Paris 5th-8th July
Hot and sunny throughout. We’re based in the 10th arrondissement. It’s lively and vibrant, especially along the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin, which are thronged with Parisians picnicking, rendez-vousing, imbibing and conversing late into the evening. I feel at home. It seems that Parisians have been starved of good weather as much as Londoners. We walk up to Montmartre on our first afternoon, dismiss the ugly carbuncle of Sacré Cœur, admire the view across Paris, swing past the tourist-trap Place du Tertre, and find Tristan Tzara’s house down a quiet road nearby. We walk a lot over the next few days, exploring the Marais, the Boulevard Saint-Germain, and the streets around the Canal Saint-Martin. Pots of red geraniums abound on wrought iron balconies. Parisians dine late, we discover, and arrive even later at the quirky, nicely retro bars in our quartier. This is all part of our cultural diet. We talk about writing, our writing, about writing as a form of self-defence, writing as performance. I write my journal sitting in a café in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and sitting outside a bar on the Quai de Valmy. My French gets us by, mostly, and we find people almost universally helpful and friendly. I learn a new French word, pichet, and practise it diligently in each café or bar we stop in: un pichet de rosé s‘il vous plaît. Paris, je t’aime.
The Dordogne 8th-15th July
We’re staying with Nick’s father in the countryside. It’s baking all week. Good weather for sitting around chatting about art, education, science, and setting the world to rights. Eating lunch outside, under the shade of an umbrella, and then retreating indoors for some quiet time. I’m making inroads into Girl Trouble – Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women by Carol Dyhouse, a fascinating social history, and tangentially relevant to my current writing project. On the surrounding farms, maize is shooting up and the yellow petals on sunflowers are finally breaking out. In the garden, yellow daisies jostle against red sage flowers. Nick’s father gives us an entertaining lesson in how to water the vegetable patch. We do a little weeding, and on another morning a lot of raking and piling up of cut dried grass. Satisfying work. I get to grips with a traditional waiter’s friend corkscrew – an essential life skill. Later in the week, we see the slender crescent of the new moon as dusk slowly descends and, low on the horizon, Venus winking at us. There are more moths and butterflies than I remember from previous visits; a centipede in our bedroom one night, which Nick ushers gently outside; and my new favourite insect – damselflies – with their petrol blue wings, flitting about the garden. I swim – I swim! – for the first time this year, in a nearby river, La Nizonne. The water is cool and clear and all along the banks damselflies perch on grass stems, flashing their blue wings. Another swim, in the Dronne, where I have to overcome my squeamishness about weeds to wade in deep enough to launch myself into the middle of the river – and it’s worth it, of course, swimming breaststroke against the river’s flow, then floating on my back, blue sky above, between the overhanging trees. One last dip, on our last morning, in La Nizonne, before the day’s heat builds, and I emerge happy, dripping, my feet briefly numb from the cold. A truly invigorating holiday.