L’axe Historique Part 3

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They say all good things come in threes and just like successful Hollywood movies like Back To The Future and Lord Of The Rings, I guess this shall be the final masterstroke to my commentary on the Axe Historique.

I believe I left you at the Place de la Concorde where the mammoth Obelisk still stands. Let me share a little about your immediate surroundings before we carry on towards the last stretch of this lengthy axis. Right now, you should be standing in the middle of the two beautiful Fontaines de la Concorde that represent navigation and commerce, and in front of you, in the distance, is the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile. As you look to your right, a peculiar building with several flags sticking out of its roof, camouflages itself with another similar-looking one along the road. This is the Hotel de Crillon, one of the oldest luxury hotels in the world. It is said that one night’s stay at its presidential suites would burn at least a 3000-Euro hole in your pocket. However, there exists a way where you can actually stay for FREE for 3 nights at this lavish hotel! How?

Simple.

Win the annual Tour de France. Seriously.

The winner of the most prestigious biking competition would always be rewarded with a complimentary stay. Incidentally, the end point of the race would often be at the Place de la Concorde. In addition, the lucky man, as though the prestige and pride of being a world champion is not enough, would be given the privilege to hang a flag of his choice at one of the rooftop flag staffs during his stay. Interestingly, seven-time Tour de France winner, American Lance Armstrong, never once hung the stars and stripes at the hotel. For inexplicable reasons, the flag that he perpetually hangs is that of the state flag of Texas. WTF? Somehow some Texans do behave like the Catalans of Spain. To make matters worse, the adjacent twin building is the US Embassy….

Anyway, let’s turn your attention back to the Axe Historique. Now do take note that the street that your feet are stepping on towards the unmissable Arc de Triomphe, is that of ‘holy’ ground. Well…at least to me. The Champs Elysees is a re-creation of the Elysian Fields – an ancient Roman belief of a place where heroic souls will go in the afterlife where peace and happiness exist in abundance. In the past, the bodies of gloriously dead French war heroes would be ceremoniously paraded down the avenue before taking a right to the Les Invalides for their rightful burial. This is where the Great Napolean lays rested but I’ll tell you more about this impressive building next time.

The Avenue des Champs Elysees is frequently touted as the most beautiful avenue in the world but just about a week ago, a real shocker came through the news – The Champs Elysees was not even ranked in the top 10 shopping streets on the entire planet!

In a survey conducted by French mystery shopping firm, Presence, this historical street where the likes of Prada and Gucci welcome distinguished customers, scored considerably well in atmosphere and helpful, friendly passers-by; but failed miserably in customer service. Apparently, mystery shoppers reported evidence of annoyance being showed by a number of sales assistants. Sighhhh….my dear Parisians whom I’ve often defended against those false accusations….I’m so disappointed….

But would you want to guess the Number One shopping street of 2011?

Orchard Road of Singapore. No kidding. Oh. My. God.

Really? This people-packed street with tacky Christmas decorations? This character-less stretch that floods during the monsoon months? Really?!?!?!

OK. This is weird. I’m a Singaporean and I think I need to see a therapist. Woww…

Annnnnywaaaaay, a trip to Paris will not be completed without a visit to the Arc de Triomphe, the triumphal arch that Emperor Napolean commissioned but would not live to see its completion. This arch is one of the largest of its kind and is only surpassed in size by its unfortunate cousin in North Korea. Damn you Kim Jong Il! It is, nonetheless, worth it to pay a small fee to scale to its top where a 360-degree view of Paris awaits you.  (For some amusing stories of the Arc de Triomphe, do check out my earlier post, titled “Ironies In French History”)

As you gaze down the concluding route of the Axe Historique, the Grande Arch de la Defense marks its end. This modern arch that symbolises humanity and humanitarian ideals, was another one of Francois Mitterrand’s Grands Projets. Constructed in 1989, this is, I believe, the biggest arch in the world. Unfortunately the viewing platform has since been closed since April 2010 after a minor accident in the elevator.

