Last Thursday evening at 8.30pm, we are in a Paris Taxi. Satchmo is driving. He’s as black as the bottom of our circa late 1940’s Dundas Road kettle. Wife and three adult kids at home. He’s a happy chappy and shows us a piccy of his three kettle black kids all smiling. Its rush hour. Its been rush hour since Napoleon died. About us in a Narrow Rue, is a conglomerate, a jumble, a chockablock ravelling unravelling metal tapestry of Renaults, Citrons, Peugeot’s, Vespas, Buses, eScooters and devil may care bicycle riders and pedestrians. Other chockablock Rues weave together with ours into a larger Boulevard where we are all crudely woven together momentarily, then unravelled again as we enter another narrow Rue. Its absolute mayhem but this is Paris. Stop start motoring, screeching, revving, shouting, pointing, gesticulating rudely, near misses as nonchalant scooter and bike riders weave carelessly through the swarming vehicles.
I admit that I chose our Paris Hotel. I also admit that I made a huge mistake. I could tell that from the outside. A bland concrete structure, seven stories, narrow, no embellishments. On the web, the Hotel Devillas looks fairly swish. I now understand that that notorious ‘Photo Shopper’ come web designer Mgumba in Nigeria and his Uncle Botswana, designed the web site. The price per night was extraordinary and we should have purchased a Mini Cooper instead. I imagined and told my bride that there was a large foyer, a reception desk with uniformed people where the air was permeated with the aroma of warm Fromage de Chevre Croissants.
We enter through an air lock I now realise is to stop fresh air entering the building. There’s old Pierre, balding mid sixties in night porter come receptionist come concierge roll wearing a Tarshay shirt and his Boules trousers. Theres a sign stating, Dogs up to 5kg are allowed at 20euro per night. He reluctantly drags himself away a computer screen where he is watching Marionette and the Paris Boules Team having a Knees Up. Hands us a plastic card number 103. For the cell of the same name. The lift, cripes the bloody lift. It was left behind and partly destroyed during the Revolution of 1789 when a mob of Froggees seized the ‘Invalides’. Then, led by Hugh Jackman, they stormed the Bastille and left our Hotel Devillas lift suitable only for two persons of 60kg max with small suitcases and time on their hands
At first floor level where there are six cells, we are extremely apprehensive. The bride thinking, I know what she’s thinking at times but only when she is concerned like she is now, she’s thinking, ‘Just how did I get involved with this goose’. Where do I start with our cell 103. No I cant, it troubles me just as did all those graves at Villers-Bretonneux.
‘Strewth Mum, our sleepout at Dundas road was paradise compared to this. Our towels never smelt of cigars and with the kero lamps, we could see to read our comics’. Yes sonny boy, your Dad and I did our best. Now, before you go nye nye, would you like a jam tart with cream?
Paris like Amsterdam, Venice, Brugge, London and Barnaby’s Hat, have been loved to death. Too many people, especially now as the Chinese and Russian upper classes are issued with passports. Possibly so they do not return. In Paris, there are road and pavement works going on absolutely everywhere. But nobody’s working. There’s safety barriers, hoardings, holes, a jumble of cables, steel rods, a bloody mess and its left. Pieces of pavement are missing where Gaspard and Raphael have removed a section of 1789 cobblestones, a section of 1889 concrete, followed by a smidge of 1989 bitumen then gone to smoke a packet of Galuloises, munch through several Jambon Croissants together with triple latte’s followed by shots of Absinthe. And they forgot to come back. Pourquoi and Wee.
Sue and Des walk, one with eyes down watching for pavement changes in level and doggy doos, the other watching out for 18 year old Ruben tearing along double dinking Madeleine on his eScooter.
November 2012, a special somebodies birthday. Sue and I rented a Garrett in Paris accessed via 93 narrow curved stairs that abseiled about a one person steam, chain and cog driven lift. We spent two weeks exploring Paris. It was busy even then and memorable. For on that birthday, on a ‘Skip the Lines’ tour, there’s only four of us including guide plump Marnie, we are on the ‘Ile de Lacite Notre Dame’. An island in the Seine and its bloody well drizzling, freezing cold, wind factor force ten, hands, fingers near solid ice. I say, ‘lets go have a splash of whisky in a coffee’. All in favour say Aye or Wee’. They did both. So there we are, on my birthday, drinking whisky and warm water, called a ‘grog’. And its 10am. Fan-bloody-tastic. So we had a second. Then suitably warmed, we resumed our ‘Skip the Lines’ tour and went climbed the spiral stair up the Notre Dame Cathedral to see where Quasimodo once lived and played with his bells. Up top on the church rampart’s, Gaspard and Raphael had been here installing a bit of a chicken wire safety fence and went off a few years ago and forgot to return and install the heavy duty fence. It was a long way down and scardee cat Des hugged the wall.
