So , first time in Paris? No. First time in EUROPE. That was my cab driver. Destination : Holiday inn , Porte De Clitchy (Pronounced Porte du cliché). And with that , our conversation pretty much came to an end because he could not speak English beyond a simple exchange of pleasantries.
And I , do not speak French.
My thoughts as we drove by the old but beautiful city , wondered off to a conversation I had had ,with a Charles De Gaulle airport staff , only a few minutes ago…
“So the c-o-n-f-a-r-e-nce [sic] is in Morocco?”, the petite lady at the counter on the other side of the glass had asked , after looking at my documents for a full two minutes.
Together with my passport , I had handed her my transparent folder containing the letter that indicated that the pre-conference meeting would now be in France , not Italy. In the same folder was my invitation letter , hotel booking confirmation and my travel insurance documents.
She had looked at them the way I would usually look at my Calculus exam questions.
“But you are going to Paris.”
“Why? I don’t understand!”
“I am here (in Paris) for the PRE-conference meeting.” I had said calmly, emphasizing the word pre.
“Where are you staying?”
“At a hotel. Here… “, I had handed her my iPad with the document showing the map and address of the hotel open.
“How will you pay for the hotel?” She had asked with a sneer.
“Let me see.”
YOU ARE KIDDING , RIGHT?
I had handed her my crisp 100 dollar bills.
“One , two …three…18…19…..twenty!”, she had counted them aloud before handing them back to me.
At this point she had consulted with her fellow customs officer seated on the next counter , and then looked up at me.
I am jet lagged and I am tired and you CANNOT keep interrogating me like I’m a CRIMINAL if you need to , you can call the office , where I will be based….there is a number there..” , I had offered.
She had handed me back the iPad and folder. Nothing like “Sorry for keeping you ma’am..” , or even the courteous “Thank you ma’am”.
I had headed to the foreign exchange to get me some Euros , before taking a cab.
There was traffic and it took us a little less than an hour to get to the hotel, even though it wasn’t far from the airport.
“Enjoy your stay Paris!”, the cab driver said after he had handed me my change.
“How do you say thank you in French?” , I asked.
“Okay , Merci!”
After checking in , I took photos of my room ( I always do that before touching anything) , called home , and then took a long bath before sleeping off my jet lag. The next day’s program was starting at 9:00AM.
French and I
In fact I would have to say the words “I speak English” more times than I would call my mother during my three day stay in Paris– and I called her often.
She always worries about me especially when I am away in foreign lands.
In Kaaga Girls high school , they taught German as the foreign language. And even though I did not enroll for German either , I know little more than Ich möchte (pronounced ish moshte) , the German greeting. Plus I cringe visibly when someone confuses the words “German” and “Germany”. Unless , that person is my 8 year old daughter. “Sweerie , repeat after me ……GermaNY is the country and GermaN is the language.” Good.
First of all I’m no longer one who will try to pronounce “Paris” as “Paree” , “Parhee”…or something fancy like that. As I learnt , you don’t have to! Unless you are speaking French. But if you are speaking English , Paris is just pronounced like that. Paris.
Paris is as beautiful / scenic / magical as they say……Paris is like a 40 year old woman, who oozes with sophistication and confidence. Her make-up is meticulously done, and every strand of her hair is where it is supposed to be. She’s got it, and she knows it. In fact, she comes off as one who is not trying to impress. But her effortless style just captivates you….
Walking down the streets of Paris , you feel like you are starring in a movie…
There is traffic. Most of the time. The cars on the roads are predominantly Peugeot , VW , and so many Mercedez Benz , it’s obscene.
“It’s Okay. You can smoke of you like,” said our cab driver. To which my Italian speaking colleagues chuckled and exchanged a DO-WE-LOOK-LIKE-WE-WANT-TO-SMOKE look. EVERYONE smokes in Paris.
OK , not everyone but you get the picture. After the day’s session , we were on our way back to the hotel. But we had been going round in circles and sitting in traffic for 3 hours now. Turns out the French speaking, jeans-sagging cab driver, who seemed like he was high on something, had got our hotel direction wrong. The map on my iPad came in handy once again , and soon we were back on track. We finally got to the hotel at almost 10:00 PM and had dinner at the hotel restaurant with my colleagues. Most of us ate salmon mainly because it was the only item in the menu we could read.
On the third and last day of my stay in Paris, my colleagues and I left (our sister company) office rather late. It had been a tiring day. Some time at around midday , my 2 group mates and I (all conference participants had been divided into groups and given a topic to present) had decided to do away with the presentation we had been working on for the last one and a half days and start ALLOVER again.
At around 4:00PM we had come up with 22 slides. Now to reduce that to 10! No presentation was supposed to be longer than 10 slides. When were finally done , at 5:00PM , the group leader had said. “Now we have a presentation , but it’s lacking something….we need to make it sexy!”
Only later did we we realize that other groups had gone ahead to hire agencies to make them Steve Jobs kind of presentations! So much for sexy.
It was going to 8:00PM when all of us left the office that evening. Some took a cab to the hotel. Though in different flights , we would all fly to Morocco the next day.
Forget the much hyped “shopping in Paris” (things are damn expensive here), I was NOT going to leave Paris without seeing the Eiffel Towers. Or leave Europe without riding in a metro train!
Luckily I had company.
Like a team in Amazing race, my jolly colleague , Martin , from The Czech Republic and I set out with only a little more than a map and a resolve to see the most-visited paid monument in the world. But for the map, we had no idea where we were going so we were going to be asking around a lot. Soon we were on our way.
We got into a metro and alighted a couple of the times at different places. As expected, we DID lose our way at some point.
“According to map, metro station is HERE.” , quipped Martin. His spoken English was wanting.
