Actually last stop Hong Kong but that was only in transit and does not count. Except that I bought a bottle of booze and Tiger Balm, as you do. It is important for travellers transiting through HK not to buy their duty free alcohol from their starting point. HK customs will confiscate it. I almost bought some at CDG airport when the salesman advised me not to. There was this corporate/bureaucratic looking guy who had three bottles of very expensive Chivas etc taken off him while I sailed through customs. Small travel tip from moi.
So. I took the train from Strasbourg station to Charles De Gaulle airport. The last time I went to Paris I traversed the city on the metro but my dream of doing cross country via Eurail just did not materialise. This time it happened via the itinerary and there was not much time to think or take photos. We drove from Gerstheim and just about managed to get to the station on time with an irate steward waiting for me. (He gave me a mini lecture in ze marvellous French accented l’Anglais ;-) about almost missing the train.) The Alsace trains are an entity of their own with painted carriages that trundle along the French countryside, quite majestic. I dozed off.
Two hours later I was inside Charles De Gaulle airport, an absolute behemoth.
I checked in and took the RER metro straight to Saint Michel. With five hours to spend on my own I thought it might be worth revisiting Paris. Had I missed the romance in this so called romantic city the last time I was there or is it just a myth like I thought?
The train ride was fascinating, just as I remembered it. Dingy little trains squeaking over the tracks, regurgitating commuters on to dark stations. If a cross section of train commuters can be a representation of a local populace then Paree is nowhere as haute and white as projected by and emphasised by global lore. Predominantly African peoples packed the train and the stations. The poverty obvious. None of the European countries have a comprehensive programme for refugees and migrants, especially poor, illiterate migrants, all of whom are left to fend for themselves and become French/German/Italian/whatever. Consequently ghettoised, ostracised and blamed for all evils. Integration is a two way street. As I observed through the train, the housing dregs (how some buildings remained standing was a mystery), graffiti and the urban deterioration seemed like a symbol of the inability of the Western world to deal with post colonial globalisation.
Paris was hot that day. It had been a very warm fortnight late spring. After the lush, laid back surroundings of Alsace the heat and grime of Paris wore me down. I was carrying my merino jacket and a backpack full of winter layering for when I got back to New Zealand. Apart from the laptop and camera. (Ah first world tourist issues!) And Notre Dame was chocker with tourists. As if the whole world, mostly Americans, had turned up at the same time. I hung around, took photos, observing this congregation. There were the local Arabs, handsome boys dancing for an appreciative audience, charming the Americans with their French (I seriously doubt if even one American might have thought these boys were Ay-raabs, not that I am assuming it is from ignorance.) Then, as I went for a walk along the Seine, a couple behind me started having a lover’s tiff. They went on and on, I tried not to listen but they were quarrelling in English! C’est romantique oui? They should have tied a lock on one of the overbridges and thrown the key into the Seine. Only 5 Euros to end the row et je t’aime mon amour.
Then there were the Indians. It was nice. An indicator of disposable income, of increasing confidence in the ability to travel and spend. Never mind the awkwardness that generates or the discomfort of encountering a new culture beyond the ideas propagated by Bollywood . Family groups, mummy, pappa, munna, munni, aunty, uncle, and their munnas and munnis. Hanging by Notre Dame, gaping at the cuddling couples along the embankment, calculating Euros v/s rupees. A daughter was lecturing her mother on why they travelled to Paris. Did you come to complain or to see the Eiffel Tower? In Gujarati. The beauty of it, for me, is that I am this non-specific person few can locate so they don’t know that I can understand them. There is the occasional suspicious glance from other Indians but I appear too hippie to fit into any aspirational, upwardly mobile Indian mould.
Second time around in Paris and I know the romance is imaginary, an extrapolation of the need to perpetuate the homogeneity and singularity of a French identity. Some sort of cultural crutch. A narrow notion for an incredibly diverse city; squalid outer suburbs, inner city Dior and high culture including. And the French should know that already.
Thus I took the train back to CDG airport.
PS-The Bangladeshis are still selling roses in Paris.