The dining room of the old Ritz in Paris (before it was got at) was a large room with something blue in it and heavy white linen, one wall of mirrors directly opposite another of French windows, beyond which was a terrace. There was just one enormous display of fresh flowers, old plain flatware and I loved it. My then husband brought me there (his client paid) because there was work to be done and I had just had my pregnancy confirmed. In and around two or three appointments, we were in a fine hotel in Paris, blessedly out of season. So there were men being trained for the final stages of being waiters and gofors and I imagine the whole hotel was a bit more relaxed than it otherwise might have been. Himself loved being there and was his charming best to everybody. I was so happy, I was slightly numb. We liked everybody, everybody liked us with the result that my lasting impression (bar the dining room) was the crew lining up, silhouetted against the drapes and waving goodbye to us, as we went for our last after dinner stroll via the terrace before going back to reality early on Monday morning.

But it’s getting harder to make things special now, especially when expectations are higher and it isn’t enough to be special – you have to have things superspecial – though most of the so called super special things don’t depend of how something tasted or what you felt but rather what it looks like and how much it costs because that’s what the camera can take a picture of which makes for the series. (I saw the trailer this weekend). Being in want used to mean being lost or hungry or thirsty but there is another meaning rolling up the beach of existence with the repetitive insistence of a pneumatic drill.   People want more. And more.   And more.   They want to show that they can have more.   The base line is no longer beauty or elegance or skill. It’s just more.

So it was refreshing to meet an 11 year old who hadn’t seen The Sound of Music and didn’t know that song My Favourite Things and even more refreshing when we got round that and I asked her if she could think of some of her favourite things (English is not her first language, and I wanted to get her to talk).

She made a caressing gesture. “Soft” she said.   “ You mean soft to feel ?” I asked. She nodded and explained how before it is washed, a new Tshirt feels soft, then goes hard and then softens again.   That too was quite interesting. She expected to have to wait for the thing she liked so much. And she added “Jewellery”.

In her ears and on her wrists were the smallest, lightest pieces. They’d get lost on me, not only because of the age difference but because she and her mother are the thistledown breed, small bones, light hair, tiny frames. I indicated I had noticed what she was wearing but she added “I like to look at it too.”

She liked – I wanted to cheer – the smell of a new book “especially a paperback one.”   I mimed lifting it to my face and asked “Do you sniff it?”   She grinned in recognition.

She liked, she said, springy furniture and I encouraged her to explain, furniture you could sink into but it would hold you and spring back when you left it. “Go on” I said.

She thought for a minute. She comes from a city though her grandparents live in the country and she said she liked the smell of anywhere, after the rain.   When I asked why, she reached for the word. “Fresh” she said.   I was impressed and said so.

Anything else ?   I wondered. “I like it when my mum makes a cake and it -“ she described the growing with her hands. “We say the cake rises” I explained.   “ I like it when the cake rises, how it looks but how it smells is …”   she said, acting pleasure.   “Even making it is not as nice as smelling it.”

“And I like tea.”   Tea with milk ?   She shook her head.   Tea with lemon ?   Even more firmly, no. Black ?   Emphatic nod. “I like it like that.”

“You know what’s most impressive about your list ?” I remarked. She raised her eyebrows in query. “What is special to you is very simple, it’s achievable and so it makes you happy.”   She agreed.  

2 responses to ““Special”

  1. Oh how true. Small pleasures are the best. You can’t beat good tea, good bread, clean sheets and comfy shoes and clothes. People think they need more as it’s greed and a competition but it’s false. Where will it all end as there’s only so far they can go surely? They can’t see the wood for the trees.

  2. My only experience of the Paris Ritz is through the eyes of Sally Jay, in what is still one of my favourite novels – ‘The Dud Avocado’: ‘My dear, the people-watching!’ I love grand hotels (I have stayed in The Taj in Mumbai) and great cafes (even greasy spoons, in the right mood). It is the ones in between that often get it wrong. Best, Lesley

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