TRA­VEL

| Not usual­ly a fan of the French ca­pi­tal, Lu­cy Kel­la­way won­ders if its first floa­ting hotel - com­plete with in­fla­tables - will change her mind

La Presse Business (Tunisia) - - SOMMAIRE - By Lu­cy Kel­la­way, Ft-Pa­ris

ROCK THE BOAT

Around the in­fi­ni­ty pool couples sat at orange tables ea­ting a late break­fast in the sun. Legs were long and tan­ned. A couple of stubble-chin­ned men mo­ved to the pool’s edge and dan­gled their feet in­to the wa­ter, beyond which was more wa­ter. Elec­tro mu­sic played. It might have been Ibi­za. But then there was a rumble and a pale green me­tro train rat­tled its way over a migh­ty iron bridge a few yards away. None of the beau­ti­ful people rai­sed their heads from their pain au cho­co­lat or crêpes. No one see­med sur­pri­sed, and well they might not be, as the trains on the M5 line pass that way over the Seine eve­ry mi­nute or so. Pa­ris is meant to be the most ro­man­tic ci­ty on earth - a la­bel that my own mul­tiple ex­pe­riences of the place have ne­ver sup­por­ted - yet here were all these couples put­ting up a jol­ly good show of ha­ving a ro­man­tic time. The catch was that they were doing so by pre­ten­ding to be so­mew­here else. The OFF Pa­ris Seine, which ope­ned a fort­night ago, is the ci­ty’s first floa­ting hotel. And at least when the sun shines - as it mi­ra­cu­lous­ly did when we were there - you can close your eyes, lis­ten to the wa­ter (and the trains), or­der a mo­ji­to and be whe­re­ver you like. Even though my daugh­ter and I we­ren’t at­temp­ting ro­mance, I was still per­fect­ly hap­py to pre­tend to be spen­ding the wee­kend el­sew­here. Since seeing the ci­ty for the first time as a tee­na­ger and mar­vel­ling at its beau­ty, I’ve al­ways felt let down by Pa­ris, and sen­sed it felt let down by me. My French isn’t good en­ough; I’m not chic en­ough. I ne­ver find anyw­here nice to eat. I al­ways end up stan­ding in queues for gal­le­ries and then get­ting so frus­tra­ted that I aban­don the exer­cise before rea­ching the front. Since Eu­ro­tun­nel ope­ned I’ve li­ked Pa­ris even less as the splen­dour of St Pan­cras is still fresh in my mind as I ar­rive in the grub­by squa­lor of Gare du Nord. This time I re­sol­ved it would be dif­ferent. No ex­pec­ta­tions. We would plan no­thing and just walk. So we am­bled along the pret­ty Ca­nal Saint-Mar­tin ad­mi­ring the ima­gi­na­tive mu­ni­ci­pal plan­ting schemes. We wan­de­red in­to the Père La­chaise ce­me­te­ry and paid our res­pects to Chopin and Os­car Wilde before hea­ding to­wards the ri­ver. Off is hou­sed in a large floa­ting barge co­ve­red in slat­ted ho­ri­zon­tal strips of wood, in a slight­ly un­pre­pos­ses­sing po­si­tion bet­ween the Gare de Lyon and Gare d’Aus­ter­litz. In­side it is light and if one ignores the large cop­per re­cep­tion desk and the faux suede chairs, it is, if not exact­ly tas­te­ful, then not ob­jec­tio­nable, ei­ther. An ex­ci­ted young wo­man clad in a white po­lo shirt and loo­king more like a phy­sio­the­ra­pist than a re­cep­tio­nist led us downs­tairs in­to a long cen­tral cor­ri­dor in which woo­den benches and gold bean­bags were ar­ran­ged in al­ter­na­ting rows. No one sat there, and I doubt if they ever will. Our room, which ope­ned off the cen­tral space, was al­most en­ti­re­ly filled with a bed and a sho­wer, which the girl proud­ly ex­plai­ned could be lit in any co­lour you like. Out­side, through a pic­ture win­dow filling a whole wall, was the Seine, with a com­man­ding view of the SNCF of­fice block op­po­site. Still, the re­flec­ted light from the wa­ter - no lon­ger dir­ty and full of small brown fish - dap­pled the walls, the boat swayed a lit­tle and we lay hap­pi­ly on the bed and read. There was none of that guil­ty fee­ling that says you should be queueing at the Mu­sée d’Or­say. Ins­tead, we stir­red our­selves on­ly to go ups­tairs and sit by the pool with a glass of ro­sé before get­ting off OFF and re­joi­ning Pa­ris. There, we strol­led through the lo­ve­ly Jar­din des Plantes and en­ded up in the La­tin Quar­ter, which was eve­ry bit as taw­dry as last time I vi­si­ted. Too foot­sore to try to find the per­fect res­tau­rant, we dum­ped our­selves down at one on a cor­ner, where, as if in re­pay­ment for all the bad meals I’ve had in Pa­ris, I was gi­ven a de­li-

