In Paris I thought about former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman. It was either him or Plastic Bertrand. Both had hits in the 1980’s. Both sang in French. Sort of.
“Can we go on an adventure?”
“Sure. Which way shall we go?”
Alex is confident. “The front. We can go to the restaurant.”
We’re hurtling across the Alsace near the German and French border, and I glance up at the display. 313 kph. European trains are beyond brilliant. The snow is falling in curtains, and we rush past hills and farms. I spy some pigs.
In the café car we climb onto some stools and gaze out the window. The boys have a Kit Kat. I have a beer. We see wind farms. Go through tunnels. We talk about Harry Potter, the Adelaide Crows (Alex), and the Essendon Bombers (Max). I’ve never been happier.
We slide through Strasbourg. There are ships and boats on the Ill River. “Is that the Titanic, Dad?” Our train is slingshotted by a French motorway whose vehicles seem motionless. “Dad, that looks like our black car!” And then, as talk rolls around, “When does footy start at the Singapore Sharks?”
Trains civilize us. Trains nourish our imaginations. They evoke a romantic age, and easing along the corridors, I should be sporting a top hat and muttonchops.
Aside from buses, what’s the worst way to travel? Pushing your own taxicab! Our Parisian driver was friendly, but we were keen to reach our apartment, drop our luggage, and eat. Battling traffic along Boulevard de Magenta, Alex and Max increasingly behave like deer trapped in a Canadian liquor store. Détente was disintegrating.
The cabby wobbled the gearshift as we glided to an uneasy halt. “Problem?” I offer. Wearing the haunted look of a fugitive, he evaluates, “Gear box.” So there I was, as my family stood on the pavement, straining against the shat-itself-cab. Ah, welcome back, sir. Lovely to have you back in the City of Light. Why, you’re even more handsome than I remember. May I offer you a 2004 Bordeaux?
Heading to the Gare de Nord five days later, the driver warns us about railway station crime. “Be careful,” he urges. He then speaks in French to his phone before showing me the translated screen
In Paris a pizza arrives quicker than the police.
Returning to Europe, but with the boys, is to visit the continent afresh, and see everything as if for the first time. How terrific is this?
On Sunday we walk down by the Louvre, and turning the corner near the Seine, urge the boys to look westward. And there it was! The Eiffel Tower.
But our view was obscured. We could only see the top half. Chopped down as if kneecapped by the Mafia, it doesn’t function. Painted in 1970’s physics teacher brown, it’s a charmless Soviet radio mast.
The Eiffel Tower’s attractive only when seen in its entirety with, for example, the Champ de Mars framing it. Without its fabulous mise-en-scène, it’s decontextualised, stripped of beauty like a torn painting. But, the boys loved it. Even lining up for two hours in the winter chill to ascend in its elevator. And that’s all that matters.
Our Tudor apartment on Rue Montorgueil is stunning. Featuring exposed beams, characterful floorboards, and an ancient staircase; it overlooks the cobblestoned street, four stories below. The ground floor? A pizza house! Game, set, match. However, the police cruelly cut the padlocks I used to chain myself to the wood oven and beer fridge.
It’s probably a hundred types of wrong, but on this, our third visit to the French capital, I’ve still not seen the Mona Lisa. The wife of the former publican of The Sir John Franklin Hotel in Kapunda and The Bushman Hotel in Gawler interests me more. Her name is also Mona. And I’ve not seen her portrait either.
We ride a hop-on, hop-off bus to escape the biting cold, and also because Alex and Max enjoy it. Their personal earphones seem to function as auditory tranquilizers allow them to learn some French history, culture and architecture, which is a wonderful opportunity.
Celebrated Parisian music links the commentary. We hear my Mum’s favourite, Charles Aznavour and his song “La Bohème,” tragic songstress Edith Piaf, and in a surprise, Robin Thicke’s veiled ode to Notre Dame and the Île de la Cité, “Blurred Lines.”
Driving past the Palais Garnier, the narrative continues
Charles Garnier, the renowned architect of the Opera House announced that unlike other Parisian avenues, Avenue de l’Opéra would not be tree-lined, as he did not wish for views of his magnificent creation to be impeded.
I lift an eyebrow, glance at the wife and mouth, “Tosser.” She nods back.
Dining at Jet Lag by The Church of St Eustace is great. Alex declares his cheeseburger the most amazing ever! Once we took our nephew to the Buffalo on Glenelg’s Patawalonga. After his modest meal Dylan says, “This is the best Buffalo restaurant I’ve visited.” Max just eats.
I devour the tarte aux pommes de terre et au boeuf. Wow, I hear you breathe, what a gourmand, a sophistiqué moderne. It’s true, things do sound better in French. My dinner? Yep, cottage pie.
We love the neighbouring Jardin Nelson Mandela and its playground. On our final visit an attendant asks, “Where you from? England?” No, Australia, I reply with a nod. Despite his monstrous size he suddenly seems boyish, and squeals, “Kan-goo-ra, kan-goo-ra.”
Paris. Such blinding elegance. Such soaring ambition. This city is splendid. It celebrates the individual, and offers avenues to happiness. I reckon we found some.
Just like Bill from the Rolling Stones
Took her to a disco
I asked her to dance
And then she danced with me