Saturday, 8th of July 2006 1000 HRS: I finish my dinner and get a call from security guard that the cab driver is waiting for me.
“Ask him to wait for half an hour”, I tell him.
I look around and find my baggage packed and ready.
‘Ok! So finally I am going. Let me quickly get the kitchen in order and get ready. Shouldn’t get late for the airport’. For the next half an hour I get things in order and dress up to leave. ‘Is it really happening, am I really going to Paris? Oh yes! I am! My first onsite trip after 6 years of being in an industry sending anyone and everyone abroad. My time has come, but why is there a touch of sadness in me. Somehow the excitement is not as much as I expected’.
Finally, I leave at 10:40 PM and reach the airport at 11:00. Ah! There I see Ram, his luggage is lesser than mine, ‘Good for me, if I go beyond 20kgs, I can move some load into his.’
“Hi Boss! Where is Jaini”? I ask him.
“Don’t know. Lets wait for her”.
Finally Jaini arrives alongwith her husband and father-in-law. ‘Wow! Her luggage is even lighter than, Ram’s. This is just perfect for me’. This is first onsite trip for all of us and the nervousness is evident. Excitement that we all feel is aptly reflected on Ram’s face with his ever broadening smile.
We move towards the check-in area. X-ray scan done, we move into the line at the boarding counter. ‘God! What a maddening rush! The area is so tight, so congested, doesn’t look like an international airport’. Anyways, we wait for our turn. An hour later, I go first, my eyes fixated on the weight reading meter, 22, 21.5,20.7,19.8,…..
”How much is it?” I ask the lady anxiously.
“20kgs” is the prompt reply”.
”Ah! Thank God!” escapes my mouth as I hear the magical number. After all I had taken 5kgs of rice, dals, soyabean, masalas, sugar, oil, ghee, tea, top ramen, snacks and what not. ‘I m going to stay for a month, so this much is necessary’; I had reasoned to myself.
Jaini and Ram finish of with their check-in formalities as I wait for them. Together, we move for the immigration check, but not before Jaini bids farewell from her husband and Ram calls his wife. I take this opportunity to SMS everyone that boarding is normal. Get a call from Vicky bhaiya and SMS from a few others, all wishing me good luck and adding on to my own feeling of mixed emotions; a bit of sadness, happiness, excitement, fear.
Immigration, customs and security check go smoothly and we enter the boarding area to wait for the final boarding call. The boarding area is filled with people, no place to sit. But who cares, we are full of excitement. We look at each other and give smiles, all sharing the same feeling. No utterance of words but yet the same understanding. Its 1:30 A.M and the boarding announcement for Air France are aired. I pick up the cabin luggage and join the queue. ‘So! I AM DEFINITELY GOING! I am going to enjoy this month long trip to the fullest, not going to worry about savings at all.’
I am in the plane, jumbo A320, seated next to this Chinese descent French guy. We exchange smiles and get comfortable in our seats. ‘Damn! He is sitting at the window.’ Fifteen minutes later we coast along in air, I try to get the headphone going and get help from this guy. He speaks good English and helps me in understanding the screen. I come to know that Hindi movies are also available, so I move to the Hindi channel and find that bluffmaster is going on. ‘Good! Atleast 3 hours will pass smoothly.’ I see the dinner trolley coming out, wine bottles being on top of them. ‘I am going to drink Champagne in flight.’ I had told myself since the day I came to know I was traveling to Paris.
“Veg or non-veg?” The air hostess asks me?
“Non Veg has chicken?”
“Yes” Is the reply.
“Non-veg then”, I say.
“Yes, Apple juice!” ‘WHAT! Apple Juice! Huh! I can’t believe it. What about the champagne? Why did I ask for apple juice and not champagne, what happened to me? Excited, scared or what?’
Anyways, I get what I ask for and she moves on, leaving me wondering.
Dinner tastes good and is quite sufficient for the tanker of a stomach that I have. I ease myself into the movie. Finish it off and see everyone around me is dozing off. I close the screen and slowly doze off.
