From Fashion Street with Love
Naim Naqvi | 15 Jul 2009
IT WAS a long journey from Paris to Lill. I won’t discuss here about the excursions or vacations and it would be suffice to say that I always believed in taking the stairs than elevators, as and when I get a choice. I’m an introvert and I thank you Lord for giving me the faith to believe in myself when others had written me off. I love to foot the distances and visit the sites, which lull me to lose track of time and space. Lill is one such city of rich people, rich history, historical buildings and all the modern elements. It is located to the north of Paris below the border of Belgium.
Gen De Gaulle the Father of Modern France was born here. I liked the old churches and bakeries still fired with wood there.
The sky was overcast when I disembarked at ‘Gare du Nord’ Paris north station. In a few minutes I was out at the old station. It is a U shaped structure with a façade, which is designed around the triumphal arch with plenty of yellow-grey slabs of stones. I stopped a few seconds to check my geography and topography; and to discover the direction of my destination - Champs Elysees. I looked back to give a mapping sense and discovered a lot of similarities between Paris North and Victoria Terminus (now CST) of my beloved city of Bombay. Both were built by Europeans; both have grandeur, both pulsate with life. ‘Gare du Nord’ exudes sobriety and speed without compromising dignity, we have hawkers, pick-pockets, petty criminals, poverty and destitute all wrapped together to make a mockery of our glittering progress just outside the station. I always get a sinking feeling, a feeling of inferiority, frustration and helplessness when I visit the European cities and compare the mindless indiscipline and total lack of civic sense among my people.
I walk and walk by myself even in the strangest places with full sense of risk and adventure. It fills me with a kind of joy, which I can’t describe in words. After strolling in the unknown directions for an hour I decided it was the time to give myself a break. There was a moor, as I could make out from his lax gait, coming in my direction.
“Sir, I want to go to Champ Elysees. How can I go ?”
He gave me a disconcerted look and moved away without uttering another word. Perhaps I wasn’t his cup of tea.
My luck appeared to turn bright as I saw a French Police Officer standing round the corner. I had very interesting and positive experiences with British Bobbys and you shouldn’t blame me if I expected the same here.
“Sir, I want to go to Champ Elysees. How can I go ?” French are very nice people with logic and nicer if they have a business to do with you. This police officer turned out to be a different ball-game.
“Par-lay voo Franseay ?” (do you speak French)
Day-zee-ray voo par-lay Franseay ?”(do you want to learn to speak French)
“No Sir. Yes Sir.”
“Je suis desole.”(Sorrry)
“No Sir. Yes Sir.”
“Je suis desole.”(Sorrry)
I felt it was my mistake and I must have learnt the language of the country before I intend to visit. Why do we train our guides to learn so many languages ? Because we still need them and not the vice-versa. Luckily I found a lady on a bus-stop with the novel “The Carpet Beggars.” She was my jack-pot for me; a Qubec- French from Canada - a lady with real looks, sympathetic heart and glib and well-informed talker.
“Madame, I want to go to Champs Elysees. How could I go there ?”
“From here only. I’m also going there.” She enquired if I was an IT bug, which I wasn’t. She was much relieved. While on the way she told me or rather taught me so much that it would be difficult to forget in this life.
“Only Americans call it Champs Elysees. Actually the correct pronunciation is ‘Sham Elysee’ and again she corrected: Americans think they know everything while the correct thing is ‘Cham Elyses’.“ It was again an enigma to me. I still don’t know till today what is the real one.
“What are you intended to do there?”
“I want to go to the show room of ‘REVLON’ and I want to visit ‘Arch of Triumph.’
“Why ?” It was the smallest question that had ever been asked and demanded a miles long answer.
“My friend’s wife is a connoisseur of fashion and Paris and wanted me to get for the lip-sitck ’Very Very Chocolate.’ For my wife I will buy ‘Rose’; and ’Arch of Triumph’ is a monument I dreamed to see since my childhood.”
“You see ’REVLON’ was a very small company founded in the midst of Great Depression in 1932 by Charles Revson. He started with a single product - a new enamel; and in six years the company became the multi-million dollar organization. In 1950, they introduced the Red lip-stick and cleverly named it - ’Where’s the Fire” and that is what you are selecting for your wife.” I realized then and there what an archaic person I am.
We had reached our destination as the wide and well groomed streets of ’Champs Elysees’ were visible with all their glory.
We got down and I thanked the benevolent lady for all her enlightenment. As I was saying adieu to my friend she gave me a parting shot - “ Down the street is ’Place de la Concorde’ and Americans and Indians call it CONCORD. It is actually ’Coon cor de.’
‘Mersee Madam.” Thanks ! It was so nice to see you. Very rare we meet such people.