Well…it is time for me to bid adieu to my 3-part literary concerto. I hope I have gave you enough to enjoy Paris for a day. For now, please savour Paris on my behalf and for me….yesss….where is that therapist? I would prefer a French….

 

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L’axe Historique Part 2

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So where was I? Ahhh…yes…the Louvre. The enchanting Louvre…After spending a good half a day at this great museum, you would most probably depart via the main exit under the glass pyramid. You may wish to hang a round a little longer in this sprawling underground shopping centre but the likes of MacDonald’s and France’s biggest Apple Store aren’t very Parisian, if you know what I mean.

The view from under the pyramid would serve as an opportune moment to take some interesting shots from different perspectives before continuing your Axe Historique journey. Interestingly, although most of the world would often remember the Louvre for its majestic central pyramid that draws much visual attention, Parisians were initially skeptical and some were even outraged when the plan was being decided to ‘modernise’ the Louvre in the late 80s. You see….for over 200 years, the historical, nostalgic character of the museum laid unperturbed; but a certain Francois Mitterand – France’s 21st President rolled out a grand plan to revitalise Paris with his multi-million dollar Grands Projets.

The Louvre, being one of his architectural targets, was placed in the hands of a Chinese American architect – I.M. Pei.

What?! The home of France’s cultural history to be redesigned by a non-French?!

My sentiments exactly.

Unfortunately, rumour has it that I.M. Pei oversold his idea and eventually under-delivered because the original proposition was to have all the pyramids in the Louvre’s courtyard to be constructed of reinforced glass without any ugly structural placements. The steel girder spiderwebs that you see now are mere afterthoughts after Pei concluded that the use of pure glass panels would be structurally unstable. What a genius…

Anyway, let’s bring the Louvre behind us and by now, you would be staring at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. One of two triumphal arches in the country, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel is only half the size of its bigger, more famous cousin down the Axe Historique. However,  this arch was born a good 30 years before the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile. Built during the time of Napolean I, this ‘mini-arch’ was modeled after the Arch of Constantine in Rome. But unlike its Italian predecessor, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel was built to commemorate all the military and diplomatic victories by the Great Napolean, hence the statue of him right on top riding a chariot with four horses.

As you walk past the arch, you will approach a spacious public park called the Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden). This beautiful garden was designed by THE Andre Le Notre – The Chief Landscape Architect and royal gardener during the reign of Louis XIV. Created in 1664, the Tuileries Garden was actually part of a Tuileries Palace that once stood along its sides. However, due to the messy Paris Commune, this Palace, which would have extended the length of the Louvre by almost twice, was sadly destroyed by fire by twelve crazy French Communists in 1871. Damn you Marxists!

Apparently, there have been talks of plans to rebuild the Tuileries Palace but for now, just walk a little further to admire the gift the Egyptians gave to France in 1833. This is the Luxor Obelisk, one of two obelisks that Viceroy Muhammad Ali Pasha of Egypt gifted to King Louis-Philippe and taken from the Luxor Temple. Originally both the phallic monuments were to be given to France but the second one was kinda stuck in Egypt for hell of a long time (for more than a bleedy century!). Thus, Monsieur Mitterand, I guess for not wanting to pay the excessive import taxes that snowballed through the years, told Egypt to keep the other giant needle for themselves. In any case, this is still a relatively magnificent structure capped with a golden pyramidion, and on its sides – basic visual instructions on how to build one in your own backyard. Cool!

Stone rocket anyone?

L’axe Historique Part 1

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If you only have one day to spend in Paris and would still love to brag to your friends that you have been there, all you have to do is to take a slow stroll along a 8-km stretch of THE most famous monuments of the city called the Axe Historique (Historical Axis). Surprisingly, this term seems to be alien to a couple of my Parisian friends and they have claimed that no Parisian calls this touristic avenue as it is. But the Axe Historique is still searchable as an article in Wikipedia.

In any case, this is a stretch of sheer Parisian grandeur and majesty that you don’t want to miss. Upon covering the whole axis, you would have literally walked through time from the 1600s into the modern era.

