Saturday, 3 September 2011

Paris- The city of my Dreams

Paris- The City of Dreams

 Before I left Rome, I dashed off an email to my friend John Kuruvilla, an artist working in Paris. He had now specialized in painting pictures on the bodies of people and had a wide circle of clientele including a few minor French actors! We had studied Journalism together and later worked for an advertising agency in Bangalore. I had not seen him for years and was looking forward to meeting him.

    My travel agent in Rome had booked me at the Hotel Migny Montmartre walking distance from the famous Opera de Paris. Every evening, I hung around the grand marble staircase of the majestic building; admiring Parisians walking leisurely or taking pictures of people. The Opera is a hot spot of French theater and music. John and I arranged to meet at the Opera and when he did; I hardly recognized him! He spoke English with a French accent and had transformed himself into a Parisian with streaks in his hair and a French Goatee beard!

     I had promised my self that the first thing I would do in Paris was to open a bottle of Dom Perignon (it costs a bomb ranging from 68 USD to 1053 USD) in one of the best restaurants in town! It had looked terribly romantic then but now that I was there in Paris it looked quite silly. John might have had Champagne a million times and I felt a little shy to mention it. We strolled towards a fashionable area of the city and entered a charming little restaurant. The first thing he said as he sat me down was “Pourquoi pas ouvre une bouteille de Champagne pour célèbre notre reunion de nouveou le Cheri? (“Why not open a bottle of Champagne to celebrate our meeting again my dear!”) And I blurted out my wish quite unwittingly. John had raised an eyebrow and ordered to the serveur: “Dom Perignon pour la dame s’il vous plait.”

   The next day, I did the usual touristy things like standing in a long line to see the ‘Mona Lisa’ at the Louvre museum, and then walked through the Arc de Triomphe to later climb up the Eiffel Tower. I bought some very fashionable clothes that I would never wear in India and generally spent a lot money buying accessories I did not really need!

   On day two, I took a coach, seating eight; to see the Palace of the Sun King Louis XIV at Versailles. There I met and bonded instantly with Dave and Margaret, a charming couple from Manchester in England. We had great fun clicking pictures of each other. We are still in touch and exchange emails very frequently. As we strolled through the vast gardens of the palace, I opened my sun umbrella to protect my skin from the very harsh rays of the afternoon sun! (I am allergic to it) Margaret laughed so hard and so long that I was very embarrassed. She wrote to me later that it was very unusual and funny for an Indian to do so! “Cela aussi a Paris Mon Cheri?” (That too in Paris my dear?) She has pasted a picture of me with the sun umbrella on the back side of her kitchen door, and she told me that it never fails to bring a smile on her face!

    Then it was time for some fun and frolic, I went to see the most wonderful and the most thrilling of all adult musical dance performances- the Moulin Rouge. It is a modern version of the traditional French Can-Can dance-cabaret superbly choreographed and well staged. The acrobatic tricks, the squeals and the shrieks, the high kicks, holding the legs in the air to show heavily frilled undergarments to the audience by a group of beautiful but very gaudily dressed women! A must see.

    The last thing I did in Paris was to go in search of the remnants of the Bastille prison in central Paris. It is the symbol of France’s first stirring of democracy. There is nothing left of Bastille, only a column called La Colonne de Juliette that dominates La Place de la Bastille. In the subway station (called Bastille) beneath the square, a few stones from the Bastille’s foundation are kept. The grand notions of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in France started with the destruction of the Bastille prison; which had long stood for the oppression of the common people by the French monarchy!

   Then it was time for me to move on to my next destination, surprisingly it was the only place in Europe I felt most at home! You guessed it right- London. The city of kings and queens, and parliamentary democracy! Bon au revoir pour le moment.  (Pardon my atrocious French.)

