Sunday, 20 March 2011

Paris Oh ! Paris ..

June 2010.

“ Mr.Padinharath,you have been upgraded to the first class “ the Philippino lady at the check in desk gave me a surprise gift, while I was collecting my boarding pass for my travel to Paris

During my personnel travels I always travel by ‘cattle class’, or any class below that. Forofficial tours I am permitted to travel in business. But this was my first experience in First class and it is my first visit to Paris. (Great way to start your first trip!)

The chief stewardess was a British lady in her early forties. She walked up to me and wished “Namaste “while I was occupying the cabin. I looked her to judge the intention behind the desi salute … The blonde had a sincere smile on the face. The ‘British queen ‘probably wants to impress me. She had an interesting name – Genita.. ( I laughed inside thinking, what the name will read if we add letter L at end)

First class cabin looked better than my office in Abu Dhabi. Frills included a wide screen TV, extra spacious flat bed and an exclusive dedicated mini bar inside the cabin.

It was a day journey … The in flight entertainment system included few Malayalam flicks also. I have decided to watch Renjith Sanker’s “ Passenger though I watched it earlier in theatre .. The debutant director has made a gripping movie and I enjoyed watching each of the scene again.

Flight reached well before time in Charles De Gaulle, Paris .. The airport is named after the most influential leader in French politics, who led the second world war for France against the mighty Adolf Hitler.

The airport shuttle bus took me to the hotel in the Champs Elysee area … The traffic on roads made me feel that I am in some Indian city ….

The hotel room was in the fourth floor and from the balcony Eiffel Tower was visible...The Sri Lankan man who helped me to bring the luggage told me that hotel is in the neighbor hood of Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy and Mrs Carla Bruni Sarkozy .. Now I realized why the hotel was charging a fortune for the room.

Collecting a map from the reception, I have decided to walk around and explore the area.It was a warm evening and I felt people around are enjoying it .

I have ended up in a French restaurant and the waitress on the door lured me inside with her mesmerizing smile .Waitress wore a skimpy dress which exposed more than 60% of her surface area .Upon my request she suggested me to go for ‘Norwegian Salmon Cooked in Vinegar & Honey ‘ along with French Wine .. The choice was really good and I enjoyed every bit of it.

When I came out of the restaurant, it was 9’0 clock in the evening … Sun was refusing to disappear and it was a long day for him in the office.

Buildings in the street looked almost identical. Ladies around mostly shown distinct allergy to clothes, liberally displaying their assets. Men on the other hand wore formal dresses as if they are going for their wedding. Young couples demonstrated their love to each other by embracing and locking their lips in public, shedding all their inhibitions.

I was walking, watching the scenes, keeping my mouth agape and in the process, I lost my way. I approached a young lady traffic police officer who was busy charging fine to a wrongly parked vehicle. In the traditional Indian way, I interrupted her from doing the duty but she patiently guided me to the route of the hotel.

Next day I started early as I was to go to Veronne which is around 70 km away from Paris. I took the metro from St Philippe station to reach St Lazare station where the long distant trains where starting. St Lazare looked like a refined version of Mumbai VT with many trains coming in and pumping people to the platform..

I could see many Africans in Paris, unlike other cities in Europe. During 19th century, there were many French colonies in Africa and probably this is the price they paid for it.

The metro in Paris is one of the oldest in the world ( 300 stations, more than 220 km , 16 lanes). It was identical to the metro in London, but was much more user friendly. The first lane was constructed in year 1900 and then onwards many lanes are added up.Though the Paris Metro is quite old, it is still equal or better than the any modern Metro systems around the world. Few of the lines are fully automatic, driven unmanned. Some of the stations had been named after Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas etc the illustrious
sons of France.

Train took 40 minutes to reach Veronne giving me a chance to enjoy the scenery around.. France is also no way behind other European Countries in natural beauty.

Paris is having a population of 12 Million people while whole of France will have around 60 Million people. It is the dream destination of every tourist and the city receives around 45 Million tourists every year.

To me, Paris looked like a Food Fiesta where all the choicest dishes from all over the world is made available. For every person, there is some thing which Paris can offer. Be it is Entertainment , Culture ,Fashion , Media , Engineering , History , Science , Arts ,Food – you name anything , Paris is there . Paris is one of epicenters which can shake the whole world making way for historical changes. The lists of attractions in Paris are endless. The Engineering marvel of 19th century the Eiffel Tower still leading in luring  tourists to Paris.

I reached Veronne at 8.00 am and in the station Elvira waited for me … When I saw her, my heart stopped for a moment. Elvira was extremely beautiful … Such people I saw only in screens or in magazine covers. With her stunning appearance she could have given any top model or actress a run for their existence.. She wore normal pants and a purple color full sleeve shirt . She kept the sleeves folded till her elbow. When she smiled the ear rings danced in a rhythm. The long hairs she has folded and clipped it top of her head .. She stretched her hand to me and told me ‘ Welcome to France ‘ .. ( Hey man , just come of dream , the lady is offering you a hand shake)

Elvira is the Project Engineer of the company I am visiting in Veronne. I spoke to her over phone few times, but I never met her earlier.

“ The climate is good .. We have a bright day today.” Elvira spoke while starting her Swedish make SAAB Turbo ..

“ Yes I brought with me some summer from Abu Dhabi .” I attempted a joke.