Your journey would begin from the Louvre. As you exit from the Metro station that bears the same name as this world-famous musuem, simply walk towards this awesomeness of a building that spans over 60,000 square feet. That’s about the size of 55 standard soccer fields put together. The Louvre is so huge and long that two wings of the building actually cut across a road before tapering off towards the Jardins du Tuileries (Tuileries Gardens).

No doubt, the Louvre is the most visited museum in the world, having received 8.8 million visitors in 2011 alone while the second most popular musuem – The British Museum saw only a ‘mere’ 5.8 million visitors in the same year. However, the global draw of the Lourve can spell trouble for you because at times, the queue into the museum at its front entrance can be shockingly long. So here’s a quick tip:

Unbeknownst to many, there are, in total, three entrances into the Louvre. The main entrance would obviously be the one in front of the gigantic pyramid at the main courtyard and another via the Carrousel du Louvre – an underground shopping centre that sits underneath the courtyard. Unfortunately, both these entrances share a common security counter, which obviously would mean a possible visitor bottleneck. This leaves you with only the last possible way to get into the Louvre easily and without much hassle.

Considering the relatively low readership of my blog, ahem…..this secret Louvre entrance should still be on the lowdown in the foreseeable future. OK. Here goes…

If you were to stand in front of the giant glass pyramid facing the statue of Louis XIV riding a horse, you will notice the two extensions of the musuem that stretch further along the Axe Historique. Walk towards the one on your left and you will approach a doorway with two lion statues greeting you on its sides. This is the Pointes des Lions (Gates of the Lions). I could still recall the smug look on my face as I glanced at the snaking line of people at the main entrance from a distance, because as I trotted into the Pointes des Lions, I swear, I was the only person in the invisible queue. And the best part? This entrance is the nearest among the three to the one and only Mona Lisa. Just follow the signs that will take you to the gallery in which it is housed and what will astound you there will not be the beauty of this Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece, but the insane number of people crowding around it. Arrrggghhhh….

Seriously, if you think that the Louvre is a place for the quiet appreciation of art, you are sadly mistaken. The Mona Lisa looks like a thumbnail in the back of a considerably noisy crowd. The only way to get a decent picture of a smiling woman whom no one knows, is to jostle your way to the front and marking your territory before snapping way. Courtesy would have to discarded for a while because you will not receive any as well.

Generally speaking, you would need, on average, about three hours to complete a thorough tour of the Louvre. From its beautiful Renaissance paintings to intricate Greek sculptures, this museum seems endless. However, before rushing to view all its famous artifacts, one must always remember that one of the most, or if not, the most captivating art piece of the museum is the building itself. I sincerely believe that no number of Mona Lisas can trump the charm and magnificence of the Louvre as an architectural brilliance.

Enjoy your time at the Louvre and as you exit it, I shall continue your journey with a sharing of a pretty well-known Arch….no not that one that everyone else knows…it’s the little cousin…. 🙂

“Kiss Me…”

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For the past month, from dinner parties to social gatherings, I couldn’t help sharing my experiences in Paris to almost whoever I meet. Friends were left enthralled by the beauty and majesty of the city while others had some of their inaccurate perceptions altered. But two days ago, I learnt something new about Paris and more specifically, what it takes to be a French man.

At a New Year Eve’s gathering at a friend’s place, a Singaporean girl was relating an interesting encounter with a random Parisian man along the Seine River years back, while she was an ex-Singapore Airlines stewardess. While strolling along the peaceful La Seine with her colleague and browsing at one of the sidewalk shops, a male shopkeeper apparently whipped out a rose from nowhere and presented it to her, before complimenting her with endless words of flatter. Courageously, he asked if she would have dinner with him and persisted with this request even after countless “nos”. By now, this girl was just threading the fine line between being impressed and total embarrassment. This determined man even had the audacity to ask the hotel at which she was staying and even the room number; on the pretext that he would call her from the reception when he was ready to take her to dinner! Oh pleaseeeeeee……

Subsequently, he took the hint. But only one one condition will he stop this incessant pester – this girl had to kiss him on the cheek.

