Saturday, January 14, 2006

Oh! Champs Elysees!

While I was growing up the television didn't have any soaps on it - it was mostly a four hour slot which screened some programs for farmers, some documentaries and a movie on Sundays. So the next best alternative was to read - whatever I could lay my hands on. Reader's Digest was a regular feature in our house and it had a series on Napoleon at one point of time. I remember reading about Josephine, his victories, Waterloo and his alleged arsenic poisoning while he was held captive. I even dreamt of driving down the road that led to Arc de Triomphe. At that time I did not know that road was called Champs Elysees - the most romantic avenue in the whole world.

My dream came true in the most wonderful way. I got an opportunity to travel to France for work, it was a small city called Grenoble in east of France quite closed to the famed Mont Blanc peak. I went to Paris on a weekend by TGV which was an awesome experience, managed to find my way to the hotel, checked in, dumped my bags and set out immediately.

No sunny skies and no lover at my side, I set out to explore the world's most romantic city. It was drizzling and I didn't have an umbrella so I tied my muffler around my head and hoped I would not be chilled to the bone. It was just the week before Christmas and it was rather cold, I took the metro to Place de la Concorde and emerged right at the beginning of Champs Elysees all ready to walk up and down and explore it thoroughly. The sight was truly amazing, tall trees lining both sides, broad sidewalks with Christmas decorations and lights which would come on in the night. It was thrilling; to say the least, to walk past the world's most famous names in fashion... I revel in doing some serious window shopping as I dare not enter these shops with just 800 Euros in my pocket!

A rather strange incident forced me to enter the Louis Vuitton store off Champs Elysees and I will be ever grateful to the Chinese gentleman who made it happen. While I was walking down, a Chinese gentleman approached me and said "Please can you help me? I am from Asia and I need some help...” I was of course well warned to not to talk to strangers so I walked on. Seeing the only English speaking prospect walk away, this gentleman said "You just have to buy a bag for me from that shop ... its Christmas and they won’t sell more than 2 bags to one person". I stopped and decided to give it a shot; I could always walk away or refuse if something didn't seem right. He showed me a catalogue and said "Buy two of these" and gave me 1000 Euro note and said that he would wait at the corner of the street.

Louis Vuitton was very impressive on the inside who obviously did not entertain riff raff like me but I bravely walked right in and said I wanted some bags for ladies. A very smartly dressed store manager appeared instantly and told me crisply that many Chinese people were asking people on the street to come in and buy things from the store who were in all probability nothing but smugglers and hence the store would not sell any goods in cash. I was rather crushed but said that I would like to see some wallets. I was led to another counter and shown wallets suiting the sizes of currency in India. I asked the price and managed not to flinch when the salesman replied. The temptation to buy was very great but I thought about all the other things I had to buy and steeled myself to resist the urge. I asked whether they had a calculator and asked them to multiply the amount by 55. The figure came to a whopping Rs 20,000! I shrugged and waved by hands dismissively and said "In my country I can buy a TV with that money" and marched out.

My next worry was to find the thug and hand him over the 1000 Euro note. Thankfully I found him right at the corner and told him politely that I could not manage to buy what he wanted and returned the money. I continued with my walk, passed several small cafes, peered in to see men and women having coffee and chatting animatedly. I could not figure out what they were eating though. It drizzled steadily and I dug my hands deeper in my pocket and walked on and finally reached the great monument - Arc de Triomphe which was a beautiful sight. I crossed the street and stood right in the middle on the road divider for 10 whole minutes and soaked in every detail, after all my dream was coming true. I cross the rest of the street and plan to walk back down on the other side.

The other side was livelier, had more shops and more people. Perhaps many people had come from other parts of France to see Paris and were enjoying a walk down Champs Elysees as I was. I see many children singing "Oh Champs Elysees" and dancing around. I make up my mind to enter the Morgan de Toi shop which promises a 25% discount. Stylishly (and skimpily) dressed women attend to me and I go right ahead and indulge myself and buy myself scraps of Parisian fashion. Pleased with my bargains I walk down to a large perfume store called Marionnaude (I think) and am tempted to buy the whole store but finally stick to 5 bottles of perfume. I walk on and buy a Swiss watch from a French store and almost bump into an elaborately dressed bespectacled Indian holding a plaque called 'Kashmir'. Apparently 'Kashmir' is an Indian restaurant which was trying to attract customers by curiosity value, placing this gaudily dressed person on the sidewalk.

More cafes and the wafting smells make me hungry but I have no time to stop for a bite. I see a long queue in from of what seems to be a movie hall and Aishwarya Rai beams from one poster - Bride and Prejudice running in French I suppose. Is there no escape from that plastic smile I ask myself and come to a halt in front of the famed Lido. Unfortunately there are no shows at that time of the day, I am disappointed but next time I promise myself to see the Can Can at the Moulin Rouge.

My walk down Champs Elysees ends and I hurriedly walk to Place de Pyramide from where I am to catch a 'Paris by Night' bus tour. The evening shadows lengthen to night as Paris comes alive with its beautiful lights. The bus slowly bends round the corner and the tour guide says 'Ladies and gentlemen, feast your eyes on the world's most beautiful avenue - Avenue de Champs Elysees" The trees lining the avenue were lit up with thousands of bulbs, the Christmas decorations were lighted up to create the effect of snow and in a distance Arc de Triomphe standing illuminated in its majestic glory. It was truly the most wonderful sight ever...


abhijit said...

Every foreign country that you visit, you can never resist multiplying the amount by the exchange rate.

I was in jcpenney yesterday. Similar experience. However I did buy the shirts. After all, there was a 70% discount going on for Martin Luther King. ;)

Marie said...

I have read your page with a lot of curiosity and have had ... a lot of fun.
You're right! I really can SEE you when walking down the Champs Elysées, under the heavy rain, in the night, but with all this crowd and all the lights. Really, I was with you reading this.

Hope we'll find an opportunity, one day, to visit Paris, or Mumbai, or Grenoble, together. In Paris, I would go with you to Notre-Dame. My best memory there is a Dec., 31st, at midnight. We were just walking with friends in Paris and arrived in front of the Cathedral at the 12th stroke (?) of the bell. Everybody stopped for just 2 or 3 seconds, then shouted: "Happy New Year", kissing each other, hugging tourists, handshaking strangers. It was a real moment of joy and peace.
You would have loved it!

Anonymous said...

Hi there, read about ur story on Champs Elysses..... was just wondering if u could share ur views of what all is there in Champs elysses that makes it one of the best shopping streets in the world... just jotted points would do.... oh I forgot the reason i am asking this favour...actually I an MBA student (Indian) and participating in competition by HBR china(Harvard Business Review)and have to work on suggesting how to rebuild NAnjing road (in Shanghais Jingan District) for comparison was looking at the attributes which make 5th avenue in NYC(USA), and Champs Elysees so successful... Would apprciate if u could help in this email id is looking forward to your mail ...:))