We arrived in Paris late Thursday afternoon facing what appeared the cosiest of choices: dinner and a walk in the city, or an evening at Chris’s Aunt’s commodious abode in the suburbs?
I have this old haunt you see, the time-warp ‘Polidor’, tucked up the top of Rue Monsieur-le-Prince. Hemingway frequented it in the 20’s and Woody Allen filmed the nostalgia trips of Midnight in Paris in its dining room. Almost a decade ago I ate there for the first time, sharing a meal with dear Parisian friends in the aftermath of bereavement. Sat across from me that night, at the table in the window, was Masha Yanouchewskaya – a woman of untold beauty who’d studied with Rostropovich and Berlinsky in her homeland before escaping to France.
When she smiled, so did all around her. To them, to me, her recent passing is a devastating loss.
So it was into ‘Polidor’ that I ushered the other Castalians and insisted on the window table, a tribute, all too small, to Masha. Not even the stony eyed couple adjacent could quell my wine-soaked faith in Paris as the last great urban bastion of romance. To digest, a hazy stroll round the Quartier Latin streets, where reality had been dimmed to a faint glow.
Oh how today’s World would come brutally into focus within the next 24 hours.
Before that, an exploration of sound with composer Florent Darras at the Paris Conservatoire, courtesy of ProQuartet. I observed with admiration as my colleagues demonstrated the breadth of their overpressure tone palettes, grinding and grating their way to nods of appreciation from Emmanuel Haratyk (an invaluable sixth pair of ears). My one effort was met with fingers-in-lugs derision. The pressure was just too much.
After pilgrimages to Notre Dame, Berthillon and Shakespeare & Co. (books for them, coffee for me), back to Sèvres to spend what remained of the day with our hosts. This order of events – out on the Thursday, in of a Friday – meant that we were obliviously climbing into bed when our phones began vibrating with the concern of friends and family. We breathed again at the news that Charlotte, staying with a friend in the centre, was cocooned safely indoors. The next hours were spent following the attacks online, checking loved ones were ok, reassuring others and coming to terms with the surreality of an unfolding crisis. Disbelief doesn’t cover it. Tragedy doesn’t come close.
Next morning, a knock on the bedroom door. Sini’s passport was somewhere, but not in France. She had to get to Switzerland. No problem in any normal circumstances, but the French frontiers were on maximum security alert, threatening to close altogether. Her plan: jump on a train clutching a bundle of Euros and blag her way, with no ID, out of a country on the qui vive for anyone looking slightly suspicious. Picture Sini somewhere near Basel, her remaining belongings stuffed into coat pockets and a plastic bag, an armadillo of a violin case strapped to her back, pleading with immigration officers: ‘but my camel needs feeding!’ (for those of you unfamiliar with Sini’s frequent animal-themed outbursts, just you wait).
Hours of phone calls to consulates, airports and train stations later – each in a different language, each undeniably Sini – and she departed, note from the local gendarmerie in hand, bound for the Gare de Lyon.
I’m sure she’ll make it. At times like this, we all need to believe in something.
Paris, you’re in our hearts and our thoughts. We cannot wait to be back.