Daphné and Alban spent a a couple of weeks of most summers that they lived in the US with Pierre, their dad, and his family in France, mostly in and around Paris. That was their most regular time with their papa -he visited them once in California, as far as I know, during the entire 13 years that we all lived here together – and they both looked forward a whole lot to each vacation with him in France .
Because this was their “other” family, and from day one everyone seemed to have agreed that never the twain should meet, I had very few photos of them during any of these regular summer (and occasional Christmas) vacations. By 2009, Daphné was becoming increasingly interested in photography (which had been her maternal grandfather’s career), and after her and Alban’s vacation with Pierre that summer, I asked if I could have copies of the photos which she had taken. She was fine with that: thank you very much! That gesture opened a window on her and Alban’s world that I would never otherwise have been able to see through.
The photos on this page are all hers from that trip. As was typical of their summers, only a portion of the four or five weeks that they spent in France was actually spent with their father. The rest was typically spent at La Grée with their grandfather, and if their maman visited France at the same time, which happened a few times, with her, Charlie and Alex. This trip started in Paris, as did most, where their papa picked them up at the airport, and their joy in the taxi with him into Paris was a wonder to behold. One of those photos is above: another is on this page. Alban was just as tired and jet-lagged, and looked equally happy.
But Pierre must have been working for their first couple of days, because they went sightseeing, playing tourist as it were, getting reacquainted with their home town. Photos of the tourist spots that they visited are dotted over this page. They checked out more personal souvenirs too during this initial orientation. Daphné was just seven years old when she and Alban left Paris, and Alban almost five, and so she at least remembered her old school and their old neighborhood. I think that Alban had attended the same school, perhaps just for his last year or term in Paris, but honestly don’t know. I wasn’t around their neighborhood at all during early 2004.
In addition to the school, they visited the Square des Batignolles, a small green park with a children’s playground and other light entertainment about a quarter of a mile from their maman’s apartments: she had lived in one with Pierre and the children, and with her brother owned two more. They visited the building housing all these apartments too, and duly photographed its frontage on to the street. When they still lived there, Marie-Hélène liked to stroll in the Square with the children on weekend afternoons (she worked full time during the week). Her mother had taken her there when she was a little girl: her parents lived for most of their marriage in the apartment on the first floor which Denis and Marie-Hélène now own.
Here’s an odd coincidence. When Daphné took her own stroll there with Alban, reminiscing, she liked the look of a drinking fountain in the Square and photographed it. Her mother almost jumped out of her chair when she saw the picture back in Santa Cruz: “that’s where I lost my keys when I was a little girl!” Mother-daughter communication was always a specialty of our house. The many photos of Paris show that they were enjoying being tourists there. But mostly, they were in France to visit family, and in particular their papa’s.
During that initial stay in Paris, they attended a Pierre Brun family function. I forget exactly which function, but think that it had something to do with Alexandre, his first son, the only issue of his first and only marriage, who is himself married now and has started his own family. In any event, several of their respective brothers and sisters attended. The photo on the right, presumably taken by Alban, shows a family group from this event. Other brothers (and sisters?) attended, but this was the group which the photos focused on.
Daphné is holding her little sister Lou, whose maman Anna was Pierre’s girlfriend after Marie-Hélène moved out. Next to her is Severine, whose maman is France-Lise, Pierre’s girlfriend before he moved in with Marie-Hélène, and who was dating (maybe already engaged to) Gareth, on the right. This last couple lived in London, apparently, because Gareth had the good judgment to be born on my side of the English Channel!
Their father’s extended family must be a wonderful little community to jump back into for both Daphné and Alban.
They travelled down to La Grée to visit grand-père and, on this occasion, their Oncle Denis (Marie-Hélène’s little brother), his wife Claire and two of his sons, Bertil and Clément. The latter are, of course, Daphné and Alban’s cousins. Pierre and Lou also made an appearance: more on that later. You’d think that at their age, the rural tranquility of La Grée might have lost some of its appeal. Apparently not, at least in small doses.
