Samedi 18 août 2007

We only had a few hours in Paris between our trip on the TGV and the following Eurostar voyage beneath the sea, but having visited Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur and La Tour Eiffel enough times to be slightly bored of them, we moved a little further down the list of tourist clichés and decided to check out some of Paris’s more interesting shops.

We ended up outside Les Galeries Lafayette. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s one of Paris’s larger department stores; but it’s not its size that garners it international attention—it’s its luxury. The whole place oozes opulence; three grand floors with balconies encircle a central circle of posh perfumeries, topped off with a huge stained glass dome. The floors are packed with high fashion: clothes you’d never wear at prices you’d never pay; sunglasses and shoes to accessorise, baby; and all interspersed with tasteless fixtures and plasticky gold curtains. Possibly the best bargain we found were some iridescent gold mega-heels—a snip at three hundred Euros.

All worth a gawp, and possibly a quick despair about humanity, but certainly not enough to drag yourself all the way to Paris for. However, the other thing about the Galeries is the roof. From the top of the shop, there is a reasonable view across the city, taking in several of the Parisian tourist clichés. The Eiffel tower commands the skyline in one direction, Les Invalides pokes out from behind a rooftop and, if you stand in the right place, obscured slightly by a large vent, you can see Montmartre. Wandering around, I came across the perfect angle at approximately the same time as an American family. The father looked over at Sacre Coeur astride its skyline-dominating throne.

‘Gee, look at that!’ he said to his wife, ‘Do you think that’s Notre Dame?’ (He pronounced it ‘Notruh Day-m’.)

He paused for a moment. I thought the cogs were whirring and he was wondering if he’d, perhaps, mixed up, y’know, two of the most famous religious structures in the World. I mean, they are in the same city, and he might have been a bit jet-lagged and confused by the funny language people were talking. I was ready to forgive him, when he opened his mouth again:

‘Do you think it’s some kind of mosque?’

Notre Dame—‘Our Lady’ in French referring, of course, to Our Lady the Virgin Mary—a mosque? The towering glory of this monumental mistake was arguable more impressive than the aerial view of Paris’s architecture.

Duly stunned, we shortly headed back to Gare du Nord to await our train home.

There are two brilliant things about French railway stations. The first is the jingle they have to announce a forthcoming announcement, which sounds so good it’s like an orgasm arranged for synth xylophone and vocals. The other is that, when a train is late, it is accompanied on the departures board by the word retard in flashing yellow.

There’s something childishly hilarious about ‘retard’ flashing next to every delayed train. Perhaps the UK railways could take something from my mis-translation of the French signage, and stick a few puerile insults or profanities in their delay notifications. It would certainly keep me amused if I were a commuter.

‘We are sorry to announce to passengers on platform four currently awaiting the 14:47 Virgin Pendolino service to Liverpool Lime Street that the train is currently delayed. This is due to a balls-up by the fuckwit in the signal box, and we hope that it will be resolved shortly.’

If there are more than two brilliant things about French railway stations, I was on the Eurostar bound for Waterloo International too fast to notice them.

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