A trip down memory lane
Paris's oldest tri-weekly market ... Marche Maubert. Photo: Alamy
HEMINGWAY wrote in his Paris memoir, A Moveable Feast, that "memory is hunger". I think he referred to the yearning that comes with the knowledge of what can be remembered but perhaps not reproduced - passion, spontaneity, the vibrancy of youth.
Thirty-three years ago, my new husband, Rob, and I spent time in Paris with little money but the innocent belief that we were invincible. Nothing daunted us, not even our amazingly grotty hotel, the Hotel du Commerce on the Rue de la Montagne Sainte Genevieve in the Latin Quarter.
We even grew fond of the rude receptionist.
In fact, we became rather fond of it - the sagging wooden floors, the occasional scurrying mouse, the sounds of loud bonking and beds hopping across the floor, not just from next door but every single room, which, combined with the peak-hour traffic on the narrow staircase, told us our Hotel du Commerce was practising quite another kind of trade.
We even grew fond of the outrageously rude receptionist, who doled out the bathroom key with incredulity. Who would shower, mon dieu? A shower did, in fact, cost more than a room and so we crept in together.
But we loved the Marche Maubert down the road on the Boulevard St Germain, the city's oldest tri-weekly market, dating from 1547. We loved the patisseries, boulangeries, boucheries, fromageries and charcuteries that lined (and still line) the Place Maubert. We loved our proximity to the Sorbonne and the Rue des Ecoles, the excellent croissants and cafe au lait from the cafe next door, and we just loved, well, Paris.
All these years later, we find ourselves remembering our little Paris hotel if not with Hemingway's hunger, at least with fondness. So, heading for Paris, we check. Remarkably, the hotel is still there. We book a night. Only a night, mind you - we have read the TripAdvisor reviews.
Poor Hotel du Commerce; it is trying so hard and still, this: "Mouldy ... There are mice ... Avoid the front, too noisy ..." What a bunch of whingers!
Others are kinder, enjoying the excellent location and value for money. Rooms start at €44 ($54) for a single. We book a superior for €104. There is free wi-fi, a breakfast room where you can make your meals and, stop whining, a safe at the reception desk. Madame at reception is genuinely friendly, proud of her superior double room, just renovated. The stench of paint is strong but it's mouse-free and we love our spacious en suite and airconditioning. There are, it must be said, Niagara Falls sounds as water gushes from the top floor into the sewers of Paris, but on the bright side, the floors no longer sag.
The bathroom is clean, though the shower still showers the wall and not you, unless strictly supervised. But there's lots of water and it's hot.
We are, however, whisked back 33 years when the Australians above us play all-night football. It almost makes us nostalgic for the shagging sounds of yesteryear.
It's with some regret (OK, hardly any) that we bid adieu in the morning and, hunger piqued, head off into the city. For, of course, the eternal Paris is still there - the light, the luminous buildings, the cobbled streets, the boulangeries and all the history and memories.