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George Orwell

Cotswolds Europe

Down and Out in Paris and London

For several years now I have held the view that London is only for the very young or the very rich, and that therefore Samuel Johnson of the “…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” quip was full of crap. One place I never expected to tire of, however, was Paris.  Thanks to the largess of a friend of my sister’s with digs on the Île Saint Louis and the ease of traveling by Eurostar, Paris has been a favorite weekend destination for husband and me since we moved to England. And we could think of no better place to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary last week.

But things did not begin well. We had flown to England for a few nights in the Cotswolds before heading to Paris, and on that first Saturday we drank too much wine at a sardine BBQ at the wine bar. I awoke on Sunday to find ten strips of raffle tickets in my purse that I only dimly remembered purchasing and had no idea in aid of what (this being the season of village fêtes, the possibilities were endless). Unfortunately this was not the worst after-effect of such indulgence; that was left for Monday when the two-day-deferred-morosity that is the mark of such excess set in on our train ride to Paris.

Upon our arrival the first thing we noticed was the traffic. The midday taxi ride from Gare du Nord to the center of Paris was painstaking, with every hundred-meter progression feeling like a major victory. Once on the the Île Saint Louis we observed the crush of humanity outside Notre Dame and remembered it was June and American kids were out of school. We pressed on, literally, stretching our legs on a jog to the Tuilieries and back. In the early evening we headed to our favorite café in the Marais for a glass of wine. The people watching from a pavement table was still the best in the world, but the man hawking jasmine garlands was more aggressive than usual. This was nothing compared to the affront I felt when we sat down for dinner at the bistro next door and discovered our waiter was Irish. Was it too much to ask to be treated rudely by an old French waiter for your anniversary?

The week continued and so did the list of irritations. The workers at the Musee d’Orsay went on strike closing the museum for the day.  There was a hair in my turkey club at our favorite lunch spot on the Rue Cler. It rained. I got bit by mosquitoes. The stench of urine on the cobbled banks of the Seine marred our morning jogs.  Of course there were pleasures—aside from the turkey club we ate and drank very well—but even those were suspicious given my ill-timed decision to pick up my reading of Down and Out in Paris and London on our last day.  In it Orwell expounds on his life as a plongeur in the bowels of a Paris hotel kitchen; I can only the hope the filth has subsided since he worked in the city in 1928.  By the time we boarded Eurostar back to London, the mutual feeling was of relief.

Yesterday the Cotswolds had its first true summer day, and we were there. We rode our bikes out through Hampnett and Turkedean, then Notgrove and Guiting Power, stopping for lunch at the Black Horse in Naunton, weaving through the day trippers in Lower Slaughter and Bourton-on-the-Water before heading back through Farmington and home. Poppies rouged the apple-green cheeks of the hills, and fields of linseed blooms in a sheer lavender hue provided the dose of Impressionism we had failed to get from the Orsay. It was by far the best day of the vacation.

Reading back over this I am aware I sound like a spoiled brat complaining about getting to spend a week in Paris.  On the contrary, I count my lucky stars every day that I have the kind of life right now that affords me such whims.  I know that one day before long we will be back in the U.S. where if we are lucky we will be employed, and such employment will be rewarded with a paltry ten days vacation in a currency that doesn’t go far in Europe.  When we decided to go to Paris for our anniversary it was precisely because we were thinking we won’t always have Paris.  What I forgot is that, God willing, we’ll always have the Cotswolds.