This is a retelling of a rare experience I had, spending a night at an old Parisian governor's house, a few days before Christmas. The governor has long passed away, with only his old, bedridden wife left to preserve life in the apartment. Some caretakers looked after the old lady during the day, and a few people were often invited to stay over for the evening to keep her company. Different batches each time, but there had to be someone in the house to be with her. A friend offered us to stay for one night before we headed our way to Normandy for the Christmas holidays.
Here I sit in a spacious, high-ceiling living room in the heart of Paris, in the home of what used to be the governor of Île-de-France. Paintings housed in ornate, baroque frames adorn the cream-colored paneled walls. A floral carpet is sprawled over the wooden floor. The lady of the house must be fond of lamps, as I can count about 6 in this room alone. There is a worn-out green sofa that can seat 3 people, in what seems to be an art-deco style. It looks faded, with a few seams torn, but one could easily see the grandeur it had back in the day. How many corduroy pants and silk skirts has it seated? How many political debates have transpired and how many cigars have been smoked in this room?
Through the huge window, the night lamps of the 6th arrondissement dot the bluish-pink dusk skies. I put on my coat as I venture out to have dinner.
I'm wondering about the age of this building, of the kind of life its inhabitants led when it was first built. The foyer is modern and has been recently renovated, but the air that hangs in the apartment smells of 20-year stillness. The walls have signs of wear, and years of dust have coated the various furniture, dried bouquets, and chandeliers. The bookshelf in the guestroom reaches up to the ceiling. A set of books about history, art, and foreign culture. A fireplace sits humbly in the middle of the room, hardly noticeable from all the mess. The room is littered with curiosities: coins, busts, figurines, small swords, glass cups, and ashtrays. From what travels and occasions did these trinkets come?
The lady in the house is 91 years old, frail, and delicate, her memory barely hanging on. Old age has slowly stolen her away from enjoying her abode. It might have served as a haven for her for many years, and now she has the privilege of being able to reside in the comforts of her home during her twilight years.
I woke up at 7 am the next morning to have breakfast with her. I had cereal while she had pudding. She was of hard hearing, but thankfully, she still understood what I said. Beneath her wispy hair and tired eyelids, her bright blue eyes remained alert and youthful. It felt sad leaving her alone despite the brief time we spent together and the small chance of her ever remembering me. I no longer remember the address of the place nor the name of the household, but I'm glad to have kept an account to cherish this moment with her.