In Paris with the Wilde Chile

 

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Category: Travel Date: 30 Oct  97


‘The next day we headed towards the center of Paris in search of le Louvre. After pondering over some maps I said loudly, “Where the ass is le Louvre,” which proved to be a source of constant amusement to Ira’

 

I can’t tell you when the idea took root. It must have happened somewhere on one of the hot days (any one so much like another) driving around the one-mile circuit which consists of my life: a little fishbowl of home, work, gym, grocery, Pelican, bank, kids, schools, family and friends. The daydream was this: I would spend three days in the Louvre among its sculptures, Egyptian relics, Italian masters, 13th and 14th century frescoes on the ceiling, and endless Madonnas and bambinos, breaking only for coffee in the courtyard below. A series of triggers took me there. One: Princess Diana died, and she was just three years older than me. Two: I briefly lost vision in my right eye and was convinced I had a tumour. Three: I sent an e-mail to the Wilde Chile. She is 21, Trini, a bright law student who doesn’t mince her words or her gait, grasps life by its horns, and has a heart made of the softest chocolate.

 

Dear Wilde Chile (September 1997):

Today I woke up to the sound of my daughter screaming for her mikkie (milk), stuffed food in my son’s mouth while quizzing him over spelling, changed my daughter’s clothes three times because I was afraid that if I didn’t respond to her commands she would permanently damage herself by flinging herself on to the floor like a drama queen.

Then I went to the gym. On my way home I scoffed two doughnuts from Vie de France. Then I went to the grocery. Then I went to work. Then I got the results to my cat scan (no tumour). Then I bought vegetables. Then I came home. Then I shouted at my son for watching TV. Then I fed the children. Then I argued and made up with my husband. Then I argued and made up with my children, fed them, bathed them, read to them, said their prayers for them.

Then I went to bed.

Love, Ira.

 

Dear Ira (September 1997):

It’s good to hear that your brain is still intact!  I’m going to the doctor tomorrow, so I’ll let you know if my one brain cell is still flourishing! I think it’s dead, though, after all the alcohol I’ve consumed in the past few weeks!

Tonight, I’m going out with a whole crew of friends, all guys in their final year and postgrad, etc, to the pub for a pub quiz!

Apparently they always win, and the reward is eight pints. How that’s going to go around 20 people I don’t know!  I’ll try to get my flatmates to come down and go in competition with them! Can you imagine if they won!

I’ll stay neutral so that I get a drink either way!

Love, Wilde Chile.

 

Ten days later Wilde Chile and I were in the Channel Tunnel travelling at the speed of 300 km per hour to Paris. We each kept a journal for three days.

 

Wilde Chile’s journal, September 1997.

It all started on Friday night. I’d just arrived from Manchester (three-hour journey), there was no food on the table (thanks to my brother) and Ira was late, which was such a surprise, really! We compared luggage sizes. Ira had a little handbag-like object packed to the max and she adopted her French attitudes of poohing and paahing at my rather large bag (nb explanation for the large bag is that it is actually my laundry bag, and I couldn’t find a smaller one). We went to bed at 3 am.

If left to our body clocks Ira and I would never wake up in time so we set the rather obsolete alarm clock. I made a joke to Ira saying I didn’t think the alarm would go off and thus she spent the whole night awake! I had a great sleep, however, and was not amused when I was awoken at 5.30 am to catch our train at Waterloo station!

On arrival it became apparent that half the world had decided to come to Paris that weekend! After lining up in front of the Tourist Information Officer in Gard du Nord for over two hours (well Ira did anyway, while I walked around seeking a room in a hotel) we finally got a room at the “One Star Plus” hotel!

We ended up getting lost and confused while looking for this hotel situated in the suburbs of Paris. Ira had a sad smile etched on her face as slowly all hope escaped her sorrowful eyes. I laughed at her as I figured everything would work out except:

1) Some French snobs ignored our requests for directions.

2) Our hotel was situated in the ghettos of Paris.

Once settled, we went in search of food. The end result was a baguette, cheese, pate and chili peppers. Ira, who was chronic for a cup of tea, then ordered some from our hotel. What we got was something resembling dishwater, which was cold and frankly quite disgusting.

We called the waiter/receptionist/manager (this one man held all the positions) and asked him to reheat our tea. He never actually boiled the water but just filled the teapot with tap water, and yet he seemed surprised to find that our tea was cold!

The next day we headed towards the centre of Paris in search of le Louvre. After pondering over some maps I said loudly, “Where the ass is le Louvre,” which proved to be a source of constant amusement to Ira for the entire trip.

In the end we got to le Louvre and wandered around in awe of all the beautiful works of art. We then proceeded to the courtyard to eat the rest of our baguette cheese and chili from the previous day with the new additions of jam taken from our hotel.

 

Ira’s journal, September 1997 (continues account of trip).

After the Wilde Chile made cutting remarks over my Trini chilis she asked if she could have one (anything was a relief after the baguette). She pronounced that Leonardo da Vinci had produced better work than the “Mona Lisa”. I agreed humbly.

We crossed the river to the church of Notre Dame which was heavenly - with the voices of choir boys singing in Latin, stained glass, magnificent baroque interior. We each lit a candle and sat alone quietly for a few minutes to soak it in.

We then began a circuitous trek to the Musee Picasso. The plan was that we would sit around for a leisurely coffee first. However, soon we were running through the charming winding streets and through outdoor cafes because we wanted to get there before it closed. It was closed.

The Wilde Chile pleaded, “Five minutes, please,” and they said OK.

At first we ran past Picasso’s paintings, paraphernalia and ceramics, then slowed down knowing they would never find us. We both loved the “Portrait de Dora Maar”, the only woman who was not entirely mutilated by the Master.

We then rushed for the obligatory visit to La Tour Eiffel in an awful dirty metro but suddenly the train came up above ground and there was an unforgettable view of the river and the Eiffel Tower.

En route an artist wanted to do a comic version of me for free. Refused on account of my nose. Stood in a long line for 30 minutes. We got bored of watching the lift go up and down and walked back to the river. Sat on a bench and ate jam. I ate nearly all mine since I needed a sugar high but the Wilde Chile threw hers away, disgusted.

The next day we had plans to go to the Musee des Arts Modernes, the Rodin Museum and Versailles but ended up trying on clothes for an hour.

Then we drank overpriced bitter coffee and walked: from the courtyard of le Louvre, crunched through the sanded l’Avenue des Champs Elysees with its gaping wide boulevards and neatly laid out gardens, and through l’Arc de Triomphe. A cool sun glowed through autumn leaves and fountains, and cast shadows over balconies.

It was almost time for our train back so we made our way to the train station by bus, but hopes of lingering in a coffeeshop were dashed because the Wilde Chile felt for McDonald’s where she had a double burger with extra cheese.

French police with dogs roamed the crowded station at Paris Nord. We showed our passports, slipped our tickets through the barrier, and got on the train in five minutes. It was not until we were halfway to London that we remembered the pate which we had left on our hotel window sill to stay cool for the night. We collapsed in fits as we thought of a chambermaid sniffing the room with rotting pate (it was a hot day).

A man sitting opposite us writing what looked like an academic paper in a tiny hand (of which the only recognisable word was Voltaire) stared at us coldly - especially me, because I should know better, being older.”

End of Ira’s journal.

 

At one level this trip was about “playing student” and the euphoria that comes with it but on another about thinking laterally, stretching the limits of your life, reviving curiosity in a space where inertia and routine is the biggest disease. And about adventure, the heightened excitement of being alive, your biggest goal and reward. In other words, I relearned the importance of being Wilde. Thanks to the Chile.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur