The original version of this story first appeared in Khuluma inflight mag in January 2018)
There’s nothing I love more than a travel throwback. You’re a Fifty~Something in Paris, strolling slowly down the Boulevard Des Capucines towards the magnificent Opéra Garnier. The occasion is the season premiere of a programme of highly anticipated neo classical dance, and you’re reliving countless flashbacks on your way down the avenue as you pass cafés full of Parisians chatting animatedly at sidewalk cafés. Suddenly you have a deja-vu moment and your mind whisks you back to 1978 and just like that you’re a wide-eyed 14 year-old aspirant ballerina on your first trip away from home. It’s Paris and it’s magical.
Accompanied by your best friend from ballet school, you’re about to watch the brightest stars in the universe of tutus, tiaras and tulle. It’s a dream come true. Swivelling around in your plush velvet seat, your eyes take in the magnificence – tiers of balconies and rows of boxes, and an immense twinkling crystal chandelier hovers above, framed by an exquisite Marc Chagall painting in the domed ceiling. A lyrical hum emanates from the orchestra pit as the musicians tune their instruments, and with bated breath you stare at the stage, heart racing, willing the curtain to rise on Rudolf Nureyev in Balanchine’s Apollo. True story, and if then had been now, the hashtag would have been #livingthedream.
On my recent return to the City of Lights, my eighth time there, I was with the same girlfriend, Janet Lindup, celebrating fourty years of friendship with a classic trip down memory lane. Our history with France is wrapped up in classical ballet tours with our most incredible ballet teacher Mignon Furman, that took us from Cannes, Nice, Monaco and Paris in the late seventies. Returning to the capital and that palatial theatre was the perfect way to reminiscence a bygone era, still so fresh in our minds.
The Paris Opera in the 9th arrondissement is, like the Louvre and Notre Dame, an outstanding symbol of French architectural opulence. It is hailed by many as one of the most exquisite theatres ever built, a showstopper inside and out. The Neo Baroque façade and ornamentation of the dazzling interior are attributed to teams of expert craftsmen and artisans that included fourteen painters and seventy-five sculptors watched over by architect Charles Garnier who built the Renaissance inspired structure in the Beaux Arts style of the Second Empire. He successfully created a lavish monument to the Performing Arts, dripping in drama and spectacle, and Napoleon was trés delighted.
The Opera Garnier atriums are made for mingling. The Grand Foyer, the most spectacular of those spaces, is a shimmering reception hall and the jewel of the theatre, as opulent as the Palais de Versailles, with gold finishes, fine detailing and elaborate Paul Baudry murals. Over the rims of our champagne flutes, we people-watched as we’d done once before, as the stylish crowd drifted gracefully up the double marble staircase, another design masterpiece.
As we settled into our seats in the auditorium, still the largest of its kind in Europe, the maestro took his place on the podium, pricked the air with his baton and the magic unfolded. It was one of the most exceptional and transporting performances we’ve ever seen, in the ultimate theatre setting. The great Russian danseur noble was no more, but in his place, an equally riveting company delivered perfection, and decades later, the thrill was undiminished.
Over the next few days were absorbed everything we could. There was wine and champagne, Voice Map walks that took us in Chanel’s footsteps, book shops, chocolate shops, good food and great coffee.
Sitting at the legendary Harry’s on Rue Daunou, we reminisced over potent Bloody Mary’s, sharing the past, toasting the present and putting Paris into our future. It was a time to remember and it’s going to go down in history as my best throwback trip ever.
Accommodation: Jules et Jim in Le Marais: http://www.hoteljulesetjim.com/en/