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TRAFFIC JAMS AND TERRORISM (Pottering in Paris 1)

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It is the 1st November and Julia and I on our way to France to potter about Paris for a whole two weeks!? In response to numerous requests I am once again blogging whilst we are away. Quite unexpectedly we have managed to squeeze this trip into our ‘busy schedule’ following my recovery from major heart surgery earlier in the year. In preparation we have been watching various films featuring Paris on DVD, including one of my favourite films – Woody Allan’s Midnight in Paris. It is a great film, by the way, and well worth getting hold of on DVD and having a look! I will not be attempting to ‘live out’ the story line by the way. As chance has it, I will be celebrating my birthday whilst here in Paris, but at 71 years of age I prefer to be tucked up in bed by 10.30 p.m., so Midday in Paris it is more likely to be for us?!

We left home early yesterday morning and drove up to Ashford in order to catch the Eurostar direct to Paris the following morning. The drive was a nightmare – they sometimes talk about the M25 being the biggest carpark in the UK – well yesterday the M27, M3 and the M25 formed one gigantic car park with half-term holiday makers returning home a day early from the West Country. After several hours crawling along the various motorways we eventually arrived at our hotel in Ashford. Once again we are staying at a Premier Inn – we do like these hotels – and after a somewhat ‘choppy night’ (obviously too excited about actually managing to get our ‘French fix’ in after all this year) we drove to the Ashford International Station car park (where we were leaving our car for two weeks) and found our way to Passport Control!

And what a palaver! Julia set the alarm off for no obvious reason, whereas I got through o.k. despite all the metal inside me after my bypass operation? Well, I thought I had got through customs o.k. … only to be suddenly surrounded by several customs officials who wanted to know why I was carrying a ‘dangerous weapon’ in my suitcase?! This ‘dangerous weapon’ turned out to be my French ‘pocket knife’ – the kind that the majority of French men carry around with them on a daily basis – which they constantly use for cutting bread, and cheese and apples, etc. I bought mine in France several years ago and have taken it back and forwards with me to and from France since then. Nevertheless, I was told by the customs officials that they would have to confiscate it because it was over three inches long? I was told that I was fortunate not to be arrested because it was a criminal offence to carry such a ‘dangerous weapon’ (even though it was folded up and in a button down sheath and in the bottom of my suitcase?! I expressed surprise at this, since just about every man in France carries one all the time? The customs officials conceded this and allowed Julia to run back to our car and secrete said knife in the glove compartment?! Since my heart operation Julia doesn’t allow me to do anything ‘energetic’ so I had to sit and wait for her to return to the customs hall. Perhaps it was the innocent, angelic look on my face that persuaded these officious officials that even though my Passport states that I am a ‘Reverend Gentleman’, this does not mean that, ipso facto, I am therefore a ‘fundamentalist religious terrorist’ intent on knifing everyone on board the Eurostar to death?! After 10 minutes Julia returned … setting off the alarm system once again?! It must be her magnetic personality? And we eventually park ourselves on some seats and wait for our train to arrive.

There are hundreds of school kids also waiting for the same train? They are either French kids returning from an educational visit to the UK … or British kids on the way to France for an educational visit? Ourselves … and all the remaining adults are looking panic stricken at the thought of being stuck in a carriage with these hordes of screaming school kids?! Fortunately, the train is segregated into numbered compartments and we are in a ‘school kid free’ compartment. The journey takes under two hours and we soon find ourselves in the impressive Gare du Nord station in Paris. Whilst we are pouring over our map of Paris a young Muslim woman in a hijab comes sprinting past … pursued by a somewhat portly French station official?! Does she have a French clasp knife hidden in her purse? Is she a suspected terrorist? Is she a pickpocket … there are lots about we are told? Is it because she was wearing a hijab … the French don’t like them, you know? Whatever … it is no contest … youth and energy win the day, and the young lady leaves the portly French official panting for breath as she exits the station at speed!?

We decide to walk to our studio apartment. We reckon it is only about half a mile from the station. It is situated in Montmartre, literally ‘a stone’s throw’ from the impressive Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur set at the summit of the famous ‘escalliers’ (or steps) of Monmartre. Needless to say we ‘take the long way round’ – not helped by the fact that our map is too small, and the street our studio flat is supposed to be situated in has at last three different names? We eventually find our way, however. The flat is wonderfully quirky, full of weird furniture, and wonderfully painted walls. It belongs to an artist, Fabienne (who lives just round the corner) … quelle surprise? We just love it, however! It has a beautiful courtyard and wonderful big windows overlooking the garden. Maya, who lives next door and looks after the property for Fabienne, lets us in and explains how everything works. She doesn’t speak any English but we get by with our usual mix of French and Franglais?! We have been doing the Duolingo conversational French course on our iPads. As a result we can now both talk eloquently in French about ‘how a duck’s wife can drink wine and eat cheese and apples whilst wearing a pair of jeans and and a dress’?! It’s not much use?!

Jim Binney

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