Tuesday, August 26, 2008

One go Paris

What do I say about my weekend in Paris that would do it justice?

I’ve been to Paris only once before. Exactly 7 years ago to the month, with V, even then on a train, although it was nothing like the Eurostar. It was an overnight train journey in a train exactly the 3 tier Indian railways, with their rexine berths. We shared our compartment with a gaggle of Japanese people, small and precise in their movements and speech. In Paris we stayed at a friends empty Bastille flat, were joined by V’s eldest brother and wandered around in cabs and the rare metro, ticking off the most basic sights in our 3 short days: mona lisa and venus de milo at the Louvre, Champs Elysee with it’s Arc de Triomphe, a boat ride down the Seine with view of the Notre Dame and climbing to the very top of the Eiffel Tower to have our picture taken by a very friendly Bengali man. We bought our way into a packed Moulin Rouge where I got very drunk on a bottle of Champagne while watching the can-can. I remember the cab ride home way past midnight with a Sri Lankan cabbie who insisted on showing us ‘Diana’s tunnel’ and the beautifully lit up Eiffel. We stood in wonder watching as its lights went off for the night. I remember nothing till nearly midday next day when I got up and wandered around the markets of Bastille with my head threatening to explode all over the pretty stalls of artisan food.

As we prepared for this weekend I pulled out my scrapbook/ album (which has not been updated since Madrid in 2005 {I better get to it!}) and looked back at our pictures from that trip. We look so different, younger of course but that’s not what I mean. We look more unsure, not quite certain how we got there together, our smiles broad as can be as we realise that this IS OUR WONDERFUL LIFE. LOOK AT HOW LUCKY WE ARE? WE ARE IN PARIS! You can see it in our eyes. That melded joy and innocence. After years of traveling/ living alone on work abroad here was the sudden broadening of our lives together. We had had a few magic days in Florence before, just V & I, but this was more. Wandering with V’s brother, in my mind an acceptance of me into their tight-knit hilarious ranks. It was a memorable trip, it still makes me smile.

Now I feel more jaded, older and in more comfortable skin. Well traveled by my own standards. But I never went back to Paris. Not once in all these years of living in London. Not once in the many many times that V has gone on work. When V suggested it last month, it suddenly felt like the right time.

So on Saturday, after a rather early morning nearly empty tube ride to central London, we were quickly checked-in and security checked and walking to our coach under the St.Pancras domes. Two&abit hours on the Eurostar later we were at the fabulous Gare du Nord, buying a carnet of tickets to navigate the metro. We checked into our room with high ceilings, its tall windows flooded by sunlight in a quiet street just off the glitzy shops of the Place Vendome. We walked a few minutes away to a lovely buzzy square (recommended by real people on Trip Advisor) with loads of little café’s to eat in for our first Parisian meal. We had a big spread which in its many forms was all bread and cold meats and coffee and milk which suited us fine. Then we walked from our hotel up toward the Arc de Triomphe, sitting on a bench by the Avenue des Champs-Élysées for a break. And then back along the river towards the Eiffel Tower. We wandered below the looming tower and then ice cream in (his) hand we found ourselves a quiet bench to sit on. A wander through a local supermarket for some water and then we headed back for an afternoon nap – a luxury not to be found even on a slow London afternoon.

Refreshed for a night out we legged it to see where Nicholas Sarkozy and his bride live (impressive) and then on to our dinner reservation at La Cantine du Fauberg. We had a long and splendid dinner in this beautiful basement restaurant, surrounded by tables of glamourous people, listening to French music. Then we wandered back towards the Eiffel to see it lit up at night. The Champs-Élysées was jam-packed with tourists whom we left behind as we turned onto a side road and wandered to the river to Eiffel watch. It was blue. Nice but not fabulous. A cup of coffee at a nearby café rounded off a long evening of our long first day.

