More reminiscences of France…
I married in 1984, May and we decided to postpone a proper honeymoon until later because, well, we were pretty skint. But, in case that wasn’t romantic enough, we had four days in Paris.
It didn’t start well. Regular readers will know that, to let the senior Male Le Pard loose on a holiday itinerary is a guarantee to end in tears. Or a close second. Here the incompetence comprised my fallibility with the complications that are the 24 hour clock. Back then you didn’t need to check in so early that airports offered birthing services for those who hadn’t been born by the time you were required to be in a queue. Even so, some margin for error was recommended. Which meant that, by the time I had realised that a flight at 14.20 didn’t mean a flight at 4.20 pm, we had a cool 17 minutes to get from check in to the flight. I think it was only because of the confetti spilling out of our bag and our admission that this was our honeymoon that they told us to ‘just run’ and they’d call ahead. I’ve loved Gatwick ever since, though the other passengers on our flight weren’t so delighted to be held up.
That ‘phew, got away with it’ moment lasted until we landed. Back then I’d flown twice and hadn’t appreciated the trickery involved in branding airports as ‘Paris’ even though we were closer to Paris when we took off than when we landed in Beauvais. If you get the chance to visit Beauvais, don’t. If you have to, declare martial law and impose a curfew on yourself. Just. Don’t. Go. Ever.
It’s grim and no place to begin a period of isolation in a cholera outbreak let alone a romantic break in Paris.
By the time we’d reached the Peripherique, we were knackered, monosyllabic and testing most of the wedding vows to destruction.
‘I’m hungry,’ declared the newly rebranded Mrs Le Pard.
‘No problem,’ declared the far from confident Mr Le Pard. ‘All the guidebooks say Paris never sleeps.’ Well, people, that may have been true, it may be true today but on May 20th 1984 I can speak with confidence and say, ‘utter bollocks.’ Especially in the obscure part of the 17th arrondissement where out three star hotel was situated.
I did an unusual thing for a Male Le Pard. It may in fact be unique. I asked for directions from the concierge. Something that may have translated roughly as ‘My cherub person of largeness, pray deliver me of a slice of mappage for a timely repast.’ I’m guessing obviously, but going by his look when I’d finished my best attempt in French, it had to be something like this.
‘There is a Macdonalds open. They do burgers.’
Seriously? We’ve come to the bloody self declared home of haute cuisine and we are being directed to the home of the culinary equivalent of mouth washing with napalm? I tried again. Slowly and with a greater volume.
Mine host tapped his watch. It was 9pm. ‘It’s late.’ And then at last I knew I was in France and even if we had to eat something on the unspeakable spectrum in a bun and not a baguette we would be ok: it was our first Gallic, ‘fuck you, rosbif’ shrug. Bliss. Bless.
We climbed two flights of stairs. While I collapsed on the bed and tried to make sense of what passed for a pillow but could easily have been an embalmed grandmother rolled up in a body bag and placed at the head of the bed, the new Mrs Le Pard headed for the en-suite facilities. She returned to the room, laughing. Well, somewhere between laughing and psychotic hysteria. ‘Check this out.’
The bathroom was compact, in the sense that thumberlina would have felt it rather cosy, but it had a toilet, sink and shower. The thing was the shower head was right above the toilet. There was a little cardboard sign. It took me a while to translate but the gist was we were advised to remember to remove the toilet roll before using the shower, because spares cost extra.
We slept well, rose to Paris rooftops, discovered patisseries and I drank the first really delicious coffee I’d ever tasted. The Louvre, The Jeu de Paume – which then housed the Impressionists – le Tour Eiffel, the Centre Pompidou, Place d’Etoille, L’Arc de Triomphe, La Bastille, Sacre Coeur… we walked, we metroed, we ate and drank with rare gusto. It was everything I had hoped. Hell, I was in love and in the City of Love and who cared if I was hopeless at organising anything. Though I never did fathom the pillow thing…