How a nostalgic return to Paris made my summer special

It looks like an innocuous apartment building.

It is in many ways but, to me, that faded-green front door represents far more.

Welcome to 60 Rue Letellier [pictured above], located near Place Cambronne in Paris.

This was my home from September 1992 for one year as part of my study-abroad placement via Leeds University.

It was a year in which I really learnt to speak French, discovered the joie-de-vivre of Les Inrockuptibles and embarked upon a lifelong quest for the perfect Couscous Royale.

And no 60 was the epicentre of all the madness — a tiny, second-floor apartment just a few minutes from the green Metro line to Montparnasse.

Prodigal return

I stood outside that green front door again this summer.

It was 25 years since my last visit and I was back in Paris on a Monet assignment for France magazine. I’d stopped off for a nostalgia trip en route from seeing the Water Lilies at L’Orangerie.

There were so many memories forged in that flat, accompanied by a soundtrack of Screamadelica and a diet of Pelforth Brune.

But one of the most memorable was the bar opposite, where Salar and Messaoud ran a ramshackle café-bar on an Algerian motif.

It was the place to start every big night out and to put the world to rights with a mix of English-abroad innocence and undergraduate change-the-world confidence befitting our formative ages.

It was as much of my Paris experience as the Eiffel Tower and Musée Rodin.

The bar had long since gone, of course but, I stop there, a waiter in the now pizza restaurant told me he still remembered Messaoud.

“It didn’t end well,” he frowned. “People say he ended up living in the Metro.”

Moving on

A lot has changed in those 25 intervening years. But standing back on Rue Letelier brought me a sense of peace.

Afterwards I headed to Place Cambronne and had lunch at a pavement cafe, sitting alone with a plat du jour and a glass of rosé in the sunshine. The square was as lively as ever.

It was the defining moment of my summer.

Older but maybe also wiser. I may not the same person who lived in that little apartment. But I’m not that different either.

I’ve still got that Screamadelica CD and still love a good Couscous Royale.

And, by going back, I’m all the more ready to move forward.

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