Friday, 22 December 2006

Guess where I was!

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Before I left London, last Friday, one of my commenters wished me ‘a weekend without slaps’. Ha! The gods were reading my blog that day.

Our trip started very badly: when my partner and I turned up at our local underground station to get to Waterloo, we were stopped at the gates by a guard who told us the Central Line wasn’t running. I have to admit that panic ensued – we only had two and a half hours to get there, after all. No, I’m kidding; we did have plenty of time but the night before I had joked that in my experience the journey from Shepherds Bush to Waterloo had never taken longer than 45 minutes so why were we allowing so much time. Again, the gods were listening. Lots of shouting and cursing and tears (well, maybe not tears, but, you know), lots of running around like demented fleas; lots of wild trundling of uncool suitcases on wheels (I lost a very nice shiny padlock in the scramble); lots of arm waving in an attempt to hail engaged, heartless cabs, and finally, as we were running in the direction of the other Shepherds Bush station, the one on the Metropolitan Line, the line where trains amble along at a snail’s pace, a line that might or might not have taken us eventually to Waterloo, we spotted a black cab that had just dropped someone off at the BBC studios, down the road. It was at a standstill at the traffic lights and was going nowhere that particular instant but we ran towards it as if it was going to suddenly take off vertically like a helicopter and escape our grasp. We could have kissed the driver. It was a miracle. If you’ve ever tried to hail a cab on a Friday afternoon in London, when a major tube line isn’t working, you’ll know what I mean. So, my First Slap goes to London Underground for the stress they caused us even before we’d left the city.

Onboard the Eurostar, we were sitting in those stupid facing seats that should be reserved for chamber-music quartets or families and never allocated to strangers. The American woman next to me was one of the most inconsiderate people I’ve had the misfortune to travel with: at one point I couldn’t see my partner, who was sitting in front of me, because I had a Guardian double spread before my eyes – and I wasn’t the one reading it! My Second Slap goes to her.

My Third Slap I’m awarding to the drunk who insulted me, and several other women, in French and English (he was surprisingly fluent in both languages), after I’d jumped to the rescue of the young Japanese woman (complete with cello and mute mother – she only spoke Japanese, I expect) he was pestering, while we were queuing for a taxi at the Gare du Nord. He became very offensive and for some reason attacked my hair – luckily, only verbally. Apparently, since I have white hair, I’m going to die soon so I should shut up. Nice! Finally, a young woman, who was even more bothered by him than I was, left her place in the queue (that showed how incensed she was: no one in their right mind would ever do that) and went to get the police. By then the man had gone. In the meantime, my partner and I had made a few friends in the queue, and chatting away with them made the next ten hours seem like minutes.

From then on, lots of mishaps, near misses, bag panics, scarf panics (whatever you do, never ever offer to carry someone else’s plastic bag in case they shoved their scarf into it when they boarded a bus, instead of putting it in their handbag as usual: you will save them the stress and humiliation of running after the bus they’ve just alighted from, shouting, ‘My scarf, my scarf, I left my – expensive, but reduced in TK Maxx, beautiful merino wool – scarf on the bus!’ only for them to find it in above-mentioned plastic bag after kind bus driver looks for it in vain and shrugs in very French manner), glove panics (N.B. Paris in December is cold, take pair of warm gloves: will save you having to hurriedly buy non-needed – because already three pairs at home – gloves in nearest Monoprix, when your ‘little hand is frozen’). Also, at your hotel, when you go down to breakfast on your last day, after you’ve exhorted your partner not to leave anything valuable in the room, do not place your handbag on the floor by your chair and go back up to your room, after drinking your first cup of tea (made with a redbush tea sachet you brought all the way from London because you don’t drink real tea or coffee), holding only your key and the croissant you intend to eat a bit later: your heart will stop beating completely when you realize, an hour later, just as you’re packing the last few things in your still uncool suitcase, that you are sans handbag, credit cards, passport, ticket, etc. You will have to fly down four flights of stairs, shrieking, ‘I left my handbag downstairs! I left my handbag downstairs! No, I’m not all right!’ (This last exclamation to the maid who’s cleaning one of the rooms and who’s just asked, ‘Ça va?’ as you’re zooming down the stairs.) Your heart will restart only when the hotel manager hands you your bag, which he retrieved from under the table an hour earlier but didn’t think to return to you as soon as. I guess my Fourth Slap goes to me – and him.