Sunday, 9th of July 2006: It is 8 AM in the morning (French Time), I adjust my watch, which still is showing me Indian Time, accordingly. Breakfast is served and by the time we finish it off, hear the announcement of landing. ‘So I have reached Paris, Fashion capital of the world.’ I smile thinking so and look forward to the experience that awaits me. At around 9 AM, the flight lands on the runway at the Charles D Gaulle (CDG) International Airport. It takes another 20 minutes for the plane to find a place to halt. During this time I get a chance to peep through the window. It’s a little cloudy, roads and bridges, huge buildings old and new, hotels like Hilton, Sheraton.
We get out of the plane and through the passage move towards the immigration checking counter. There are directions all along but in French, we try to make whatever sense we can out those French boards and finally manage to get in the immigration queue. Immigration process turns out very smooth and not as scary as we expected. No questions asked but no smile answered either. The airport is huge, clean, far lesser number of people than what we had in India, no mad rush and easy movement towards the luggage area. ‘God! How I wish it was similar in Bangalore’.
We come out of the building, its cloudy outside, the temperature is mid twenties. A taxi parks in front of us, a white old man somewhere in his mid 50s comes out and I show him the hotel address written on a piece of paper. He says something in French, helps us in putting the luggage inside and we get into the taxi. The taxi is a Peugeot product, from outside looks like Tata Indigo, can easily be classified as a semi luxury vehicle in India. We move outside of the airport to a huge, wide road, greenery on the right and buildings on the left. The width of the roads would be 5 to 6 times MG Road in Bangalore, the vehicles zoom at around 90 miles or more, in one direction. Looks like a one way highway. The roads are wet from the previous day’s rain but I don’t see any mud, they are just clean concrete roads. The traffic is minimal. Wherever the taxi goes I see traffic moving in one direction only. ‘Seems like Paris road traffic model is built on a one way system.’ The roads are concrete everywhere, most of it empty or little traffic. This I guess is a highway and greenery is abundant on the sides.
Finally we reach the apartthotel (Service Apartment), Pierre Vacances at around 10. It is in the La Defense area very close to our office. The receptionist name is Sarah (Pronounced as Saha in French). 'God! she looks a lot like her!’ . Thankfully she speaks decent English. She confirms our identification, gives us the keys, and the code to enter the hotel. This code puzzles me and then I realize that this is the number we have to enter on the number-pad outside the hotel door, to enter in. This is the locking mechanism here. We decide to utilize our Sunday to see Paris, so decide to meet at around 12 PM. I reach my room. It is a decent room, more spacious than what I had heard from Pradeep who had traveled before me (he had stayed in a different hotel though), there is a small kitchen area inside the room, bathroom and toilet are separate, bathroom has a bathtub. ‘Wow! I can live this dream also; of spending time in bathtub drinking beer.’
Around noon, we all assemble at Jaini’s room, where Arun (Jaini’s friend) has also arrived. Jaini and Ram tell me that they have called up home and I think that even I should. So I call up dad using the Airtel Card I bought at the Bangalore Airport. Happy to hear his voice, talk to him for a few minutes, I put down the receiver and feel a little homesick.
All four of us leave the hotel and move towards the La Defense – Grand Arche Metro station. Arun tells me how metro is the lifeline of Paris and how we can reach to any place in Paris through the metro. All we need is a map with us to know the station. The walk to the Grand Arche station is about 10 minutes. Along the way I see a lot of huge buildings all around me, all glossy and multistoried. The roads as usual concrete, but I do see some paper and cigarette buds thrown here and there. ‘It’s not all clean in Europe too. Some dirtiness exists here too. India is not alone.’ Traffic again very little, possibly because it’s a Sunday, again one way. We decide to visit the symbol of Paris, Eiffel Tower. Arun buys the tickets for Charles D Gaulle Metro station. We get into the metro (Line 1) and it moves at great speed. This is my first time in a metro and the feeling is quite exciting. Good, clean and fast. We get down at Charles D Gaulle to catch another metro (Line 6) for Bier Hiem station. No new ticket is necessary, just the change of platform and we are all set. Another 10 minutes and we find ourselves on the streets of Paris, with loads of tourists around us, all moving in one direction towards the Eiffel Tower.
The tower slowly unveils itself, coming out of the trees and the buildings that it was hiding under, from my view. I see a tall gigantic structure all old and rusted metal, brownish in colour. Am still not near it yet, but can view it in-between the garden trees along the roadside that we are walking along. I take some pictures, and increase my pace in anticipation of seeing one of the 7 wonders of the world. The garden ends in a curve and wow! Here it is standing tall, gigantic and beautiful, a beautiful exhibition of the greatness of human mind. I strain my back to have a look at the topmost corner of the tower but fail in the effort. The camera too gives up.
