Welcome to the second of the posts from Sue Vincent’s Christmas Archives… and today a look back at her vivid memories of a Christmas in Paris…………
Christmas Past by Sue Vincent
There are some things we don’t forget. Times, places, memories that stay in that special corner in our hearts where treasures are kept. There are many Christmas memories, from childhood, of course. There are those precious moments with my children when they were small and their eyes sparkled brighter than the lights on the tree. The one we knew would be the last with my late partner which was full of love and laughter, friends and silliness.
There are times and places we see as pivotal in our growth into who we are and will become. And there was Paris 1981.
And of course, I have the Diaries.
I had been in France for a year and had made some wonderful friends, mainly amongst the resident artists who stayed there all year round and took their art seriously. Others came and went chasing the concentration of summer tourists and francs. My friends were the ones who had made it their home. I modelled for them and fed them when they were broke, and when they sold a painting, we partied. They were some of the best friends you could wish for and we took care of each other.
We congregated in the bar on the corner of the square, “Au Clairon des Chasseurs”. I could arrive for coffee on a Saturday morning and still be there sipping wine in the wee small hours of Sunday. Just talking. The artists would come in between clients to warm their hands and have a coffee or a beer, and as one left another would arrive. Actors, writers, diplomats…all came and joined the conversations at the bar. Mini, Tahar and Thierry the waiters joined in as they could when a moment allowed, and we discussed and debated just about every subject under the sun and then went further, delving into the mysteries of the inner universe.
All nations, all languages, all faiths seemed represented and the only rivalries I ever saw were in jest.
This particular Christmas stands out for many reasons. It was my first in Paris and it was beautiful with the lights and the powdering of snow. How I love that city! It was my first, too, away from home, just divorced from a violent marriage and finding my feet in the world. I had never lived as myself before, having gone from my mother’s shadow to my husband’s control and the year had been one of growing confidence and self-discovery.
It is a curious feeling when a fully formed adult can stand back and observe themselves.
Had I been asked I would have told you I was self-assured and competent at life. Yet as I watched myself in this new environment I was surprised at how small I seemed, how afraid of life, how insecure.. I saw myself as the mouse I had been called and felt myself worth little. I had been under my husband’s control for so long I had lost sight of who I was supposed to be and seemed to have failed to grow into myself. I could see myself hiding behind a false personality, but you could not do that for long in Montmartre.
Gradually, over the course of the year, it had dawned on me that the friends I was making must actually like this person for some reason. Here, I was just me, not my mother’s daughter or someone’s wife. Just me. It was a novel feeling. It fed my confidence a little.
I bought myself a bright red outfit, I who had always dressed in colours that hid me. My friends nicknamed me ‘la Tomate’ affectionately, or called me ‘Yorkshire’ in heavily accented tones. I really felt I had come home. When they give you a nickname, they explained, you have been adopted into the family.
My closest friend was Tom Coffield, a brilliant Glaswegian artist. He was a small, wiry Scot with a deep love of Burns and a gift for holding up the mirror of the soul. We had met after I had been sitting on the pavement talking philosophy with Big Boris in broken French. He handed me a portrait but I shook my head. It was spring, the early transient artists had arrived and I wasn’t buying. “An I’m no’ sellin’!” Boris introduced us and wandered off to paint and Tom joined me on the pavement. We must have talked for six hours straight.
He became my friend. And conscience. Advisor and confidante, protector and in many ways a teacher. He was well read, well educated, a challenging conversationalist and damned good fun. More importantly for me, he stripped back every layer behind which you could hide and made you look at yourself. We spent most of the summer talking. He promised me a proper portrait, but it never materialised. Each time he tried to paint he saw something new, knowing me so well, and tried to capture it all.
But that Christmas he gave me something better. He gave me a memory.
We had dined chez Denise on the Rue Lepic and Tom introduced me to Thierry Arnault, who introduced me to his bizarre work and his cats, Snoopy and Pigalle. Armed with a bottle of 1978 Chateauneuf from Mini at the Clairon, we descended on Montparnasse.
Thierry Arnault art.
