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Too much Paris? There’s no such thing

It doesn’t matter how often you visit the City of Love. There are always new perspectives to explore it from

brunch Updated: Nov 05, 2016 21:00 IST
By Sathya Saran
By Sathya Saran
Hindustan Times
Paris,Sathya Saran,Citroën 2CV
(Getty Images)

If James Bond could fold himself into this, I can, I tell myself, as the car draws up and the driver steps out to open the door for us.

It is the sweetest, dinkiest car I have seen in a long while. I have a choice of colours, and promptly opt for red. And we are off, three to a car. But let me begin at the beginning.

This is my umpteenth visit to Paris. Don’t get me wrong, I love the city, its architecture, its bridges, its fashion haunts and museums. But I had begun to think I had been there and done that.

And then this car rolls up – as I wait in the heart of Paris – ready to take me on a special tour. And I am to see Paris through its window.

Ah, the window! The Citroën 2CV’s window does not roll down as in the cars I am acquainted with. It flaps open, ‘breaking’ in half. And the roof opens too, to let those in the back seat stand and look out. (Why did I choose to sit in front?) But then, Paris through a flapped-open window looks quite, quite better than through the car roof.

Since I love cars, permit me the indulgence of a historical aside. My little red car’s great-great-grandfather (or grand-père, if you prefer) was created in the 1940s with completely philanthropic and altruistic motives. It was designed as a means to help the farmer get his produce to the market quickly and cheaply, without having to spoil his Sunday boots trudging on muddy roads. The car could carry 50 kg (110 lb) of farm goods or eggs (without risk of their breaking en route) to the market, if driven at about 50 km. And to accommodate the fact that money was scant, the expedition would consume only three litres of petrol per 100 km. Naturally, it was an instant hit, with a waiting list that the Birkin bag would be proud of.

The Citroën 2CV was designed in the 1940s to help farmers ferry farm goods to the market (Getty Images)

Over the decades, the Citroën evolved as much as it could, without sacrificing its ideal of being light, cheap and eco-friendly. By 1981, the car had built up enough muscle to rush through a movie car chase, driving across an olive farm, taking steep hairpin bends, jumping off road edges, and even taking flying leaps down slopes to evade armed villains driving sedans that threatened, in Mr Bond’s words, to ‘out-horsepower’ the little car.

Perhaps nothing in that exciting car chase made the car more loveable than the fact that, when it was bumped off the road and turned turtle in the middle of a busy road, bystanders helpfully nudged it upright again, as easy as turning a mattress on a bed.

So it’s little wonder that the demand for the Citroën 2CV grew into a worldwide phenomenon soon after the release of For Your Eyes Only (1981), especially when the Citroën company helpfully launched a special edition 2CV ‘007’ painted yellow with ‘007’ on the front doors, and stickers that looked like bullet holes.

These nuggets from the car’s history add the right dash of spice to our ride. And our driver adds the humour and the background as we drive, taking in Paris from quite a different viewpoint.

Alexander III Bridge, which spans the Seine, connects the Champs-Élysées quarter with those of the Invalides and Eiffel Tower (Getty Images)

As we drive through the Avenue des Champs Elysées past the Arc de Triomphe and take in the Petit et Grand Palais, our driver fills us in on well-known and little-known stories on each of the places. We stop for photographs, but I prefer to shoot from inside the car, which incidentally, right now, is the most photogenic thing on the streets, or so the smartphones aimed at us have us believe.

Other landmark buildings come into view and more stories, but I am loving the breeze in my face, and the purr of the engine.

We have booked the one-hour tour, and as the sun creates spectacular colours, we shoot the sky, and the car against the sky, and ourselves with the car... You got it. The 2CV is quite the star!

For those with more time on their hands, there are day-long rides, with lunch or dinner included, or a bottle of champagne to toast the sunset. Escapes to Versailles and other out-of-Paris excursions are also available.

As we are dropped off at the hotel, I am half hoping we can see the 2CV on Indian roads. In fact, in 1985, an understanding had been inked with the Escorts Group in India to manufacture the car for the benefit of the rural populace, in an attempt to repeat the original reason the car was created in France. But red tape bound it out of sight. Maybe it would be great to unwind the tape now.

Now it’s another evening, and another sightseeing trip.

Le Bistro Parisien lies at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and alongside River Seine (Sathya Saran)

This time we are in view of the Eiffel, which threatens to occupy our time in such a way as to endanger our chances of catching our boat on time. But dinner cannot be missed, nor the visual feast that the cruise promises, and the River Seine beckons. So we take the last pictures of the iconic tower, and board the boat.

As the boat starts down the river, it is like watching a film. Notre Dame floats past, tall and majestic, its towers reminding me of Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831). But Quasimodo no longer walks the corridors and for now the bells are silent. On the riverbank opposite, families walk in groups, lovers sit engrossed in each other and the sounds of a game come floating across the water. The ride has added spice to the scenes, giving us a picture of Paris in the early evening; Paris at leisure. Other monumental and iconic buildings come into view, the Conciergerie, the Musée d’Orsay, and then the meal unfolds.

It is a light and wholesome repast, as we are on the early-bird boat that set out in the early evening. We take quick tours to check out the sights between the leisurely courses. The eyes are being feasted indeed, even as the palate warms to the flavours of the meal.

As the boat starts back, a new set of views, of the bank that was behind us, unravels.

Then, as we approach the Eiffel again, it is time for more selfies and group shots. We watch the waves smoothing out as the boat slows, and the engine dies. And the moveable feast comes to an end.

The next dinner group will board soon, and this time there will also be music and perhaps dancing.

But, wait... excitement mounts, there is a ripple of whispers that runs through our group. Reports have it that the river is being cordoned off and Ranveer Singh, hot from the success of Bajirao Mastani, will be shooting on the boat. He will be there tonight. No, he comes tomorrow. Is it true? Tonight! Can we stay and watch? But our questions get no answers. The information is classified! Later, back in India, I read that the actor was indeed in Paris, shooting in the city for weeks.

The two-hour long trips taught me something. I know now that Paris, or any city, can never be fully discovered. There are always ways to look at it with new eyes, from new perspectives.

As I have done, not once, but twice!


From HT Brunch, November 6, 2016

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First Published: Nov 05, 2016 20:20 IST