We’ll always have Paris

I’m sitting outside the Café de la Paix, one if the most iconic cafes in Paris, and all kinds of thoughts come to my mind.

First of all, I feel contented. It is a warm summer evening and I’m sitting here by myself, feeling the city all around me. So many people pass by, a Japanese fashion victim impeccable from head to toe, an Eastern family with three small children, the veiled mother pushing a double pram and hurrying behind her husband, young motor bikers with their girlfriends holding tight behind them in shorts, doing justice to the wonderful temperature…sitting at the table next to me three African women with strange hairdos and a look of power about them talk animatedly – wherever they are from they must be influential women, they look strong and determined!

I’m here for a business meeting tomorrow, but loving Paris as I do – it is one of my favourite cities – I decided to catch an earlier plane so that I could still make the most of the Sunday afternoon. As the plane landed, again I saw the Eiffel Tower whose pinnacle we can still glimpse when the plane has already taken ground – it is, undoubtedly, the symbol of the city of light, this Paris that I love.

I didn’t get to know Paris until my early thirties, though. I started coming for some training we did at our Mother Company, as by then I worked for a French group. We used to stay for a week and the company paid for us to come and stay the weekend because  back then air fares were so much cheaper when the trip included a weekend. So I came, usually with some colleagues, and we’d walk around Paris and get to know the city. I remember once walking so much that by the end of the weekend my feet were so swollen I could barely put my shoes on! But it was worthwhile: from the Opera (the area where our company was and where we naturally stayed), to Montparnasse, from Les Halles to the Eiffel Tower, from the Louvre to Notre Dame and then on to the Quartier Latin, from the Tuilleries to the Champs Elysées and then to Montmartre, we tirelessly walked , getting to know every corner, every street; we went to the Louvre Museum – without the terrible queues of today – to the beautiful Musée d’Orsay, where they have the impressionist painters that I love, to the Bastille where unfortunately you can no longer find any traces of the old prison I had read so much about….. It was in Paris, during one of these trainings, that I met my Spanish friend Rosario.  We were a group of people from several countries. I was with a Portuguese colleague and there was a funny story. The first day of the training we discovered it would be in French – no surprise for us but apparently it was so for our English and Irish colleagues who hardly spoke any French – apart from the inevitable Bonjour and Bonsoir… So of course my colleague and I, who as most Portuguese fluently speak several languages, offered to do a simultaneous translation so that they might understand what was being said and this we did during the whole week! No wonder by the end of the training they were so grateful to us… In the end it was fun and the last evening, when we all went out to dinner and then to an Irish pub, was memorable – I remember dancing the “lambada” on a table with our Irish colleague who had already drank too many pints of beer…

Years later I would again come back for my work and stay in the same area, but this time in a grand hotel on Boulevard Haussman called ” The Ambassador“. Once I even stayed in the magnificent “ Le Scribe“, where the closet was about the same size as the room…and the walls were covered with beautiful wallpaper in blue and white depicting gracious scenes of ladies and gentlemen of times gone by…our meetings by then were at the Chausseé d’Antin, by the beautiful Opera building – and mysterious scenery of the famous “The Phantom of the Opera“, a story written by French author Gaston Leroux but made famous by the musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber; when our meetings were over, around five, my colleagues and I would go for some shopping at nearby Galleries Lafayette.

A few years ago I came here with the boys for a holiday. Afonso was fifteen and Pedro eleven, very excited about going to Disneyland Paris. We did spend a day there and it was fun, but Afonso was not too keen and in the end it started raining so we had to leave in a hurry. But we saw a lot of Paris and they loved it. We even went on a tour of the sewers that Afonso loved but poor Pedro was in a panic when he saw some huge stuffed rats at the entrance and he always feared they would be around for real. So he was not comfortable at all…

We came in the summer so the weather was very much like today and in the evenings it was very pleasant to stroll down the Boulevard des Capucines and have dinner at “Hippopotamus“, a meat restaurant I used to go to when I came here – to eat my favourite steak tartare- that of course they loved. Then we’d walk through the Place Vendôme to the Garden of the Tuilleries where there was a summer fair and the boys would amuse themselves with shooting games. Afonso proved to be a great shot and won a number of plastic pistols that forced me to dispatch my otherwise cabinet luggage just in case it was thought I was carrying real guns…but it was fun and Afonso was very proud of his achievements.

So many memories of this city, I think, as I sip my Kir Royal, the typical drink of Paris, made of champagne and crème de cassis . And, inevitably, thoughts come to my mind that suddenly, as unfortunately it has been happening so often of late, there could be a crazy man opening fire on the people peacefully sitting on the terrace such as myself. It has been happening all around us and in fact we never know when it will happen again. It happened in London, on the same Westminster Bridge where I had been walking with the boys not once, but twice, only two weeks before…

I think of it but strangely I don’t feel scared. I calmly sip my drink, thoroughly enjoying it, and I feel calm, serene. I am not afraid, nor are the hundreds of people passing me by. We know of the risks of course, but there’s no way we are going to stop doing the things that we love. Such as sitting on a terrace of a pleasant Paris boulevard on a warm summer evening and enjoying the food and the drinks. This is Paris, this has always been Paris, a city that has been through so much but has always emerged as what it is – a true city of lights. And, I think as I get up to leave, this time it won’t be any different. Paris will always be Paris, and we’ll go on sitting outside  enjoying a drink and feeling the bustle of this hectic, amazing city. This, I believe, will never change – no matter what.

As Humphrey Bogart told Ingrid Bergman in what became one of the most famous movie sentences of all time: “We’ll always have Paris”. Thank God for that.