Walking in the sun
13th March 2013
Oleg and I go back a long time. I am pretty sure that it would have been the Winter of 1992 that we met on Red Square. The joke being that my first word to him was НЕТ (No) as I had no need for a military watch or a military hat. As it turned out the question he wanted to pose was : Would you like tickets to the Bolshoi ? Fortunately the opera concerned was La Traviatta and is not one of Verdi’s masterpieces.
I say fortunately because, having been eased off Red Square by the Mafia, we got talking about music — no really, I don’t want to see Traviata. On the other hand you might be interested in the fact that I have Madonna’s Erotica which has just come out in the west.
We walked down the Arbat to the Irish bar and I introduced him to Guinness. It was one of the few places that Westerners and Russians could mingle. The following night we organised a second meeting of minds and the guards would not let him into the hotel.
Years have passed us by and we have remained in contact throughout. I haven’t been out to him in years but then, there I was on-line when he announced that he was heading to Paris on a four day business trip and could we meet up ?
Ticket was bought and early one morning, just as the sun was rising, I set off for the station, in the valley below (So it was Arras — it didn’t fit). Fifty-five minutes later I was in Paris. An hour later I had tramped across Paris on the RER and arrived at La Defense and his hotel: they did let me in.
The weather had been cold and the forecast not brilliant, so I had arrived well armed with a heavy pullover, boots, scarf and gloves. This is the reverse voodoo to Debby’s sandals; which bring rain with them. Paris was chilly but basking in sunshine. People were sitting out on the pavement reading their journals and sipping coffee.
This was Oleg’s first visit to France, or rather to Paris, because Paris is just as much a world apart as Moscow is to Russia. The day before they had taken him and his colleagues on a bog-standard coach tour of the major sights but he wanted to walk around.
Things have changed greatly in twenty years. In those days he knew to address me in English because of my clothes. Now on leaving the hotel you could guess by the clothes to whom he would say Доброе Утро (Good morning). We took the Metro down to the Hôtel de Ville and spent the remainder of our day on foot.
Having crossed the bridge on to the Île de la Cité we joined the throng waiting to visit Notre Dame which is celebrating its 850th anniversary (1163-2013). For ten years the exterior was under scaffolding but the cleaning process has finished and the building looks resplendent. The interior, sadly remains very sombre, but I am spoilt with Amiens cathedral just down the road. Although quite small Notre Dame is still larger than most so called cathedrals in Moscow — and it has seats.
Oleg had, eventually, to be at the Eiffel Tower so we started walking along the Seine in that direction. As it was so sunny I thought that visiting the Sainte Chapelle would be a good idea as that requires good weather to show off its stained glass windows to best effect. It is situated within the Courts complex and on passing through the entrance we came to a bag inspection and body-scanner.
Is this the Sainte Chapelle or have I mad an error ? I asked security. Yes ! was the none too helpful reply. In fact it was where we wanted to be. They were not happy with me taking my litre bottle of Stolichnaya Vodka in with me (present from Oleg) so that, I had to deposit with security.
If you have never been then this is a chapel that you should visit. The lower chapel is impressive, and then you climb the spiral staircase to be met by a flood of coloured light. The windows are currently under renovation but half have already been finished and there were displays showing how the work was being carried out.
Having recovered my bottle of Stolli we went in search of a café for a beer and a sit down. I promise never to complain about the price of a beer in Arras ever again. Whilst we nattered and caught up on old times I leafed through the photos of Oleg and his family on his i-pad. Things have become so bad in Russia, Oleg was telling me, that he now buys his music legally !
Off we set again along the banks of the Seine towards the Invalides. The Pont des Arts footbridge is covered in padlocks, a tradition that has arrived, in all probability, from Eastern Europe. Couples attach them as a good-luck gesture for their future together. If it doesn’t work I suppose you just leave him/her attached to the bridge until the Sapeurs Pompiers arrive and cut them free.
The Invalides was rather chaotic as there was something being prepared for the central courtyard and this was interfering with the free flow of visitors. The ‘event’ turned out to be the remains of a soldier killed in the fighting in Mali being brought home. Hard to complain about a wee bit of extra walking given the circumstances.
We obviously visited Napoleon’s tomb and part of the Second World War exhibition in the Army Museum. Although time was not on our side, if you have paid to get in you might as well see as much as possible.
By the time that we had reached the Champs de Mars it was time to eat and Oleg was not going to settle for a sandwich on his only real day of playing a tourist. We chose our restaurant and were forced to sit inside because the tables outside were all taken (A week later they would be under snow).
Oleg tried the onion soup which came in a bowl that would have fed two, so where he then put the fillet of duck I have no idea. I stuck with the cod and only one beer because I was going to have to drive again within a few hours.
By the time that the coffee had been drunk and the bill paid it was time for me to search out the Metro at The Eiffel Tower and head back to connect with my TGV. With a bit of luck it won’t be another nine years before our paths cross again.
Posted : 14 March 2013