(And the audience gives a standing ovation)

So being the nice, accommodating person, she relented by giving this pesky Parisian stranger a quick peck on the cheek. I was surprised that he didn’t turn his cheek away at the opportune moment to catch her lips with his. I suppose an ounce of decency still resided in this man. For all his brazen behaviour, I must say that according to Singaporean standards, this man had guts. Why?

Because I guarantee you that maybe only a handful of Singaporean men would allow their inner passion to take full control of themselves. I honestly don’t think any ‘sane’ local man would surprise a beautiful stranger with a flower, let alone ask for a kiss. Oh fine! I’m one of them.

Well…to a certain extent, a part of me yearns to stop being a rational person and transform into the hot-blooded French male extraordinaire. Sometimes, I do feel that Singaporean men can be a tad too reserved and shy with their words. How many times have I witness male friends whispering to each other about the beauty of a girl in their company. Interestingly, some of these local men would rather allow the opportunity to pass before regretting not complimenting the girl out-rightly. The thought of making the first move scares most of them to near-death.

In a way, in the area of courtship, a Singaporean man can be seen as sincere and careful. Although we may be stingy with our words, we tend to be generous with niceties when we mean them when we say them. Conversely, the bold actions of that French man may seem to be a tad superficial. Would an explicit form of courtship result in a serious relationship or is the man only interested in a one-night stand? I would never know but for now, it is time to compliment the beautiful women around me, starting with my friends 🙂

One For The Foodies

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Ho Ho Ho!

Joyeux Noel and a Happy New Year!

It was apparent that while in Paris, my palettes were not adequately exposed to the full variety of French food, because my Christmas dinner was decidedly very French and for a lack of a better word….interesting.

I was invited to a French friend’s house for an all-Eastern French dinner complete with the typical 3-course meal – Appetisers, Main Course and Dessert. This is actually the friend that I briefly mentioned in my second post. Let’s call her IC.

IC hails from the Alcase region – A densely populated area in France that sits right at the border with Germany. At first, the thought of cheese, foie gras and sauerkraut were what I had expected but these foods were surprisingly absent. The picture below shows what I had for my appetiser.

These were homemade cookies with dried tomatoes and bacon, and feuilletes with parmesan and bacon, coupled with a glass of Cremant d’Alsace, a type of sparkling wine from IC’s hometown. This has got to be the first time I was having cookies as an appetiser but they were pretty tasty, although they were quite crumbly. I guess the ones with bacon is a personal favourite since I’m a bacon fan and for once cookies were salty. Yummmms…

These were then followed by a duo of crab and avocado mousse (The one in the cup) and crab remnants in a lettuce leaf with waffle-like thingies, which for the life of me, I cannot remember their name. To be honest, the crab taste was overpowering. Even IC seconded this opinion. Evidently, the blame of this pungency lies squarely on the use of Singaporean crabmeat. IC, are you sure?

And now the main course. The highlight of dinner was the vol-au-vent (the puff pastry at the corner of the plate) with spaetzle (German/Hungarian noodles), and mushrooms and chicken in white sauce. This was indeed a filling dish as the French-German fusion came into prominence. Tender chicken slices. Crunchy pastry. Funky white sauce. Seriously, what’s there not to like?

Finally, the whole meal came full circle with the dessert. For the final act, a delicious slice of buche aux marrons was served. This is undoubtedly one of the most amazing cakes I have ever eaten and this coming from a guy who isn’t really a cake fan. Pardon the tiny bit left of this buche in the picture below. Now you can understand how good this was. To top it all of, a lemon cream cupcake lay unfinished on my plate. I only took a bite and licked the lemon part all off but boy….that was some lemon heaven.

France is indeed a place for food that bears witness to its own diverse sub-cultures. And as I relate my Parisian escapade to IC and the rest of the guests at the table, the diversity of France was once again manifested, but this time, in our conversation. As I stood alone defending the good name of the Parisians, IC sat unconvinced. To her, Parisians are still snobbish. It seems it may take a Singaporean man to change a French lady’s mindset about her own people.

P.S. CF, are you reading this? Paris needs you! In Singapore!

