“You live in a fancy apartment
Off the Boulevard Saint-Michel
Where you keep your Rolling Stones records
And a friend of Sacha Distel, yes you do”
“Where do you go to my lovely?” has been my favourite song since I was a kid. Paris, for me, was the height of culture and sophistication and represented all that was unattainable for a kid in an obscure corner of rural England. Paris wasn’t just culture, it was excitement. Growing up on the Left politically, Paris was the centre of the world.
Peter Sarstedt’s song was about a dream world, a world even further removed from my world than it was from the world of the narrator of the song. Marie-Claire would forever represent a world beyond my dreams.
Standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower one Sunday afternoon last summer, we looked down on the sea of buildings around and tried to decide which apartment would be similar to that of Marie-Claire; walking through the streets we wondered where she might go for her shopping. Where would Marie-Claire buy her baguettes and croissants?
A student, with us for a week in the spring, was heading to Paris on a school trip. We said that she should look for Marie-Claire. Sarstedt’s song was recorded in 1969; Marie-Claire was maybe 24 at the time, born around 1945. Marie-Claire would maybe be around sixty now. We decided that she would have married twice, but that both marriages would have failed and she would be leading a fairly solitary existence now. Marie-Claire would be dressed in haute-couture and would look younger than her sixty years
This morning, one more link to the world of Marie-Claire came though the post. French language schoolbooks came through the post from a Parisian supplier. I looked at the address label on the package: 79 Boulevard Saint-Michel, Paris. Would they recognize Marie-Claire?
Why is Marie-Claire so fascinating? Because, like my heroes Inspector Morse, Don Camillo and Commissaris van der Valk, having never existed, she can never disappoint.