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That Evening in Paris ….

October 15, 2015



We were flying over Switzerland, over the Joru Mountains in the European Alps, when the radar controller asked us to turn right towards Germany. Due to heavy air traffic, we were being made to enter France via Germany.  The Alps, below us, had a strange dark scary shade softened somewhat with their white snow  caps.  `Guntaag’ the German controller greeted us reminding us of the solid sounds of our Pushto.  Our flight over Rhine land was short.  Flying over the Black Forest, we briefly flew over the scenic river Rhine before entering the shallow Alsace hill ranges of France. 

cafe (1)eiffelnazarfountaincockpipattisri`Bon jour, Pakistan 803’,  the French lady controller greeted us. After the German `Guntaag’, she sounded so very delicate that one almost wanted to get into conversation with her.  Such is the art, culture and the softness of the French with their flag having the bright happy colors of white, blue and red.  And the words of the French language simply fading away towards the end. We were soon flying over the countryside with its lush green landscape, neatly manicured fields and small scattered villages through which the roads wriggled like a serpents.  Nature has been very bounteous with Europe in terms of climate, topography, soil and location.  We had only one evening in Paris. Our Boeing  ‘Transponder’ was giving us some problems.  Transponder is the equipment which automatically relays the aircraft speed and height to the radar on ground.  Our problematic Transponder forced her to take us out of the normal traffic flow; and I had to continuously announce the height and speed changes – a God given opportunity for that longer conversation.  I should have wished for something else.  She brought us via Troy to the ‘Orally airport’.  Eiffel tower, the Paris landmark, was visible from miles.  The European airfields are vast with multiple runways and innumerable taxiways.  It started to drizzle and became windy. 


We drove to Concorde Lafayette hotel, the tall tube-like structure near Champs Elysee, where we were staying.  The crew is normally given top floors where it is quiet. The view of city from top was breathtaking. It was 12 noon; and the light remains in Paris till 11 PM. We had 18 hours of day light to us.  I had planned to begin my evening after a three-hour nap in the afternoon.


The list of my minor sins includes long walks in the city that I am visiting, interrupted with coffee breaks at the roadside taverns, inns or cafes; and getting into gossip with the locals. My experience is that the best people to gossip are the old ladies or the young men. Old ladies are less apprehensive of the intentions of a stranger; and when initiated, they really open up with stories of their families.  Young men are confident, very curious and helpful.


I walked along the Champs Elysees to the Place De La Concorde which has statues with water fountains sprouting through them.  A beautifully sculptured statue is a joy to look.  Add to it, the rhythm of flowing water and the effect is spellbinding. The old buildings are very well preserved and even the lamp posts are pretty.  The wide side walks, made of delicate brickwork, with flower beds, foliage and the spotlessly clean environment are a far cry form my usual walk areas in Karachi.  Even a posh locality like Clifton has filth heaps, chocked water courses,  wall chalkings extolling the miracle aphrodisiacs from the Sinyasee Babas or the calls for Jihad to liberate Palestine.


At the Jardin Des Tuilleries, I turned right and got on the  bank of the river Seine.  I crossed the bridge and headed towards the Esplande des Invalides. It was summer and the flowers were in full bloom in the big lawns of this Gothic style building.  With scattered clouds and a cool breeze blowing, there was an indescribable magic about the place. No wonder they say that Paris is for lovers. I got on to Rue Saint Dominique towards Champs De Mars. The romance of Paris is not complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower.  It is awesome structure from close.  The place was teeming with the tourists. From the Eiffel tower, I headed back to the Champs Elysees via Avenue Kleber.  The street began to get crowded.  Sitting at a roadside cafe, sipping coffee and enjoying a conversation with Mr. Jacquis, an elderly Frenchman, in my sketchy French, I overheard an American mother telling his son, `Johny, your class fellows will be jealous that you are in Paris.’ The basic human thought process is the same everywhere. As I sat there watching people go about their business, I realized the reality of the cultural gap. Thought I consider myself a liberal person, even I felt a little nauseated the way some young couples were French kissing in public. Some ethical limits, ingrained in us by our oriental upbringing, are indelible.


It was around 8 pm when I headed back. By now, I was tired but relaxed. I saw an old scruffy Frenchman (my revised guess is that he was an Italian) coming from the opposite direction. His hand hit my hand. As I Looked back at him, the gentleman came back and started to furiously apologize. He embraced and hugged me; and asked me to forgive him. I gently pushed him away telling him that it was OK. Later, I found that he had made away with some Traveler Cheques from my pocket. I could not believe it. The man was a master in his job with really slippery hands. I had forgotten the basic rule of being a tourist – never let any one touch you.


It was time to take up on the offer of Marianne, my permanent guide in Paris, to visit an Art exhibition at the Pompidou centre, where she is the Liberian. An English speaking French is a rare commodity in Paris. The artists had expressed themselves by gluing together, on the board, different diverse objects like leaves, pieces of news paper, bottle cork,  nut and so on. Being a skeptic, I asked Marianne what was so artistic about it. She gave me a look which clearly seemed to say `what a paindoo like you is doing at a place this’. We rounded off the evening  with lamb and red Bordeaux (Cabernet). Who drinks water where wine is cheaper than water. I headed back to my hotel.


The highlight of the evening was yet to come. I took the lift for the 18th floor. The lift stopped at the eight floors. A sparkling young lady peeped in and greeted me with a `Bon Jour’.  I thought she wanted some information. Her next sentence cleared the confusion. `Want some company?’ she asked. It had already been a long evening. `No Ma’ am. Thank you. I am tired and going to my room’, was my half-sleepy reply not realizing that she knew that I was heading to my room.


As I opened my door, a stray thought came to my mind – was that a correct decision?  And with that, the evening in Paris ended leaving me sufficiently fatigued to fall into a deep slumber for the next many hours.  Tomorrow, we would be flying off to Dubai, the heart of the Middle East, a different world and the other extreme of the pendulum.  But that is another story……


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