Ironies In French History

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History is filled with cruel ironies and is even more so for the French, whose past can be amusing as well.

1) Henry IV was one of France’s most well-loved kings whose reign was marked with relative peace in the country. This was a man who ended the French civil war between the Protestants and Catholics. This was a man who renewed Paris as a great city and inaugurated the impressive Pont Neuf (New Bridge) during his rule. Unfortunately, the few who hated him were religious terrorists. One actually got past his security and stabbed Henry to death. It seems no matter how popular you are as a country’s leader, there’ll always people who will want you dead. Cue JFK.

2) Pont Neuf itself is a modern irony because when it was constructed, it was no doubt the newest bridge then, but now it is officially the oldest along the Seine River. 

3) Louis XVI has the unanimous honour of being the last king of France and the only one who got executed by his people. This ‘unfortunate’ incident was, of course, due to the French Revolution which overthrew the Ancien Regime of absolute monarchy. Interestingly, a mere 13 years before the start of the revolution, Louis supported the American Revolution by sending troops, supplies and ships to the New World. He wanted to humiliate the British by helping to ensure the Americans gain independence. Whooops…fast forward to 1793 and Louis laid with his head in a guillotine thinking,“Damn. I should have seen this revolutionary trend picking up sooner…”

4) Ask any French man or woman who they think was the greatest French who ever lived and most will proudly say, “Napolean!” Ironically, Napolean or more accurately Napolean Bonaparte, wasn’t even born in France. He was born on the island of Corsica which was previously under Italian rule. In fact, as a young child, Napolean hated the French and even fought in the Corsican Revolution. The Great Napolean famously once wrote, “As the nation was perishing I was born. Thirty thousand Frenchmen were vomited on to our shores, drowning the throne of liberty in waves of blood. Such was the odious sight which was the first to strike me.” Yup. This coming from a guy who would become the Emperor of France many years later. 

5) Oh by the way, by crowning himself Emperor and with the intention of re-creating a hereditary monarchy in France, Napolean kinda made the whole French Revolution a little “what’s the point?” Though he is better revered and respected than almost all the Bourbon kings before him.

6) The Arc de Triomphe is a masterpiece of a monument that sits at the end of the Champs Elysses. Just underneath it is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a symbolic dedication to dead, unidentified soldiers who fought in both World Wars, and where an Eternal Flame stays lit ever since 1920. Well…this flame isn’t as eternal as it was meant to be because in 1998, after France beat Brazil in the World Cup Final held in Paris, a drunk Mexican apparently peed on it and extinguished the flame for the first time in eight decades. I guessed he was pretty ‘pissed’ about the 3-0 result. Moreover, in 2004, an Australian couple with nothing better to do, had a mini barbecue with sausages and all in the middle of the night at the Arc. According to reports, a few winnies fell off their skewers and put the flame out AGAIN. If these trespasses go on, the Parisians must consider more state-of-the-art security systems!! 

7) Usually, a vacation is a short-lived experience that one would enjoy before returning home to reality. A Singaporean who just spent two weeks in Paris actually yearns to return there and has his iPhone in French. Cue me. WTF.

Happy holidays everyone!

A Case For Individualism

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It was just another weekday afternoon. A typical rainy December one in fact. I was just having lunch at a nearby Macdonald’s, seated right across a short pedestrian crossing where people-watching was basically what kept my eyes occupied while my mouth got busy with the burger.

As pedestrians walked right to the edge of the crossing, most would simply wait obediently for the green man to appear before trotting to the other side. If I had been watching this herd behaviour before my Paris getaway, there wouldn’t be anything peculiar here, but I did and boy…oh…boy…the social differences between the Parisians and Singaporeans were evident.

As I sat there for the next 20 minutes, more than 40 people came and went across that street. Out of these, maybe about 5 – 8 of these pedestrians jaywalked. I know…you might be thinking….what’s the big deal right? Well…the thing is the green man would only light up for about 14 seconds but the wait for the red man to switch to the green would last approximately 26 seconds. (Yes. I counted.) This means that 80% of these pedestrians would rather wait for the ‘all clear’ to cross the road, even if waiting for the green man takes twice as long as crossing the road with him lighted. Mind you…there were several occasions when this two-lane road that spans only about 8 metres had NO CARS on both sides but yet the majority of people waited! WTF? 