Last but not least, the Fifth Slap has to be awarded to a brasserie called Relais Paris Opéra (Rue Auber; make a note of it) for charging 9,40€ – that’s over £6.00 for a large (ok, a very large) coke. And £3.50 for a very small goat cheese with nothing else on the plate (you look for a few salad leaves, a couple of French fries, nope, nothing). It lies in wait for people who’ve been traipsing all over Paris in the cold and the rain and who are ready to drop and then it pounces. Stay away from it. You have been warned.

I suppose the rain deserves to be slapped too. It appeared on Saturday morning and didn’t let up all day. Everything takes twice as long in the rain and battling with dripping umbrellas is not my idea of fun. An English friend of mine, who, I discovered later, was in Paris just for the day, was even more unlucky than we were. At least Sunday was dry.

End of Slaps. Let the Hugs begin!

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The Christmas lights on the Champs-Elysées and elsewhere were absolutely lovely. The Eiffel Tower was soooo pretty, all glittery and twinkly. Tea at Angelina’s with my best friend and her 22-year-old daughter, whom I last saw when she was three days old, was delightful. Everyone we came across was very very nice: young waitresses, who, here in London would plonk stuff in front of you with a snarl, were charming and smiley, and café owners let us (well, me mostly) use their loos with a cheerful, ‘Mais, bien sûr, Madame!’ even though I never drank anything (I mention them because I became acquainted with an awful lot of those loos: my IBS flared up like crazy from day one – thanks to all the stress, as detailed above). It’s a myth that Parisian shopkeepers, etc. are sulky and unpleasant: for sulky and unpleasant you have to come to London.

At the Bazar de l’Hôtel-de-Ville (BHV to its friends) – the Parisian John Lewis, a most underrated department store that stocks practical items as well as objets de luxe, I found, at last, great zip-up nylon bags where my delicate sweaters will be protected from those pesky moths that have infested all our drawers. The BHV was crowded but, unlike the other Grands Magasins, it didn't make you lose the will to live.

And then there was the First Floor at the Salons du Palais-Royal (this will mean something to my Frag Board friends, everyone else will just have to remain puzzled), and being welcomed like a VIP there. Finally, the Ladurée cart, inside one of the entrances of the Printemps, and the two macaroons (one each) we managed to savour in a terrible draught, right under these lights. They were scrumptious.

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End of Hugs. Resume Slaps.

The journey back was the most peaceful, restful, pleasant I’ve ever had on the Eurostar: it was very late and everyone was exhausted so not in the mood to chat or be noisy some other way. We got a cab pretty quickly and arrived back at our building to discover that the heating had broken down that day. That was Sunday night; this has been one of the coldest weeks yet (flights, etc. have been cancelled because of the freezing fog); the heating has only just been repaired. Life goes on…


  1. Oh J, I do think both Chanukah and Paris suit you quite well. To whom do I petition for a travelogue book series by you? I think "Bela's Journeys: A Slapping Traveller's Pocket Guide to Destinations Across the Globe" could be a smashing success. Why let London hoard all your slaps? ;-P That aside, it sounds like you and your partner had an enviably great trip. And all those lights - looks like Paris was lit up like heaven (as opposed to say, Las Vegas, which is lit up like a crystal meth addict.)

    Belatedly wishing you a wonderful and peaceful Chanukah,

  2. 2nd Katie's suggestion: a Slapping Guide would be perfect!

    Must apologize if I tempted fate with my last comment, LOL, but from the pictures, looks like it was worth the slaps.

  3. There's a spirit and life in this post that I haven't witnessed in your posts to date. Must have been a great trip, in spite of all the nuisance. :-)

  4. You have no idea how lucky you are to live where you do. In a matter of a few hours you can be in Paris. From there in only a few more hours you can be in Spain, Germany, Italy, or where ever.

    For me to get anywhere pretty much requires a full day. By car it takes at least 7 hours of nonstop driving just to get out of Florida! And then where am I? Georgia or Alabama. The armpits of the universe. To get to Paris requires a jumbo jet, passing through airport security, dealing with French Immigration Officers, claiming luggage, and so on. Yuck.

