One of the great things about living in Paris is being able to jump on a train and head south, ending up on the Côte d’Azur, as we did the week before last. The other great thing about living in Paris is being able to jump on a train and head north, landing in Normandie, as we did this weekend just gone.
I’d never been to the Norman territory before, so it was a wish finally granted to the six-year-old me whose hero was William the Conqueror; that was before I knew he mutilated peasants for walking in forests he liked to keep for hunting purposes for him and all his fat, toff mates. Christ, they didn’t teach us anything in school did they? I also desperately wanted to see the Bayeaux Tapestry when I was that age, which shows how much I’ve changed, as whenever I’m exploring a large museum like the V&A I always skip past the carpets and tapestries hanging on the walls as quickly as possible because I just can’t seem to get that worked up about anyone stitching at any time in history if I’m honest with you. I don’t even hang around furtively pretending I’m interested anymore. Ancient rugs? You’re shitting me aren’t you? I might have taken some Persian rugs off you in the bad old days mate… next! Luckily we didn’t see the Bayeaux Tapestry, because it wasn’t where we were, and also because I’ve changed so much that I frankly might have pissed all over it had I seen it. All 70 metres of the fucking thing.
We arrived in the twin towns of Deauville and Trouville which conveniently rhyme and are situated right next to each other also. I’m sure there’s some Romulus / Remus style legend regarding these two, and if there isn’t then someone should make one up. “On est chic, l’autre traditionnel,” a local woman told us succinctly, and she was on the money. In fact Deauville, with its prefab Hollywood plage, designer labels and highways lined with indomitable Mock Tudor edifices, takes itself a little seriously, while Trouville, with its rancid, gaudy galleries and crazy golf on the beach, lives up to the ‘trou’ in its name (ie. its a hole) but I think I preferred it more to be honest.
We actually stayed a few miles away in a lovely little town by the sea called Honfleur, or rather we stayed in an Ibis located further along the motorway than they let on on the internet. It presumably welcomes so many war veterans at Remembrance time that they keep poppy carpets laid all year round just in case they pop back for an Easter break. Honfleur itself was very pretty, if not a little like many of the nice English towns facing us on the adjacent coast (though maybe less depressed and stuck in the 1950’s). A bit like Hastings then, but slightly less windy and with no charity shops. There were certainly more Angles than I’ve had to contend with for a long while, though I can’t begrudge them their annual dip into the devilish exoticism of Camembert and Calvados cider.
The sun gave us a roasting and then the next day we realised there was nothing else to do (“Bormandie more like,” I said) and we did the town’s four museums in a couple of hours. I would have liked to have stayed for longer in the Musée Eugène Boudin – which was surprisingly ace – but they all decided to shut an hour for dinner at 1pm leaving us again wondering what to do with ourselves. The museum dedicated to one hit wonder Érik Satie was brilliantly inventive in an immerse “what the fuck is going on?” kind of a way, which oddly reminded me of the Kafka Museum in Prague. These local boys made good obviously ran away and made their reputations in Paris, and one mused on whether or not they met up there at all and talked about back home, or whether they even liked each other.
We headed back to Paris on Sunday, having enjoyed our little adventure, though if we’re comparing north and south then in my book there’s no contest. Luckily it’s not a contest. Paris itself continues to be fraught with tensions brought on by Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. When I was 13 I remember going home to see my dad from Bristol one weekend and catching a glimpse of my school on the telly amidst the St Paul’s Riots. In 2005 I watched the London Bombings from a TV in Serbia, utterly confused having traveled through King’s Cross that morning on the way to the airport. Watching demonstrations at Republique turn nasty on the news isn’t in the same ballpark, but I still felt frightened watching the chaos take place a few minutes from my house, and I still felt protective. I’m sure Jewish communities in Paris and those with relatives in Palestine feel more frightened still.