I was 18, Maria, my youngest sister was 10. Standing on Paris’ Pont Alexandre III, we took the ultimate-touristic shot. It didn’t matter that we had been coming to Paris all our lives; Baba, my youngest sister, Maria and I had to get a photo of ourselves with the Eiffel Tower in the background. It was an overcast day, I was unnecessarily wearing my tortoise-shell rimmed Ray Bans, and there we stood, with lime-green and white Printemps shopping bags clutched in our hands. We huddled together for the very last shot of the three of us on vacation together in Paris.
Baba had first arrived in Paris as a 26-year old, for an interview with the international organisation he came to work for his whole life. His suitcase lost and nothing to wear for the interview except the clothes he was wearing, he went to the Champs-Élysées to look for a new outfit. A civil servant from Pakistan with a humble salary, he managed to buy two ties, one ink blue and the other, a deep bordeaux. He mistakenly ordered steak tartare (being the only two words he thought he understood on the menu) at the interview dinner and ate every single bit of the raw, metallic meat he had never had in his life before. He tells me he desperately wanted that job. (And mind you, my Baba, a virtual polygot, learnt to speak fluent French, soon thereafter.)
Every time I visit Paris, I walk passed the Publicis Drugstore, now transformed into an uber-urban structure by Michele Saee, and remember when it was a humble Drugstore with a café. As a family, we would go there after dinner, potter about in the pharmacy and then onwards to the café for dessert. Ami and I would order a sundae that came in tall vintage glasses. With soft chocolate fudge slithering down the top, there was always a maraschino cherry perched on top. My sisters and Baba would order fruity, creamy milkshakes. Walking down the Champs-Élysées, we’d make our way back to the Royal Monceau, the hotel we always stayed in, thanks to Baba’s corporate discount. My sisters and I still remember the bathrooms with plush white towels you could twirl yourself into once, twice, thrice and heated caramel-coloured marble floors to warm your feet as you emerged from the bathtub.
I was meant to go to Paris with someone I had been seeing many years ago, but at the last minute, I realised this was not the person I wanted to share Paris with, the Paris I had shared with my sisters and my parents all my life. I went, regardless, on my own. I went back to Publicis Drugstore, which had been totally gutted. I enjoyed the afternoon there on my own, slathering my toast points with a truffled foie gras, washing it down with a fruity rosé from Bandol. Baba and I texted each other back and forth as I sat there, reminiscing about those vacations in Paris every summer en route to Lahore. The now vintage polka dot red shopping bags from Galeries Lafayette, which used to be filled with candy-coloured dresses for my sisters and necklaces and earrings made of delicate glass for Ami and myself; the blue, smelly cheese and baguette sandwiches Baba and I loved and Ami and my sisters pooh-poohed. And the sundaes that we used to have at the Drugstore every night before going back to our hotel room.
I did go back to Paris with a man, and that was the man that I married.
And he was the man I wanted to share all of these childhood treats with- from the walks through the alleys near the Luxembourg gardens, to the cafes near the Boulevard St. Germain, the hidden museums, the restaurants with the honeycomb-like puffed souffles.
And we even stopped on the Pont Alexandre III for that touristic shot.
La Pâtisserie des Rêves