Sweet memories are made of this…

We have escaped to delightful Stanley Cottage for the weekend in Stanley Street North  Adelaide to celebrate the pivotal moment when Olivier first invited me to Belair for dinner eight years ago.  In my memoir From France with Love I described that night, the first Saturday in December, 2003. Olivier was a new widower, having lost his wife Colette in May of that year.

“As I drove up Olivier’s steep driveway, I could see him, through the open doors, sitting at his desk. As soon as I appeared, he rose and welcomed me with a kiss on each cheek.

“Come and see my garden before we eat,’’ he said. “But would you like an aperitif first?’’

And so I took my champagne as he guided me around his flowers and ferns and named each fuchsia that tumbled from his hanging baskets. He stopped suddenly at the fountain and we watched the miniature waterfall cascade into the pond.

“Your garden is an absolute work of art,’’ I gasped, overwhelmed by its beauty.

“Merci madame. It has kept me sane, cleaning it up again since I returned from France.’’

‘’You can call me Nadine, you know. Madame sounds so formal.’’

A faint smile broke the taut line of his mouth.

“I like the way you care about things so much,’’ I added, but there was no reply. Instead, he led me back to the house and said “A table’’.

The antique French dining table was covered with a delicate lace tablecloth and set for two. His is a house filled with special things. A marble bust of the goddess Aphrodite sites on the 19th century French provincial sideboard, a grandfather clock stands in the corner, a large Louis Vuitton sea chest in another. I had never stopped in this room before, but had merely passed through on my way to see Colette. Now I saw it all, the exotic Indian silk rug hanging on one wall, the set of three superb sketches of Parisian bridges on another, the exquisite china plates mounted on a mock brick wall and the red Persian rug on the floor.  It was magnificent.

“Good heavens!’’ I exclaimed. “This is a real dinner party for two. Much nicer than snags on the barbie.’’ And I thought to myself, This is going to be fun!

“When you are French,’’ he said in a dignified voice, “you have a whole food culture to uphold.’’

And so the evening passed. We talked mainly of books, since it was obviously a common interest of ours.  His house is filled with books in English and French – they are even stacked up in the bedroom and the toilet.

…As we chatted I could feel his usual stiffness relax. I have always gabbled as if it is a crime to leave any airspace .empty. He is laconic and speaks in measured sentences, in which every word is carefully loaded with meaning- all delivered in his delicious accent. I clung onto every syllable, even when I had never heard of the French authors he was discussing. I hadn’t enjoyed such an intelligent conversation with a man in so intimate a setting for a very long time.’’

AND SO I FAST FORWARD TO TODAY – Saturday, December 3.

What would we do to celebrate our extraordinary eight years together.  (We married almost four years ago.) I had seen Woody Allen’s latest film Midnight in Paris with friends when Olivier was in hospital and I wanted to share the film with him.

It was such a delightful film and so poignant to our history as a couple, both through our love of art and literature, but also my love for the city of Paris.

What was more pleasurable was that he could sit in a cinema again, that this was the first cinema “date’’ we had enjoyed since his health plummeted in June this year.  By 8 o’clock we were back in Rundle Street East wondering where to eat.

“Let’s go to the Belgian Café for mussels and chips’’, I suggested.  We once celebrated Bastille Day here with French friends and the restaurant never disappoints with its traditional fare.  Sweet moments relived. The place was packed with people and we were lucky to find a window seat. Even the rain drizzling mercilessly outside could not dampen our happy mood. We ordered soup of the day and one meal of mussels which we shared. I thought how it symbolised how we have shared our lives together.

Afterwards we popped into Mary Martin bookshop for a browse and then returned to our little  love nest in leafy Stanley Street, one of the restored 19th century workmen’s row cottages.  Our hosts Rodney and Regina Twiss had left a complimentary bottle of Steeple Jack Chardonnay Pinot Noir from Ballast Stone on the Fleurieu Peninsula with truffles and gourmet biscuits. So there we sat in the comfortable leather settee like Darby and Joan, sipping wine, eating chocolates – and as is our habit – reading our two Saturday newspapers together.  Is this the love of the glossies?  No. But this reflects what Oli said to me so many years ago at lunch in the Ritz, “We love each other’’.

And the last words I wrote in From France with Love?  “They are still magic words, so laden with promise.’’

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