A week in France
So finally the visa problems were sorted out and I was off to France. The flight was uneventful, however, upon arriving in France I found that my mobile wasn’t working. After some interesting conversation with the taxi driver at the airport (and abortive attempts to pronounce the name of the place I had to go), I somehow managed to reach Porte de Saint Cloud.
The hotel wasn’t all that bad, however, I was booked into the apartments which can be quite unattractive and uncomfortable, especially since they are not serviced if you stay more than 2 days. Also due to the failed 3 mobile, I had to resort to making calls from the hotel to home every morning and evening. There was on-demand Internet access available at the hotel, but of course, one had to pay for it.
The big day! As usual, there had been a lot of talk in the office about the dress code, so I went all decked up in a formal suit. That I was overdressed, is an understatement (the American trainer was in a crumpled shirt and a lopsided tie, supposedly imitating the latest in style back home). We had an interesting mix of people in the class, and that most attendees could barely speak English didn’t help.
The training started off well, making one believe the slow pace was designed to break it all in gently. Little did I know that it masked the lack depth, both in the course and trainer’s technical skills.
Lunch was interesting; though I was disappointed when we chose an Italian pizza place to eat. Nonetheless the pizza tasted better, and different than what it has ever tasted anywhere.
Had my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the evening. The thrill of being able to see what had been force-fed since childhood (usual general knowledge question – "Where’s the Eiffel Tower?") was uncomparable. It does look beautiful, though in retrospection, it is but a phallic symbol. Not much different that Indian’s worshipping the Shiva-lingam
Only when I reached the tower did I find out that one could climb up the tower. Elevators for the tourist, as well as stairs for the more adventurous. Being lazy and subdued by the weather (-6 C), I took the elevator, and was totally unprepared for the stunning views of Paris. Took dozens of photographs, however, most are fuzzy since I couldn’t battle both the wind and cold at the same time.
If I was able to concentrate somewhat in the training the first day, the second was a nightmare. The course content dragged on, and I wandered off to more interesting things. Like doodling. The highlight of the day was the couple of beers in the hotel room in the evening. Sad, eh?
The ice was broken somewhat among the attendees, so John and I decided to go out and explore Paris a bit. Barely awake by 4:30 PM when the "training" finished, we took the metro. Destination: Arc De Triomphe, and the walk on Champs de Elysees to the Louvre.
If I thought Indian heritage had a penchant for opulence, France taught me that they have that, and the ability to preserve it. While Arc de Triomphe is a poor man’s Gateway of India, Champs de Elysees is stunning. While brightly-lit neon signs are ubiquitous in the high street of any big city, the sheer force of architecture and beauty is overwhelming. Not to mention the French passion for sales (called soldes). And there are always plenty of couples adding romance in the air.
By the time we crossed Champs de Elysees, we were almost frozen. The wind was brutal, and probing, But nothing that a few beers couldn’t cure. Louvre will have to wait for another day.
Another dead day. Tried to economise by buying a couple of cheeseburgers (I now have the most perfect set of side handles now), but of course, I had to get something to wash them down and something for a snack, so I probably spent more on this economical meal. I guess I learnt something that day, if only I could remember what?
What training? Everything there was, was completed the day before (I had by now these wonderful sketches – the cap of pen here, outline of a computer mouse there, plus an extra large number of graffiti across the training manual).
Anyway, it was the best day of the whole week. Christophe and I had to meet John at the Notre Dame Cathedral, and we took a detour to see Louvre first. Biggest courtyard I ever saw. Various extracts of the Da Vinci Code ran before my eyes, and I stopped for a while to wonder about the signifiance of the four glass pyramids. Ah well, I got some photographs at least. Though I couldn’t go in, so my date with Monalisa will happen some other time.
Notre Dame is imposing. The fine sculptures on the outside give way to this serenity and calmness inside. There were people on the pews lost in their thoughts, while some were visibly shaken and probably in pain. That of course didn’t stop the tourists from flouting the "No-pictures" law. Never saw any place of belief as violated as that.
The pall of gloom lifted quickly enough when Christophe took us across to these alleyways that had some Greek and "Irish" pubs. A pint of Guinness extra cold was made available, but whether it was cold was debatable. Two pints and then off to hotel, and then in the taxi to the hotel. There was a bit of panic on the motorway when the beer was kicking in and I could see the traffic slowing down. It must have all cleared up though, since when I woke up (after some heavy snoring as alleged by the taxi driver), we were almost at the airport. Snooty airline waitresses made it amply clear I was entering England.
Whatever european warmth was left, was taken away of course, by the taxi driver in England.
Ps: I had to go back to France again (I found out on Friday), but that then, is another blog!