Macarons, llamas and breastfeeding in Paris

Photograph of young girl in front of Arc de Triomphe in Paris

Paula poses in front of the Arc de Triomphe, near where we used to live

This post forms part of a series about my trip to Paris with my daughter Paula. We revisited the city for her 10th birthday as we lived there during the first two years of her life. To read from the beginning, click here.

Breakfast the French way

There’s already a queue at the bustling local boulanger at 7.30am, but we persevere and leave happily clutching our rustling white paper bag with a still warm almond croissant and pain au chocolat a few minutes later.

We leave a trail of flaky crumbs in our wake on our way to the metro, eating and planning our route to Neuilly-sur-Seine, our first stop of the day.

The subdued suburb was the first area we lived in during our two-year sojourn in the City of Light and we shared our elitist address with no less than former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and a sea of grey-haired, silk-scarved aristocrats.

As an insecure, first-time mother, it was a time of having every rug under my feet pulled out with such force that a part of me prefers to blot out memories of feeling constantly out of depth in turbulent emotional waters.

But these are not thoughts I want to share with my 10-year-old daughter. I want to open a memory bank of the beautiful moments we had in-between – some unsuspected and some only fully appreciated once they were long gone.

Parisian women don’t breastfeed 

Neuilly, although rather snobbish and unwelcoming, was close to my husband’s job, as well as a tranquil and beautiful corner of the Bois de Bologne, vast parklands filled with lunchtime joggers and cyclists by day, but with an unsavoury reputation as the city’s cruising headquarters at night.

When eventually I’d recovered from the shock of giving birth and changing countries over a period of 14 days, we braved the five-minute walk to the woods most mornings. Paula giggles as I recall the many times I rushed back at breakneck speed to breastfeed a screaming, red-faced infant in the privacy of our apartment.

Parisian mums don’t breastfeed – and those who do certainly don’t do so in public. Big, veined boobs popping out of maternity tops don’t really feature on the Parisian café scene.

As I grew more adventurous, we moved further afield, crossing the deafening traffic of Charles de Gaulle high street en route to our local Monoprix. This ubiquitous supermarket is France’s answer to Tesco but with a French flair that stretches to deliciously ripe cheeses, freshly baked croissants and baguettes, stylish accessories and children’s clothes you’d be hard pressed to find on a Tesco shelf.

Picnic at our favourite hang-out

Young girl in front of llama pen in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris

Paula used to love the llamas when she was a toddler.

Today, we choose a Moroccan couscous salad, baguette, camembert, strawberries and a selection of pretty pastel macarons from the deli counter for our planned picnic in the Jardin d’Acclimatation, a wonderfully retro amusement park near our old apartment, where Paula and I spent many mornings together.

One of the city’s top family attractions in summer, the park is all but deserted on this early Spring day, apart from a few workers lazily painting the fences and a smattering of Filipino nannies with their excited charges.

We stroll around, rediscovering long forgotten favourite haunts, including la Petite Ferme with turkeys, pigs, sheep, donkeys and the llamas, which fascinated the toddler Paula to the point of near obsession.

A princess:  now and then 

Young girl in carriage on carousel in Jardin d'Acclimatation

Carousel in the Jardin d’ Acclimatation

I take a photo of my beautiful girl in a gilded carriage on the vintage carousel, to add to a collection of earlier photographs of her in the same spot.

The camera hides an unexpected onslaught of tears as the picture brings into sharp focus my memory of a tiny little princess nearly 10 years ago waving excitedly at onlookers as if she had the whole world at her feet.

Young girl with older woman in carriage on carousel in Jardin d'Acclimatation

Paula with her grandma Laurita on the carousel

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Paula in Paris – travels with my daughter

Aside

Two-year-old girl walking Parisian streets

A two-year-old Paula walking the Parisian streets

This is the second instalment of my trip to Paris with my 10-year-old daughter Paula. The first part of the story is here.

Stepping back in time

Lunch in the little French Café costs a small fortune and had he been there my penny-pinching husband would have certainly mentioned this over every forkful. In stead, I relish my Croque Monsieur and salad and my rare freedom to enjoy every delicious bite.