“Let’s go to the top.” I tell the gang.
“Yes!” the unanimous answer.
So we get in the ticket counter line, huge queue this, lot of tourists, lot of people. We are in the 4th line, the last one. Each line would be having atleast 30 to 40 people.
“This is still a small number”. Arun tells us, probably to make us feel privileged that we are on a day with lesser people.
Its atleast a half an hour wait and I take this opportunity to look around the area. I see a lot of people, beautiful awesome looking girls ‘Oh God a beauty here and a beauty there. Their dresses will kill me!’, some public display of affection is also on view. A kind of unfamiliarity starts seeping in, and a sense of loss of belonging to the place. ‘This place is so different, everyone so unfamiliar, the air is so different, an inhibition to talk to someone, not a common language, nothing that binds us. What would I do had Jaini and Ram not been there? First time in my life I am really feeling that a lifelong partner is necessary. Oh am already missing India. Well let me try to enjoy first. Come back to normal Jimmy.’ The road is busy, people crossing, super bikes and cars zooming. At the other end of the road I see a river with streamers.
Finally, our turn comes and we buy the tickets for 2nd Floor. The top floor tickets are to be bought at 2nd Floor. We join the people already waiting for the elevator that will take us to the 2nd floor. The elevator ride is short one but during this time we go through a jungle of metals, all held together by huge nuts and bolts. ‘Man what an engineering marvel. That too, such a long time back.’ We spend some time at the second floor, roaming around the place, enjoying the view of Paris, taking pictures. Time to move on and we buy the tickets for top floor, get into the elevator. While the trip till 2nd floor was an inclined one, this is more vertical as we pass through the narrow end of the tower. Just as we come out of the elevator a strong rush of wind blows into our face. ‘Wow! Simply awesome!’ Paris is for us to see, everything small and insignificant before us, we on top of the world, the fast gushing wind giving us the sense of power and significance. The top floor also has the room where Sir Eiffel alongwith a couple of other people used to work. ‘God knows why you build it and what you did here? But, thank you Sir!’ It is time for us to go and I bid goodbye to Sir Eiffel and move into the elevator to take me back to normalcy. Again we stop at 2nd floor to eat something. We enter this fast food restaurant and try to make sense out of whatever is displayed as eatables. Most of it looks new to me but what is evident is that almost everything is non-veg. ‘It is tough on a vegetarian here.’ Ram settles for just French fries, a strict vegetarian that he is and we decide to have chicken sandwiches. Now the bread is not the usual loaf type, but a very different tasting, long big burger style bread. Nonetheless, the sandwich tastes ok. Having satisfied our gastronomic urgencies, we proceed to go to the base.
We now move towards the other end of the road, to the Sean River. We take the one hour cruise in the streamer. I come to know that this river encircles the Paris city and in the one hour cruise that we are undertaking, we can have a glimpse of different monuments, museums, bridges and palaces of historical significance. There is an automated audio tour available for free and in 8 different languages. Just select 2 and the audio switches to English. As the cruise moves and different tourists spots are seen, the audio keeps updating us. We see the largest museum of the world Lourve, the Notre Dam Cathedral, some very important (historically) bridges and palaces. Since I never was a fan of history, I take pictures of whatever appeals to me enjoying the wind gushing into my face as I stand on the outer railing of the streamer. Suddenly, I see the Eiffel again and I realize that one hour has passed and it is time for us to go. I check my watch and a surprise awaits me. ‘What! Am I dreaming? It is 8:30PM and the sun is still out, it is clear daylight, as if 4PM of an Indian summer ’
I reach hotel and the receptionist tells me that someone has left a message for me. I see the message and it is of Ajeesh informing me he is at room 501. I head straight to his room. He is busy drinking and watching the World Cup final. I join him, have a glass of beer and then don’t know when I doze off. With dreary eyes, I wake up, say bye to Ajeesh and move to my room. Enter the room, change the clothes and lie into my bed for one of the soundest sleep ever.
