Words || Katrina Lawrence
Paris Dreaming is at heart a one-thousand-word love letter to the City of Light — one that I’ve been writing, or at least envisioning, since the age of five, during and in between the countless times I have visited Paris (literally: I have lost count).
A few years ago, I found myself back in Paris on a beauty press trip, with a free day to spare, so I quickly scribbled out my perfect one-day Paris itinerary. Two other journalists ended up joining me. We began with breakfast at Angelina and, warmed by the velvety-lush old-style hot chocolate, then wound our way through the delightful Tuileries Garden, before flitting over the graceful span of a bridge that is the Pont des Arts, into the storied world of Saint-Germain.
As we meandered around, I shared what I knew about the buildings about us and streets beneath us, the stomping ground of so many of history’s greatest poets, playboys and princesses.
Over lunch at the legendary Café de Flore, where our rosé-filled carafe matched our rose-tinted glasses, my colleagues encouraged me to write down everything I had just said. It was, as you might say, a light bulb moment. Suddenly the City of Light looked extra sparkly.
I ended my day with more sparkle: a glass of champagne at Le Meurice on the Rue de Rivoli. Then I stopped by the bookstore Galignani just down the road, where I bought myself a notebook, blank but for a title in bold on the first page: ‘Le Livre à Venir’ — The Book to Come. I began filling the pages on the flight home.
Home. That was an idea I would come to explore further. Because I felt so at home in Paris. Yet I’d never stayed longer than three months — back when I was 21, and studying French there. I reflected on the fact that perhaps we all have a spiritual home, somewhere you might have lived in a past life, or somewhere that provides some kind of fulfilling parallel life.
I had friends who ‘found themselves’ in Italy, India and Manhattan. For me, it was always Paris.
I thought about all the different times I’d been to the city. What she (because, oui, Paris is a woman) and her people had taught me. How they’d inspired me to live my life. I realised that knowing Paris had made my life immeasurably better.
Any passion or hobby will enhance an existence, of course, but there was something about Paris, I thought, that was so exceptionally life-enriching.
This is the city that created the concept of living well, of haute cuisine, of joie de vivre … But it is also the city that teaches you there’s beauty in the smaller moments, too. ‘La vie est faite de petits bonheurs,’ say the French. I’m not the first one to try to mine the secrets of living well à la française, of course. But I felt I had my own story to tell, from the viewpoint of a beauty journalist of 20 years. Paris is, of course, the global capital of beauty, but over time it also teaches you what is perhaps the true meaning of beauty.
There are oodles of history, biography, cultural study, and even beauty tips, woven through Paris Dreaming — but it’s essentially a personal memoir. And memory was a key theme. Not only did I have to file through the dusty depths of my mind (and pages of angsty old diaries), but I thought a lot about the concept of memory, its realness. How do you keep the past alive?
My mother’s surname is Proust. Family legend is that a leaf on a distant branch of the genealogical tree bears the name Marcel Proust, the legendary French author of the tome of a classic, In Search of Lost Time. Years of memory gushed back to him one day when nibbling on a madeleine, the shell-shaped French tea cake that he used to eat as a boy.
This in turn became pages and pages of words, as the author feverishly wrote into the wee hours, attempting to record a beloved Parisian world that was fast disappearing. He lamented the loss of all this time, but paradoxically the very act of writing kept the past in the present.
Perhaps, I thought, I continually holidayed to Paris in order to preserve my own past, to stay young, to keep old and happy memories alive. That would explain why, with each visit, I’d so lament the shuttering of a favourite old boutique or brasserie, sure signs of time passing. Nevertheless, I now had a way to bring it all back. I could simply close my eyes and remember (madeleine or no). And I could write it all down.
About the author
A beauty journalist for 20 years, Katrina Lawrence ha mused on makeup, perfume, and more for a wide range of women’s magazines and online publications. She is one of Australia’s most awarded beauty writers, having won a number of industry accolades, including two esteemed Jasmine Awards for fragrance journalism. Katrina lives in Bondi Beach with her husband and two sons, but her spiritual home will always be Paris, a city she has visited countless times (seriously: she has lost count) since the age of five.