things that have been wonderful lately

Sea foam that blows in over the walls of Saint-Malo’s old town and swirls like snow in the icy air. We take refuge in a teashop where the waiters smile and bow, and sit next to a woman who is methodically crunching her way through three bowls of sugar cubes while loudly discussing bank transfers into a flip-phone. The remains of a single espresso, long since finished, dry in front of her. We eat galettes oozing molten cheese. The waiter slips us two slices of raspberry cheesecake “just to taste” and fetches a fourth bowl of sugar cubes for our neighbour.

Sinuous crocodiles of school children, hand in hand in high-vis jackets, meandering along footpaths on their way to and from daycare activities during the Toussaint holidays.

Christmas lights pretending to be icicles strung out along boulevards. Winter comes to Paris in a rush of shedding and adorning, showing off and bunkering down. Terraces grow glass walls and sprout overhead furnaces. Leaves darken and die (a process I still watch with wide-eyed Queensland fascination). Five cold months stretch out bleakly ahead, five months of frozen toes and hunched shoulders and taking 15 minutes longer to leave the house because of all the layers. But five months, too, of bright cold air; of sharp sunshine; of elegant boots and belted overcoats. Of Christmas markets smelling of mulled wine and of cosy train journeys. Of the Paris I first saw at 20, the one that still feels a little more like adventure than any other version.

Hot chocolate so thick it can barely be poured.

Dr Anne the dentist in studded ankle boots and belted jeans, her smoky voice booming through her open-plan surgery while she grinds tartar from my molars. I forget to look up dental vocabulary before I go and spend a lot of my time nodding, hoping not to spot a drill in my peripheral vision. But she says pas de problème and sends me out into the morning unscathed.

Rough-edged cinnamon cookies fresh from an earth oven carved into the walls of the deepest dry moat in Europe. My friend and I are the only ones peering through the low stone doorway into what were once primitive cold rooms and pantries and the woman by the oven says, They’re a test batch. Try one. It’s not until much later, when the last of the crumbs have been licked from our lips and we have crept back through the subterranean fortress to surface level that we see her disappearing into a doorway and realise she still lives in the chateau perched above.

My cheeks when I have remembered to moisturise religiously.

Singing O Come All Ye Faithful at the top of my lungs in a village church at 11:49pm on Christmas Eve.

Singing Auld Lang Syne, arm-in-arm with my friend, at 12:01am on New Year’s Day in a hipster bar somewhere near Wandsworth (the dodgy end).

Staying in, making dense pumpkin soup with extra curry powder, while wearing Quidditch Captain pyjamas and Dobby Is Free socks.

Sitting in a room full of fundraisers, learning about tax exemption regulations and having the confidence to say in accented but perfectly comprehensible French, so just to clarify, this applies to all deductible donations?

The full-grown pig that lives on a barge on the Seine in central Paris, and goes for a walk each morning on a leash.


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