NAIROBI, August 19- Last week I gave an account of the escapades that my fiancé and I had at the French countryside and which I could only describe as “heavenly”.
After a week of warm, glorious sunshine, rich food, wine, love and laughter, it was time to travel to the capital city, Paris.
We left the town of Gray on a bus (the same one that left every day with or without passengers- strange, why bother going all the way to Dijon if you had no passengers?). However, I was informed that they were contracted to do so and they did so out of integrity! This just brought to mind the Kenyan transport system, and imagining, matatus adopting the same principle….whoa!
We rode on the bus to Dijon to catch our connecting speed train to Paris, (that for some reason went backwards!). We got to Paris in a remarkable two and a half hours, considering we travelled a distance of more than 260 kilometres! On arriving at the station we took the metro to Rue de Rivoli, where we would be living.
It being smack in the middle of the summer, there were many tourists milling around the city, keeping the shops and entertainment places open conveniently late. During this season, Parisians let out their homes as they travel out of Paris on vacation. This is like the concept in the movie “Perfect Holiday” with Camezon Diaz where the lead actress stayed in a quaint cottage in France and rented out her Californian home, and found love in the process, I might as well add! As for me, I was already with the love of my life who had organised for us to stay in a family friend’s house as she and her son were on holiday on a remote island in the Mediterranean.
I will add that the Europeans take their holidays very seriously as we witnessed with the quantity and variety of tourists, as well as the stark absence of the locals who were also away on their own holiday.
The apartment where we stayed was situated right next to shops like Guess and Mango among others (imagine my excitement!!). This was quite odd as even though it was a fantastic location, one would hardly think that it was a residential area. Big tall blue doors greeted us, and behind them was a completely different world. A round courtyard with perfectly manicured lawns and flowers ushered us into a foyer with a round staircase that went up two flights to our apartment.
The residence was in one word, breathtaking, and I don’t mean OUR idea of wealth but I sensed a different kind of wealth here. It felt like the owner was happy and content with her life and herself; a big red couch in one corner, four floor lamps differently situated, interesting art work adorning the walls, from Japanese paintings to Dutch clogs on the window sill, and books, books, books everywhere. As I took it all in I recalled reading a book once where the author interviewed a journalist who said that her interior décor was books. Such was this space.
Charming knick knacks were stacked everywhere; a poster from Bali on a wall here, a pair of figurines on a table there, a bedroom bursting with rugs of colour from all over the world, African drums in the corner and what seemed to be Egyptian tapestry lay on the floor. There were tickets stuck on the wall from a visit to India and it seemed apparent that the owner of this space valued travel, literature and good art above all else. Surprisingly, all traces of her son were limited to his upstairs room, but that is a personal thing I suppose.
There were also plants everywhere that gave the house a lovely feeling of being outside while inside and of course the famous French windows that opened the apartment out to the world making it feel bigger than it was. It is said that to truly get a feel of a people’s culture you need to actually live their lives and in voyeuristic way I felt I was.
My time in Paris was amazing, awe-inspiring and featured visits to the River Seine and the bridge over it, the Arc De Triomph, the Notre Dame from whence the Hunchback stories came, the Champs-Elysses where I spent hours in the Louis Vuitton store wondering if I should spend the GDP of a small nation on a handbag! We visited the Louvre, the many Famous Gardens, the famous white Church, art exhibitions, the huge Musee d’Orsay, and also experienced the night life of Paris, that gives the city its name (City of Lights).
Like the typical tourist, I got to see the Eiffel Tower which deserves every cliché ever written about it – in its majestic steel enormity, a must see! I was fortunate to experience all the famous Parisian sights but I am afraid I am just not good enough at putting all those emotions and feelings and colour into words, so just trust me when I say, it was magnificent!
One stark observation I made during my interaction with French food and culture, is that the French are very proud of their identities, and that makes French tourism an easy thing to market, because of that pride and sense of ownership and identity. I thought about our delicious Kenyan or African cuisine, and how it is rarely available internationally. Yet in almost any major African capital you will find French, Asian or American cuisine. Sushi is more famous than any African dish, yet it’s not even cooked for crying out loud!
French dressing is another cultural aspect to write about. Paris is often dubbed “the fashion capital of with world”. I have never seen a weirder, more eccentrically dressed population in my life, and coming from me, it is in the extreme (many of my friends and workmates find my dressing very peculiar). The French will never apologise for their fashion style as they love to be ‘so French’ with no excuses about it!
Theories come a dime a dozen that we Africans are suffering some form of inferiority complex, but I admit I was more proud to be African in France than I am at home. Was it because the French flaunted their culture in my face that reactively saw me reciprocating with my own culture? C’est possible!
One thing that this trip brought out of me is the desire to improve our sense of culture and lifestyle back in Kenya, Uganda, or any other African country. At home we should wear our African style with pride and flaunt it in tourists’ faces. Our local markets, such as Maasai markets should not have to rely solely on tourist dollars to stay afloat. As Africans we need to invest and digest our culture, before it becomes extinct!
There is much about my trip that I have left out and I realise now what a difficult undertaking it is to write about a trip let alone one to France – I pray I have done it justice but I know I have fallen short of the glory so perchance I can beseech you to plan a visit and return with your version of this amazing City.