Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Okay, so here I am at the Ibis Hotel, Charles de Gaule Airport, a strange, concrete no-man's land in the middle of runways and revolving radars, where anonymous travellers congregate to swagger like the sophisticated world travellers they aren't. A fat guy with his low-slung jeans revealing his Marks and Sparks knickers (British, of course). A skinny woman with skint knees and wrists, clutching her elbow crutches and hobbling to her table ahead of a strained looking husband. A holiday mishap? They are joined by another couple, with a child. Everyone looks strained. Children do that to you.

I'm in the restaurant, having dinner. There's another group at the next table - two couples, one of which has a little girl of about three. She is wielding markers pens like spears and shrieking tribal mantras at the ceiling. The childless couple have fixed smiles on their faces. This is obviously a departure. If it had been a return, there would have been murder in their eyes. The joys that await them!

I turn to the plate in front of me. My last taste of confit de canard. Actually, it's not bad. The waiter asked me if I was staying at the hotel when he showed me to my table. I almost said, "Would I be eating here if I wasn't?" But bit my tongue. It's not good to be rude before the meal.

The thing that's puzzling me is the chips. Frites. French fries. They look to me like the kind of chips you get in British pubs. The frozen variety, re-fried. Crisp on the outside. Empty inside. How is it possible? I suppose someone must actually have invented the hollow chip. All the potato sucked out from the interior. A money-saving measure? The only ones that taste any good are the ones beneath the duck which have soaked up the duck fat. Hmmmmmm.

I glance across at the spear-wielding child. The parents are fat, Germanic-looking. But they're French. The mother has arrived back from the buffet table with the biggest plate of food I have ever seen. The Mount Everest of entrées. She sees me looking at it and doesn't even blush. Greedy and proud of it!

The thing I'm learning about travelling alone, and knowing that I'm going to write a journal, is that it's making me more observant ("What Japanese gentlemen?" - see Graham Greene). Normally, La Patronne et moi travel in spendid togetherness, and from our position of absolute perfection, pass relentless critical comment on those around us. Now I can only share my view of the world with my journal.

And I have to say, already I'm fed up wearing the kilt. I feel like a European in China. Everyone's eye is drawn. Some of them look away quickly, and you can see the thought bubbles screaming, THAT GUY'S WEARING A SKIRT, DON'T LOOK, DON'T LOOK! Then there are those who can't take their eyes off me. And when they catch my eye struggle to stifle their giggles. On the Paris metro, and on the RER out to the airport, complete strangers come together in common communion, nodding incredulously in my direction and passing vocal comment as if I'm deaf, or can't understand French. When they see me looking, they smile and nod, and I smile and nod back, and when they disappear into the crowds on the platform I hear their sniggering echoing along the tunnel. Why does my national dress reduce grown men to giggling schoolgirls?

Oh, well, another five weeks of it ahead of me.

There's Wi-Fi here in the hotel. If I can figure out how to use it I'll upload this tonight. If not, it'll have to be Chicago.

Now a couple of pics of my departure courtesy of La Patronne...


5 comments:

Janice said...

They weren't laughing at you, they were probably just saying; "Aha... quel bel homme dans une jupe! Evidemment il est un travesti, comme Eddie Izzard! Tu souviens la plaisanterie d'Eddie au tour de le singe sur la branche? Je mourais rire! Il est vraiment drole!"

ARGIL said...

Les hôtels Ibis ne sont réputés ni pour leur charme, ni pour leur chic, ni pour leur cuisine. Mais tu as peut-être regretté leurs frites creuses en découvrirant le plateau qu'on t'a servi dans l'avion...

John said...

You need longer socks...that's why they were sniggering at you.

Janice said...

Aye but it's sweltering here, by the way. Ye cannae wear big woolly Scottish socks in the French summer heat!

Bacon Man said...

Don't worry. Minneapolis / St.Paul are like the two legs descending from a kilt. A good foundation for the commencement de la grand tour.
Caissez un jamb