Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Lucky Vogel grabs a weekend in Paris: I

Friday, 23 November 2007

St Pancras International (I love writing that) Station: the Champagne Bar. Not such a bad way to start a journey.

I'm on my way to Paris - also a nice thing to write - because I am going to see my dear friend and editorial boss, the trumpet professor, music department chair, and All Round Good Egg, Dr Gary M.

Explanatory aside: Something similar happened last year when Gary was there for the Maurice André Competition. On that occasion our party was Deb, Martha, Martha's lovely friend Ruth, and me. Gary was travelling alone but had met his Paris-resident friend Ibrahim Maalouf, an interesting and extremely nice Lebanese/French trumpet player, back to whom I'll come. We did various nice things that weekend, about which I should write sometime. Anyway anyway ...

Meanwhile back in 2007 I'm on my way and this time I have no family with me, but Gary has all of his, plus a gaggle of his students from Kansas State University and some friends and family of theirs. They're over there doing concerts and workshops and stuff; Ibrahim was out there with them in Kansas just a week or two back doing workshops; it all sounds rather jolly. My role in all this is just to turn up and smile at people: I do have a mouthpiece with me but I'm hoping that I will not be called upon to interface it with any trumpetlike instrument. But I am very much looking forward to seeing everyone and hearing what's been going on: Gary, Ibrahim and students have done some fantastic, interesting stuff in the past.

I should add that I was by no means certain, by the end of the week, that I was actually going. The Crown Princess Rebecca von und zu (etc) has had an unfortunate and close encounter with - well, with gravity ultimately - which inauspicious moment has led to her spending more time in the Manchester Royal Infirmary than you'd normally choose to. I mean unless you were a flower seller or brain surgeon or whoever. So there's clearly a Parental Visiting Issue and I naturally felt just a touch concerned about all this but both Becca and her Dear Muvver were very kind about the fact that Paris (via the Champagne Bar) was where I was going, and no argument was to be brooked ... so it wasn't, and I did.

(This is all extra-exciting because the Eurostar services only moved to the beautifully rebuilt and refurbished St Pancras on 14th November, so it’s all new and wonderful. Having said that, so much has been written about it elsewhere that I am going to leave it to cleverer authors and concentrate on my own trip. Now back to your scheduled programme …)

So: St Pancras is simply brilliant. The Champagne Bar was indeed nice - a thoroughly pleasant spot to hang out. The whole getting-on-the-train bit was the usual Eurostar low-stress performance. The train itself was exquisite - I had coughed up a few extra quid to travel "Leisure Select" and it was well worth it. I wondered whether this is just a way of using up excess capacity in business class and making some money out of it: whatever it is it's very nice: just three seats across, a meal (a rather nice meal, actually) brought to you, endless drink top-ups, and so on. I fear it has ruined me for ever travelling standard class.

At the other end it's nice and easy - straight off the Eurostar onto the metro, a couple of changes and I'm at the hotel. The area (you get off at Brochant metro and walk north towards Porte de Clichy) seems nice and felt instantly Parisian. I had a bizarre experience trying to find my way into the hotel because I couldn't discern which of two vehicle entrances - up or down a ramp - was the main pedestrian entrance, and backed the wrong one. (There is some signage but I missed it, oops.) So out of necessity I went in through what turned out to be the wrong entrance, that is, the one meant for bus parties, and thus eventually arrived in the hotel lobby in some style, surrounded by a large group of tiny Japanese ladies amongst whom I must have looked like a vast mutant.

I got checked in and sorted out OK: the room was somewhat capsuloid (walk along past the end of the bed and you're squeezed on both sides) but perfectly functional, comfortable, clean and warm. Compared with last autumn's Paris hotel, near the Gare du Nord, it felt safer and cleaner, a bit upmarket, with less atmosphere and character but also less smelly and weird. You pays your money, etc. This was the Porte de Clichy Ibis, by the way, and I would cheerfully recommend it. Other points that struck me were that the lobby, bar and restaurant were perfectly pleasant, and that the reception staff were very nice, friendly and helpful. In a perfect world there'd have been tea/coffee stuff in the room too, but hey. Do French hotels do this? Je ne sais pas.

My room was up on the eighth floor, so high enough to see out over nearby buildings, which meant I had a rather distant but still nice view of the Sacré Coeur. Lovely lovely.

I was hoping that the Kansas party, who'd been out doing a gig, would show up around 10.30. Had I been a bit earlier I'd have tried to get to the end of the concert but I'd already determined that this was a non-runner, so I lurked in the lobby with this portable writing device (with a wifi connection!) and a glass of something pleasant, which isn't such a bad way to pass time.

In fact they turned up just as I was giving up and going to bed: there'd been post-concert jollity and they'd tried to text me but there was great telecommunications silliness going on. (Come to think of it I don't think I ever got texting to work, despite their French SIM card. And we were both on Orange! Ho hum.) So it was of course great to see Gary and family again and to meet his party, an inordinately nice group of people. It was late so we said hello briefly then everyone zoomed off to bed. We all needed to make a reasonably good start but Leah even more so as she was taking an early TGV down to Lyons for the day to meet friends.

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