Paris

Unlike London, Paris is not a place I had spent a lot of time. It’s also not a place I felt particularly comfortable, because it’s one of the many places in the world where I do not speak the local language and if there is one thing that makes me inherently uncomfortable it’s extreme conscious incompetence.
Of course you find a way; my understanding of spoken French is decent, and by the end of the weekend I was translating between the French menu for the Russians at the next table who could not read the French but could speak decent English. I suppose on day one I did make it past a security guard in a building that I suspect did not get many international visitors.
But aside from this, and to that there is a solution: learn French! the French leg of my trip was splendid. I had been to the city once before, briefly, and remembered it being charming in the extreme, with all of the brasseries and bistros with their red chairs facing the street, and a frantic yet relaxed pace.
My last day in the city I wandered about by myself, looking in the shop windows at the ornate dishes and soaps and flower shops and patisseries. How could you not just fall in love with a place like this, where there is hundreds of years of history, consistency of architecture from back in the day when things were built to last, ancient grandiose cathedrals nearly every street, and hidden passageways leading to small courtyards and secret gardens with pink roses and red geraniums?
And did I mention the food? I can happily report that I paid completely no attention to my normal diet. I am not in Paris every day. But I can also feel the impact on my energy & health, and so quickly.
OK sure, it’s a city. The traffic is terrible there is no parking and it’s a little bit dirty. But it’s Paris. I mean, in what other country do they have classical music playing in the car parks, and perfume? No, I’m not kidding, there was perfume. And classical music. In the car park. You can’t make that up. It made quite an impression on me, obviously! 
So there’s a group of friends from the WBA who planned to go to Paris and Champagne the week after the conference. As I technically had a week of leave, I decided to tag along. It was a good call, as before this trip I would have called these guys acquaintances. Now they are friends, albeit friends who live in far-flung corners of the world. One works for what I suppose you can best call a software house in London, one runs a Wi-Fi operator in New Zealand, and then there was our Parisian host, Cedric, who works for Orange which is a mobile carrier.
And as hosts go, you couldn’t ask for more. I love playing host of Cape Town when people visit, and it was pretty clear that Cedric enjoys doing the same thing for Paris.
The first night we got a driving tour of the major landmarks then went for dinner at a restaurant that a friend of his used to run, followed by a visit to the base of the Eiffel Tower, then a midnight drink. As one does. 

Now I should report at this point that our friend managed to parallel park his vehicle in a spot that was probably something like 10cm clearance on either side by the time he was done. I can honestly say I have NEVER seen someone fit a car into a tighter spot in my life. That is some serious parking skills.
The next day was a full-day tour starting at Notre Dame, then a walk about the old part of the city which was made all the more exciting by getting rain dumped on us. Eventually we ran back to the car. I was impressed by Cedric’s ability to move – he ran faster than I did (not that I was really trying, but point made!). It was quite funny though.
Drenched, we went to an area that was very non-touristic for a beautiful lunch before moving back to a tourist area of Sacre Coeur de Paris de Paris, where we avoided the pickpockets and saw a guy performing amazing feats of gymnastics while enjoying a panorama of the city. Onwards to Versailles to pick up the final member of our crew and check the palace & gardens, and where I ran into someone from my Cape Town gym. Small world.
That evening was one of the highlights of the trip. We went to a restaurant called Chez Marcel where the chef was a friend of Cedric, and the food did not disappoint. Possibly the best thing I had to eat all trip was the starter: salade de champignons de Paris de Paris et jambon de Paris de Paris. There is a small vineyard still in Paris, so why not mushrooms & ham? Then there was my introduction to chartreuse (not just a colour!) and drinks at the top of Paris. And all this with great company. Who could complain?? It was just a little bit magical.
The next day, we broke every speed law on the way from Paris to Champagne due to a hangover-induced late start (not mine). The bigger champagne houses there have fixed times for tours and you are supposed to book two weeks in advance, and when the tour of the caves leaves, it leaves. There is this little video that plays just before the tour departs. We got into the movie room at Mumm just as the video was finishing. Perfect timing.
Mumm was interesting considering that I had been to their California branch with Cathleen a few months back. Completely different feel. Fascinating though, I didn’t really know how champagne was made or anything about the caves and now I do. It was certainly like a French version of Napa Valley. And then we went to the French version of a small wine farm in Stellenbosch, which was basically beneath someone’s house. Complete with two dogs and a cherry tree. And a drive through the countryside beforehand. Well, and a lunch where my teasing from the day before about my secret career was replaced with some not-entirely deserved and not-entirely-underserved teasing about cradle-snatching.
These champagne caves were amazing. Yes I know I use this word a lot, but really … this was like family history and world history all combined into one. The roadside poppies were just as beautiful as I had imagined, and the French towns as cute and quaint as could be. These caves were from the houses of a married couple (the husband had died some years before), and the caves from one house were extended to meet the caves under the house across the road. Imagine; you’re standing on a road in a small town and right underneath you are champagne caves generations old. We even got to turn some of the champagne ourselves, which is not an experience you can really get any more as so many of the houses move more and more towards mechanisation.
Adding to that, soldiers from World War II had hidden in caves like these, and even these caves: we saw some inscriptions from those WWII soldiers. Certainly had a different impression on my psyche than seeing the caves in Vietnam. I think there is something very francophone in American culture, or at least in my household growing up; going to rural France felt a bit like going home. Not in the same way Africa did, but similar. This is a history I can identify with, in a way that I just don’t when I go to places in, say, Asia.
And to eat cherries from a cherry tree? I had never done this before. Always birds would get to the cherries first.
In another first, I managed to live for four days without a SIM card, as it was not an easy process to get a pre-paid SIM and Cedric hooked me up with a 7-day Wi-Fi pass. Why he couldn’t get me a SIM card is a bit of a funny story. But c’est la vie! So it was like my own version of the Liron Segev Wi-Fi challenge … survive in a foreign country with no phone and no mobile internet. It was interesting, and taught me a thing or two from a user perspective. Turns out Cedric’s panel comment that there is a risk to brand dilution of not so good Wi-Fi was spot on. Although Orange is such a strong brand that even as an American I have a strong affinity for the brand to the point where inconsistently working Wi-Fi was not about to change my mind.
So there I go, I am the exception to my own public statement that even if something is free, people are demanding and get mad if it doesn’t work. All depends on your mindset I suppose. Connectivity is like a drug.
I have always loved Europe, but it’s one thing to visit, another to live. As one of my emails said at the end of what amounts to a mini-holiday for the crew of us who spent some time in Paris over a few days: ‘now back to reality.’
Back to reality indeed. I really could have used a longer break than three days, but I really don’t have time. I feel like what I need isn’t a rest, but just finishing some things (incompletions are mentally taxing; it’s been proven). But there will always be more things.
The trick is to feel ahead of the curve not behind it. I’ll get there. And in the meantime, July is shaping up to be very interesting.

