Image by squarejer via FlickrI had been in Paris, running between the French Foreign Ministry, the British Consulate and the Costa Rican Consulate prior to going on to London to run between the Costa Rican Consulate and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office...which for my purposes was in Milton Keynes....before returning to Paris to run to the Costa Rican Consulate again, in order to get all the appropriate papers stamped, signed and recorded in order to apply for residence in Costa Rica.
As it turned out I was lucky to have made the acquaintance of both the Costa Rican consuls at this point as I would later be in dire need of their assistance.
Now in London I was fed, wined and lodged by a good friend, but in Paris I was on my own.
I hadn't thought it would be difficult. I had booked two nights in hotels via the Paris Tourist Board website, each for one night as the first had no vacancies for my second night and found the first hotel delightful...I had a four poster bed in a room which overlooked the garden of another hotel...there was free internet...and a nice Italian restaurant on the corner....which was as far as I felt like moving after a day of queuing, paying and queuing, not to speak of getting past the Costa Rican Consulate's security system.
They should patent it.
On arrival, you mount the steps to find that there is an intercom system mounted on the wall to your right....it controls the gates which bar your access to the building. Except that unless you are built like a basketball player you can't reach the thing.
Because of the gates.
This was a puzzler. I do not have a mobile 'phone, so could not telephone to ask the inmates for assistance and the hours at which the public were admitted were drawing to a close.
What to do? Throw rocks at the window?
No chance...since 1968 the Paris municipal authorities have replaced cobble stones with asphalt...it takes more energy than a student possesses to chip up a chink of that and hurl it at the police.
The street was deserted...people say Paris is a collection of villages and this bit of it resembled one of those villages where all the shutters are closed and the only sign of life is the gleam of eyeballs in the shadows behind.
I was in luck, though. An elderly lady approached...she was also going to the Consulate. She had an umbrella with which she deftly poked the appropriate button, shouted when the disembodied voice answered and the gates opened.
We were in.
I made sure I had an extensible ruler in my bag for the return trip.
Having since seen Costa Rica in the rainy system, all is now clear.
Every Costa Rican worth his or her salt carries an umbrella - for when, not if, it rains.
The system installed at the Paris Consulate is thus designed with Costa Ricans in mind...who carry umbrellas and will have no problem.
It must be a first test towards residency.
I was ready to move hotels the next day when I thought I'd check the Internet.
There was a most unwelcome message.
The hotel to which I was about to remove myself had cancelled my booking.
The booking I had made a week earlier.
Through the Paris Tourist Board.
I imagine that I gave tongue as the receptionist came over to see what was going on and was most sympathetic. She would ring round and see what she could find.
In less than five minutes she came back. She had found a hotel...her nephew worked there....the porter would take me round and it was only one street away.
It turned out to be the hotel of whose garden I had had a view the previous day, was cheaper than the one I had booked originally and was very comfortable...even if there was no four poster.
Let no one say Parisians are not kind and helpful, especially if they happen to be Algerian.
I got through the rest of my business in Paris, took the Eurostar to London - and the sooner they replace that shoddy, overcrowded specimen with a decent German train the better - and dealt with the paperwork at that end.
I returned to Paris on the shoddy overcrowded specimen, enlivening the journey by an encounter with a young woman on boarding the train.
There is a sort of flow system in the carriage and she was coming against it, which is all very well if you only have bodies to deal with, but I had luggage... my overnight bag and a large bag well stuffed with knickers and stuff from Primark.
I had seen Costa Rican knickers on previous visits...they varied between items so scanty that you could not make a decent pocket handkerchief from ten of them to things wonderfully labelled as 'bloomers senora' into which you could fit ten ladies. So, to tide me over until I could investigate further....Primark.
The young woman was making progress, but I could see that there would be a problem when she got to me...behind me I had a queue of other passengers and my overnight bag...the seats each side of the aisle alongside me were occupied...the knickers were in front.
There really is not much room on the Eurostar.
But there was an option...between us, one of the aisle seats was unoccupied so I suggested she nip in there...being more manoeuvrable as it were...frigate to my oil tanker...so that I could pass and unblock the gangway.
With a toss of the head she kept on coming....what on earth she was thinking of was beyond me. What could there be to object to in ducking out of the aisle for a moment?
Well, a pretty young thing with a vanity case will get away with this with the weaker sex - men - but not with a crabby old bat with a bag of knickers and half a coachload of passengers backed up behind her.
She received a firm but not violent rugby hand-off amidships with the knickers which put her into the vacant space and I went on my way while her angry voice squawked
Do you mind!
Which gave me the one and probably the only chance I will ever have to utter the immortal line from 'Gone with the Wind'
Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.
And neither did I.
There was no worry about being arrested by the guard, either...they're never to be seen when hooligans are around.
I reached Paris without further incident and I had promised myself one last lunch in the City of Light before heading for home on the afternoon train.
Normally I would have gone to Chartier, which, touristy hell that it is, I love.
The food is solid, traditional French, the wine is drinkable, the cheese for some reason is always out of this world and the waiters don't have attitude.
But I had had a recommendation for a place off the Champs Elysee...not frightfully expensive...from a foody friend, so I thought I would give it a try.
A last fling, as it were.
I found it, was shown to a table and a waiter appeared with a menu within a few minutes.
I was thirsty after the journey and asked for some water, tap water, while I made up my mind what to order.
It did look an interesting menu, after all.
The waiter reappeared...with a bottle of mineral water which he was about to open when I stopped him.
No, Monsieur, I asked for tap water.
Yes, but Madame will not enjoy tap water with her meal.
Madame was not intending to stick to water with her meal.
The tap water is not recommended for the palate.
The wine will cure that.
Madame, as a foreigner, does not understand the subtleties of French cuisine.
Madame, as a foreigner, knows very well she will be charged for mineral water while tap water is free.
Madame, as a foreigner, does not have the same sense of values as the French.
Madame, as a foreigner, entirely shares the French system of values when it comes to money and she is not paying for what she does not want and did not order.
Madame, as a foreigner, does not understand the classless nature of France....where a client doesn't think themself too grand to accept the recommendations of the waiter.
Madame foreigner or not, understands all too well the nature of France and is not going to be talked into buying water she does not want even if by so doing she contributes towards the income of the doubtless underpaid waiter.
Madame, coming from a class ridden society, does not understand the spirit of equality in France....a French client understands that they and the waiter are on the same footing, combining to produce an agreeable dining experience.
Madame does not see any problem in achieving an agreeable dining experience once she gets the water she asked for and is able to order her meal.
Madame does not understand that in France everyone is equal....from the Revolution of 1789!
Madame has news for you. When the National Assembly of 1789 debated the franchise it was decided, among other measures, that servants should not be eligible to vote. And that included waiters.
While he was digesting that one I picked up my knickers and left the establishment.
Clearly, no agreeable dining experience would be in the offing.
Which was a shame as the menu looked interesting.
The queues by now at Chartier would be too great to give me time for lunch if I were not to miss my train so I grabbed something that called itself ciabatta at Montparnasse railway station on the way home which made me bless the skills of my dentist and gave me indigestion.
If only I had understood, after all these years in France, how to obtain an agreeable dining experience.......