Such a structured, compliant behaviour is almost non-existent in Paris. Jaywalking is the bleedy norm! In fact, by not jaywalking across an ordinary street in Paris would make you look like an idiot. Can you imagine what a fool you would be if tens of Parisians crossed the road in front of the red man and you’re there on one side happily waiting for his green buddy to appear?

And then, my memory came rushing back. Months ago, while taking CF around the island, the following conversation took place.

Me: “Hey the pedestrian crossing is quite far. Get ready. We gotta jaywalk.”

CF: “What? Jaywalk? What’s that??”

Me: (Stunned) “Ermm…this means we have to cross the road illegally.”

CF: “Illegal?? We cross like that in Paris everytime. In fact, in French, there’s no word for ‘jaywalk’.”

Me: (Stunned again)

Subsequently, with the help of Google Translate, I verified her words and it’s true! The word ‘jaywalk’ does not exist in the French vernacular!

When I got to Paris eventually, within only a couple of days, I got Parisian-ised. Jaywalking was fun! At first I jaywalked across pedestrian crossings but by the second week, to hell with the stupid traffic lights! Daddy was gonna cross wherever he sees fit and reasonably safe even if there were no pedestrian crossings. 

Behaviours are often the result of our values and beliefs. These inner concepts can be influenced by history and government policies. Case in point – Singapore. Due to our need for rapid economic progress in the 70s – 80s, socialistic campaigns were being broadcast to convince Singaporeans that teamwork and conformity is the way to go. Global companies were pulled into the local landscape on the promise of a docile, obedient and diligent workforce that will never go on strike. After two decades, I believe that our ability to conform has reached celebrity status.

No doubt, such a team-based culture did contribute to our present economic success and stability. However, these same values were gradually transferred to the next generation that is unfortunately born into a world where demands have significantly changed. Though it is still comforting to know that new policies are being introduced to breed local entrepreneurs, instill creativity and encourage critique.

Interestingly, while the typical Singaporean lies stuck with mental boundaries, the Parisians have long operated with individualism hundreds of years ago.

From jaywalking to the freedom of expressing oneself through graffiti in the Metro, Paris boasts of originality and a tinge of rebellion. Not that I personally approve of train strikes and ‘art’ being displayed on public property, but the mindset of a Parisian is almost the opposite of the Singaporean.

While we operate with the question “What can’t I do?”, the Parisian would think “What can I do?”

While we ask “Why?”, the Parisian would ask “Why not?”

The list would go on. My point is that sometimes Singapore is like a country sitting inside a petri dish. We have successfully engineered safety and structure to a level that borders on boring and predictable. Perfection is not Singapore. There exists a world out there that so much can be learned. Having been exposed to the unique individualism of Paris, I have started to appreciate a little non-conformity once in a while.

And I did, as I took my place on the sidewalk after lunch and sauntered across the road in full view of the angry red man. Not that I cared. 🙂

Beauty – The Heart Of French Culture

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Beau-ty:

“the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).” (Dictionary.com)

People say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is subjective and one man’s meat is another man’s poison. But the French, in my opinion, take this notion to a whole new level. They have defined “beauty” for the world to follow. In fact, I firmly believe that embedded in the core of what it means to be French is to treat all things with pride and beauty. Nothing too insignificant is taken for granted. Their intense need to protect aestheticism is like a societal rule.

The picture on the right was taken at the Musee de l’Armee at the Les Invalides. A historical and imposing museum that overlooks the Pont Alexandre III and where the body of Napolean I lays dignified. However, while strolling along the quiet corridors, the sight of scaffolding hidden behind a false facade caught my attention.

“Interesting”, I thought.

It seems that the French could be acting on their commitment to cover up the ugly sight of metal rods and beams that might possibly ruin the entire frontage of the building. Maintenance and renovation works cannot be simply carried out without thoughtful consideration of a museum’s appearance. Especially for one that has been around for more than a hundred years.

