Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Paris Diary: 1

My idea of exploring a city is to throw the guide book away and wander aimlessly. While this method can have disastrous consequences when exploring an Indian city, it works for me every time I am in Europe. In the case of Paris, wandering aimlessly can yield surprisingly delightful results, as every unplanned detour or every unexpected turn of the street has literally the ability to stop you dead in your tracks, such being the aesthetic riches the city has to offer.

Such serendipity brings me one late evening to the Place Vendôme, after all the shops are shut and the beautiful square is lit only by the streetlights. I remember standing there for a very long time, completely overwhelmed by the architectural grandeur on display and the serenity that seem to prevail all around.

To start from the beginning...

I land in Paris on a bright spring afternoon. It is a Sunday and the taxi takes me through deserted streets to my hotel, near the Latin Quarter.

A letter awaits me at the hotel. It is from Herman, the person who will be my trainer for the next four weeks. Herman, writing in an elaborate cursive, welcomes me to Paris; gives clear, precise directions how to reach La Défense, the major business district of Paris where our office is located; apologises for the sorry state of the Metro. Apparently, the sanitation workers of the Metro are on strike and it is in bit of a mess.

Used as I am to the suburban stations and trains of Bombay, I can hardly find anything seriously wrong with the famed underground rail system of Paris. True, the trash cans are overflowing and there are scraps of garbage here and there, but I travel in air-conditioned comfort and the morning rush hour hardly holds any terrors for a battle-scarred commuting veteran from Bombay.

Herman is a tall, jovial man in his fifties. Bernadette, his assistant, is younger, but equally friendly. The couple go out of the way to make me feel at home that first day, showing me how to operate the coffee maker, where to find the cafeteria, and how to work the buffet during lunch time. As the days go by, they become really close and start advising me how to see little bits of Paris every day and what to do (or, not to do, according to Bernadette, clucking like a mother hen) during the weekends.

Thus begins my obsession with a city which I keep revisiting in my imagination even today.
Photo Courtesy: Neil - Vacances d’automne. Picasa Web Albums


suju said...

i must admit that, while the city really is magnificent, the people could do with a makeover. if you're lost past midnight in the lanes of paris, forget about asking for directions to people. they seem to run away from you thinking you to be a potential mugger. this never happens in most other "civilized" cities, if you ask me :-) including aamchi mumbai, new york, etc. [i was eventually rescued by a bunch of drunk and happy students.]

Rada said...


Sorry to hear about your experience in Paris. But then, if I come across you past midnight in an ill-lit side street of Paris (or Mumbai or New York,) I would run too, screaming for help! :-)

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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.