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My French Connection

My fascination with France, especially Paris, has been deep-rooted since my childhood days. At 8 years, I was keen to learn French which I finally did at school four years later. By then I had become well-versed with French history and knew all about the French Revolution. I was a voracious reader of world history, especially of wars, revolutions, independence movements and … war heroes! Napoleon Bonaparte and the Marquis de Lafayette had found a place in the list of my childhood idols.

By the time I had graduated from school, my knowledge of Paris had peaked. On his business trips to France, among other things, he would bring home French perfumes and cosmetics by Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior and Lancôme. Till today, I’m a devoted fan of Chanel No.5 perfume. I enjoyed meeting and talking with my father’s business partners from France, whenever they visited the city.

When everyone else was looking for international penpals in his or her peer group, I was interested in being penpals with French presidents.

I first wrote to President Francois Mitterrand in December 1989, sending him a watercolour greeting card hand-painted by me. His handwritten response thrilled me. From then on, I began my almost two decade long communication with the French Presidents. Every December I would send the President a hand-painted or hand-crafted greeting card.

The replies would vary: a communication from his office on his behalf…a personal note of thanks from him…a greeting card with a personally written message by him…

Here are a few images of the personal “note of thanks” from President Francois Mitterrand…

Personal “note of thanks” from President Francois Mitterand 1

Personal “note of thanks” from President Francois Mitterand 2

Greeting cards with a personally written message from President Jacques Chirac…

Greeting card 1 with a personally written message from President Jacques Chirac

Greeting card 2 with a personally written message from President Jacques Chirac

Personal communication from Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin…

Personal communication from Prime Minister Dominique Villepin

Greeting card with a personally written message from Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin…

Greeting card with a personally written message from Prime Minister Dominique Villepin

In 2007, I went to Mexico. When I returned back to India, Nicolas Sarkozy was the French President. I didn’t receive any personally written message or note of thanks from him, only communications from his office on his behalf.

Now, I would like to share with you some of my interesting moments in Paris in December 2004. It was my first time in the “City of Light” or the “City of Love”!

Till then, I used to dream of getting a personal invitation from the French President to visit Paris. A warm welcome at the airport and a royal stay at Le Palais de l’Elysée…wow!

In 2004, I decided to wake up from the beautiful dream for a while. After travelling through Spain, I went to Paris…

The change in weather from a “pleasantly cold” Andalucía to a “very cold” Madrid landed me with severe flu. Thankfully, Barcelona had a pleasant weather. I crossed into France by the Thalys train. From Perpignan, I took the high-speed TGV train to Paris. I was looking forward to the journey, to get the thrill of travelling at high speeds.

I didn’t know that the train went really high-speed at only certain points during the journey so I was a bit disappointed to discover this bit when the journey started. As it is, my spirits had been dampened by severe cough and cold. I had to blow my nose so often that I felt sorry for the guy seated next to me. He was quite nice and friendly and seemed to be somewhere in his 30s. When the train picked up speed for the first time, I almost cried out in pain. It was horrible! My head began to whirl and I felt as though knitting needles had been stuck into my ears! I couldn’t help asking the guy whether he felt anything like I did. He didn’t, and I realized that it was probably due to my cold. I felt better when the train returned to its normal speed. I dreaded the high-speed! It left me totally drained and distraught. I couldn’t endure the third-degree torture anymore and I was dying to reach Paris! When the “nice guy” told me that we were nearing the city, I felt like giving him a hug.

I felt terribly lonely at the thought that there was no one to welcome me in beautiful Paris. The train reached the destination…the “nice guy” got up to collect his belongings from the overhead bin and then turned to me with a warm smile. “Bienvenue à Paris!”

I froze momentarily. I looked at him wide-eyed, unable to gather two simple words “Merci beaucoup!” People behind me were waiting for me to move and there we were looking at each other! I turned to collect my bag and lost him in the crowd. Till today, after over eight years, I have a faint recollection of his good-looking face.

Another beautiful incident followed shortly thereafter. I was waiting in the long queue for taxis outside the train station. One by one, the taxis came and went, picking up passengers till there were just six people ahead of me. Then, I heard hushed voices of awe. I followed everyone’s gaze to the source – a sleek, black limousine. I thought maybe someone had called for the limousine. But then why would the limo arrive at the taxi stand? There were just three people ahead of me – two men and a woman. The first man in the queue got into a waiting taxi and then there were just two ahead of me. There was just one taxi ahead of the limousine. Since the two weren’t talking to each other I assumed they weren’t together. But to my surprise, they both got into the waiting taxi and I was left with the black limo. I felt everyone’s attention on me. I was dazed. I was like “oh my god, is this going to cost me a bomb?” I could imagine the others saying “A special car for mademoiselle? Oh, how lucky!”