Even when engaged in war, as seen from the picture above, the French military placed top priority in making their soldiers the supermodels of World War II.

Now, I’m not making fun of the French here per se. Their fastidious attention to detail to safeguard symbols of its culture are truly respectable. Of course from a logical perspective, an army cannot place great strategic emphasis in making their soldiers look good in battle. This is just ludicrous. But the evidence is there to make this simple conclusion – Beauty matters. Furthermore,  it is often rumored that the rapid fall of Paris to the Nazis in World War II was partly due to the decision that the city’s national monuments had to be preserved. The architectural pride of France’s capital cannot be destroyed. All things beautiful have to be saved!

Even in its language, the need for auditory elegance can be noticed. For example, in French, the use of the prepositions “du” and “de” can sometimes be a little confusing. Both this words are commonly used as “of” in English like the “Musee de l’Armee” which translates directly to the “Museum of the Army”. However, since Armee is a feminine noun, “de” is used instead of “du“. Thus, “du” is masculine. But the interesting fact is that “du” is merely a contraction of “de le” which means “of the” when paired with a masculine noun. In this case, in both written and spoken French, “de la” is mentioned but “de le” is a no-no. Mmmmm….

Being the inquisitive Singaporean as I am, I asked CF about this little language irregularity and all I got was, “‘De le’ doesn’t sound nice so we just say ‘du’.

And I wonder why….

A Poignant Moment….And It Lingered….

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It started the moment I boarded the plane back to Singapore from Charles de Gaulle. A mixed feeling of helplessness and sadness overcame me. The two-week adventure in a fantastical city that I had only previously heard about, has come to a regretful end.

Was it the people and new friends that I have made that was reining my heart my back?

Was it the nostalgic beauty of the buildings and architecture that didn’t let me go?

Or could it simply be the fact that Paris was just too enthralling for a mortal man to leave it without a tinge of indescribable loss?

C’mon Andy! You’re gonna be back…h…o….(and I just couldn’t say that last word in my head)

I needed Paris again and the sight of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris in a movie list on my in-flight entertainment screen was indeed more than comforting. It was a captivating beginning with summer sights of Tour Eiffel, Champs Elysees and the white grandeur of the Basilique du Sacre Coeur. The golden era of Paris was almost magical in the film. The likes of the slightly bizarre Dali, a young Picasso and a half-drunk Hemingway just made me love Paris even more. (Ah crap…did I just use the ‘L’ word? Nevermind….) Man…I wished I was the one being transported into the Belle Epoque (Beautiful Era) and not that big-nosed Owen Wilson.

Kristin Scott Thomas of The English Patient fame worked as an au pair in Paris at age 19. But a few months in Paris convinced her that France or possibly Paris was the place to be for her. She studied French, attended a prestigious drama school and met her now-ex husband. All in this city.

John Grisham, the best-selling legal novelist, admitted in a recent interview that his regular travel destination is Paris because his wife just couldn’t get enough of it.

And CF’s mum, a Chinese Singaporean, loved Paris and almost all things French so much that she now spends half her time in Paris every year for the past 30 years. A French Permanent Residency made French pleasures all the more accessible for her.

I guess I’m not alone.

A Singaporean friend had left for New York while I did the same for Paris. Both of us were on an almost solo vacation to rediscover ourselves. Interestingly, a few days before she was due back to Singapore, a WhatsApp message came blinking on my iPhone – “I’m missing home already…” 

Funny. Why didn’t I feel the same?

After 14 hours of emotional agony, the island of Singapore beckoned the plane in. What should have happened were thoughts of fried kway teow and roti prata, but unfortunately, all I could think about were wine and cheese. Merde! This has never happened before. They say travel is a business that sells on escapism. I couldn’t agree more. The short-lived fantasy of being able to transport oneself to a different location to run away from the harshness of reality is indeed a sweet illusion.

But is Paris merely a temporal escape for me or an alternate reality?

