Paris, Summer 1933
Imagine that you're on your deathbed, and an angel grants you an extra half an hour to live!

June 27th. I'm in Paris, at Le Dôme Café, sitting outside, watching the Parisians walking the Boulevard du Montparnasse. They tell me that this is one of the great coffeehouses of Paris, that intellectuals such as Bataille, Fargue and Hemingway spend their time here, writing or talking to their friends. Josephine Baker has been known to come here with her pet cheetah, although I don't think I'll hold out any hope for that happening today. I've just finished my second chocolat chaud, the weather's balmy, and I've untied my bow tie. Perhaps the locals may sneer at me, but I don't mind. My train doesn't leave until tomorrow morning, although I've seen as much of Paris as I want to, until next time. The chocolat chaud is superb - thick, not too sweet, with a taste that is sophisticated, although I don't know what I mean by that, or what might give it that taste. I won't eat or drink anything for a while, to savour the aftertaste.

I watch two girls, giggling and gushing their young secrets to each other as they strut past. One is plump, but pretty, wearing a purple and white polka dot dress, and she seems to be the one in charge. The other one is thin and pale, with curious, slightly pointed ears which seemed to hint of faery lineage. She is obviously devoted to her friend. They're probably discussing some boy who is about to suffer. It's times like this I wish I knew French better. A ginger cat wanders past - I blow it a kiss, but it gives me a haughty look and continues on its way. A true Parisian. Then the outdoor speakers play an operatic aria, I don't know what it is, Gounod perhaps. The soprano's notes ring and buzz in the air, and I begin to doze off... until I'm woken by my head nodding.

Perhaps it's the chocolat chaud, perhaps the warm afternoon, perhaps the music, but I'm feeling... well, what is the word? Today I am content. Today I seem to remember happy seasons from long ago, memories from goodness knows where. I remember some tin soldiers I had as a very small boy, that I didn't look after. How I wish I had them now! I remember walking along a pleasure pier with my mother and father. Where was it? I don't know. I remember talking with my schoolfriend Percy Lowe. We were watching a school rugby match - I don't remember what we had been talking about, but I remember him saying,

"I say, here's an idea! Imagine that you're on your deathbed, and an angel grants you an extra half an hour to live! What would you do with it?"

What a grown-up conversation for little boys! I'm sure we came up with a variety of silly suggestions. But now here I am, in the most beautiful city in the world, on a lovely day, with the time to think about it. The answer doesn't present itself easily. I look back to all the things that made me the happiest, and as I've grown older I have come to believe that happy times, and beautiful things, are like butterflies in the meadows, they grace us for just a few moments, and we should just be grateful. But perhaps one thing we should do is to acknowledge when we are happy...

I'm surprised at the low cost of books in Paris. I came across a little second-hand bookshop in the Rue Croix des Petits Champs this morning, and as I entered I was given an empty basket by the shopgirl, as if I was there to buy vegetables. I soon found that the basket was very welcome. There were plenty of books in English - I spent an hour there, and I had to leave too many books behind. On the inside cover of a torn and dusty copy of Ouida's Afternoon, somebody had written;

July 1902. All the truths unknown, that float around like ghosts, until the people die and there is nobody left to know.

Sometimes the inscription tells the richer story... I suppose the secret must be lost by now. I found a first edition of Hereward the Wake which was quite ragged, but I had to buy it, as it was exactly the same age as myself. It cost me one centime. I found an Oscar Wilde omnibus which I had to buy just for the beauty of its binding. I walked further down the street, and came to a violin maker's. I watched through his window for half an hour while he attacked a large piece of wood with his gouge, as if he was digging a ditch. With the depression it must be difficult for an artisan to make a living, but he seemed cheerful enough. Of all the cities I've visited, Paris is in some ways the most frustrating - there is so much that can only be appreciated by living here. Perhaps one day.

'L'Atlantide' is showing at the cinema tonight. I think I know enough French to enjoy it. Or perhaps I'm not in the mood for thinking... once the streetlights come on I'll go looking for something to eat, then I may just wander along the Seine.

I close my eyes, and feel the sun warm my face. So what would I do with the half an hour the angel gives me? I don't know. But I've done nothing for the past hour, and it was time well spent.

November, 2015

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