A Postcard From Paris

Life's funny sometimes, isn't it? A fortnight ago, I was on top of Hanging Rock with a spiritual shaman from Java (just saying that strange sentence makes me laugh), trying to 'tap' into the history and spirits of that mystical, mythical, magical place for the book I've been writing about the novel Picnic at Hanging Rock. (I use the word 'tap' quite literally, as he kept doing that with his hands and feet, eventually ascertaining that the rock was very, very hollow. And yes, hearing what he said about the place was very moving.)

A few days later, having come to a Hanging Rock-style impasse on another book about Paris (also in the works), for which I desperately needed more photographs, I packed a carry-on bag, found a cheap flight with Singapore Airlines and set off for the Left Bank.

From spirits and indigenous history to Hermes and St. Germain. 
What a strange, Lewis Carollesque world we live in.

But there's another reason for hopping aboard a flight to Europe. After spending a few days in Paris shooting madly with an ageing camera, I'm now in London to 'rehearse' the itinerary of the Garden Tour. I didn't want to make a big deal out it. In fact, my mother doesn't even know I'm here! I just wanted to quietly slip into the country, walk through the tour, and make sure it was going to be one you are all going to remember.

I also wanted to find the most gorgeous fashion boutiques, gardening shops and bookstores, the best bistros and restaurants and the most enchanting walks, sights, secret gardens and squares to take you to. And tomorrow, while my agent finalises the costs with her contacts (it's been very much a group effort), I'm hiring a car and hot-footing it out to the Cotswolds for the day, to find the loveliest destinations there too.

I can tell you now, it's going to be superb week or two.

But there's other, very important, thing I've discovered on this little 'dress rehearsal' (or horticultural run-through). And that is this: It's very important to slow down every now and then, to smell the proverbial damask-scented roses.

You see, my normal travel style for work is to go at a manic pace: something many of you will no doubt also do. But I received a much-needed lesson in The Art of Slowing Down at Versailles on Sunday. On an unseasonably warm autumn day, I sat in one of the beautiful bosquets and took in the splendour of it all. It was there, underneath a marble statue of someone-or-another, that I had something of a quiet epiphany. The true pleasure of travel is not to fit 48 hours into 6 but to stop and truly observe the Versailles delights. Don't you think? Especially in a garden. Especially in a garden.

Sunday turned out to be one of the most magical days I can ever remember, perhaps in my entire life. I spent 6 hours walking right around the gardens in a slow botanical marathon, something I've never had the time to do when visiting here. I have to say, it was almost an spiritual experience. I think at one point, looking down at the perfect symmetry of the Orangerie, I even shed a discreet tear.

I'm looking forward to bringing you all the details of the tours at the end of this week, plus some secret addresses from London and Paris for when you next visit. (If it's not with me. But I very much hope it will be.)

To finish this little post off, I would really like to encourage you all to travel, whether it's on my Garden Tours or just your own quiet jaunt. If you've had a terrible year, or gotten over an illness, or received a redundancy, or broken up with a loved one, or if you've simply had a bad time of it of late, please do this for yourself. Find a cheap flight and go somewhere beautiful in the world. It will help put things into perspective. Truly. Life isn't meant to be lived in a room. Or in a house. Or in a small town or suburb. It's meant to be lived with rigour and vigour and inspirational days that you remember for always.

As Diana Vreeland famously said "The eye has to travel."
I agree, Diana. I agree.

{All photos taken by me. On my battered, travel-weary old camera.}

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