The answer to my own question slowly unfolded within a day as the Singlish came trickling back and the cravings for a hot cup of Milo were unstoppable. Oh well….perhaps I really am too comfortable in my Singaporean skin after all.

Reality, it seems, is ironically both bitter and pleasing at the same time. Reality is how I am now rounding up this post with a sip of white wine and a bite of Brie cheese in my Singaporean bedroom. Parfait. Absolutely parfait….

The Paris Metropolitan VS Singapore’s MRT

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This is like comparing apples with oranges but what the hell…let me give it a shot….

What impresses me about the Paris Metro system is its frequency and extensiveness. With 16 lines that run within the city and several others that serve the suburbs and neighbouring towns, seriously, who needs a car here? There is almost no way you can’t get to a place in Paris on a metro. Most stations are within walking distance apart from each other. The sheer convenience of knowing that more than one metro station is really near you solves plenty of commuting problems.

And in terms of frequency, trains run at a maximum of 4-minute and 10-minute intervals during the day and late in the night respectively. Quite impressive for a metro system that’s more than a hundred years old.

In comparison, Singapore’s state-of-the-art MRT system that boasts of modernity, experiences hiccups and I swear, I once waited for 20 minutes for a train. Ironically, a newly built line can actually break down during peak hour , leaving hundreds of commuters awfully stranded. Wow….whatever the Parisians are feeding their trains are really increasing their longevity. Maybe we should send some industrial spies over.

And have you tried walking from say City Hall to Raffles Place or Harbourfront to Outram. Pretty ‘near’ huh?

And it kinda sucks if you live in Changi. For now.

However, the very fact that our MRT stations are graffiti-free and our trains have more sitting and standing space, speaks volumes about Singapore’s sleek and practical image. The same cannot be said of the Metro.

Furthermore, all our train doors are fully automated but in Paris, one must either pull a lever (which sometimes can be quite annoying) or press a button on the door to get in or out. There are some modern trains that ply on a few lines that have automated doors but they number far and few between.

Also, since SNCF (the French national train company) train drivers frequently go on strikes to demand more pay or privileges, commuting becomes a lot less predictable. Especially before the holidays. These drivers are quite smart and also quite stupid at the same time.

You see…free rights is a social concept that, I believe, 99% of all French take very seriously. In my opinion, some of these people actually abuse it, like the train drivers. They think that as a collective, they are more powerful than their employer – SNCF. This makes some sense because fast commute is indirectly responsible for a country’s or city’s economy. They have some leverage. However, I’m just thinking….with the prevalence of driver-less trains (which, ironically, are mostly manufactured by a French company – Alstom), wouldn’t these fools lose their jobs if SNCF modernises its fleet? If I’m the boss of SNCF, wouldn’t I be saying to myself,”Hey, these human drivers are causing so much trouble. I’ll just buy more driver-less trains and screw them!

Unlike Singapore, sometimes you’ll have the homeless and beggars loitering around, in and on the train platforms of the metro stations. Once, there was a guy who dragged his portable karaoke machine into a carriage and let loose his ‘singing prowess’, before asking for money.

Newspapers lie around empty seats and the occasional half-eaten cupcake lies squashed on the train floor.

The smell of urine and grimy railings are also regulars on the Paris metro scene.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not slamming the Paris metro. I still like Paris, but my point is often Singaporeans just bitch too much about things back home. “Oh, why can’t I eat on the train? Oh, our train tickets are too expensive and blah blah blah…” It costed me more than 2 Singapore dollars to travel between three metro stations here, dickhead!

Let’s face it. No system is perfect. Singapore is, to me, a real victim of its own successes. In fact, just a couple of hours ago, I was talking to a couple from New York holidaying in Paris and they actually commented that the subway in New York is similiar to the Paris metro, except for the fact that in Paris…..it’s cleaner!!! WTF?!

True. These folks have not been to Singapore but clearly I was shocked because obviously, the word ‘cleanliness’ is defined extremely differently by me and as with many Singaporeans. So before you the Singaporean start practising your favourite hobby – i.e. complaining, have a look around the world first. We are fortunate and the PAP is not the devil. Tssssk.