Inside Charles de Gaulle airport, I do not feel it. As soon as I step outside to join the short queue to wait for a taxi, it bites my skin and my poor hands feel its impact the most…I am now in my hotel room. It is early morning in the Paris winter where birds do not chirp, and lamp posts are minimalistic but soft. In their old elegance, the buildings seem to beckon me. On the other side of the road, I spot tiny white and some bigger pink flowers on a window sill. I can commune with my friend NATURE! The sky is grey but dignified. My soul is still alive, the concrete is not threatening…
A different chirp. I am looking for that bird, or am I dreaming? It reminds me of the steel bird that has flown me from my Indian Ocean island, where the bright sunlight sparkles on the sea, yet forces inhabitants to seek the shade of banyan or other huge trees in this sweltering summer. The couple seated next to me on the flight is from Bordeaux. They have spent their honeymoon in sunny Grand Bay and have enjoyed every minute of it. They are sweet and kind. They make my plane journey comfortable as my hand luggage is squeezed between my heavy-booted feet. Some passengers have already put their hand luggage in our overhead baggage compartment. I am not brave enough to put my hand luggage in another empty compartment further down the aircraft.
Back in my hotel room. Now all is quiet. A passer-by is on his way somewhere, warm in his beige hooded parka. I open the window just to check the cold temperature. It is very cold and here comes the rain. Maybe I have brought it along. The streetlamp is dim, and the street is glistening …Is it night…or morning? Rows of scooters, apple red, steel grey rest between the pavement and the street. While resting, they share-whisper the problems of their owners who are sleeping like tops on this Sunday. Some have drowned their sorrows in the bistro wine, others have had the courage to tackle their problems. The scooters are banding together to help those who are overwrought.
The silence on this Sunday morning takes me back to Joseph, the taxi driver. He is also like Jo le taxi in Vanessa Paradis’ hit song. Joseph is a Frenchman with African genes. His rich voice keeps the taxi warm and my heart relaxed from Charles de Gaulle airport to the 11e arrondissement. According to Jo le taxi, the common man does not have faith in their President Emmanuel Macron. I also remember his vast knowledge about French politics and French politicians.
I open a small packet of honey and add some of it to my cereal. I close the packet and leave it on the tray in my room. The next day, no ant is there to taste its sweetness. What a relief! If this happened in our summer heat, in one second, the honey would be suffocated by an army of fire and black ants! Even the lizards are not walking on the wall. No cockroaches or mosquitoes. No bugs in the Paris cold. Oh, what a relief!
I think I will suffocate without fresh air, but the air-conditioner is like nature’s lung. It reassures me. I am able to breathe its warmth. Outside it may be cold but inside my room, I feel as if I am at home.
Today is Tuesday. On my way to the French grammar and orthography course on the never-ending rue St.Maur, a flake gently falls on my glove—an introduction before the grandeur of falling snow. As if heaven is opening and a divine being is tossing petals on us human beings and on our man-made things. Snow falls without noise unlike rain. My heart is light. My soul wants to capture each flake and play with it. During the course, behind the bare windows inside the warm room, what a magnificent sight! Usually, I am very attentive during a talk, lecture or course. Today I am inattentive. The wide windows are so pretty while the snow draws flakes on the glass as it comes down. Irresistible!
The French create a laid-back atmosphere as they converse. They take time to put their thoughts into words. To say just a little, they use lots of words. They often beat about the bush. However, it is part of le charme français. Strange to hear them say that le Parisien looks down on the banlieusard and vice versa. There is nothing new under the sun. Humans are the same everywhere.
The driver is Portuguese, and we are caught in the traffic from Paris 11e to Paris 7e. Les Gilets Jaunes are near l’Hôtel de Matignon in the beaux quartiers du Paris 7e. The taxi meter is rising like a thermometer in the heat of Mauritian summer, but my soul does not ask my body permission to leave and frolic in Paris. Majestic buildings enthral me as I fall for the night. La Dame de fer stands regal as night bows to her. How can I pass by without curtsying to her?
The French Portuguese driver is so proud of his home country where he spends his holidays; « J’ai ma maison là-bas! »…yet he is also proud to be French.
I am on time for the talk about children’s literature in Britain at 9 rue de Constantine. Peter Pan along with the fairies are in that elegant room, fluttering and giggling on the gold-rimmed chandelier. James M. Barrie (1) begs them to be quiet, but they do not listen. Then John Newbery (2) calls Peter Pan and introduces him to Little Goody Two-Shoes. They become friends. Soon however, both disappear in caves and islands to seek treasures with Enid Blyton. After so many adventures, finally they step into the world of Narnia as C.S Lewis opens the magic door. They still live there with other characters from children’s books.
Today is my last day in France. It is raining and it is my last opportunity to visit Paris. The taxi drops me before a row of small tourist shops where I wait for the hop-on hop-off red double decker bus. My fingers want to dive inside my purse and buy all the little Eiffel towers, pretty purses, cherry key holders and lovely scarves. I glance at my watch. Still early. I cross over and ask a lady where exactly I should wait for the double decker. She thinks it is near Notre Dame church. I have plenty of time. Should I go and visit the magnificent cathedral? Just then Victor Hugo waves at me. Just then a shiny red bus appears from nowhere. I signal it to stop. I get in and pay the fare that also allows me a one-hour Seine cruise. Joel the bus driver is from a French island in the Caribbean. At every hop-in, he puts on rhythmic music and dances. He is like a ray of sunshine and he is charming with female tourists “Vous êtes si belle! “Une beauté comme vous!” I love the beautiful trees along the boulevards. “They don’t give fruit.” “If you are hungry, you can’t pluck anything”, Joel remarks. His observation makes sense.
I leave Joel and go up and find a front seat where I will have a beautiful view of my sightseeing tour! The audio guide is clear and very informative. So much information to take in in just two hours, that even now, back on my island bathed in scorching heat, I am still processing it. However, Victor is a great companion. I ask him lots of questions about the places and buildings we are sightseeing together. My eyes touch wide and thick columns. Imagine generations of Parisiens have done the same and they are dead now, but the antique columns still have so much to narrate…This is le Panthéon where Jean Moulin (3) is buried – and now I remember – ‘even Victor Hugo’!
This is almost the end of my journey as the bateau vedette glides on the silver Seine. The ponts with their rich history, are like a passing dream hugging graceful buildings and monuments. However, my soul leaps with joy when I recall le Pont Neuf. As the audio guide informs us, it is the oldest bridge in Paris. It is so huge with its 381 striking mascarons that are all so different from each other. Can you see le comte d’Artagnan in deep conversation with the three musketeers, Athos, Porthos and Aramis on le Pont Neuf?
Paris, I will never forget you!
- Creator of Peter Pan
- Publisher of Children’s literature
- French resistance leader