Thursday, September 30, 2004

Re-orienting (an updated version)

Its been four days out here. And I have been re-orienting myself. No that's not the word I am looking for. Not re-orienting, but re-'soaking' myself in things that I love about this place.

1. Travelling by locals trains to Gare de l'est, Paris. This 30 minute ride is one of my favourites. The big glass windows look out at the the most wonderful pastoral scenes. What I call 'Tin-tin country'. Scenes that I had, growing up as a child in India saw in Tintin comics. Its exactly like that.

A pointed out how fast the local trains go.
"Tomar India tey erom jorey jai"? Do they go so fast in your India? (He knows that anything said about my India, gets my goat).
"Jai, Rajdhani". (referring tot the rajdhani express between major metros and the capital).
"Can't compare that with local trains. You should compare it with TGV. OK"?
Nevertheless, its beautiful. Beautiful shades of green, brown and yellow, placid water bodies, clumps of red tiled houses, a solitary barn. Oof.

Incidentally, I was amazed, as I grew up, to learn that Tintin was not English! But Belge. And is actually Tan-tan and not tin tin as we pronounce his name in English. Snowy is Milou, Cuthbert Calculus is Professor Tournesol (sunflower), the priceless twins are Dupont and Dumont. Only Capitaine Haddock remains unchanged. Incidentally, Herge based Marlinspike on a chateau in France called Cheverny (Not to be confused with Giverny, home of Impressionist Claude Monet). I visited it some years back and was simply amazed! It was EXACTLY as in the comic book. The current owners live on the top most floor (lucky lucky). I expected a dazed Calculus to come tripping down the staircase at any moment! (If you have time to spare, do check it out. Its in the suburbs of Paris and can be seen within half a day).

2. The undeniable style! Everyone, but everyone, I am sure is aware of how stylish the French are. But I am constantly surprised by it! I saw an old lady, bent with age, walking slowly with the help of a cane....She had the most fantastic hairstyle. The kind one sees on pouting young models in glossies...One that looks so good when the coiffeur messes about with your hair, but collapses the moment you are home and looks like a mop. Needless to say, her hair didn't look like a mop! (I once saw an really old couple in an expensive lingerie shop, checking out various gorgeous, flimsy and expensive lingerie)!!!!!!

(The parisienne from my flight, remarked quite a few times on the Italian men at the airport in Rome. "Mmmmm", I said dreamily. "Actually I was referring about their great style", she added. For me, style had nothing to do with it. Oof the Italian men, I could wander around for hours in Rome and not be bothered about my next flight. No wonder I always manage the grunge look no matter how much I try otherwise)!

3. Vegetarians, please skip this one! Navarin d'agneau (a lamb curry with herbs), Sausisson fumé à l'ail (garlic flavoured smoked sausages), chorizo (spicy sausages), pâté de campagne brettone (country pate), sauté de veau avec champignons (veal sauteed with mushrooms) avec gratin (a crusty brick of potatoes and cheese baked in layers)...We are having a ball each day, living from meal to meal and spending the time in between wondering and planning on our next meal!!

4. Endless cups of strong black coffee. One does so get used to it. I remember, visiting my friend in Delhi and asking for some black sugar less coffee. The office peon listened in disbelief and asked "Kis khushi mein?" literally "in what happiness" meaning - why in the world? My friend had to firmly tell him not to put heaps of sugar and loads of milk!!

5. Paperwork. We had heaps of beaureaucratic things to simply drowns in paperwork out here. Believe me, its a regular chore. But despite it all, how fast and efficiently we could wrap it all up...3 different offices visited in the same day! That I sorely miss, in India.

I could go on and on...but alas, my stomach grumbles...lunch beckons!


Back from lunch to note two more points.

6.Flowers everywhere. Our town is a "ville fleurie" or a city of flowers, so to speak. Flowers everywhere. Over flowing from pots suspended from lamp posts, careful arrangements on road dividers, at various intersections, planted mind you and not growing there by themselves. These arrangements are replaced at frequent intervals to suit the season or ocassion. Very nice. Imagine a bunch of people who has to simply go around planting, potting and replanting and repotting flora!

7. Conversations with locals. Funnily enough, mostly they are with immigrants to France. The first one is ofcourse with the french-algerian owners of our favourite restaurant "La Moulin". The owner has been here for 45 years but still speaks with a slight accent. He and his progeny serve really nice homecooked french fare but the chief attraction is the algerian "Couscous Royale" - served with no less than 5 different cuts of meat!

Then we met the really nice Thai who has been since quite sometime, struggling to learn written French. She was at one time, A's classmate. She continues in the same class though A has graduated long back. "I am 46", she says; "difficult to learn anything new, let alone french"! "Even aide-menagere(household domestics) requires a diplome, nowadays". There are many like her. No chance of their ever returning to their homes and yet stuck here ever in search of a better life. Well best of luck.

The other has been with the owner of our hotel. A Parsee. Not from India, but directly from Iran. We spent an ejoyable evening with him and another Irani friend of his talking about various things including our shared past. Both of them spoke really apologetically about Nadir Shah and the peacock throne and the diamond Dariya-e-noor (the sibling of Koh-i-noor). Interestingly, the other Irani, whom I met in Paris couple of years back too seemed really apologetic about Nadir Shah! Brits are you listening?! Perhaps its natural for them to ignore it all otherwise they would have to spend most of their lives apologising and to many. (Oops did I make a politically incorrect statement, there?).

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