Postcard - Paris - City of Light
March 2000©Nigel Spiers

Have I got the hang of this French bizzo or what? I have been here for just two days and I have just ordered a ham sandwich and Cafe au lait, first time and the waiter did not shrug once - it is now Nigelle le Francais mais non? I reckon that after two weeks here we could ask directions on the street without the locals spitting.

In the beginning there was the trip from London in the Eurostar - wow, what a buzz. We board at Waterloo station something that resembles a spaceship rather than a train. Our command module dawdles through the English countryside to Dover. We then dip down into the dark chunnel for 20 minutes where the ride is so smooth that forward motion is barely perceptible. As we emerge onto French soil our rocketship takes on a life of it's own. It smoothly accelerates to 300 km per hour. The ride is still quite smooth but you still feel like you've been shot out of a canon. If you want to know how 300 kms feels - count the gap between lampposts on the highway on your next trip out of town. The Eurostar does 2 lampposts per second. On arrival at Garde Du Nord we head for the taxi rank. A suave gentleman tells us he will take us to our hotel for 500 Fr. A small fracas results when I tell him I don't want to buy his fucking taxi I just want to go to our hotel. In perfect English Roz explains that I'm just really tired and pulls me off.

Early next morning we are off to Euro Disneyland. We are guests of Monsieur Michel Laevens - the Disney Groups manager who wants to discuss our software while Roz and Ollie visit the park with free day passes. Ollie is obviously reticent to go on all those rides and eat all those hamburgers but we finally convince him. I find the backstage guided tour much more interesting than the front. The service areas are so vast we have to take a bus and I get to sit next to Goofy and 4 morose looking Mickey Mouses. There are 10,000 employees and security is tighter than NASA headquarters. Michel tells me that this ferocious security is designed to maintain "The Magic". This means that only a handful of staff have ever been allowed to see Mickey without his costume on. I ask if this includes his wife but this is lost on my host, who like all Disney employees, takes this business of magic very seriously.

Back in Paris I insert my Metro ticket in the barrier and am immediately trapped between two steel gates. I can't move and a thousand rush hour Parisiennes sense my fear and start pushing from behind. The air turns blue and it's looking very ugly until a guard rushes up and frees me. Oliver is laughing himself sick and Roz has to step between us to avoid bloodshed.

Paris is no place for non-smokers - they have perfected the art of simultaneous strong coffee drinking and smoking. The record so far is held by a Turkish gentleman who smoked over 30 cigarettes in the course of a one hour presentation of our software. I reeled out of his office, staggered into a Cafe and ordered a Cassis by mistake. Thinking this was water I took a big gulp and then had to sit down until my stomach stopped heaving.

Each day our French is improving and we have now added a range of shoulder shrugs and spitting to our vocabulary. When speaking with a French person you have to interpret both the shrugs and the words. So the question is - do they still use their shrugs on the phone - of course plus their hands and arms. My favourite is the small spitting gesture. You purse your lips and with a small quick spitting motion, at the other persons feet, you make a phh sound to indicate your dislike of a situation or concept. This is excellent, saves time and wasted words and I've decided to adopt it.

If you really want a joy ride in Paris you don't need to go to Euro Disneyland. Just order an expresso, ask a Taxi driver to take you across town at rush hour - then tell him you are running late.

Roz is looking very French today and Oliver and I have renamed her Fifi L'amour for this trip.
We are eating dinner tonight at Bouillon Chartier. Over 100 years old - the interior and menu have not changed since the day it opened. Dozens of waiters in black waistcoats and white aprons rush inexpensive steaming dishes to a hundred lucky patrons who are instantly transported straight into a picture by Manet. This is not some tourist trap on the Champs Elysees - this is tucked way down a back alley in Montmartre, wins prestigious awards every year and at any moment Maurice Chevalier is going to come down the staircase crooning "Thaynk airvorns.......".

Paris the "City Of Light" - how true! Today we take a train to the Champs Elysees, walk through the Louvre, over the Seine to the Musee D'Orsay. With each turn we are presented with ever more beautiful and spectacular vistas. Wide, tree lined boulevards stretch to the horizon, squares on a monumental scale adorned with statues and monuments to Paris's hero's, tragedies and victories. The buildings are limited to 4 stories to ensure the grandeur of Hausmann's designs of the 1850's are not sullied. Modern office blocks have been banished to the outskirts of town. Parisiennes never adopted the English building design of small square paned windows, brick and slate. They chose a local creamy sand stone, anodised steel for roofs and long, slim elegant windows.
All this light, style, beauty and space - what a perfect artistic environment. The impressionist artists of the late 19th century may have shocked Parisiennes with their innovation and audacity. However now that I have seen Paris it is clear that these artists and their art were not at all freakish but rather the natural peak and crowning glory of a 100 years of tremendous political, social and artistic upheaval and development.

Au Revoir mes amis

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