastered a particularly compelling pout.
In the intervening years of marriage, child rearing, study and career I completely forgot the person I was 33 years ago, Paris was a distant memory to occasionally revisit and then forget.
Three days ago I returned for the first time in almost 30 years at the invitation of Caroline Valton the owner of Mon Corner B in the 16th arrondissement, not a familiar area to me. Caroline is the distributor of A.S APOTHECARY in Paris. Funnily enough I felt a little anxious at the prospect, I wasn’t sure that I could still speak French, I had no suitable clothes and after so many years was worried that I wouldn’t be able to fit in – I had lost my Paris mojo.
I arrived by train – so much nicer than the unpredictable ferry journeys of the past and so much calmer than going by plane. It was easy, pleasurable and so quick - breakfast in Lewes, lunch in Paris. A short metro journey (‘no Madame the Carte Orange scheme is no more’) took me to the 16th I walked straight to the Seine kicking through huge drifts of leaves piled temptingly on the pavement. The water was dark and choppy, lapping against the weed-covered steps. Five minutes walk brought the Eiffel Tower into view, soaring above the skyline with the patina of burnished brass in the Autumnal sunshine. A wave of familiarity washed over me, an almost tearful reunion with a city long ago left behind.
I made my way to a small Brasserie, the wine list was three times longer than the menu and at the table beside me the owner was slurping and slooping wines deciding which to invest in. My salad arrived with vegetables cut to resemble spaghetti, impossible to eat but quite beautiful to look at. I loved it.
Paris is extraordinary - so impossibly chic; the casually turned up collar of a heavy tweed coat, the greying hair tamed into a perfectly wavy, tousled style, the simple action of standing in a queue translated into a one-hip-lowered pose, a woman leaving a pizza restaurant reaching into her bag to renew her perfume, the sipping of a small black coffee, sugar packet torn, tipped, tapped and stirred gently, persuasively then sipped in small purposeful sips – 5 to drain the cup. Memories flooded back.
A restful night was followed by a meeting with Elizabeth, the Editor of Elle Magazine accompanied by Caroline and Teddy (from the press agency), to my delight and astonishment I understood almost everything she said as we discussed products, oils, making and therapeutics. A second delightful meeting followed with the Beauty Editor of Ici Paris. It was great, I was in my stride.
A quick lunch, a rest at the hotel and then an evening of presentations at Mon Corner B to guests, bloggers and vloggers. From 4pm to 9pm I chatted, laughed, sniffed oils, advised, covered myself and others with butters, balms, oils and creams, it was really good, exhausting fun. Some women travelled miles to attend the event. It was so affirming to be in the company of well educated, thoughtful, beautiful women for whom natural green products are an exciting new journey. The questions were considered and interesting, the comments encouraging and heartfelt. I was so touched.
Now travelling home, the visit fresh in my mind I realise that my anxiety was misplaced - for as much as I have changed, so has Paris. It is still the fashion capital, the height of chic but there is a transformation slowly taking place, a quiet revolution, a movement towards green beauty and natural skincare. Gradually there is an acceptance that green, small batch, handmade products are a rare and precious commodity and that means, despite the years, there is more than ever a place in Paris for me…
(Caroline can be contacted at Mon Corner B: http://www.moncornerb.com TEL 0179723070)