The Myth of Normal
Like Colette, we prefer passion to goodness. The great French novelist purrs in The Cat (1933), “The June evening, drenched with light, was reluctant to give way to darkness.” And, “June came with its longer days, its night skies devoid of mystery which the late glow of the sunset and the early glimmer of dawn over the east of Paris kept from being wholly dark.” She too was a lover of “The giddy horizons of Paris.”
Writer and poet Charles Baudelaire caused quite the stir in 1857 with his risqué poem collection Les Fleurs du Mal. One of the tamer pieces is The Swan. Roy Campbell translated it into English in 1952, including the line, “Old Paris is no more (cities renew, quicker than human hearts, their changing spell).” Two years later, William Aggeler also translated it. His version includes, “Paris changes! But naught in my melancholy, Has stirred! New palaces, scaffolding, blocks of stone, Old quarters, all become for me an allegory, And my dear memories are heavier than rocks.” All those Haussmannian boulevards must have seemed so sharply new.
Nancy Mitford, as always, is right. In Don’t Tell Alfred (1960), the Francophile novelist continues, “… past acres of houses exactly as Voltaire, as Balzac, must have seen them, of that colour between beige and grey so characteristic of the Île de France, with high slate roofs and lacy ironwork balconies. Though the outside of these houses have a homogeneity which makes an architectural unit of each street, a glimpse through their great decorated doorways into the courtyards reveals a wealth of difference within. Some are planned on a large and airy scale and have fine staircases and windows surmounted by smiling masks, some are so narrow and dark and mysterious, so overbuilt through the centuries with such ancient, sinister rabbit-runs leading out of them, that it is hard to imagine a citizen of the modern world inhabiting them.”
Frédéric Dassas, Senior Curator Musée du Louvre, told us at the Remembering Napoléon III Dinner in Camden Place, Chislehurst, Kent, “Walk through Paris with open eyes. We still have Paris in Europe!” We will. We do. We’re full of passion for this city. Especially riding through Paris with the wind in our hair. On the back of a motorbike, weaving through rush hour traffic, speeding down narrow streets, zooming round the uninsurable l’Arc de Triomphe roadway, this is life in the fast lane and the overtaking one too. Sporting Mary Martin London and Isabel Marant of course. Selina Hastings writes in her biography of Nancy Mitford (2002), “She found in beautiful Paris happiness of spirit …” Soon we will be deuxième étage living it up. We’re not always good but we’re always passionate.