Monday, 10th of July 2006: I wake up and check the watch ‘Shit! Its already 8:15. When will you learn Jimmy?’ I use the fastest reflexes that nature has provided me and swing into action. Finish my bath, iron my clothes and have breakfast with Ajeesh. Around 9:10 we leave for office, running more than walking. 10 minutes and I see the office building, two huge towers, infact the tallest among the concrete jungle around us. Nervous and anxious, I step into the building and stand in the queue to meet the receptionist.
“I have come from SG India and have to meet Dennis Cammas or Robert Lafforet.”
“Who?” She asks.
She calls up someone and then after a couple of minutes gives me the temporary card to enter and also a map of where I need to go.
“Floor 33,” I tell Ajeesh.
We enter the lift and my heartbeat starts to increase and matches the speed at which the number changes from 0 to 33. I come out of the lift and am greeted by a well built man.
“Vikas?” he enquires.
“Yes” is my reply.
“I am Denis Cammas, welcome. So are you ready?”
“Yes of course” I reply as my nervousness begins to subside a little.
Denis introduces me to the team and tells me that my counterpart, Obaha will be here soon. I give him a blank look as my I was told that my counterpart’s name was Robert. Luckily he arrives and Denis calls him over.
“Hi Vikash, I am Robert.” ‘Ah! Thank God. The name is Robert, these French guys pronounce R as aha.’
Robert turns out to be a very nice guy who speaks very fluent American English. Upon enquiring from him, he tells me that he is a Frenchman but has American Mother.
The rest of the day goes on smoothly and I settle down well into the environment. Around 6, I head back to the hotel. Ajeesh joins me an hour later. Beer and talks about this and that follow. Even he shares the same feeling of alien environment here and is dying to go back. I decide to cook dinner and Ajeesh helps me in that. We finish dinner at around 11:30 and then he heads off to his room.
Friday, 14th of July 2006: It has been 5 days in Paris and I have kind of settled with the routine. The alien feeling of first day has subsided to a large extent. Today is a national holiday, as it the French Revolution day.
We (Me, Ajeesh, Ram, Jaini and Arun) assemble at the hotel and decide to see the Parade and then Lourve Museum. We head off to the metro station in the Grand Arche and get down at the Concorde station and walk towards the Champs Elyees area where the parade is going on. The road streches from the Arch D Triumph (The India Gate of Paris) till God knows where, it’s a long stretch, beautiful, neat with greenery on both sides. People are standing on the sideways as the tanks pass by. The atmosphere is great but dull compared to what we have in India. Still it’s nice and picturesque. We spend another half hour there and then move towards the Lourve Museum under the guidance of Ajeesh. I had already heard about the Lourve as being the largest museum in the world and the one housing the famous Monalisa.
We reached the Lourve museum gates and what I saw was an architectural splendor, the beauty and magnificence of European Architecture at its best. The area itself was huge, from the main gate to the building we had to travel some 300 meters interspersed with fountain, trees and greenery along the sides. The entrance to the museum is identified by a pyramid type glass house. Jaini and Arun decided to go back and the rest of moved on.
Inside the building, it looks like a shopping mall. Elevators, ticket counters and the rest display the latest modern technology possible. We learn that the entrance to museum is free and we need not buy any tickets. However, we decided to spend 5 Euros on a guided audio tour. We were provided with a headphone and a calculator like gadget. Specific exhibits inside the museum were given numbers and once we pressed the same in the audio system, we would get to know the history behind that exhibit. ’Wow! This is just great.’ We move into the building and see various centuries old sculptures and paintings. We have already spent an hour in the museum and still we have only finished 4 rooms, and going by this rate we won’t be able to finish the whole. Also, it is kind of getting boring. I am not fond of sculptures and history as such, so this is getting a bit tiring for me. We decide to rush towards the main objective – Monalisa.
Monalisa has gathered a big group of visitors already and I have to use my Indian technique of getting through the rush of crowd. I manage to see her face to face. She is smiling and I decide to stare at her for sometime. Heard there is something special about this portrait and though of exploring it a bit within the time constraints that I had. Ten minutes into and I feel she is smiling at me. I feel her smile widening, her jaws broadening. I shake my head in disbelief and concentrate again. Same result and I decide I have had enough. ’Maybe I am tired.’ I reason to myself.
We decide to move now as it was getting tiring as well as boring. ‘It is good for those who are interested in art, history and the like, but not for me. Besides, don’t we have better things in India, just that we don’t maintain them properly nor are we so proud of it like these people?’