cious one. Af­ter­wards, my daugh­ter felt suf­fi­cient­ly on ho­li­day to buy a pa­cket of ci­ga­rettes, and ins­tead of chas­ti­sing her I was filled with such gay aban­don I sat on the pa­ve­ment and smo­ked half of one my­self. Back in the hotel, the bar was pa­cked with more beau­ti­ful couples drin­king and ga­zing at each other, so we tur­ned in. I had cho­sen to take my sho­wer green, which was most un­flat­te­ring to my flesh, so I tried purple ins­tead, which was no bet­ter. Still, the bed was com­for­table and the sway ro­cked me to sleep, where I might have stayed all night were it not for a boom-da-da-boom drum beat and rau­cous party that burst to life in the small hours. By 4am, mur­de­rous and slee­pless, I star­ted cra­shing around the room in the dark trying to find the in­ter­com to ring re­cep­tion and shout. My daugh­ter as­su­red me that there was no­thing to be done as the party was on a boat par­ked op­po­site, and sug­ges­ted I get back in bed and ignore it. Which I res­pec­ti­ve­ly did and didn’t. Even­tual­ly it stop­ped and I slept, wa­king late the next mor­ning to blue skies and lap­ping wa­ter and a fee­ling of slight di­so­rien­ta­tion. Was I on a beach ho­li­day or was I in Pa­ris? To set­tle the mat­ter I went back on deck for a plunge in the in­fi­ni­ty pool. The wa­ter hard­ly came up to my waist and was 4ft wide and about 15 long; a length could have been swum in four strokes were it not for a giant in­fla­table gold swan that en­ti­re­ly oc­cu­pied one end of the pool. I got out ba­re­ly a mi­nute after I’d got in, wat­ched with in­sou­ciance by the ro­man­cing couples. After break­fast, as we sat and bas­ked in the sun, I won­de­red what OFF would be like on the ma­jo­ri­ty of days a year when the wea­ther is al­so a bit off. Then it wouldn’t be Ibi­za-en-Seine. It might just be a barge in the middle of a ri­ver with slight­ly dod­gy fur­ni­ture and nas­ty cof­fee from a ma­chine. But as it was, we left in the best spi­rits and wal­ked by the side of the Seine past Notre Dame, which ne­ver loo­ked lo­ve­lier, all the way to In­va­lides. And then, fee­ling no par­ti­cu­lar com­pul­sion to do so, drop­ped in on the Gus­tave Mo­reau mu­seum, which tur­ned out to be char­ming, co­ol and emp­ty. I al­most star­ted li­king sym­bo­lism on the strength of it. Round the cor­ner in Rue des Mar­tyrs we stop­ped off and bought the best apri­cot sor­bet I’ve ever had, and ar­ri­ved at Gare du Nord in lots of time. Once in­side we were ins­tant­ly back in bad old Pa­ris. So­meone had left an unat­ten­ded bag and we were in the middle of pu­shing, sho­ving se­cu­ri­ty alert. Fil­thy, crow­ded, shou­ting, boi­ling hot, a most un­plea­sant hour pas­sed; but when fi­nal­ly ins­tal­led on a new Eu­ros­tar train, our good humour re­tur­ned. We’d been in Ibi­za and in Pa­ris and were a bit sun­bur­ned and just a lit­tle cultu­red, and were being trans­por­ted with speed and com­fort back to St Pan­cras..

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