Elvira spread the fragrance of her perfume inside the car.. She wore a designer watch on the left hand and a fancy bangle on the right .. Overall she commanded a magnetic presence.

There was a 15 km drive from the Veronne station to her office. The narrow serpentine road passed through the fields and small forests where nature has spread her green carpet. It was green, and green allover. Nature has rallied all her resources to provide a visual treat.

Elvira took her Diploma in General engineering from Lyon. She is working past couple of years with this company ..Her boy friend Thomas works with a Paris based NGO . For the past 11 months Thomas was in Islamabad and recently he is back to Paris .. Elvira lives in the outskirts of Paris and she drives every day to Veronne to work.

Elvira never tried to pretend any thing. She was quite straight forward in her approach and candidly admitted her ignorance to some of my questions. She was eager to know about Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

During the day Elvira and her boss Nicolas took me out for the lunch .. Elvira suggested me to try ‘duck prepared with traditional herbs’ and I obliged. Evening she dropped me back in Veronne station . While closing the day she fixed my program for the next day ..I was to go to Normandy along with Eric, the colleague of Elvira.

Normandy was a small but a heavenly town and Eric was equally an interesting person.He was quite handsome and a very enthusiastic. Eric & wife Celine lived in Paris, but they own a second house in Normandy.. Normandy had many apple farms which is used for preparing the very famous Normandy drink “ Cidre “ . Eric stopped car to show me the apple trees.

During the lunch Eric offered me Cidre .. “When you are in Normandy you should drink only Cidre ..” Eric advised me. It was a very nice drink and was a realization for me that alcohol can be so tasty..

While we were at lunch Elvira called Eric in his mobile to check every thing is okay. Eric informed Elvira that I am quite impressed with Cidre. Eric gave the phone to me for talking to Elvira .She told me that Eric & his wife Celina will take me out evening for a Dinner Cruise and next day Elvira will take me around Paris. (Elvira is really caring.)

Eric drove me back to Paris after our work. On our way we had discussed many things to know each other’s views. Eric had a general aversion towards Germans. “ There are no Germans in FranceEric informed me ..

Though Germany & France are the two great pillars of European Economy, both countries had many contrasts.

During the two world wars Germany & France were in opposite camps.. Though second world war destroyed most of the German Towns, Paris remained un scathed in the attacks.

France depends on Nuclear Energy as a source for Power, but Germans prefer alternate energy sources.

France is having 60 Million population while Germans are 85 Million . Both the countries together produced over 100, Fortune 500 companies! Airbus is the synergized reply of Germany, France & UK to the Boeing of US.

In Germany people are scattered and lived in many small , medium & big cities , but in France 20% of its people are confined only in Paris.

French are more polished and always enjoy their meal. Germans are a bit unfriendly and in a hurry to finish their meal .. French relished wine while Germans drank beer.

Charles De Gaulle of Paris is the second busiest airport in Europe (after London Heathrow) and Frankfurt of Germany is closely chasing.
Interestingly Adolf Hilter and Mr.Charles De Gaulle were army officers for Germany and France in the World War I . But the World war II saw them in command in the rival camps.

As on today, Germany has a lady Chancellor ( Angela Merkel ) while France has a male President.

On our way back to Paris , Eric drove me through the last built high way # A14 which had many tunnels closer to Paris . One of its tunnel was 4 KM long and another 3 KM long .. I should admit that these tunnels were really an Engineer’s delight.

Eric drove me directly to the place ( Pont De l’ Alma) where we were to go for the cruise dinner. The tickets were with Celina and we waited for her. Within few minutes Celina also arrived.

Celina wore a frock and she reminded me the actress Seema in 1970s. Celina worked for a company which had offices in India ( Mumbai ) and in Romania. She gets Indian visitors in her office in Paris frequently . Celina asked me how Indian women are managing with the complicated dress (Sari ) while moving around.. I assured her to provide a reply after checking with my wife.

The cruise has started moving at 8.30 pm through river Seine and till then my self & Celina drank wine. Eric had to drive the car back so he settled with orange juice controlling the frustration.

Seine is the longest river in France. It started from the Swiss Alps and gets terminated in English Channel. Seine passes through Paris like a Silver chain in her waist. Seine is an integral part of every one’s life here . Most of the monuments like Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum , Notre Dame , Grand Palace were quite close to Seine and you could see it from the Deck of the Cruise .. Eric & Celina played the role of perfect hosts explaining me the things.

Next day morning, Thomas & Elvira came to take me around Paris. Thomas had a Pakistani look and Elvira commented that the barbers in Islamabad changed the look of Thomas.

Thomas was quite a friendly person .. The 11 months stay in Pakistan allowed him to know more about Pakistan. He was quite fond of Biriyani and Kababs. His NGO worked for rehabilitating the terror struck, poor people in Pakistan ..

Thomas & Elvira took me to the top most deck of Eiffel Tower.. Late they took me The Monte Martre ( Constructed in 1875) which was another interesting place to visit ..But the pick of the day was Leonardo De Vinci’s Mona Lisa in the Louvre Museum.

When we have decided to wind up, Elvira took out a package from her car handed over to me saying it is a gift for me from her.The package was heavy.

Like a child, I was impatient and excited to open the wrap as soon as I reached the room.

It was two bottles of Cidre ..

( Elvira is the classic example of French hospitality .Elvira knows the people and Elvira cares… )

- Mani Prasad
1982-86 Mech