By any measure, the events over the last few weeks have been difficult. As with the sale of any treasured possession, we were faced with a challenging mixture of anxiety and conflict.
We own a studio in Paris. For many years it has been let but just after Christmas our most recent tenants left. Knowing it would be empty we arranged to stay there for a few days; for the first time in several years we could relax and enjoy some creature comforts. It was, for instance, a delight to look at and step on its old oak parquet floor or to peer out through its tall “French” windows at the trees in the courtyard.
When opportunities have arisen, the studio has also been our Paris base for walks through streets and gardens, for exploring the many restaurants, for visiting museums and galleries and for meeting with both new acquaintances and some of Rohan’s oldest friends – she grew up in Paris!
Just before we left for our Paris weekend we received a letter from the couple who live in an adjoining flat; they had seen our tenants leave and wondered if we would consider selling the property to them. For both Rohan and I the proposal presented a jarring conflict which was reflected in our reply which said that we did not want to sell the studio at the moment although if we received a generous enough offer we might be persuaded to change our minds. We added that we would soon be in Paris and could meet them in the studio to discuss their proposal and to set out our position.
It was soon clear that they still wanted to buy our studio and the next steps in the potential purchase were agreed. We told them that we would not be involved in any negotiation, that role would be taken by Charlotte, a close friend and experienced estate agent.
Just two days after we returned to London, Charlotte phoned with news that our neighbours had offered to pay our proposed sum. With this our conflict heightened as we felt a mixture of pleasure and sadness.
First, in a celebratory mood Rohan poured herself a glass of wine and I, a lifelong teetotaler, one of water and we toasted the outcome. We were thinking of the several projects we could now fund! Soon however, our mood changed to one of sadness verging on regret as we realised that, come June, when the sale was scheduled to be completed, the pleasures the studio offered would be over. Without it, Paris would always feel that much emptier. Despite our reservations their offer was accepted.
While in Paris and knowing what might happen, I decided to store up some special memories. I could have walked through my favourite streets or parks, but in fact these will be there when I come back. Instead I visited two local food shops to say goodbye to those who had served me over the years and who would always greet me warmly when I arrived
Two minutes from our front door is a wonderful delicatessen which we visit when we feel the need to be pampered. It is also here there that, from the day we arrived, we have been served by Magali or Josiane (see illustration) from whom there was always a nod and a smile of recognition.
And there have been some memorable moments. Once, when I was in a queue that snaked out along the pavement, I found myself receiving looks of near reverence from the staff and passers by. It was only when I got to the front of the queue that I realised that their adulation was not directed at me but at the man just in front; I had been standing behind the former French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin!
My second visit was to the baker’s to see Veronique who has also been serving since our arrival. I reminded her of the first time we met and typical of her, it made her giggle. I had gone up to the counter and asked “Can I please have two croissants?”, to which her response with a glare was “Bonjour” (“Good morning”). I repeated my demand and she repeated her “ Bonjour” but this time louder. After my third request her “Bonjour” was loud enough to fill the shop. I then realised that she was telling me that before I made my order I should have started more politely by using the traditional French salutation. Immediately, I said “Bonjour” and the bagged croissants were passed to me. I was forgiven and she has served me with a twinkle ever since. Our ‘conversation’ was an introduction to French language and culture which I have never forgotten.
Our Paris studio has been a real treasure and the memories of our time there will live on. Losing it will create a big rift but perhaps at this stage in our lives it is justifiable. And, as trivial as the “Bonjour” and Jospin episodes might appear, they will be linked to the flat forever.
The illustration shows a photo of Magali and Josiane taken last week as they stood behind the counter of Maison Vero. Together they have served there for over forty years.
For helping me write this blog I would like to thank Charlotte, Rohan and Vivien.
16 thoughts on “Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour.”
Dear Joe, I understand your conflict, the sadness of a goodbye. Though ours is less permanent. We have a ‘get away’ apartment in the beautiful Dutch medieval city Delft, purchased as a regular retreat from busy, stress filled lives in London. We almost sold but backed away similarly conflicted. Instead it is recently rented – our compromise partly for the income, partly so someone else has somewhere to live in this instance a young French couple- so for possibly up to three years, it will no longer be possible to wander those charming canals, have a beer in the Beestenmarkt or coffee at our favourite café by de Oude Kerk, enjoy the late summer jazz festival or the pre -Christmas Donkere Dagen celebrations. Tant pis or as the Dutch say ‘wat jammer’ ! Bon courage for future projects … Best wishes to you and Rohan. Peter
Dear Peter, Thank you for your comments – it was good to hear from you again after so many years. In many ways your position is like ours. What you will find particularly odd is when you visit Delft, see your flat, and know it can’t be seen as yours. Yours, Joe
Ah we’ve already experienced that renting our flat out in Highbury on moving to Edinburgh for some wonderful times there, also living in Glasgow and not forgetting on the Isle of Bute, then coming back on visits and passing by thinking that’s my flat but naturally access denied. Still already a year since moving back to London and back into our home. Happy in Highbury 🙂
Adieu, farewell and good bye (to misquote Sound of Music) the studio is truly a special place and I feel sad too, as it’s so you and Rohan, however if there are new adventures ahead then what a fabulous and uncomplicated way to create new experiences and memories.
Heartfelt ‘thank you’ Rohan and Joe for inviting me stay in the studio, your kindness provided a unique sanctuary that made me visit Paris many times more than I would have. As they say everything is for ‘a reason, a season or a lifetime’.
Dear Carolyn, Thank you for your comments. As someone who has stayed in the flat, you can easily see how much it will be missed. Love, Joe
Dear Joe I like that you view this as enabling something new. I wonder what new projects you have in mind 🙂
Dear Andrea, Thank you for your comments. It was by thinking of the positive outcomes that selling became a possible option. Love, Joe
Did my comment come through?
Sent from my iPhone
Dear Jackie, Nothing has arrived as yet. Love, Joe
A wistful entry, Joe; saying goodbye to anyone, or thing is always hard.
What are your new plans made possible by this passing?
In the words of Yeats, all “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”.
I guess it’s how we move on that becomes the most important thing, however elegiac we might feel. And, yes, it’s hard.
Dear Rissoles, Thank you for your comments. Our plans won’t be finalised till the sale is completed. Yours, Joe
A poignant post Joe but I love the emphasis on the people of your neighbourhood. You and Rohan generously let my family stay in your studio for my 50th. Very happy memories and especially reading by those lovely windows to the accompaniment of your neighbour playing the piano. Is s/he still there? Love to you and Rohan
Dear Jackie, Thank you for your comment which finally got through. As you say, they are lovely French windows. As for the pianist, he stopped some while ago. Love, Joe
Sad, but as you say above, the sale will lead to new vistas
Hi Joe, The first time I tried to write a comment on one of your blogs I ended up sending it to your web page provider. This time I am hoping the comment goes to you! I loved seeing Sarah’s design on your latest blog as I also loved the card you and Rohan sent out in this year! I always eagerly wait to see what design you choose each year a d am never disappointed. So the new curtain in your home is truly wonderful for its history as well as for its joyful colours. A daily gift of flowers no less. Thank you for your blogs and enjoy your wonderful new curtain! Maree G
Comment sent to me – Joe Collier