There was a party at a friend’s apartment. It was snowing and the city was magical in the moonlight. Next day I was heading home for England for a family Christmas, but tonight was for laughter.
I have no idea what possessed me to join Vince in ‘Ilkley Moor bah’t ‘at’ to drown out Tom’s Gaelic. I may be obliged to plead the fifth… not amendment, but Chateauneuf. There was dancing, I was officially renamed ‘La Princesse’, and my diary records, “ …and that was a good day. So many friends I have made! I am a lucky woman.”
The evening ended with Tom kissing me merry Christmas and telling me to come back soon as I was loved by many and would be missed. It was the first time I felt that I really mattered in the world. One is born into a family, but the loves that find and cherish us for who we are, they are very special.
Tom also gave me a Christmas gift which hangs on my wall today. The Clairon and all my friends. Tom is the small guy with the beret on the left talking to Monsieur Steve and old Marcel who loved the light in my hair… I am gazing the long way up at Big Boris and his beard. Alain, gazes soulfully across the room… but that is another story. I knew them all.
Even the pigeons on the glass roof…
…once upon a time.
My thanks to Sue for sharing what was clearly a magical year in Paris and wonderful Christmas.
About Sue Vincent, her collaborations and her books.
One of her most important collaborations is with a small black dog with a delightful mind of her own! Meet Ani..
Sue is a prolific author and has also co-written a book with Dr. G. Michael Vasey and over recent years a substantial number with Stuart France. Here is a small selection.
About An Imperious Impulse: Coyote Tales – the latest release from Sue and Stuart.
“Couldn’t you make me into a Bull?” asked Coyote. In a time before Man walked the Earth, the Great Spirit breathed life into the land. Coyote was the First. Playful, subversive, curious and sometimes comical, he and his fellow creatures shaped the world for those who were to follow. Coyote is a Native American Trickster and hero of many adventures.
Tales of Coyote were passed down and shared with the young to illustrate the dangers of being human. Wilful, headstrong and always in trouble, Coyote journeyed through the spirit worlds, stealing fire and outwitting Death. When the Earth was loved as a living being, the rocks sang and the trees danced. Animals uttered Nature’s wisdom and the sun rose and set upon a wondrous world. The echoes of this magical landscape can still be found in the myths and legends of many cultures. They represent the weaving of the human spirit and the silent lore of creation.
‘Be careful, Coyote, never perform this trick more than four times in any one day.’ ‘An Imperious Impulse’ is the first book of the Lore Weavers, a collection of ancient tales retold. All traditional cultures evolved stories through which the natural and supernatural worlds could be explained and approached. Beyond their entertainment and humour is a deeper layer of mystery and symbolism through which the wisdom of the people could be transmitted. Telling of a time beyond human experience or memory, these tales meld a knowledge of the natural world with the spiritual and moral code of their creators. The essence of the human quest for an understanding of our role within creation has changed little over the millennia.
From the Dreaming of the Australian peoples, to the Great Mystery of the Native Americans and the ancient Celtic myths, there is a common thread that unites humankind across time and distance. It is in the rich tapestry of folk tales that we glimpse its multi-hued beauty. Long may they continue to be enjoyed.
Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire born writer currently living in the south of England, largely due to an unfortunate incident with a map, a pin and a blindfold. Raised in a spiritually eclectic family she has always had an unorthodox view on life, particularly the inner life, which is often reflected in her writing, poetry and paintings.
Sue lived in France for several years, sharing a Bohemian lifestyle and writing songs before returning to England where the youngest of her two sons was born. She began writing and teaching online several years ago, and was invited to collaborate with Dr G Michael Vasey on their book, “The Mystical Hexagram: The Seven Inner Stars of Power” (Datura Press).
Find out more about their work together: http://www.franceandvincent.com/
Sue, along with Steve Tanham and Stuart France, is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, an international modern Mystery School that seeks to allow its students to find the inherent magic in living and being. http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk
Also by Sue Vincent
Discover all of Sue Vincent’s books: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sue-Vincent/e/B00F2L730W
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Thank you for dropping in today and I am Sue and I would both love your feedback.. thanks Sally