I felt like a royal princess! The taxi driver, a tall Afro-American, took my bag and placed it in the trunk. He was like a valet with a superficial air of aristocracy..and a bit patronizing too. ”Mademoiselle, you’re travelling alone in Paris? That too being unwell!”

My hotel, Hotel Belloy Saint Germain Paris, was located in the Latin Quarter, which is well-known for its lively atmosphere and many bistros and also close to the Sorbonne and Notre Dame.

It was around 8pm and the city looked so beautiful and romantic that I felt very sad and lonely. The driver told me that I would have to walk up the 100 metres to the hotel which was on a small one way street. “Great, now you’re going to make me walk all the way to the hotel!” I grumbled silently.

Was he a mind-reader? Well, he was good at it! He told me he was going to change streets to drop me at the doorstep of the hotel. It was very sweet of him. The road was too narrow for his big car but he drove on carefully.  He was also very courteous enough to carry my bag till the hotel entrance.

My room was lovely and the bed was very welcoming after the torturous train journey…

My Best Western room in Paris

Despite my fever, I spent the next five days doing city sight-seeing from morning to late night. I didn’t want to miss out on anything…and that included a lovely evening cruise on the Seine and the fabulous show at the Moulin Rouge!

Here are a few of my photographs of Paris and Versailles…

The Sorbonne University, the oldest and most famous college in Paris…

Sorbonne University in Paris

The Notre-Dame Cathedral…

Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris

The Panthéon, the final resting place for the great heroes of the French Republic including Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie…

Panthéon in Paris

The Musée du Louvre, one of the finest museums in the world of art and culture. Home of the Mona Lisa and innumerable others…

Louvre in Paris

View from inside the Louvre

View from Louvre in Paris

View from inside the Louvre

louvre

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, a triumphal arch built between 1806 and 1808 to commemorate Napoleon’s military victories of the previous year. It serves as an entrance of honour at the Jardin des Tuileries, one of the two oldest and most famous gardens in Paris, created in the 16th century for a palace on the banks of the Seine near the Louvre…

Jardin des Tuileries in Paris

View of the city from the topmost floor of the Eiffel Tower…

View from the top level of the Eiffel Tower in Paris 2

View of the city from the topmost floor of the Eiffel Tower…

View from the top level of the Eiffel Tower in Paris 1

A view of the River Seine…

River Seine in Paris

The Musée d’Orsay, a former railway station, houses an amazing collection of works by the great artists of the 19th century…

Musée d'Orsay in Paris

l’Eglise du Dôme (the church of Les Invalides), site of Napoleon’s tomb…

Church of Les Invalides (site of Napoleon's tomb) in Paris

Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, a church perched on top of the highest point in Paris…

Basilica of the Sacré Cœur in Paris

That’s me trying the French delicacy, Escargots à la Bourguignonne (snails in garlic sauce) at a popular bistro…

Swarupa tasting the french delicacy - snails in garlic sauce - in Paris

An attendant at the bistro…

A friendly attendant at a bistro in Paris

A carousel in Paris…

Carrousel in Paris

Château de Versailles, the most exquisite chateau in France, once home to the last king of France, Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette.  It is located on the outskirts of Paris and can be easily reached by train…

Château de Versailles

View of the most exquisite chateau in France…

Château de Versailles 1

The fabulous gardens of the Château de Versailles…

The Gardens of Château de Versailles

Words cannot express the beauty and romance of Paris so I haven’t gone into great details. I hope to visit Paris someday in the future, but not alone 🙂

And no, I haven’t yet given up on my dream of getting an invitation from Le Palais de l’Elysée 🙂

Thank you for dropping by! Before taking your leave I’d like to inform you all that till the 11th of September 2013, I’m giving free copies of my e-book on Mexican food & drink A Guide To Mexican Cuisine to my followers on Twitter: https://twitter.com/theepicmexico and to my Facebook Page fans at: https://www.facebook.com/TheEpicBookMEXICO

Click here to know how you can get your free copy…

If you’re interested in knowing all about Mexico, do check my other two e-books also which are available for sale on this blog: Discovering Mexico and Mexico: The Country, Its History & The Maya World

See you soon, till then take care 🙂