I often think I should have been born in a different era. In 1920's Paris or a little town in the French countryside. I would have been the young woman running the village bar; although I guess maybe at that stage young women weren't really seen in a bar; let alone running one.
As a family we spent many a holiday in various parts of France and I really feel at home there but my love for Paris has grown watching many films, reading many books and spending hours wandering the city and soaking up its delightful atmosphere.
I'm currently reading Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard. A great little book to pick up and read whilst enjoying a coffee. With wonderful recipes dotted through out, as she tells the reader of the gastronomic delights she enjoys with her beau, as her love for Paris grows. I have countless French cookery books and my kitchen particularly shows my love for French café culture with pictures of café scenes, signs in French and many an objet d'art.
I could easily while away a morning browsing the local marché for local ingredients for many a fabulous dish, I could easily soak up café culture, sitting outside a café, chairs and tables all in a row, open to the world. To be a voyeur of the passing community and to be seen by others, after all that is what French café culture is all about.
There is something mysterious and deeply enriching about this French lifestyle I have generated in my head. I know none of this would really exist now. It's hard to find a village that still exists in a sleepy, slow culture rather than cars buzzing past, people in a rush, gangs, stress, standard every day life. A world without Twitter, mobile phones and networking groups. But maybe that's why I love the thought of it so much. A nostalgia. A time when life was slower, people communicated face to face. Dinner was a family affair, numerous courses, time spent preparing food, enjoying it and enjoying each others company. People would pass each other in the street and say hello, nothing was a rush, nothing was too much trouble.
I dream of a time when Parisian bars were all smokey, jazz music affairs. The hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, dancing and canoodling til dawn. Maybe my dream world is a little like the film Midnight in Paris, where Owen Wilson's character falls in love with a magical city after meeting Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, somehow in the exuberant plot.
"If you're lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast." The opening to Hemmingway's A Movable Feast. A soft memoir of the years he spent as a expatriate in Paris during the 1920s.
Recently on a trip to Chez JJ in Tunbridge Wells, a fabulous find of a French restaurant I spotted a photograph that I've seen in many bars and restaurants around France - Cafe et Cigarette, Paris 1925 from Roger Viollet. You should really check it out. I'm captivated by this image. For two main reasons - it's Parisian café scene and the fashion of the era. I recently bought a print of this, framed it and put it up in my kitchen and spent a good ten minutes looking in detail at what this photograph, to me, represents.
The Parisian café street scene; the time to be seen, and to see others. The chairs and tables - they look ancient already in this 1925 shot, it's almost like you can sense the people they have hosted, the stories, the moments of life. The two ladies enjoying a break in their day, one makes notes in a little notebook whilst enjoying what looks to be a crème de menthe, whilst the other a café au lait. Laid back luxury of having time to enjoy a quiet moment in the day. The style of these women is impeccable. The lady on the left, wearing a divine fur coat, It looks luxurious and shows a richness in the era. The lady on the right, with a velvet and felt long day coat, if you look carefully you can see leaf detailing on the cuffs and lower arms.
The shoes... oh the shoes - beautiful Mary Jane style and you can only imagine the colour of them. Both styles compliment the outfits perfectly and the added accessory of a cloche hat in beautiful drapped designs.
There is just a magic about this image that for me is everything that I love. I'm drawn to it, it makes me ask questions - are they staying for lunch? Are they on a break from shopping? Where do they source their clothes, what colours are they? It's a snapshot in time that is deep in mystery and it makes me smile just looking at it. I feel like that could really have been me, in 1920's Paris.