    By the way - I hereby give you full permission to slap the doo-doo out of ANY American who is rude to you in your own Country. If the police try to arrest you for assault just tell them to contact the nearest American Consulate. Tell the Consul General I said it is OK. No charges will be filed. You had every right to stuff that newspaper somewhere the sun never shines if you get my drift.

    How my fellow Countrymen can be so rude is beyond me. It is an embarrassment. Because of people like that I will have to be extra super respectful when I get over to Europe.

  5. Beautiful pictures Bela, especially the lighted lanterns!
    Any resto with the word "Opéra" in it should be avoided at all costs. Same goes for that whole area...Rip-offVille IMO.

  6. UGH, sorry you had such a horrendous ordeal, between the transport hiccups and brainless, selfish idiots who think they're the only ones on the planet. Thankfully, your other experiences -- seeing the first floor at the Salons, meeting your friend and her daughter at Angelina, eating macaroons from LaDurée, fun shopping and getting a bottle of TC -- were positive and memorable. And, FWIW, whenever I've visited the City of Light, I never encountered any shopkeeper, sales associate, café server/manager, hotel person, etc. who was anything but courteous, welcoming and hospital. Vivé Paris!

  7. I find the point comes, usually many months later, that all the suffering, cursing, slapping, being anxious and outraged (I think all of these concepts are covered in the word 'slapping' actually) becomes more than worth it. Helps to make the trip more memorable and without a full appreciation of what can go wrong, can we really appreciate everything that's going well?

    I may feel differently after making a trip across town on christmas eve, though ;-)

    Peaceful and warm holidays to you.

  8. *sigh* I've been to London and to Paris, but you get to live over there!

    I second Katiedid: you should write a book. Really. Do it.

  9. So glad you got to go to your beloved Paris, dear J! Sorry about the travails, but tout est bien qui finit bien!
    Happy holidays and love to you,

  10. Never mind all that, what did you get at the Salons?

  11. Thanks for the vote of confidence and the great idea, K, but since I only travel every few years the guide you're suggesting would be very thin indeed.

    Hope you're having an enjoyable Christmas. Katie

    Yes, R, it was all your fault. LOL! Yes, it was definitely worth the slaps and, anyway, what would have happened if everything had gone smoothly: I wouldn't have had anything to talk about.

    Oh no, WW, you're going to tell me I'm being 'positive' next! LOL! It must be the power of my writing: my IBS was really bad there.

    TLI, I do have a very good idea how lucky I am to be living in Europe, although my health doesn't permit me to travel these days. I haven't been to Nice, a place I love, for six years. In spite of that, I'm not sure I could live far away from 'civilization'. Still, Florida must have some redeeming features.

    That woman wasn't the worst travelling companion I've ever had. A screaming baby or unruly child would have been more annoying, but it was the way she deliberately ignored my presence next to her that drove me nuts. Personal space is fairly important to me. It could be because I'm 'petite', as they say, and people find it easy to invade my space. It happens in the theatre too sometimes, especially when I'm sitting next to a man: they will sit there with their legs wide open and put their big feet where mine would be if I were taller - in front of me. Grrr! I usually kick them in the shin.

    Thanks, PB, coming from you it's a great compliment.

    When I lived in Paris I certainly never set foot in such places, but, when the whole of the area is swarming with people; when you're exhausted and schlepping masses of bags, as well as umbrellas, cameras, etc.; when it's late and you need some sort of sustenance before you retire for the night, you don't study the menu too closely outside, you just go in.

    I wouldn't call our trip 'a horrendous ordeal', T: there were some stressful moments, but it was still - mostly - enjoyable.

    You're absolutely right, J: the whole thing will become nothing but a fun memory.

    Thank you for your good wishes. The same to you. :-)

    TLP, I hope you can travel to London and Paris again in the near future.

    You're so sweet. :-)

    Thank you, L. All the best to you too.

    GSE, do they have electricity where you are? LOL!

    Ah, the bits relating to perfume are on MUA. Do a search for the word 'Salons'. :-)

  12. Lovely photos, I do miss Paris. Christmas time there would be a dream come true. MAybe one day.

  13. It was magical! Hope you can make it come true very soon. Happy New Year! :-)


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