Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Gates of Hell and those jolly Burghers of Calais

Still no water, but a freezing week with a bit of snow. The lady who sleeps on my left has taken the view that I have become as obsessed with lack of water as a Legionnaire in the North African desert and so with half term upon us we departed for a few days “en France” a quick drive to Lille to hitch a ride on a 200mph TGV which leant into the bends with the spirit of Barry Sheene. If at all possible I avoid the train in these parts, bar our annual trip to the Test match when parking is at a premium. Car or a plane is invariably quicker, three years ago I was kindly invited to fish for three days on the Tay at Murthly, Mdme needed the car so I rose early to feed fish and walk dogs before Catching a £50 flight at 7.30am from Southampton to Edinburgh where I was picked up and plonked on the bank by late morning and had banked a 7lb grilse by lunch time. The equivalent train would have cost three figures and by lunchtime I would only just have crossed the border.

Anyway, for a £25 return ticket from Lille, the TGV delivered us to the heart of Paris where we spent several hours circumnavigating the metro in search of our hotel, which was located five minutes walk from the Eifel tower. Over engineered in the grand manner of the time, it looks solid enough, but not enough to tempt us from terra firma. Stuck on the banks of the Seine, which harboured a handful of Cormorants fishing in the low clear water ( sorry low water thing again ) it was initially construed as a temporary structure, I am not sure if tenders are still out for its deconstruction but I for one would not know where to start although a thorough dousing in WD40 would be a good starting point for bolts and rivets that have been out in the open air for over a hundred years.

The Arc de Triomphe impressed, not for its intended trumpeting triumphalism, but for the view of Paris and the Parisians driving around its base. The vast expanses and lawless traffic of Place de Concorde were negotiated to gain access to The Louvre which was impressive, but shut. Back to the river (which was still low, void of swans and weed but still fished by Cormorants) where lunch on the hoof was taken in the company of a dishevelled lady and daughter who tried to pass off a polished Brass Olive off as a 22 carat gold ring: ours for 10 euro. She did however remind me that the day was dedicated to St Valenitine, so I whisked Mdme (the lady who sleeps on my left, not the Brass Olive seller) off to the nearby Rodin museum to take in “The Kiss” which was unfortunately closed for polishing, so it was “The Gates of hell” and the jolly “Burghers of Calais”

which didn’t lift the mood. “The Thinker” was impressive with very big feet and Mr Rodin’s collection of etching’s of his many female muses confused matters further. How he got away with “Madam if you remove all of your clothes and place one leg behind your ear while I sit here with my pencil and pad, it will undoubtedly help me in my work on “Ugolino and his brood” I don’t know, but he did, about a thousand times judging by his sketch book!

Notre Dame was spectacular, particularly the windows, the organ and the organist who managed to text at times throughout his recital. The Pompidou centre was keenly anticipated. A half hour queue initially led to a load of old tosh including videos that would have failed a media studies “A” level and a five minute film of a nubile nymph writhing naked in green oil that held a school party rapt, and then suddenly we were in a room surrounded by nine Picassos, a bonkers Salvador Dali that you couldn’t take your eyes off and at the end a triptych by Francis Bacon. In books I have found some of his work terrifying, but this wall filling work was both funny and sad; with a melancholic Bacon sandwiched between his lover on the loo to his left and his friend Lucian Freud disconnected away on the right looking on, well that’s how I saw it.

On our way back to the hotel we came across what, from the top of the arch, we had initially put down as a Grand Mosque but turned out to be Les Invalides a former hospital for old broken soldiers but now home to what remains of Napoleon Bonaparte and several other French heroes of war including Vauban, Foch and Canrobert.

Throughout our stay there was an obvious underclass who gathered in groups drinking special brew strength lager for much of the day, or leaned in, hooded and menacing, demanding money on the metro. We witnessed a dozen or more scrabbling over the contents of a wheelie bin outside a small grocer’s shop plus the lady and daughter pushing polished brass Olives on the banks of the Seine. Soldiers armed with machine guns walked the streets in groups of three and most trains on which we travelled had a Police presence; I have not felt as uneasy in a City since we went for a break in Madrid three days after the train bombings. It may be posturing by a President facing election keen to demonstrate that the streets are safe with him at the helm, or there may be a genuine threat. It left for an uneasy feeling at times and several of the Parisians to whom we spoke commented on problems not with Hugo’s Les Miserables but with invaders from the East. Some suggested solutions born from nationalistic ideals that would solve nothing and another lamented the loss of the Royal Family and cursing Madame Guillotine. It’s not something we have to deal with in the countryside.

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