One of the things that struck me was in the middle of this amazing meal, in an amazing city, in comes this old man, selling I think roses. We dismissed him quite quickly, as one does, but after the moment was gone I watched him approach the other tables in the restaurant and I wondered to myself what this man must be facing in life, to be, at that age, about peddling roses in Paris restaurants. And here we are, I am sure I’m the poorest of the four on my third world wages but still, with plenty of money in the grand scheme of things. Money is a barrier if you let it be. That’s what I’ve realised lately. But …. at the end of the day you must also pay your bills. Reality indeed.
I think one of the other offhand comments made these last few days made me realise that I really don’t smile enough, and I don’t smile enough because my mind is preoccupied. Certainly less naïve now that I’m trying to build a whole damn bakery. I was telling Steve as we entered Notre Dame cathedral that as we are all so concerned with trying to maximise our slice of the pie when we should be setting up a bakery. Then what do we see a few minutes later?
Save water, drink champagne. And cake may not be paleo, but on this trip I ate cake. And plotted how to have my cake and eat it too. Easier said than done.
L’herbe est toujour plus verte dans le champs du voisin. Ain’t that the truth??
  • “I’m American.” “Well, nobody’s perfect.” – Ellie & Sebastien (LOVE!)
  • “You can do a lot of damage in an hour.” “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We know!” – Ellie & Francois
  • “They’re the best.” – Francois
  • “Yesterday at ten o’clock in the morning it was as dark as night.” – Yves  
  • “That’s a space invader.” – Steve
  • “They’ve got rocks in their heads. What are they going to do with those when they’ve got 200 clients connecting?” – Steve
  • “It’s easier to get in than to get out.” – Cedric (ain’t that the truth!)
  • “I wonder what happened to the Ruckus dogs.” “They were stolen.” – Steve & Cedric
  • “Watch out for the train.” “!! I thought he was kidding. But there’s a train!” – Cedric & Steve
  • “You’d break them in half!” “Of course. I do. That’s why they’re scared!” – Steve & Ellie
  • “There’s an app for that. Of course there is.” “Oh no. It’s worse than that.” – Ellie & Mark
  • “It’s not drinking. It’s religion.” – I actually can’t remember who said this … memory poor when involved in religious activities
  • “Chartreuse? I thought that was just a colour.” – Ellie
  • “Four green??” [pause] “OK. I do what I want.” “Oh guys. We are dead.” – Pierre & Cedric
  • “Paris nights are short.” – Cedric
  • “Guys, you’ll have your croissant after champagne.” – Cedric
  • “Guys, we made it!” – Cedric (the legend!)
  • “Oh, that’s not good. You can’t sell it like that.” “It’s ok, they’re going to show us how to remove it.” “Oh, really?” “OK. Now I show you how to remove the sediment.” – Steve, Ellie & our tour guide
  • “Pivoines.” “What does that mean, pink?” “No. Peonies.” – Cedric, Steve, & Mark
  • “There aren’t any eggs.” – Ellie (there was actually an egg on my plate at the time)
  • “We heard they had to put the room back together.” – Mark (I bet he also knows what happened to the Ruckus dogs!)
  • “Guys, stop buying champagne. The car is full!” – Cedric
  • “I’m not saying it’d good. I’m saying it could work.” – overheard on the train
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