Back on the road we decide to walk towards the Arch D Triumph. This gives us the opportunity to walk through of Champs Elyees, the real fashion place of Paris. All big brands, latest fashion accessories and latest electronic gadgets, available in showrooms spanning along the whole stretch of the road, of course at a premium cost. We got into one of such showrooms – Sephora, a cosmetics showrooms housing all kinds of perfumes, deodorants, colognes and all that I never have heard of. Ajeesh buys a perfume for his Bhabhie and we move ahead. We come across this mercedes showroom and decide to have a peep in. First time in my life I get to see Mercedes SLK two seater; (Cost 65,000 Euros). Other models also are exhibited but they don’t interest me that much. Out of Mercedes showroom, we enter Peugoet concept cars showroom. Man what a sight. I see Hoggar; a beast of a car huge and heavy, H20; hybrid car that can run on water, 307CC and a couple others. ‘What beauties? I won’t get to own them but will I ever see them in India?’ We reach Arche D Triumph, take a few snaps and head off to the hotel.
Saturday, 15th of July 2006: Ajeesh and Arun leave for India, making the three of us feeling jealous and homesick. But who has the time to feel bad, Paris is waiting for us. We spend the first half in the hotel and the second half head for Notre Dam Cathedral. Since this time finding the metro was our job, I was extra cautious, figuring out the stations to stop at on the map. It was quite easy, the metros are so well planned into 14 lines and so many intersecting stations that reaching another corner of the city is not more than half an hour journey.
We reach this gothic cathedral and first thing that strikes me from outside is the dark colour of the cathedral. It doesn’t have the rustic look that one gets with time but has something grayish in its form. The building has different kinds of idols of Jesus, Mary and their disciples, saints etc. As we enter inside we come to know about a free guided tour that is going to start in 15 minutes time. We wait for the guide to arrive. Exactly 15 minutes and an old lady in white suits greet us. She leads us out of the cathedral and into the open to explain the history behind the cathedral. Though it does make the tour interesting, my own aversion to such historic events takes the better of me. ‘Besides, isn’t our history much older, diverse and richer than their. If we really start to put an effort every city in India will have atleast one such monument.’ The walls and pillars of the cathedral have paintings and sculptures of the ancient times and none of it interests me. Finally, we come out of the cathedral. Our next destination is the Indian Market in the La Chappele area. We had already heard about this place being the hub of South Indians and Sri Lankans, so decide to check out.
We reach La Chappele station and as we get out the first shop we see is Gopal Telecom. A loud laughter escapes us at the sight of Gopal Telecom. We excitedly rush into the shop. It’s a grocery shop and has all the masalas, pickles, oils, vegetables, dals, pulses that are available in India. Some of it is from Pakistan and Sri Lanka too. I feel so ecstatic to see Indian stuff in Paris. We buy a calling card from the man at the counter. He is a Tamilian and Jaini speaks to him in Tamil. Move out of the shop and roam around the market and find the whole area filled with South Indians, Sri Lankans and other Asians. Shops with Indian and Lankan names, written in the respective language makes me feel so happy. It is as if I have come back to India. I realize how much I am missing my country and how difficult it must be for people who permanently leave their countries to settle abroad. We enter to shops, talk to people there and move out. Just the thrill of seeing fellow Asians and talking to them gives us immense joy.
Sunday, 16th of July 2006: We go to the Sunday Market near our hotel. It is really like an Indian Sunday Market with cheap items (cheap by Paris standards), available. We spend some time there checking out stuff. None of us bought anything as we felt we could get the same things in India at a much cheaper price. Next to this Sunday market is the vegetable and meat market. You can see all kinds of meats and fishes available. We are standing next to this fish shop when this shopkeeper says Namaste. I respond in kind.
“Are you from India?”
“Yes” he says.
“Taste this, its French Speciality. It is from me, you don’t have to pay anything.” He gives us a small fish that is boiled, oiled and peppered.
I taste it and it feels good. Jaini is scared to taste it as it looks raw. Ram refuses it outright since he is a non vegetarian. We move on and check out a few more things before finally saying goodbye. Off to hotel rooms, we eat lunch and take a nap.
I wake up at around 3 and call up Ram.
