In keeping with the old British custom, I waved good bye to the white cliffs of Dover as my white Mercedes and I sailed across the English channel and I finally managed to leave shores of England behind. It was a perfect day for sailing, filled with beautiful sunshine, which was my main reason for picking that particular day. There had been reports of terrible hurricane type winds on the day before and although the storms mainly affected the north of England, given the unpredictability of British weather, I didn’t particularly want to risk drowning on my first sailing. Okay, so that may seem like a slight over-reaction to the situation, but you get my drift. Unfortunately, in life things don’t always go to plan, as I soon discovered on my arrival in France.
Lost in Paris
Just as we were about to disembark in Calais, I switched on my satellite navigation system only to discover that it didn’t work on French soil …Oooops ! What was I going to do ? Now as part of my preparation for the journey, I’d taken a great deal of time, money and effort to install brand new ‘cross climate’ tyres, a new starter motor, bought a new atlas as well as those dreadful light-beam stickers , which I had to buy two sets of as the first lot didn’t stick on !! Unfortunately, I hadn’t given much thought to my satnav. I just thought that the GPS thingy-me-jig was ‘Global’, as labelled on the tin. Well, technically, the label was half right at least, because the device did actually track my position in the world, but alas it could not perform the crucial navigational function bit, and so I couldn’t actually find any addresses or cities I needed to get to, including that well known place called Paris ! So what was I going to do ? Well, having anticipated that something may possibly go wrong, I’d checked my route before hand and consulted with my friend, Mathias, to ensure I had some directions to find the best route to his apartment. So this little issue in itself ordinarily wouldn’t have been a huge problem, except for the fact that while I was smugly driving along enjoying the lovely smooth French Auto-route listening to a French Radio station , about 1/2 way to Paris suddenly signs started flashing at me indicating that the Auto-route being closed off. I was going to be re-routed onto the A28 (or was it the A29) and it looked I was being sent back home towards the North Coast where I had just come from. Well, as Del boy would say ‘Mon dieu’ . What was I going to do? This didn’t look good at all ! As it turned out that wasn’t going to be the real issue as I did eventually end up heading back towards Paris, however, it soon dawned on me that the directions which I’d carefully noted down were now totally useless, as I would be taking a totally different road into Paris and was coming in from a totally different direction. I was well and truly and totally in the excrement aperture!
As the sun began to go down and it got darker by the minute, to say that I was perturbed would be the understatement of the year, and the air in the car was slightly steamy to put it mildly. I have to confess that even before this little predicament, I didn’t particularly relish the idea of driving on the ‘right side’ of the road anyway, let alone having to drive in the dark while being lost in Central Paris during rush hour traffic. I tried using my so called ‘Smart phone’, which I’d switched to roaming mode before leaving England, but to no avail as it clearly wasn’t smart enough to pick up a signal. As luck would have it , before I left Oxfordshire my dear friend Jan, had very kindly offered me a Samsung S3 mini android, and for some reason, it worked? Hallelujah ! So aside from a couple of wrong turns, including one which led me accidentally to the Bois de Boulogne, I had the pleasure of driving along La Seine while watching Paris light up at night and I finally arrived at my destination only two hours later than I’d anticipated and boy was I relieved and gave myself a huge pat on the back !
I walked into a very smart, typically French looking building which was situated on a grand boulevard with an equally grand looking Italian marble staircase contoured with golden rails and one of those cute little old fashioned lifts, which deceptively looks like it can barely hold one skinny person, but somehow we managed to squeeze in with my trunk.
I had a lovely welcome from my old friend Mathias , his lovely wife Julie and their three gorgeous boys, who welcomed me into their sumptuous apartment , which resembled something you might see in a glamorous designer fashion magazine. Although Mathias and I have been friends for about twenty odd years, we hadn’t seen much of each other since we worked for the Accor Hotel Group in London in the 90s. At the time, I worked part-time as a reservation’s agent while I was doing my A-levels, and Mathias , who was visiting from Paris, was on a year’s work experience. Although we came from very different worlds, being young, free and single as we were then, we both enjoyed the London ‘club scene’ and ended up in some weird and wonderful places , including one particular night when we went out with the infamous Patrick Juvet, a former model turned singer-songwriter, who had a string of pop hits in the 70s & 80s and represented Switzerland in the Eurovision contest. Whenever I meet Mathias, I’m never quite sure where I will end up. For example, on one particular occasion, while I was visiting Paris on business, Mathias came to pick me up and announced that we were off to a 70s party. I arrived at this grand mansion to find a bedroom full of costumes for guests to try on, and lots of TV celebs eating chiliconcarne in paper plates and drinking Champagne, which in my world felt kind of surreal. The Mathias I knew was always full of surprises and this visit was no exception. So off we went on his scooter riding along La Seine, set alight by the Parisienne skyline. There was a sharp chill in the air but it didn’t matter because I felt free as a bird as we whizzed in/out of traffic. It reminded me of riding on my cousin’s motorbike as a young lad when I used to visit family in Mumbai.
Mathias and I eventually ended up at a cocktail bar called ‘L’Artisan’ in Montmartre , where we had a good old catch up and remembered old times. Although the city looked the same, it felt different somehow. Since the age of 16, when I took my first ‘youth hosteling’ holiday, I’ve visited Paris many times, with friends, lovers as well as colleagues. This is the city where I had my first summer romance with Mathilde, a French girl whom I met one night while working in a pub in London, but that’s a whole different story. This is also the city where my friend Richard and I famously celebrated his 50th birthday together, which happened to coincide with Valentine’s day, without his lovely wife Pauline, as they both remind me at every opportunity, especially when he gets a warm fuzzy feeling recalling the night we spent at Concorde La Fayette in the posh Sky bar on the 50th floor, overlooking Paris. However, the Paris where I enjoyed summer festivals and Bastille day with Mathilde and listened to great jazz bands wasn’t the same Paris I found on this visit. Something had changed. Mathias noticed that the area seemed a lot quieter . It almost seemed like the City and its residents were in mourning following the attack on 13/11 when many innocent people were sadly killed or injured. Everyone we met seemed to know someone who was affected by the incidents that took place that dreadful night.
My dear friend Mathias also seemed a little different. He looked a little older and wiser with his greying hair and beard, but he definitely still had the party spirit. The only difference was that instead of partying with rock stars, he now parties with his wife and three lads, who spontaneously burst into song and dance at any given opportunity, much like Mathias himself, who apparently still performs privately. I look forward to the return ‘Les 5 Michels’ at their concert next year ! 😉
While in Paris I also got the opportunity to dance at three milongas – See section on Tango in Paris .
Next stop: Champeix, Auvergne