The great thing about a diligent photographer is that she captures the mood in a way that no written or oral report could. At La Grée, Daphné and Alban had a visibly fun time fooling around by themselves. The dates on the photos show that they were alone with their grandfather for the first two or three days, and made the most of it.
Then came the visitors! La Grée was always a social place. It’s a cottage, not a house, with a caravan parked outside and sometimes a tent pitched outside, each for the overflow, but the size never mattered. There was always room for all. In fact, the limited space prompted a kind of sharing and adaptation which would never have occurred in a larger property.
In this case, I’m not sure that everyone actually stayed the night, but think that they did, probably with some in the caravan. Denis, Claire, Bertil and Clément certainly will have, as is their wont. I’m not sure about Pierre and Lou. As far as I know, their visiting La Grée openly was a first, and a little surprising. Marie-Hélène and I were still nominally together, if visibly strained by this point in the marriage. Of course, neither of us was there, as we seemed to have insufficient disposable income that year: vacations in France and England are anything but cheap! But I also suspect that we weren’t really up to a long vacation together. Things were not going well.
I remember feeling hurt when I first saw that Pierre was at La Grée during this visit. How soon was I being replaced! But over time, it made sense. Daphné, with her privileged access to her mother’s feelings, knew that she and I were on our last legs, and had always had a soft spot for her father in any event: “c’est normal!”
It must have felt great for her and Alban to be able to welcome him again to La Grée: he had spent as a lot of time there with Marie-Hélène before she moved in with me. In some sense, they were back to square one, at least temporarily.
The next stage of their summer vacation was the drive down to the Mediterranean with Pierre and Lou. As far as I know, he never put his children up in hotels, bed and breakfasts or the like. In or around Paris, they stayed in his or his girlfriend’s apartment, and while traveling they camped. This trip, they apparently camped both on the way down and in the South of France. No hotel or bed and breakfast in any photo. Now don’t get me wrong here: I love to camp, especially with children. I’m not the only one. For example, Sunshine, Nick and Tom’s mom, typically camped with them when she took them on vacation, normally in Normandy or Brittany. So we’re not dealing with anything abnormal here.
But I really think that parents should splurge on their children for vacations. Not all the time, not even every vacation: then the splurging won’t be appreciated. But sometimes, yes. That was my dad’s habit, and I inherited it and stick to it.
When a friend of Daphné’s from high school visited Rome one summer, I think that it was in 2005, and she and Alban wanted to go and meet her there, Pierre wouldn’t cover their train fare to Rome from the South of France, where they were camping with him. Train tickets for young people in Europe don’t cost a fortune, by any means. So I covered them, and they had a trip to remember on a sleeping car train, and their first visit to Rome. Needless to say, they had a wonderful visit.
I admit to having been rather pleased with myself for that one!
What Daphné and Alban did during their 2009 week in Provence, apart from hang around the campsite and stroll along the sea front is not clear from the photos. It was a beautiful place for both.
Their vacation continued with a return to Paris. Daphné and Alban each did more sightseeing, and Alban spent some time hanging out with Tom and Maureen, his then girlfriend, and other friends. I found that out on Facebook, and was glad.
It turned out that Daphné herself did not find the time to visit with Tom, not before they left Paris or after they came back. She explained that she’d had a cold when she had finally arranged to see him, back in Paris. So she visited maybe a dozen of her father’s relations for days at a time, several of her mother’s relations in Brittany for about a weekend, but did not even find time for a coffee with Tom, the brother whom she hadn’t seen in 18 months since he left our home in Santa Cruz.
That’s the way that she was with Tom. Such a shame. I never understood it.
She did take advantage of her camera to photograph more of the beautiful things to see which Paris is so full of. Again, you can feel how happy she was to be there. I’m less in touch with her these days, since her maman and I broke up, but I do hope that she’s still taking photos the way that she did during that trip, and still visiting Paris regularly.