On Sunday we took the train to the suburb of Bercy, which is home to the relatively new Frank Gehry designed building for La Cinémathèque Française, which in a cinephile’s dream city like Paris ought to be a grand building. To be honest I was more than a bit disappointed by it. I’ll put up pics later and you can make your own choice. We wandered around the Palais Omnisports and the Bercy park. Watching dogs run after balls, a group of young adults play football and a purpose built ramp park being skated and cycled on. We wandered over the up-down bridge across the Seine towards the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Then it began to drizzle so we retreated to the safety of a hot coffee in a café. When the swift drizzle abated (and V had finished reading his all important article about 3 sailors drowning – macabre material for a pleasant weekend), we walked to Cour St-Emilion which is host to Bercy Village. Cour St-Emilion and Bercy are lovely, with wide streets lined by stone houses and modern flats. Bercy Village is a set of old wine warehouses that has been converted into a shopping village with swanky shops lining two sides of a short gated cobbled street. We wandered in and out of shops including the divine O&Co where I had to get V to physically restrain me from buying my weight in olive oil and related products. Found an Alsacien place and proceeded to devour an overly chees-y flammenkuche. V pronounced it ‘OK, but not as good as in Alsace or even as good as the Heidelberg one’.

A bit more of a wander and then we took the metro to Absesses, from where we climbed the 225 stairs up to Basilique du Sacré-Cœur instead of taking the funicular. Relished the view for a few moments and then walked down the terrace steps amidst the swarming tourists and souvenier sellers of Montermarte. Walked down through Pigalle and Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, the tourists thinning till we were once again on abandoned, quiet streets. And then just as suddenly we were in tourist centric Opera again.

That evening we went to Cite for a meal. We ignored a recommendation and chose a small middle-age knights themed restaurant. Not a great choice for either food or ambiance. A bite from V’s chocolate crepe while walking to Notre Dame was worth it though. Notre Dame was gorgeous, lit up against the fading light, each of its facades more beautiful and ugly than the next. It’s a strange building, impressive in its scale and minute in intricate design, and both beautiful and ugly in equal measure. We sat in the square in front for a while, enjoying each others company while watching the camera flashes punctuate the falling darkness. Then we walked through the busy Latin Quarter for which I did not much care. We got stuck in the rain on our journey back and got soaked in the 2 minute run from station to hotel, hand in hand.

On Sunday we drank coffee and had a croissant at the Partie de Campagne near us, whom I love all the more for their cute bee theme (when I put up my birthday gift post you’ll see why). Then we wandered to the Opera (which was swarming with tourist buses of Indian people) and then on to the Galleries Lafayette. The Galleries Lafayette is like Selfridges, brand after brand strutting around for attention and money. We did not pass go, or collect $200, instead we went straight to the food hall and bought cheese, mustard, wine and almond biscuits. Then we were off with our bags to a friends’ light and airy flat in Republique. Lunch with her at a delicious Tapas place (yes I know that's Spanish food - its just made for a refreshing change!) close by and a walk along the Canal St. Martin to a local coffee place before it was time to head back to London.

We had a packed weekend of doing nothing but wandering and taking in everything without any of the fuss of tickets, queues or waiting times. With its lovely (if unprouncable) French accent and beautiful shuttered window buildings Paris is a feast for both ears and eyes. We walked a lot, hand in hand, grinning and talking like teenagers again, taking random pictures and indulging myself in self portaiture. We lingered on park benches and in café’s - reading, listening to music and talking animatedly about life and our plans for the future. We smiled a lot, our innocent youths seemingly given back for this short interlude.

