Charles Spencer

Parisian heights

Charles Spencer on seeing Neil Young in Paris

Mrs Spencer had to spend five days in Paris during half-term observing ballet classes, so my son Edward and I tagged along too, on the strict understanding that watching dance lessons was absolutely not on the agenda as far as we were concerned.

It came as a jolt to realise that my first visit to Paris had been 45 years earlier when my parents took me there at the age of eight. I can’t remember much about it except the pungent smells from the drains, buying a much loved penknife and the evening when my mother was taken ill in a restaurant while tackling a particularly glutinous bowl of onion soup that trailed yards of elastic cheese.

My father went off to help her in her distress and I was left alone at the table, only to be joined by an overfriendly American who offered to buy me all the sweets I wanted and to take me on a trip around the world. He was probably only trying to cheer me up but I had been warned about strangers who promised sweets if you went away with them and began to shout, loudly, as I had been taught to do if such circumstances ever arose. The manager bustled over, the man promptly disappeared and I felt I had had an exciting adventure, and greatly enjoyed being the centre of attention. As far as I know my mother has never eaten French onion soup since.

Ed and I suffered a serious overdose of French Impressionists at the Musée d’Orsay, as if we had pigged out on chocolate, and spent a lot of time climbing things, ascending to the gargoyles and belfries of Notre-Dame, the cupola of Sacré-Coeur, and the top of the Eiffel Tower.

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