Thursday, 17 November 2011

Dos and Don'ts, Parisienne-style

This was written just before I left Paris; I've been back in Riyadh for a little while now.

Things I do like about Paris? That’s easy.

I like the way we head out early each morning to explore and it’s so cold that I pull my coat tightly around me. Then ten minutes of brisk walking later, I am suddenly toasty warm all over and loving the fresh autumn air in my face.

I love the old buildings. And the way that around every corner there is another church. They are stark silhouettes against a cold sky. Only the leaping gargoyles break the monotony of straight line and symmetry.

And the music. We tiptoed into St Severens yesterday at midday as mass was ending. The portly nun up the front was waving her arms as she led the sung congregational responses. Hearing her voice resonating over and around us, I felt that I too belonged in this place, despite the unfamiliar language and Catholic ritual.

And what I don’t like?

I don’t like the woman in the bold yellow coat and black patent stilettos beside me at the lights, puffing great swathes of cigarette smoke into my face. Young people here gather in large cigarette smoking groups, defying the non-smoking signs. I find myself wondering what the collective noun might be that would describe them.

A puff of smokers, perhaps?

And then there are the beggars and the homeless. They are by the metro, beside shops and on the steps of churches. They sleep in doorways, in parks and on benches. Yesterday morning I passed an elderly man seated on a bench among a pile of grey blankets, combing his beard. The day before it was a blind man in the Marais area standing outside a synagogue, one hand outstretched the other holding a cane.

High fashion on one hand, the dispossessed on the other.

But today is Friday. We’re heading to the airport, leaving my likes and dislikes behind. It’s time to return to Riyadh.

Tomorrow I will have to put on my abaya. There will be the usual 5.30am start, and the usual drive to work where the traffic is nothing like Paris.

It's a very different picture.

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