Today is again more like spring than autumn, a beautiful warm and sunny day. After breakfast we joined the commuters on the bus and arrived at the Eiffel Tower while there were still very few people about.
In the parks, the gardeners were busily at work, weeding, tidying, sweeping and watering. The water sprays caught the sun and made rainbows. Pigeons and other birds bathed in the puddles and snoozed in the sunlight.
There will always be beggars and con artists where there are crowds, and fashions change from year to year. Last time we were here, it was “gypsy” beggars, women with babies, going the rounds and demanding money. This year, it seems to be the Lost Ring Scam.
The lost ring scam
As you walk along or sit on the grass, a passing citizen – male or female – dashes in front of you and “finds” a gold ring on the ground. “Is it yours?” they enquire in whatever language they think appropriate.
The idea is to ensare you with your own greed. If you claim the ring as yours, they will demand a reward for finding it; otherwise, they will try to sell it to you. The ring is worthless but you are supposed to think you are getting a valuable jewel for very little.
We were accosted 4 times in a short space of time – twice by the same man! We sat on the grass on the Champ de Mars and watched them plying their trade. They didn’t seem to be having any success. Time to change to a new scam, no doubt.
It was pleasant to lie on the grass with the sun at our backs, staring up at the massive Tower, fully illuminated with sunlight, watching the people moving about on the first and second levels and the lifts slowly rising like ladybirds climbing a tall plant.
The sun became too hot so we retired to a bench shaded by the trees. Here too we observed the ring scammers plying their trade and the tourists taking photos of one another “holding up the Tower”. There is little that endures so robustly as kitsch.
The scene is so tranquil and relaxed compared with the crush around the monuments in London and the absence of controls is also striking. Tigger pointed out that in Paris they have the luxury of space whereas in London, everything is packed into a relatively small area.
This doesn’t explain the marvellous cleanliness. The lawns and the alleys are free of garbage. In comparison, London is a disgrace. I don’t know whether it is because Paris has an efficient cleansing service or because Parisians – and Europeans in general – have a more positive attitude towards rubbish disposal and recycling. Whatever the reasons, the results are impressive.
When we had relaxed sufficiently, we took bus 92 towards the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Élysées. We stopped short of the Arc and went is search of lunch. The trick here is to get off the main road and its high prices. We found a little café called Bistro le Telex 17 where we had crudités and omelettes.
Emerging from the cafe we decided to walk to the Arc. We walked slowly because of the heat. To us Londoners, such heat in September is almost unimaginable.
We found our way via the underpass to the Arc de Triomphe. Like the Eiffel Tower, this is such a familiar icon that it startles you when you finally see the scale of the real thing. It makes London’s Marble Arch look like a back garden gate.
How does one characterize the Arc the Triomphe? As monumental architecture? Or as monstrous architecture? Or as pertaining to both?
Surely, since the Pharaohs no one man has erected such a huge monument to himself. The irony is that the man who built the Arc, then at the height of his career, no doubt believing himself all-powerful, was soon to end his life in ignominious exile and confinement.
The double irony is that after his death, France once more reclaimed Napoleon and his conquests and incorporated his remains and his works into her national monuments and rituals, so the the Arc de Triomphe, a paean in stone to the self-glory of a dictator, today also serves as a memorial to the nation’s sons and daughter’s who have given – and who continue to give – their lives for France.
Like the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe pushes through the grandiose into the extreme but then somehow creates for itself a new category of grandeur which we can only marvel at and accept it on its own extraordinary terms.
We caught bus 31 through heavy traffic – exacerbated by the cordoning off of certain areas in readiness for the visit of that nasty little man, the Pope – and returned to our hotel room to cool down, rest and rehydrate ourselves with cups of tea.
This evening we set off to a secret location, secret to Tigger, that is, as she knew where we were going. She wanted to watch the sunset and had picked out a place that she thought would be good for this.
When we stepped out, we realized that the temperature had dropped several degrees and the sky was becoming overcast. We hadn’t gone very far before the first streaks of rain appeared on the bus windows. Soon a heavy rain storm was in progress and the bus quickly filled with damp passengers. We put on our rain jackets, which we had brought with us fortunately, and disembarked.
We were now at the Pont de l’Alma in heavy rain and the most sensible thing seemed to be to take the bus whence we had come.
When we reached the Gare du Nord, we were surprised to see large numbers of police. We never got a satisfactory explanation for this though they seemed to be associated with a piece of worrying news. This was that the Eurostar that had departed earlier for London was on its way back to the Gare du Nord.
In the end I approached one of the police officers and asked if there was a problem with the train. He replied that the train was being sent back as there had been a fire in the Channel Tunnel.
I hope this will not affect our journey on Saturday because we will be working to a tight schedule for reasons that I will explain in due course.
As we left the station, we saw at least one family arguing with officials that they were now stranded with nowhere to stay…