Rome- My Favorite destination in Europe

Rome, my favorite destination in Europe

     Legend has it that if you throw three coins over your shoulder at the Trevi Fountain in Rome you will marry an Italian. I was not sure if I could handle a hot blooded Italian husband in Rome! So I threw just one. It meant that I would have a quick return to Rome! That was fine with me as there is so much to see in Rome that one visit to the ‘Eternal City’ is not enough. You have to keep going back to it again and again!

    While travelling through the subway from the airport to the city; I met Gabriella, a handsome Italian. He wanted to know why I was travelling on my own and advised me not to stay in a hotel; alone. May be he was right, because I had heard horror stories about friends getting robbed while shopping in Rome and an elderly relative of mine had lost her passport along with her money bag! But, it was too late to ‘chicken out’ as I was already there.

     It was dusk, when I came out of the subway station and hailed a taxi (a big mistake) to go to my hotel, the driver refused to allow me to keep my small suitcase in the rear seat with me. He insisted that I keep it in the luggage rack at the back.(Many tourists have lost their suitcases this way in Rome) I had the presence of mind to call the ‘polizia’ and he helped me get another taxi. More trouble was waiting for me at the hotel. The room I had booked (for 70 Euros) through a travel agent in Munich was smaller than my bath room at home and had no air-conditioning.  It was the height of summer in Italy! (35 degrees centigrade) I refused to enter the room and sat ‘dharna’ style in the reception. Finally, he got fed up and gave me a bigger room with an AC. 

     Early next morning, I checked into ‘The Grand Hotel Palatino’ which was very close to the Roman ruins. It was frightfully expensive but I liked it. From this hotel, I had to just stroll down to the ‘Flavian Amphitheatre’ or better known as the Colosseum. Inside the Colosseum, I stood at a secluded spot, in a corner; to marvel at it. In my mind’s eye (influenced by the movie Gladiator) I saw a crowd of 50,000 blood thirsty Romans cheering and urging the fierce Gladiators to fight each other to death! A must see.

     Early after noon; I went to see the Roman Forum or the Roman Ruins located in a valley between the Palatine hill and the Capitoline hill.  It was the centre of political and social activity in ancient Rome. It is so magnificent that is easy to imagine Roman emperors and senators walking grimly to the ‘Curia’ or the Senate hall paved with Egyptian marble! Of all the ruined monuments in Rome, the ‘Pantheon’ is the best preserved structure of the ancient world. The Byzantine emperor Phocas in 609 A.D. gave this temple to Pope Boniface IV who changed it into a church of Santa Maria dei Maritiri. A must see.

     On day two, I took the metro on line A and got out at Cipro-Musei Vatincani to see the Pope at the Vatican City. After standing for three hours in a line that stretched on for miles; I was disappointed to find the ‘Holy Pope’ not at home! He had gone to the mountains to escape the terrible heat of summer!  I had looked forward to receive the ‘Papal blessings.’ But, it was not be, instead; I consoled myself with a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica, a magnificent cathedral dedicated to the first Pope, St. Peter. I bought loads of souvenirs blessed and touched by the present Pope for friends back home and moved on to see the world famous ‘Sistine Chapel.’
     Once inside, I was jostled and elbowed to a corner by the crowd but felt enchanted as I looked up at the frescos painted on the ceiling and the walls of the chapel! I held on to my corner for a long time, to locate the fresco (Creation of Man) showing ‘God reaching out his hand to Adam.’ It took me a while to figure out the different frescos painted from the ‘Book of Genesis.’ Again my ‘mind’s eye’ was playing tricks  (reading too much Renaissance History) I saw  Pope Julius II mocking and urging  poor Michelangelo lying on a make-shift scaffolding; dangling only a few inches from the ceiling with a brush in his hand! It had taken the great painter several years to finish those master pieces!

      Finally, it was time to pack up and move on to my next destination. I want to visit Rome again, and stay there for a couple of weeks at least, to explore the ancient monuments leisurely, and to savor the details. But, on this trip, I couldn’t stay longer as it was too expensive. Early next morning, I took a flight to the city of my dreams, Paris.