No matter what I write I can’t describe how much fun this trip was. I want to come back and read this post when I feel low or old. But really, no words can do it justice, and so I hope instead that when I do come back to read it I can manage to conjure up this feeling.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

That blog, this blog

There are genres of blog writing I cannot bear and then there is just narrow minded, self-centred, bad writing that spews forth from trawling through the blogosphere. I try and avoid both but often my eyes are drawn to these. I then torture V with a lot of ranting about what other people write that bends everything I think or believe out of shape. He nods wisely, agrees because he loves me but really has no clue because he barely has the time to read the Economist and watch his quota of TV let alone trawl the blogworld for mind fodder. He patiently tells me I should stop reading things that irritate me so. Or take in and even enjoy the other world view. I try. Mostly I succeed and stop reading the ones that most irritate me most. But some things are like an addiction. I find myself going back to read the next set of self-obsessed precocious nonsense. I am definitely an addict. I know they drive my blood pressure up but I cannot help myself from going back to read the sanctimonious crap. I am searching for a permanent cure.

I choose my blogroll with care, and there is no one on it whose writing does not rank highly in my opinion for interest, imagination, viewpoint, clarity or humour. Some or all of those. I leave bloggers on it WHO I WANT to read daily. Of course none of them writes daily. I really wish they would though. Some have become friends, virtual and real. Many provide an interesting blip to the day, a view point that makes me think in a different way. That allows me to appreciate alternate opinions, different contexts and incisive minds. I used to be oft petty and refuse to include anyone who didn’t have me on their blogroll. I realized the futility of this quickly so now it’s a list I want to read rather than a list that reads me.

I love the new bloglist thing that updates the blogroll continuously. I had to put everyone into the new thing and I fear some whom I read regularly have been left off. I do know most url’s by heart but I’m only human (CeeKay, I know you have been missed out – promise to rectify asap!). If you read me and think I should be reading you or if you have been relegated to the ‘Once in a while’ heap but promise to be good and write (YOU know who YOU are) or if you used to be but are not on there now and should be - please please please put your hand up now.

Of my own writing I am deeply tired. Some days I have nothing to say. Others I have too much to say but no time to. And yet others I spend toying with ‘what if’s’. What if this person reads this and feels bad? What if I say something I regret? Aren’t words like arrows, once they leave the bow there is no changing their course? Sometimes I feel I should say things when the thought comes to me – isn’t that the point of my blog – to be spontaneous. Then I get side-tracked by other. Or I think about all the other blog stirring up their own hornets nest and I shrink back in cowardice. I don’t take harsh-ness kindly and I don’t know how I’d react – maybe my vicious self will emerge. She is not nice. You would not be friends with her.

So I write blah blah mundane blah. Or ignore this place. Neither is fulfilling.

And mostly the evil thoughts pass but really I am going to hell for even thinking them.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Preacher man

This morning I woke up late and happy. I decided to avoid the sardine can tube and took the bus to work. So ipod in ears, taking in the views of peak hour London, I am enjoying the bus ride snaking its way to the City. All is well with the world as I know it.

Quarter way into the journey, amidst a gaggle of eager beaver office goers, a well dressed man with a black rucksack gets on the bus. He stands in the area reserved for wheelchairs and pushchairs as needed. He takes a sign out of his bag and hangs it around his neck. It’s bold lettering clashes against the small check of his shirt and proclaims: REPENT YOUR SINS! REDEEM YOURSELF IN THE EYES OF THE LORD!

And then he starts on a sermon about how we must all become Christian, go to church, repent our sins, find peace. About how we could all die this very minute, or at the next crossing, or maybe tomorrow and would go straight to hell if we hadn’t found our path by then. I have to say I could only make out snatches of what he said over the music from my ipod but it was engaging to watch most of the passengers pay attention and listen with interest. Bus folk are so unlike Tube folk. For Tube folk acknowledging that anyone else exists is taboo. I suspect the summer air has gone to the heads of the Bus folk.

Then I pressed pause on the ipod to scroll through the playlist looking for some inspiration and I heard this:

Preacher man extolling the virtues of repenting our sins: This morning how do you think you woke up? You only woke up because God himself made you wake up. Did you hear me? It’s God that made you wake up.

Very white collar worker with mid-row view: No way MY-TE (that’s mate to you and me), it was my alarm clock!

Round of laughter and applause. Almost everyone got off at Aldgate East.