Many of us have had to cancel our summer holidays due to lockdown, but that doesn’t spell the end of adventures. Just add ingenuity, and you’ll realise it’s not about the places but the people you share them with.
Twenty-twenty was shaping up to be a good year. Tickets were booked to see Damon Albarn at Dublin’s National Concert Hall, Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters at Borris Festival of Writing and Ideas, and Nick Cave and Harry Styles at 3Arena (separate gigs, which, now I think of it, is a great shame and I’d very much like to see a concert uniting the Prince of Darkness with the Prince of Pantaloons. Petition anyone?).
The pièce de résistance of my social calendar, however, was spring in Paris, meeting an old friend to see Dita von Teese perform at the iconic Folies Bergère. As editor of Aer Lingus’ CARA magazine, I’d arranged hotels, restaurants and museum bookings with military precision, striking a busman’s balance of business and pleasure. And then coronavirus happened.
So it was on Saturday morning that I found myself scurrying around Howth in a Breton top, hunting high and low for fresh croissants, mussels, rosé and a tarte au citron. Because, if I couldn’t be in Paris, Paris would have to come to me.
A few weeks earlier I’d suggested to mon amie a Gallic-inspired Zoom soirée, going the full cliché, with striped tops, chanson and fine wine and cheeses. Sadly Dita didn’t return our requests for a private virtual dance, but we knew she’d be there in spirit, splashing around in the giant martini glass of our dreams.
Even the vintage-style coasters I’d bought in Montmartre many moons ago – ‘Paris: Ville des Reves’ – that live on my dining table suddenly took on a derisive tone.
It seemed like a fun plan B, but as the date approached, I started getting maudlin. There would be no dressing up for dinner at Le Train Bleu, no browsing through rails of nonchalant pantalon at Sezáne, no pounding the gallery halls of the Grand Palais, no leafy promenades around the Jardin du Tuileries or grabbing a bottle of plonk et fromage for a picnic on the Left Bank.
On the day itself, everywhere I turned were French things, just to rub my nez in it. The random Instagram follow request from a beautiful Parisian guesthouse. The last leaf of a notepad I’d long-pilfered from a Paris hotel, when I went to write my shopping list. The accented couple ahead of me at the local fishmongers. Even the vintage-style coasters I’d bought in Montmartre many moons ago – ‘Paris: Ville des Reves’ – that live on my dining table suddenly took on a derisive tone.
But I stuck doggedly to the plan. As well as donning a Breton top and jaunty neck scarf, I’d painstakingly drew black liquid liner on my eyelids, a task that proved so challenging after several weeks of barely wearing concealer, that the results were less Bridget Bardot and more brawl-in-a-Pigalle-brothel. My left eye was actually such a mess I had to wash it off and start again.
Things really improved, though, when I found a rosé that identically matched my caricatured outfit, while the Spotify playlist I’d compiled specifically for our getaway, entitled “Folies Follies”, was an unexpected tonic. It’s simply impossible to feel sad while listening to Bonnie Tyler’s Lost in France and Dollar’s Oh L’amour.
My friend lives in Dubai, so our real-life meetings are few and far between, although, since 2014, we’ve met up in Vienna every other year. Our last get-together was in June 2018, when we headed down to Cork to see a-ha (a-hem) so there was much to catch up on, not least sharing our existential crises caused by Covid-19.
Setting up our Zoom tête-á-tête was a far cry from checking into the Imperial Hotel two summers ago, giddy with excitement (and champagne) before squashing ourselves into a marquee to see the visiting Norwegians. Simpler, more subdued, times. But not for long.
As all women do when they get together over a bottle of wine, we put the world to rights and honked uproariously – and also hit upon a business idea that we agreed we’d scoff at if we were to even remember it the next day (so we didn’t realise our Parisian dream, but sure we might have hit on a brand new one).
Home sweet homage
It was 4.5-hours of pure, conspiratorial bliss, sharing the sorts of stories, sadnesses and schemes that roll off the tongue among only the closest friendships, reminding me it’s not the place but the company you keep that makes travel special. That we were separated by 6,000 kilometres didn’t matter and that we weren’t sat outside a brasserie was forgotten. That we’d made a sense of occasion out of going literally nowhere provided the necessary joie de vivre.
There will be many trips that none of us will take this year, and while it’s no substitute to a real-life adventure, I can’t recommend enough marking the blighted journey with a similar homage, either on or offline. Turn disappointment into a destination all of its own.
Read a novel that’s set in the destination you’d planned to visit. Make a themed playlist for you and your travel partner(s). Wear referential clothing, make props. Home-cook dishes from that nation or region. Get yourself the grappa, sangria, Metaxa – the vin, the pain, the Boursin, whatever is your poison – and make a toast to your good health.
The following morning, my groggy eyes looked to the empty bottle of wine beside the bed and the beret that had been frisbeed across the room. Non, je ne regrette rien. We’ll always nearly have Paris.
Read more: City Break Guide: Vienna
Read more: One of our favourite French fashion brands Sézane has just launched a home collection
Read more: My life-changing experience walking the Camino De Santiago