“Do you want to go out?” I ask him.
“Yes but Jaini is not coming”.
“Ok, we will go.”
We move towards the Grand Arche area and the blistering heat takes its toll. Ram is feeling hungry so we decide to go Auchan Supermarket mall and eat something there. Ram gets a cheese burger at Quick’s and then we decide to go back to hotel as the heat becomes unbearable.
Saturday, 22nd of July 2006: Another week has passed and I have learn a few more things about Paris, and also myself. People here are quite nice, though resistant to English language; they are not racist by any means. You don’t get the look of an alien that people in some countries subject one to. Large part of the society has Muslims from Algeria, Morocco and other African countries. The metro service is just excellent mode of public transport. I have kind of got used to it and now it feels like a piece of cake.
About myself I learn that I can be happy living alone (‘I wasn’t wrong after all’), it has become like what was in India. I have got used to the lifestyle.
Today, we decide to go to Versailles. It is a small village/town on the outskirts of the city, famous for the Versailles Palace. We take an SNCF at the La Defense station. Actually it’s a combination of the train ticket plus the entry to the Palace. The lady at the counter tells us its cheaper and we take her word. The SCNF is a suburban train that takes us out of Paris and into Versailles. The half an hour journey is worth its weight it gold as we get to see the suburbs of Paris, the old city that it is. We get to see the countryside, small homes reflecting the architecture of ancient times interspersed with new modern looking apartments. One thing common is the conical roofs like we have in Kashmir or Shimla.
We reach Versailles Rive Dorte Station. The Versailles Palace is about 10 minutes walking from this station. We embark on our journey and we get to see the town in lieu. ‘This is real France. Small town with beautiful roads, small individual houses, trees on the roadsides rendering greenery in abundance. This is what we see in movies and that is so fascinating to watch. ’ We reach the Versailles Palace, its as big as the Lourve, another Victorian Architecture splendor on display. Huge and spread beyond the limits of my eyesight, I marvel at the beauty of it all.
The entrance to the palace is a grilled gate with a beautifully carved golden head. Facing us in a straight line is the main building while the sides have identical smaller buildings. Of course the whole structure contains beautifully carved statues. The building is light brown in color and the roof tops are grayish. We enter the palace through the right side of the building. The interior of the palace is like the other monuments that we had seen, the same Victorian paintings and carvings, the same kind of sculptures. However, all of it looks beautiful and is an experience in itself. There is this huge mirror on the wall and I get an idea. I get Jaini and Ram to face the camera on the mirror and click a picture of all three of us. ‘What a great idea! Good job Vikas.’ From the top of the palace, we get to view the garden enclosing it. It looks beautiful from the view, lush greenery spread across all over, thick dense trees enclosing vast areas of land. I try to capture this beauty in my camera and manage it a little bit. We move into another room, this was the bedroom of the king. Royal in everyway, I wish I could sleep on it. My legs are pushing me to take some rest on that beauty of a bed. Somehow I control my urges and we move on, this time more steadfast. We move out of the palace and into the garden. It is huge, just huge, and very huge. Greenery is all around, thick dense trees all around but not as beautiful as it could have been. We walk along, me and Ram together while Jaini follows us.
“It is beautiful, isn’t it?” I tell Ram.
“It’s ok but not that great.” Ram responds.
“What do u mean great. You are a spoiler man.” I retort angrily.
“I am not a spoiler man. It is just that it is not that great. Oh! Leave it!” And then, a sudden silence.
‘Perhaps this was the culmination of our frustrations. The over hyped, over zealous expectations with which we had embarked upon this trip were not being met. We found nothing great. Good, unique and beautiful, yes but nothing really awesome and mind boggling. What was it we were expecting? I guess we didn’t know but all these days our frustrations somewhere had built up the extent that it had to explore. Maybe we never were able to view Paris in an objective way. Comparisons were inevitable, albeit subconsciously.'
Anyways we decide to give our tired legs some rest and so settle down in the shady area that’s filled with huge, big trees. There are other small groups to be seen around; some with family and some like us. Suddenly a horse cart passes us and I just have the shock of my life. The horses are huge, grey in color, and have furs like Yaks. They just look awesome and beautiful. We spend some more time there and then decide to move on. The hugeness of garden takes wins over our efforts of getting out of it. Our experiments with finding an exit lead us to another smaller part of the palace. This is the place where the courtesans and other members of the court used to live. One of the room’s has a billiards table too. Not sure if it’s that old a sport and what they did with it, but it is interesting enough for me to take a picture. We move around the area and finally a find the way out of palace.
