• Lush Places

The Good Life: Springtime in Paris

Of Peonies and tiny bowls of perfect potato chips. By Michele Hewitson.

I have been thinking about peonies. It is peony-buying time and I should not be thinking about buying peonies. Peonies are eye-wateringly pricey, and I am an unemployed person. And I already have peonies. But there is no such thing as having enough peonies. Peonies are one of the reasons I wanted to move down the island from Auckland to colder climes. You cannot grow peonies in stinkingly, humid, old Auckland. It can keep its silly palms and boring bromeliads and poxy pukas.

I want the delicate, fragrant double Duchesse de Nemours peony, whose flowers look like very expensive silk handkerchiefs which have been crumpled and thrown in the air. It is Greg’s birthday soon. Hankies always make for a nice birthday gift. At least that was my darling, great-grandmother’s mantra. Every birthday, and every Christmas, I got hankies. I also got enormous navy-blue bloomers and hand-knitted bed socks. Greg is getting peonies. If he has any complaints, next year he will get hand-knitted bed socks (if I knit them, they will be more holes than socks, so that will serve him right.)

When I think about peonies, I think about Paris. In particular: a little farmer’s market which sold goat’s cheese and tiny, wild strawberries in little woven baskets and whole sardines. And peonies. There was a rickety trestle market table — with a grubby graffitied wall behind, and a cardboard box doing service as a rubbish bin — piled high with giant, pale pink peonies like giant, pale pink powder puffs. They were what heaven should look like.


I was in Paris in 2011. I took an apartment in the Marais district, which is both very chic and self-consciously hip. I have never been remotely chic or hip. I didn’t dare go into any of the fancy pants clothes shops, which suited me just fine — I hate shopping. I just wandered about, eating lemon crepes and duck confit and white asparagus. I found a little bistro over the road from my apartment which served, as an amuse-bouche, a tiny bowl of perfect potato chips.

Once, on a day in Rome, with a bunch of other hacks who, like me, travelled the world on other people’s dimes, all of the other lady hacks descended on the fancy pants shops selling fancy pants and shoes and status symbol handbags. I went, with a pal who also hated shopping, to the Colosseum, and then we had a slap-up lunch in Trastevere, an ancient cobble-stoned part of Rome, with narrow winding streets. The fava beans were good. The risotto better. The setting was heaven.

In Hong Kong I embarked on a mission to find the best little custard tarts in the territory. I lost my notebook, so I will never know where to ever again find the best custard tarts in the territory.

I was there for the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland, where I was chatted up by Mickey and Minnie (though silently; “rubberheads”, as they are known, are not allowed to speak). This was very weird. That night there was a party in the park. There were ice sculptures, champagne bars, caviar (Beluga!) and blini stands, a lobster shack where the servings were a whole half of a lobster dripping with butter. Mickey and Minnie, although quite possibly not the same Mickey and Minnie I had met earlier, were there. I avoided them. The night was already weird enough. That was in another life; another world.

The Guardian this week published a piece titled: “The End of Tourism?” There is, currently, thanks to Covid-19, no tourism, though tourism is, as the article outlines, as bad as it is good for local economies. Still, it is comforting to think that, whether we’re there or not, there will always be bowls of perfect potato chips in Paris. And peonies.