Beautiful Strangers

In People on December 8, 2010 at 7:10 am

Here is your mid-week archives special, this one from 2002, when I was still spending a lot of my life at designer fashion shows.

When I was in Paris for the fashion shows in October I saw a little girl I don’t think I will ever forget. She was a pretty little thing, about two and a half I would say, and I noticed her when she was waiting with her mother for the lights to change at a pedestrian crossing near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

She was wearing little trousers and a fluffy pink cardigan and she had that French girls’ haircut, but none of that was the point. The thing that attracted my gaze was her excitement. She was literally jumping up and down, swinging on her mother’s hand and pointing. She was twinkling with excitement, like a human string of fairy lights.

I turned to see what was thrilling her so and it was a carousel. A real old fashioned merry go round with painted horses on gold and white barley sugar poles. I had just walked right past without really noticing it, because I have trodden that particular piece of road so many times getting back to my hotel from the Dior show, which is held just over the bridge.

I’m usually too wound up with thinking about what I’m going to write for my news story and whether I should wait in the ever lengthening taxi queue, or walk to the Metro. And my feet hurt and my bag’s too heavy and I’m cross that the person sitting in front of me at the show had big hair which has given me Wimbledon neck and I’m desperate for a pee. Much too preoccupied and grown up to notice the prancing white horses on a carousel with their flaring nostrils and golden manes.

But that little girl had noticed them and she thought they were the best thing she had ever seen. Her excitement was so palpable I forgot my feet and my bladder and my news story and stopped to watch her. She and her mother were now standing in front of the merry-go-round and the little girl was dancing to the music.

It was adorable. So charming to see a child reacting the way they are supposed to react to something and not with the kind of cynical ennui that too much TV and Playstation seems to have engendered in so many modern children.

I wanted to stand and watch that little girl have her ride – I knew she would wave to her mother every time she went past on her horse, because I remember doing it myself – but I had my news deadline and my full bladder and another show to get to, so on I went.

But as I walked to the Metro I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I knew there and then that I would never forget her and that made me remember other total strangers I have seen over the years and never forgotten.

In 1974, when I was on my first trip to New York, I saw a beautiful boy playing basketball on a court in Harlem one Sunday evening. We were driving through en route from the country club to the Upper East Side apartment where I was staying with family friends.

Gazing idly out of the car window there was something about him that caught my eye. He had such grace and elegance. Harlem looked pretty grim back then to a young girl from the English shires and he was such a thing of beauty among the concrete and the chain link fences and the grafitti, in his yellow shorts.

Then there was the beautiful willowy young woman in a polka dot sari I saw in Kandy, Sri Lanka in 1983 and another I saw in the big Biba store in Kensington in 1973. She was wearing red lurex ankle socks with gold high-heeled sandals, her jeans rolled up to mid calf. I had never seen anyone so groovy in my life. I still think ankle socks and high heels is the best look.

It’s so odd to think that these people I never knew are a part of my life forever, fixed in my memory like flies in amber. And even weirder to think that any of us might unwittingly be one of those beautiful strangers to someone else. Even you. Even me.

Me with Peggy by the Carousel in the Tuileries in 2004. She’s wearing a little coat my grandmother made for me. It’s lined with fabric from my mother’s wedding dress.

  1. What a lovely post Maggie (loving these archived gems). Just had to comment on your beautiful daughter’s coat – how faintingly wonderful to have such a treasure; how fabulous to have a grandmother bold enough to take the scissors to your mother’s wedding dress (or was it leftover fabric from making the dress – which would still be pretty ace?). ps – still angry at your axeing from GW, but I have to admit it’s kind of awesome to get a Maggie Alderson column landing in my inbox – what luxury… ta!

    • Thanks Carly – I keep saying this, but I have to… PLEASE TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS ABOUT SUBSCRIBING. It’s going well, but I need to get the numbers up so I can carry on doing it xxx

  2. I love this piece Maggie!

  3. Your charming post from the archive lifted my very mundane hectic day. Have often paused to observe a ‘beautiful stranger’ but never stopped to think we may all have been such in a moment ourselves. Do hope it can be assumed that Peggy’s coat with it’s lovely history will keep for future generations.

  4. A gorgeous post Maggie. I am in Adelaide so never had the joy of reading your newspaper articles, am loving catching up on the pieces from your archives as well as your Saturday posts. And rest assured, I am spreading the word!

    • Thank YOOOOOOOOOOU! I’m starting to feel like a cracked record, but it’s the only way I’m going to get it to people. I am THRILLED when I hear from people like you. It makes me feel it’s all for the best. Maggie xxx

  5. I love this post!

    And Peggy looks too adorable in that coat!

  6. I love how Peggy’s coat is lined with your Mother’s wedding dress. As I type this I am looking at the remains of my 21st party dress backing the hand embroided christmas stockings my Mum made for my sons. She is very clever she turned my favourite Max Mara jumper that my husband shrank in the wash into a jumper for my 3 year son.
    I am enjoying your work online and I look forward to reading your new book in the holidays. I am resisting the temptation to read it before then (I admit to reading a few chapters whilst hiding in the cupboard from my children)

  7. So true. When travelling, don’t you find that so often it’s the kindness of strangers that makes a place so special. I do find myself thinking of such experiences and I wish them all well.

    PS: That’s the best coat in the world.

  8. Oh, that’s such a beautiful piece. And a gorgeous photo at the end.

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