‘Yes, it’s here!’ says the sign above the English épicerie in Paris. ‘Yes, at last,’ thinks the starved expat wandering in a desert of croissants, magret de canard and monts blancs. Now for some real food: Fray Bentos pies, Quaker Oats, Fentimans lemonade, HP Sauce, Marmite, Tetley’s, Twinings, Dorset cereals, Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut, Altoids mints and Macsween haggis. As a sop to Americans: Pop-Tarts, Lucky Charms, Aunt Jemima’s pancakes and marshmallow fluff in a jar. I know an Englishman who walks the length of the Canal Saint-Martin for proper Yorkshire Tea.
There is a Pont cartoon ‘The British Character: Importance of Tea’ which shows four doughty picnickers getting an oil-stove and kettle going in a gale. Never formerly a tea fusspot, in Paris I have become a Pont throwback. I face a rictus of agony when the water comes tepid, the teabag in its wrapper and the milk UHT. One cannot stay cheerful on plongeur’s dishwater. Carette on the Place des Vosges and Le Fumoir opposite the Louvre do loose leaves and cold milk.
The Louvre’s gallery of British art is the furthest feather of the Denon wing. Miles of enfilading Spaniards and Italians, then in the last room: a holy trinity of Constable, Gainsborough, Turner (the only Turner in a French public collection) lumped in with the Yanks. The frame of Gainsborough’s Lady Alston was meant for a portrait of Madame de Pompadour: she wears it well. Thomas Lawrence’s ‘The Children of John Julius Angerstein’ hangs next to Richard Dadd’s ‘Titania Sleeping’. Is Mad Dadd the best we can do?
If you’re pining for the Wallace Collection, the Musée Jacquemart-André is small and sumptuous. Here, for the patriotic, is Paolo Uccello’s Saint George ‘Slaying the Dragon’. In the National Gallery’s version, painted ten years later, the dragon is more marauding, but the Jacquemart-André’s dragon with his arthritic knees has charm.
When you feel you will scream if you see another mimsy garden of box-hedges and curated gravel, take the train to Chantilly. The chateau’s painting collection is stupidly gorgeous — you go round goggling — and the gardens, once you get away from Le Notre, better than Blenheim.
My friend the foreign correspondent claims Shakespeare & Co. sells 10,000 copies of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast each year. Nice fact if it’s true. The Shakespeare & Co. you see now isn’t the one Sylvia Beach opened in 1919 as a bookshop and hangout for Hemingway, Joyce, Pound and Scott Fitzgerald. Beach, who helped publish Joyce’s Ulysses, was saddened to see the book listed in catalogues of erotica with Fanny Hill and Casanova. An Irish priest, buying Ulysses, once asked her: ‘Any other spicy books?’ Spicy or sweet, the shop is stocked to the rafters. Selfies are banned.
L’Entente, the British brasserie, opened last year. It has defied the sniggering and on a weekday is full of Parisians eating Welsh rarebit with Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce. The shepherd’s pie with homemade ketchup is le business. The bill comes with Brighton rock.
If none of that works, and you’re still crawling-the-walls homesick, you can be home, depending on proximity to St Pancras, door-to-door in five hours. Four-and-a-half at a hustle.
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