Paris not al­ways the city of light


It is 10pm. The build­ing is in dark­ness as, look­ing for­ward to a hot shower and comfy bed, we stand at the wrought­iron front door of our Paris ac­com­mo­da­tion, punch­ing in the en­try code by phone light. Once in­side the apart­ment block we grope for the hall light marked “lu­miere”, which we soon dis­cover blinks out if not given an­other jab.

The lift be­ing smaller than a tiny li­nen press, it is nec­es­sary to make sev­eral trips to get our­selves and our lug­gage to the apart­ment, all the while run­ning back and forth to ac­ti­vate “lu­miere”. Once at the top, it is time to grope around un­der the car­pet for the key. Be­ing on hands and knees at the top of six flights of cir­cu­lar stair­case in the mid­dle of the night when the light goes out tends to sharpen the senses. The key is found and in­serted in the lock, but the door proves stub­bornly re­sis­tant to all our pleas for “en­tree”, so I take the lift to the ground floor in search of the concierge. I rap loudly on her door with, “Bon­soir, Madame”. Noth­ing.

Mean­time, the spouse per­sists and gets the door to co­op­er­ate. That isn’t the end of it, how­ever, oh non. It is now time to read the man­ual on how to op­er­ate the apart­ment. Mid­night is fast ap­proach­ing, the witch­ing hour when all right-think­ing brains are in power-sav­ing mode. So the half dozen or so in­struc­tions we need to fol­low to get the gas hot wa­ter sys­tem op­er­at­ing de­feat us. A short tantrum, a night’s sleep, a new dawn and a hot shower later, we step out into the op­ti­mistic morn in search of the oblig­a­tory coffee and crois­sants.

On the way out I no­tice the “concierge’s” door I banged on last night is the door to the garbage bins. No mat­ter, the sun is shin­ing, Paris beck­ons. A short walk finds us in a rec­om­mended bak­ery. De­ter­mined to use my school­girl French, the Parisians lined up be­hind me are de­lighted to hear me ask the wo­man be­hind the counter, “Par­lez-vous Fran­cais?” as she ap­pears to me ob­vi­ously not of French ori­gin. In per­fect English she replies that of course she speaks French but also English (if that is of any help, Madame). All as­sem­bled crack up at my ex­pense, but I’m de­lighted to be part of the mo­ment. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­ Columnists will re­ceive a beau­ti­fully boxed set of a dozen 2ml vials of woody, flo­ral and spicy scents from in­ter­na­tional fra­grance house Amouage; $110. More: lib­ertinepar­

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