We explore the place now. The roads are just beautiful; both sides have those European architecture houses, small and beautiful. The place looks very much like what we see in Bollywood movies or normal English movies. The place has nothing modern about it, no metros, no high rise glass buildings, just the old European touch to it and I love it. After about 45 minutes walk, we reach the railway station and board the train that will take us back to Paris. We get in and give our tired legs some much needed rest.
We reach back to La Defense area and head back to the hotel room. Evening Jaini and Ram decide to shop for some items as they are heading for India on Tuesday, and I go with them.
Sunday, 23rd of July 2006: The first half of the day is spent lazying around in bed. However, both Jaini and Ram look reluctant to go out. ‘Enough is enough, why am I spoiling myself in the hotel room. I am going out.’ I heard a lot about the Opera and the Galleries Lafayette so decide to head towards it. After two metro changes, I reach the Opera. It’s the house of music or the museum of music as they call it. All the main music functions (classical) are held here. It also has statues and epitaphs of ancient musicians like Mozart. The building again is huge but I don’t bother to get in. Have a look from outside the entrance area. ‘Enough of statues and historical wonder for me.’ I move towards the Galleries Lafayette area. It is the biggest shopping mall in the world. Unfortunately, it was closed but I have almost walked half a km and the mall doesn’t end. There atleast 4 to 5 different buildings; each building as big as Garuda Mall of Bangalore. Something gets over me and decide to keep walking. I didn’t want to go back the hotel room so keep walking towards the Champs Elyees area. Half an hour later I reach the place and am excited to see the huge crowd that has assembled there to greet the Tour De France cyclists. I join the crowd, take some pictures. The atmosphere is just deafening but still cannot match the cricket fever of the smallest stadiums here. I spend some time there and then decide to move back to the hotel.
Thursday, 27th of July 2006: Had been hearing a lot about Mt. Momarte. Even Ajeesh had mentioned it. So I decide to give it a look. I leave office at around 6 PM and head straight for Mt Momarte. This is the first time that I travel in a metro during the rush hours. Its as congested as the Mumbai local train. ‘So, not all hunky dory here.’
I reach Momarte. It’s a small bastille sitting on top of a hill. Some hundred odd steps lead it. The passage is quite wide and divided into three sections. Each section has a garden area where people can relax. I move up the stairs and at each section stop over to look behind me. Paris begins to get wider but smaller. The wind speed also increases slightly. The last section also has a road area which is just too beautiful. However, I decide to continue my journey through the stairs. I reach the top finally and the view is just amazing. The bastille doesn’t interest me as I have already got bored with it. I still venture inside and the architecture is same as the Notre Dam Cathedral. It’s the outside view that interests me more. I roam around the place. It’s a residential place. There are apartments all around. A small market too is there. You find painters here who draw awesome pencil portraits. They are just too good. I am tempted to get one for myself but the thought of carrying it back and the difficulty attached with the same forces me not to. I stay there, move around, take pictures, enjoy the music played by a group of guys over there. They were doing it as some charity. As the evening gave way to night and darkness started to be more prominent, the city began to light up. Ah! What a beauty. What lovely sight to behold. The Eiffel is all lit up and hard as I try to capture it in my camera, the effect is not that great. Another hour passes by and suddenly from nowhere, wind starts blowing as if to tear us apart. I enjoy it thoroughly and somehow try to hold myself straight but the fear of rain grips me. I hasten my steps towards the exit.
Saturday & Sunday, 29th and 30th of July 2006: The past few days teach me a thing about myself. I realize that I can stay happy living alone but if I have a companion I can be happier. And that companion could be anybody, need not necessarily be my wife. ‘All those people hell bent on getting me married and claiming it be the road to ultimate bliss could now take a walk. Yes, now I am no more rigid on not getting married, but to get married for the heck of it, well that will not happen. '
I just go out once on Saturday evening, that too for shopping some liquor and chocolates, which I will carry to India. The rest of the time I spend watching TV, inside the room and waiting for the time to pass by.
