Wednesday, December 15, 2010


A friend recently told me I'm "a meeter", which sat a little strangely with me at first. But somehow, in the past few months - it's true - I've turned into a meeter. I couldn't tell you how this happened or how to go about it, because I don't know. All I know is that I've made more friends in the past six months than I did in the previous few years. On trips to Paris I used to spend most of the time alone; now I rarely am. Even if I think I will be, someone interesting will usually strike up a conversation with me.

That perhaps explains how I got chatting to Tito - my companion on the Eurostar. I have actually never had a conversation with the person sitting next to me on the Eurostar before - it's just not that kind of train. I'm usually a pretty disinterested plane or train neighbour. I have been known to put headphones on (without pressing play) or fall into an instant faux sleep to avoid making conversation. But for some reason I didn't this time.

Tito started talking to me in French - I thought he was French until I got a bit stuck and he switched seamlessly to English with an American accent. We got chatting - he told me why his French is so good and some other very interesting stories. He said he had lunch and dinner at La Rotonde every day when he was in Paris - and never went far from Montparnasse. We talked about this and that, he showed me the website about his father, which I couldn't look at too closely on my iPhone with the train going in and out of tunnels. By the time we reached Paris I felt like I had a new friend. I think I invited myself to have lunch at La Rotonde. I had been to Le Select once, but never Le Dome, La Coupole or La Rotonde. It seemed perfectly normal to stroll along the side of the Jardin du Luxembourg on a bright winter's day, past the street where I mistakenly put myself in the absolute beginners class at the Alliance Francaise and wasted two weeks and a couple of hundred euros re-learning how to say the alphabet in French. Up to the junction of boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse and into the dark, cosy confines of La Rotonde. Here - pictures will explain better than words...

Burgundy velvet banquettes, brass rails, glowing lamps and the discreet hum of intellectual conversation.

 The Modiglianis lining the walls are reproductions these days - of paintings given by him to the former owners as payment for his meals there.

Oh hai.

We had a lovely lunch - the wine was perfect, the fish was good, the waiters were very charming and attentive (though I imagine they might not have been quite so charming and attentive if I had been with someone else). We said goodbye and au revoir after lunch and I hope I'll see my friend in London soon. And I've ordered Tito's latest book, Talking with Sartre for myself for Christmas.

At the time, I took the whole experience in stride as one of those "when in Paris" things that only happen, and do happen there. It was only when I got home to London that I realised quite what an extraordinarily serendipitous Paris experience it was.

p.s. You need to click on the links, and read them, or it won't make sense!


If Jane said...

what an amazing experience!!! wow!!!
i am rather speechless...but true...somehow
such events of magic always seem to happen in paris! ;))
(i think i shall order the book myself!!)

Bombay Beauty said...

brilliant! what an interesting person. and i know what you mean about being one and then becoming another. i'm exactly like you most of the time: i don't end up in conversations with people around me. not sure why. i enjoy talking. perhaps i look too self-sufficient.

but then sometimes i enter these phases where i just start talking to people i meet - become a meeter - and the more i do it, the more happens.

i have friends like who always are like this - if i hang out with them, we're bounding to find someone fascinating to speak with.

you'll be be my london (and paris) meeter from now on!



Rose said...

how wonderful! I think I do want to be a meeter- and sometimes I am- but other times I want to shrink into myself. Well done for not headphoning up- and look what it brought you- one of those prescious Paris experiences and hopefully a new friend

I always love reading your blog and it's something of a constant in my life without me even realising- I think I'd be incredibly sad if it wasn't here to pick me up or accompany me on a bus or a lunch time- if I don't get a later chance to say so have a very happy Christmas and new year

swansblossom said... extraordinarily cool such moments are, and it is true, how we take these moments in our stride, finding them quite normal, as if we feel we deserve this small flowering of attentiveness, while only realising later how rare and fleeting these circumstances might be.

Actually, it was only the mention of the eurostar that caught my attention...I am a new convert...such a fantastic invention, to be whizzing beneath the sea, avoiding all the queasy discomforts of ferries, or flying. I only wish they had not made the darting underground so mundane...people scarcely glance up from their books, or from their conversations, with serious intellectuals...there should be a waving of flags, at the border, at least !

about a fox said...

goosebumps--- I lived for a year on a tiny street between Raspail and Montparnasse-- 4, rue Leopold-Robert--- too bad it was wasted on my numbnut 19 year old self . . xoxo, E