We were standing in the middle of a random street.
“You speak French , right?” , I asked.
“No ,” said he amid laughter.
*Insert smile to hide my shock*
It’s true that in France they are taught English in school. However they do not care for it. We saw this as we tried to ask for directions from a couple of people who insisted on addressing us in French in spite of our “we speak English” plea. We weren’t lost for long though.
It was a few minutes past 9:00PM when we got to Eiffel towers. There it was , standing tall as ever , in all its magnificence. As we got closer, I took out my iPhone and took a picture of this iconic monument.
And then another :
Usually , a trip to the Eiffel Towers is accompanied by an elevator ride to the top , where you can have a panoramic view of the city. But there was a long queue and we needed to FIND OUR WAY back to Holiday inn , Porte De Clitchy. Hopefully before dawn.
There was free WIFI around the Eiffel but unfortunately it was not strong enough for me to send a brag photo tweet of the tower. See , there were quite a number of people just walking by or chillaxing.
After walking a few meters we met a man holding a bunch of flowers. He offered me a flower , which I declined , but accepted upon his insistence.
What happened next ….I hadn’t seen coming.
Mr. Roses approached Martin and asked him for 2 EUROS. Turns out the flowers WERE FOR SALE and Mr. Rose thought WE ARE A COUPLE. Now that was AWKWARD . But not surprising -when you walk the streets of Paris at night, pausing once in a while to enjoy the view of the beautiful skyline and take pictures, someone , is bound to think you are a couple , on vacation.
For the next two hours or so we were travelling by metro , alighting from this one and taking another. We also stopped over at some pizza joint to get some take-away pizza , in case we found the hotel restaurant closed.
My colleague’s flight was mid morning the next day so he was checking out at dawn. We therefore said goodbye when I reached my floor at the elevator.
Back in the room I Skype called hubby. “Babe , I had a great time…….we even went to the Eiffel Towers…!”
The next day I slept till late (my flight was at 1:00PM), going downstairs for breakfast at 9:30AM. Most of my other colleagues were there. Others had left. After a hearty breakfast I checked out in the next half hour. Only myself and a couple of other guys from India , would be taking the same flight to Morocco. However they left the hotel earlier so they could ‘see around’. Later , we’d meet at Mohammed V. Airport in Casablanca , on our way to Marrakech – the city where the actual conference was to take place , in Morocco.
Waiting for my cab , I sat at the hotel lounge with my baggage in front of me. “Ma’am , your cab to the airport is here . It’s a black Mercedez.”
The Kingdom of Morocco
Morocco , largely a muslim country , oozes with warm African hospitality and generosity and Arabic candour. They serve you meals in staggering amounts and they want you to taste their tea. Tea to them is symbolic. It’s their thing , like the way Nyama choma is ours. You will hardly find any blacks in Morocco though. They are Arabs. French is the second most widely spoken language (after Arabic). At the local market (souk) you can either use Moroccan Dirhams or use the EURO. They LOVE to identify with Europe.
Sofitel Marrakech is an expansive 5-star affair , in Marrakech /Marrakesh city. Even from outside, Sofitel , Marrakech looks like a palace. And when you get in , they warmly welcome you (Something that was glaringly missing in Porte De Clitchy) , take your baggage and offer you tea as they serenade you with Arabic tunes while you wait to check in. The rooms are big and luxuriously furnished. Every window or door , has the distinct Moroccan shape.
Even more than sophistication and elegance, there was a feeling of abundance…and warmth. During the morning hours we’d participate in the conference sessions and in the afternoon take time out to engage in various fun activities of choice that were organized , like treasure hunts or the ‘tour of Marrakech’ which I opted out of……in favor of a 90 minute spa session.
Now , remind me again to enroll for swimming classes because I CANNOT SWIM to save my life… So you can imagine the look on my face when I was told , “Ma’am , you can take a swim as you wait for your turn to scrub.”
In the evening, after the day’s activities I’d sit at the balcony of room 487 and take in of the beautiful scenery below…
The highlight of our Moroccan stay was the outdoor party that was organized one evening. Earlier in the day , we had spent the whole afternoon at a treasure hunt. Divided into groups , we were to walk around the market place looking for this clue and finally we would find ourselves at one common point. For several hours we had walked and walked. At some point we passed by a curio shop where they showed us the who is who’s that had been there. On the wall was a photo of of Brangelina when they had visited the shop years ago..Not all teams followed the rules though. Some teams had taken shortcuts or hired guides (we had too. ;)) only to be later named and shamed much to the amusement of all of us.
After so much walking most of us were looking to retire early. Only a surprise awaited us in our rooms – a traditional Moroccan outfit and shoes and an invitation for a special dinner.
So it was that at dinner , we were all clad in traditional Moroccan traditional wear , the djellaba – a long and loose hooded gown which is worn over normal clothing. All ladies were in pink and men looked all papal in cream. All of us wore signature Moroccan leather sandals.
We sat at tables in tents and ate Moroccan rice and chicken as traditional dancers sang and danced for us. And just when we though we were now waiting for dessert , they brought a roasted WHOLE LAMB , per table. It was intimidating.
The next day was the day to go home but flight was cancelled and so I had to stay one more day in Marrakesh. I had been away for a week and I missed home. On my last day in Morocco , I woke up late and took a horse-drawn cart to the souk (marketplace).
I got to buy a few things including this iPhone case that stole my heart for two reasons : it makes the phone kind of stick to the surface where you put it so it doesn’t slip , and it has my husband’s most favorite team on it.
I long made peace with the fact that Real Madrid , is my co-wife.
PS : Our group’s presentation was first runners up! And that , kept a smile on my face for several days.