It was hard leaving Wales. But it was a farewell laced with excitement as I caught a bus to Heathrow and boarded a British Airways flight to Paris. I had never been to France and had originally intended to spend the first two days swanning around Paris while Andrew toured various French oil facilities. An invitation to spend an evening with a colleague and his wife in their Provence holiday home changed my plans.
We stayed overnight in an airport hotel, rising for an early morning flight to Montpellier. In between obligatory site visits, we drove through Marseilles and Avignone, glimpsed coastal villages and the jewelled sparkle of the Mediterranean Sea. Ate a memorable dinner with our French hosts and stayed in a charming little guest house. The next day, we wove our way up into the mountains, taking in famous Tour de France sights, abbeys, tawny hill top villages, orchards, rivers and fields of newly cut lavender. It was a detour worth the effort, though I was dog tired from my week of bootcamp and, to my secret amusement, found myself translating everything from English into Welsh and then back again.
Once back in Paris, we were hit by a tidal wave of tourists. Queues to most attractions were about three hours long. We quickly decided we were not going to waste our time standing in line. We hired bikes and cycled around the main sights of the city, I did a Wego walking tour which was an absolute highlight, took in the view from Sacre Coeur and missed the last admission to the Catacombes. Paris is undeniably beautiful. The language a sheer delight to hear. I found myself surprised by how much meaning I could derive from written French (approximately a third of English words are derived from the French language).
Spoken French was a different matter. After asking one Metro assitant for help and receiving a polite reply, I found myself none the wiser. The words on the map simply did not correspond to the sounds he had made. Fortunately, the Metro is colour coded, like the London Underground. You only need to know the towns at each end of the line and at what point your stop lies in between and voila! You can go anywhere.
At one point an elderly French woman told us we were on the wrong train. She spoke only in French but I knew what she was saying. I also suspected we were on the correct train. When the next station confirmed this, she apologised, and told us she was, infact, in error. From this, I learned a valuable lesson. Language is all about context. With gestures, setting and a few common words, we had managed to have a mutually beneficial conversation.
The most anticipated event of time in Paris was a show at the Moulin Rouge. It was also an evening that drove fear into our hearts. The tickets were a gift, you see, and, when it comes to important events we don’t have a good track record. We once lined up for the Spirit of Tasmania at wrong time and date. On another occasion, we missed a crusie on Sydney harbour due to our joint incompetence. We were therefore twitchy as rabbits about our tickets for the Moulin Rouge.
We checked the date of our show a number of times. Set out at six for a nine o’clock performance, arriving at our destination a good two and a half hours prior to the performance. We sat eating dinner in sight of the Moulin Rouge. At seven forty-five we checked the tickets one more time. The show was called Feerie, just as it said in the billboard in front of us. We would receive free champagne. The date was also right. The sixth of August but… the time said 20:00 hours
We stared at each other bug eyed. Checked our watches. It was ten to eight. We were going to miss the beginning of the show. We jumped up paid the bill in rude and record time, dashed across the street, and stood squabbling in line.
‘It was your fault.’
‘No yours. You should have checked.’
‘If we’d missed it you’d have had to confess.’
‘Not way! I’d have lied.’
As it turns out, the show didn’t start until nine o’clock. And though rather risqué, it was worth every minute of heart pounding lead up. The costumes, the lighting, the dancing, the singing, the circus acts, the rippling bare flesh were all amazing. Though when one of the topless women jumped into a swimming pool full of writhing snakes I thought, thank God, I work in the library.
On the walk home, Andrew and I debated the scanties of the women’s costumes. He claimed, it was a cross cultural thing. In France, indeed in Europe, people are more comfortable with nudity. I conceded this point, though from a feminist viewpoint, I don’t think the argument adds up. If it did, the men would also have taken their clothes off. They didn’t. Not even a mankini. Which suggests talent isn’t the only pre-requisite for a lead female dancer at the Moulin Rouge.