Flying To Paris, Forming First Impressions

9:54 pm

When I woke up this morning, it took me a few minutes to figure out just where the hell I was. It was only after gazing for a few moments at an unfamiliar picture of some saree clad women standing on a beach when I realized that I was, in fact, in a service apartment in Boulevard De Grenelle in Paris and not in the far end of Beninganahalli as one would have imagined.

The act of getting here was by itself an interesting experience. We traveled by Emirates which meant that we had to spend eight hours in Dubai’s Duty Free Airport before we could board the flight to Paris. I spent half of that time simply digesting the fact that there could be people of such varied nationalities present at one place at the same time.

They had complimentary breakfast and lunch for people who were making a stop for more than four hours in Dubai and between the two meals my dad and I mostly just sat around; looking with some amount of amusement, as people with glazed over expressions, dressed in the strangest assortment of clothes, rushed about in all directions to make incomprehensible, expensive purchases of designer wear, chocolates, cosmetics and other such shopping paraphernalia.

Even though it was beginning to seem close to impossible, after long spells of semi-sleep, inane announcements, terrible but neatly packed food, the plane finally did land in Paris. By the time we headed outside to hire a taxi (a Mercedes Benz!), the cold wind cutting into us mercilessly, I was about that close to vibrating with excitement. My dad, for whom it was the third time in Paris, was understandably more composed and was soon engaged in small talk with our Lebanese driver.

I sat in silence, taking in the unrealistically smooth and clean roads, the orderly traffic- hundreds of people moving about without a sound and the sights that our driver kept pointing to every few minutes. Before I had the time to come to my senses, the Eiffel Tower was being pointed out to us and I gave it an extremely unfair, half hearted glance, a little too overwhelmed by the fact that this trip was actually happening to me and I wasn’t the subject of some sort of 3D movie.

At our service apartment, we were greeted by our landlady- a nice old lady who resorted to mad hand gestures the moment we asked her something a little out of the ordinary like “How do we get cable T.V?” She tried her best to cross the language barrier though unlike some of the other specimens we came across. An encounter with this lady in Monoprix, the supermarket closest to our place, was particularly unnerving. On discovering that a chips packet was open after it was billed, my dad simply asked the haughty looking Afro American woman behind the desk if we could exchange it. She refused point blank to make a single attempt to understand what he was saying or try to see it from the customer’s perspective and started babbling in French till her boss came and told my dad to exchange the packet.

(French gets preference over everything else here. Few people speak English and even basic things like instructions are given in French. It doesn’t matter most of the times but on rare occasions like when they tell us how to buy tickets for the Metro in French, I can’t help but get irritated by how full of it these people seem to be. To give them some credit though, a lot of people try to help even without knowing English and moreover, people seem to warm up to you the moment you greet them in French so I guess it balances out.)

We took an open roof bus ride around the city the next day. The idea was due to the fact that we were at a loss so as to where we should start more than anything else but it turned out to be an amazing experience. For 22 Euros, the bus took us around Paris, stopping for a few moments at all the important sights, while an audio guide kept giving us historical information.

It was as though someone had jumped up from behind the screen and clicked on a gigantic mute button. Paris seemed to lack the hustle, the sounds and cries of confusion that I have come to associate with cities. People hurried about without looking at each other, each person a little more well dressed than the next, with matching boots clicking smartly on the cobble stoned paths.

On one side were the structures and monuments that we had read/learnt/heard about, but never really been able to imagine and on the other side was real life, as it had been immortalized in our mind’s eye by innumerable forms of entertainment. The bus would stop in front of the Notre Dame or the Musée d’ Orsay and the background would be the same- couples pushing prams with babies in the cutest woolen wear ever, old “mademoiselles” strutting around in leather overcoats, foreigners with huge Nikon Cameras slung around their necks, young lovers being forced to say goodbye to each other and lingering forever to exchange a kiss.

For a moment, it seemed as though Paris was almost tangible. All I would have to do would be to pause briefly, collect my scattered, muddled up thoughts together and the adjectives would be tumbling towards me. As the bus pulled over in front of the Eiffel Tower, the sun had just begun to set over the Seine River. The sky had turned into a pleasant shade of pink and I was actually audacious enough to begin wondering about what the hype about the towering structure was when I got off the bus and gave it the full hearted, honest, complete look that it deserved.

I could but let out a deep sigh as the moment disappeared without leaving the slightest of traces.

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