Friday, 4th August 2006: Finally it is my last day of the Paris trip. I am as excited as a kid getting his first toy. Take my camera along to the office. On the way I click some more pictures. The team has organized a small breakfast for me and I thank all of them for making my stay in Paris a little pleasant. ‘They truly are a wonderful bunch of people.’
Robert, Sandra and Edouard decide to take me out for dinner. It is 7O’Clock, me and Robert head off towards the Opera. Sandra and Edouard will join there. Me and Robert spend some time at a restaurant where we have beer and some heart to heart talk. Wonderful guy he is. I had built an instant rapport with him and we turned out be great buddies. He definitely made my stay in Paris a little better. An hour has passed and Sandra and Edouard have neared the Opera. We also move to join them. After initial rounds of discussions and suggestions we decide to head off to a Chinese restaurant. The food tastes good, more Asian in taste and with white wine it just turns out to be an awesome combination. Sandra comes up with a suggestion,
“Let’s go to American Dreams”.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Nightclub” Replies Robert.
’Ah! Nightclub.’ This word rang a bell. Every other guy who had been onsite and I knew of had mentioned this thing. It is one of those things that all guys look forward to. I was no exception.
WARNING: The next couple of paragraphs are adult in nature and some of you might find it offending. Read at your own discretion.
We enter this club, entry fee being 16 Euros. As we climb up the stairs, darkness, deafening music, smoke and huge crowd of people face us. There is this lady in a bikini on top the table, gyrating to this music, responding to the cheers and whistles of the crowd. And the crowd is not all males but an equal quantity of females is also present. Most of them are couples. We settle ourselves in a corner seat. On the other side of the room I see a cabin where the private lap dance is going on; a half naked girl moving about her hips and people lusting on it. In the open, this lady has now removed her bra and a guy from the crowd climbs up on the table and fondles with her breasts to some cheers, shouts and enjoys. Soon she leaves and another girl comes on the floor. Again the same exercise starts, the same exhibition of nakedness. Later, a male stripper comes and this time a girl joins him for so called fun.
I watch all this as an observant. Somehow the excitement that I thought I would feel on seeing a naked body for the first time, I don’t. ‘Man what is happening here. A naked body in front of me does not invoke the same kind of lust than what I would have felt seeing semi clothed woman. It just doesn’t seem to be as great as it looks on TV or magazines. Probably the fact that nakedness leaves nothing to imagination and it is imagination rather than the body of a female that invokes the lust was playing its part. Our pent up sexual frustrations that themselves are a product of over glamorized cinema and television and also the societal norms and conditions contribute to it further. When everything is so evident and in front of you, when nothing is left to imagination, you reach a state of no mind, a state of nothingness where the brain just drops dead. Had I reached that level? I guess yes. Over the years, all the frustrations of not doing IT, of still not having tasted the forbidden fruit were now seemingly looking futile. I was beginning to realize a new ME. Sometimes the idea of letting it out through means of money had crossed my mind and time and again I had stopped short of doing it, only to later add another shame story in my chapter. But today I am feeling proud of it. I realize that I could never have done it. Something imbibed in me told me it was the purest expression of love and not an animal instinct. The animal in me was finally out. I was free at last. ’ The place begins to stink and I itch to get out of it. Thankfully the rest of the people also decide to leave and we get out. 'And I get out as a free soul.’
Sandra drops Robert to his home, (Pigalle street, 200 metres away from the MOULIN ROUGE). This place is busting with people. I look around and see sex shops everywhere. ‘We say sex is open in this country. India we keep it under wraps and that is why we are so perverted about it. But if it holds true why would such nightclubs, such sex shops and prostitution flourish in the so called open culture?’ Sandra, then drops me at La Defense area. It is 1 AM in the morning already and I start moving towards my hotel. I see a couple of girls moving in front of me and I begin to wonder how great and safe it is for people here. Atleast in the city area, girls can roam free at night without the fear of getting harassed or I can roam around free without the fear of being mugged.
Saturday, 5th August 2006: Finally it is time for me to go. As I move out of the hotel I feel a tinge of sadness, some sense of belonging has already crept in. Probably, the last night’s party ensured I had fonder memories of Paris.
In the plane I remember the days spent and also smile at having discovered a part of me, having known myself better and evolved as a person, free and at peace with myself.
PS: I finally managed to drink champagne while returning back.