On our current one day in Paris, we saw Notre Dame in the distance. Amiens Notre Dame is twice the size and better. Walked along the moody, slow flowing Seine, then through the magnificent ‘Jardin Des Planter’ park. Alive with flowers full to overflowing with colour, magnificent soldier rows of plane trees moving into shedding their now stained summer leaves fluttering down, fountains, statues, ice cream vendors surrounded by grand morbidly grey stone buildings. Past the ‘Pantheon’, Paris’s answer to Rome’s, into ‘Place Monge’ where the afternoon crowd were enjoying drinks, playing watch the movement whilst dragging on ciggies and talking machine gun like in that lilting French that started many an affair. With other peoples husbands/wife’s. Apparently.
Our exorbitant cell 103 rate at Hotel Devillas included brekky. So there we are, showered, dried using ciggy smelling towels, and descend at 0700 hours into Level Minus One. The bowels of Hotel Devillas. Here Clotilde, a thin worried looking lady of some 50 years, is in a dither as her 1950’s Americano Coffee machine no work. This is the type of machine one finds in lonely Australian outback roadhouses operated by people who think a coffee comes ready made by placing a cup under a spout and pushing a button. These places are staffed by people who were refused membership of the Coffin Cheaters motorcycle club and decide as they cannot beat up people, they will beat up their coffee and food. Breakfast here at Hotel Devillas is the usual wonderful French morning Cuisine of croissants, from a packet, buns, ditto, ham slices and cheese slices, double ditto, corn flakes, coco pops, a petri dish of fruit pieces and cold boiled eggs. They get better food in Prison. Poor Clotilde, as she rushes from her laundry room, just there, back to clean up plates, check her faltering coffee machine and make us a plate each of scrambled eggs. Clever, eagle eyed Sue noticed a small partly hidden flyer that stated scrambled eggs were available. Ask Clotilde. We did. She makes them from real eggs. No egg powder. Clotilde then rushes upstairs as Pierre on reception wants one of the ‘cells’ prepared for another inmate. They multi task here.
Evening, we are out walking past cafe after cafe, all chokas with the Friday knock-off crowd, canvas awnings spread out over the pavement, chairs, tables set higgly piggly, fairy lights twinkling, traffic crawling then accelerating then crawling, sirens wailing as police vehicles rush here and there, trains on an elevated bridge rattle by, dogs lie in a lap or tied to a chair leg, people chat excitedly as they sip their wine, beer , cognacs whilst nibbling olives, small chunks of bread and its all very French. We eat in our cell as Froggy food does not agree with my gut orchestra which at the moment, is hesitating between Peer Gynt’s ‘Morning’ and Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee’. We sleep reasonably well despite the soft mattresses, the smell of sheets washed in Cigarette Detergent by Clotilde down in level minus one and the never ending wail of police sirens.
Saturday, a short walk to Paris’s train station Gare D’Austerlitz and at 1150, platform 14, we are sitting in our carriage, First Class seats awaiting Thomas the Froggy Tank Engine to chug off at 1207 to Bourges over two hours south. We are still sitting there near 45 minutes later when a hurried, harried Froggy man comes over the train intercom and tells us in rushed Froggy Speak, and I translate this for you as, ‘Si trin no go. She’s a broke. U goa to nother trin over dere. Upa da Republica. Wee’. I pack up all my toys, book, newspapers, computer, plus cables, small container of oat biccies and 50ml bot of Jura 10 year old. Sue, thankfully waits for me. We tug our suitcases out of storage at back of First Class, lift down 4 steps, they are heavy, then follow the maddening, rushing concerned crowd around to another working train on platform 19. Here we lift our suitcases up 4 steps, stow and find seats as unlike our previous seats which we were assigned, Rafferty’s Rules apply here. I’m borderline sulking and do not bother getting my toys out as I doze. Whereas effervescent Sue has found two Aussie ladies to chat to across the aisle. And blow me down, Sue interrupt’s my dream of flying an A380 into Perth Airport with Elle McPherson on board, to tell me that the two Aussie ladies are going to the same French Language School as she is. For the very same three weeks. I shamelessly fain excitement as I am keen to get back to the joystick of the A380 and re-connect with Elle.
Besides Sue, it turns out that there are eight other people on the choo choo who are all headed to the same language school. Yanks x 3, Canadian, NZlander and 3 Aussies. Plus us. I’m the only male – they are all of the other species. The Shopping Species. Scary. I’m not going to the Froggy language school as I have enough difficulty expressing myself in Australian. Plus I need to brush up on piloting an A380. Bonjour!!!!
Ooroo from Sue 😘 and Des 😇.