After our meal, Paula and I stroll down towards the historical heart of Paris around Ile de la Cité, caught up in the maelstrom of slow-moving American tourists and annoyed Parisians weaving their way purposefully through the crowds.

What promised to be a bright Spring day, had matured into the glorious sunshine and cloudless skies of mid-Summer and we strip off layer after layer, stuffing coats and jumpers into my bulging back sack. With every layer I discard some leftover anxiety about stepping back in time with my daughter.

Admiring a grand old lady
10-year-old Paula in front of Notre Dame

We admired Notre Dame from the outside

We decide not to join the endless queue to enter Notre Dame or climb the 387 stairs to the top. We mill around the busy square in front of the iconic 800-year-old cathedral, admiring the funny-faced gargoyles (stone-figures) on the facade and rose-tinted stained glass windows from outside. We try to picture Victor Hugo’s struggling Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame hiding in the towers somewhere. 

I let Paula dictate our pace as being a tourist in Paris can be exhausting, even for adults, but I needn’t have worried. She shows no sign of wanting to slow down, exhilarated by her beautiful surroundings and long-awaited quality time with mum.

Bridge covered with padlocks locked onto the bridge by lovers

A glittering testimony to romance

We stumble across the Pont de L’Archeveche, which comes as a surprise to me. Our guidebook solves the mystery. Covered in brightly decorated and engraved padlocks attached to its wrought iron railings, the bridge is a glittering testimony to romance. Apparently couples lock the padlocks onto the bridge, declaring undying love and then throwing the keys in the Seine.  For Paula this is the stuff of fairytales, but my inner cynic can’t help wondering how many of the rusty keys on the bed of the Seine now belong to broken hearts.

Next stop: Centre Pompidou –  a monstrous modern building of glass, cubes and utility pipes running on its outside. Its bold colours and sharp contours a shock to the senses after the medieval magic of the city’s gentle heart.

Girl in front of sculpture in fountain

Paula poses in front of a twisted sculpture in fountain at Centre George Pompidou

Paula and I giggle hysterically at the obscene twisted, colourful sculptures in the fountain in front of this cultural centre, taking turns to pose for photographs.

Footsore and slightly sun-burnt, but with soaring hearts we find our way back to our humble two-star hotel to take a break from five hours of uninterrupted walking.

Sacré Coeur – keeping a promise

Buoyed by our successful day, I decide to take advantage of the beautiful light and venture out a bit further to the hilly Montmartre, from which the sparkly white basilica of Sacré Coeur rises above the city like an overprotective parent.

night-time photograph of Sacré Coeur

The sparkling white dome of Sacré Coeur.

The narrow, cobblestoned streets are as always teeming with tourists shuffling from tiny shop to shop, touting the same bright fridge magnets, Eiffel Tower-emblemed T-shirts and kitsch trinkets destined to end up in forgotten drawers thousands of miles away.

We pass through the hordes, declining invitations from street artists to be immortalised with a few pencil strokes, and climb the endless stairs leading up to the brightly lit dome of the basilica like a stairway to heaven. Paula matches my every step.  We peer into windows offering enviable glimpses of bohemian Parisian life along the way, similar to the windows of opportunity which enticed a much younger me to become a part of it.

By the time we reach the top, it is dark and the city opens up in front of us in a sea of magnificent lights, just as it did 11 years before, when my husband promised me the sun, moon and stars if I moved to Paris with him.

Despite some seriously tough times, I realise I would probably agree all over again if he asked me here, with the white dome towering above us and the illuminated icons of the city at our feet.

By now the crowd had thinned out and suddenly we find ourselves surrounded by loutish, drunken youths involved in an argument on the brink of turning violent. I grab Paula’s hand and we fly down the stairs back to the safety of a touristy bistro, where we squeeze in among two tiny tables, indecently close to our neighbours, and recall the highlights of the day over chicken nuggets and Coca (Paula) and a quarter poulet and du vin rouge (me).

If you want to know what else Paula and I did in Paris – keep reading my blog, the third instalment is on its way.