Paris - Pre-Flight, Flight, Arrival.
I always forget something. Izzy watched my last anxious moments circling the flat after I had called the taxi, perhaps wondering what the fuck was wrong with me. There was something I had overlooked, always. Maybe it had just slipped my mind and it would strike me in the taxi or at check-in. Maybe I had hastily decided I didn't need it (too heavy, too cumbersome, too losable, too small) and would arrive thinking "Why the fuck did I not bring THAT?" Enough underpants, socks, handkerchiefs (I am always sniffling and sneezing in foreign climes).
Here I am at 5am this morning, time-zone tribe incompatible, writing up yesterday's points of interest and I don't have the Nokia-USB cable ("I won't need to synchronise, I'm on holiday!") to download the snaps I took yesterday. Do'h! I don't have Bluetooth on this laptop, but luckily, with a 3G phone I can email them to myself. Problem solved, but it's just a pain: the cable would have been more convenient and cheaper - I have to pay for WiFi on my laptop to log-on and retrieve those pictures.
Then of course there was the last minute indecision about which books to bring and read on the plane, knowing full well that I *will not* read on said plane. Or maybe a few pages only, despite the 12 hour lock-in. I just can't get comfortable reading for some reason, but I bring books anyway. Some short stories; the new one that Phil of Monsoon Books sent me to review called "The Lies That Build A Marriage" by Suchen Christine Lim; "The Train TO Lo Wu" by Jess Row, set in Hong Kong; "Le Flâneur", Edmund White on Paris; and finally "The Romance of Tristan and Iseult", a 1935 facsimile edition, the last two of which I am half-way through.
I didn't read any of them.
There is no difference between the First Class Lounge and the Business Class Lounge at Changi Airport. Nothing. Nada. Not a thing. One is to the left, the other to the right and as a PPS Club Platinum Member flying Business Class I get the honour (dubious, it turns out) of going right, into First Class Lounge. But the services, chairs, food, drinks, magazines are identical. Why even have seperate lounges if the services are the same? The clone-like similarity of both lounges is striking. Both are full, as the PPS club is expanding its membership because people are flying so much that more and more people are qualifying.
This is segregation for segregation's sake, not for any *physical* or epicurean benefit of those going right, but merely to assuage their need for elitism and snobbery. So Singaporean, this unspoken illusion of class, this farcical cabal of meritocracy. There is no difference but no-one will admit this.
Comparison: in Cathay's First Class Lounge at the Hong Kong airport you get waiter service for champagne, you can order a nice moderne cuisine meal, get fresh oysters and plump yourself on real leather chairs, or have a spa-bath. In Business Class it is merely OK (about the same level as SIA First and Business Class Lounges) with cloth or vinyl chairs and the food consists of noodle soup and finger sandwiches and there is are shower facilities. Mind you, it is tougher to get into Cathay's Diamond Class.
There are so many PPS Club members in Singapore with frequent flier points it is impossible to get point upgrades on the popular legs. I used to get upgrades almost every third flight on Cathay, and we never got business class for work, so that was great. With SIA, I have received a mere two upgrades in three years and I fly forty to fify times a year (about ten flights are work-paid Business Class which is what gets me into Platinum). Not a wonderful upgrade ratio.
I had been on waitlist for a Business Class upgrade for three months for this trip. It wasn't looking good. Around the time of my birthday I said, fuck it and gave myself a present; for this outward flight I paid cash for the upgrade. I am still on waitlist for the return flight points upgrade, maybe five months now and I am resigned to going economy. There are about 60 business class seats on the plane from Paris, but I can't get one despite having a 250,000 points and being a Platinum Club member. (The only membership higher is PPS-Elite for those who have held Platinum membership continuously for five years.)
I see no higher advantage in the higher membership classes in Singapore Airlines. The lounges are the same quality and there are no upgrade or seat-booking advantages.
The *NEW* Business Class seats on these long-haul flights (even to Hong Kong) however are a step up. Way up! OK, E@L being E@L, he'll have to find something to whinge about. What's wrong with a seat that turns into a totally flat bed where your feet are not squashed and is ergonomically deigned to fit the body's position in most sleeping positions? Not much, obviously, but let's think for a minute.
Firstly it is not comfortable for just sitting in. Being a seat on one side and a bed on the other means that the amount of thickness available for cushioning is limited. It is therefore quite a firm seat and my bum was getting numb while I was watching the movies. Also it not does recline very far at all. It merely goes back to about 25°, certainly more than Economy but nowhere near my favourite movie-watching/napping semi-lounge inclination. I can straighten my legs right out though, put my feet into the alcove on the right side of the seat in front, which totally makes up for this.
Secondly, there is not enough storage space for those books I am not going to read. The magazine slot is narrower and non-expanding compared to that in the older style seats. It is stuffed with SIA crap. There is plenty of space in a bin above the foot-recess area but that is out of bounds during take-off and landing, so I have to leave my stuff in my bag and get the books out later when we are cruising. Mucho annoyingo.
You do have to sit obliquely if you want to put your feet up. While the seat is so very VERY wide that only one arm can rest on a support at any time you tend to sit to the right side so that you can access the movies controls on the left, but then your legs have to go right at an angle into the recess. This twists your lower back while you are looking forward to the 17in TV screen. Whilst the pillow can be used for supporting your back, it is just not as supportive as you need. I have a slight spasm in my right side still.
In fact this obliquity is how the seating/sleeping arrangement works. Unlike other seats which recline in their entirety as you move it to the sleeping or napping position and therefore come into the space of the person behind you, with this system you stand up, pull a handle on the back of your seat and it folds completely forward to reveal a flat mattress on the back side of the seat. An "unfold Part B to reach Part C" extension take the bed out to the foot-up area and - violin! - you have a flat area on which to lie down.
The horizontal plane of the bed is turned about 20° to the right. Viewed from above your feet would be beside the head of the person asleep in the seat in front, and so the pattern moves forward. Everyone is at an angle. Clever. But the compromise is that the seat must be wider and the 777-300 Business Class is only in a 1-2-1 configuration. The old seating arrangement on this wide-bodied plane used to be 2-2-2 I believe. Now I see why I cannot get an upgrade, there are just not enough seats to meet the demand. Also the aisles are narrow for business class. Two people cannot get past. The aisle is as narrow as Economy.
But ignore all that, the bed is great. I slept well for seven hours of the all-night 12-hour flight. The recessed areas below the TV are designed to accommodate your knees almost perfectly if you bend them up or if you roll over. The seat belt can extend at an angle across your body without causing uncomfortable restriction while you sleep. The armrests are out of the way so you can bring your elbows up as you curl on your side. Sleeping either left or right side, like the Airport Lounges, are equally comfortable.
It's a terrific design apart from the small complaints above (and I had to dig for them).
I have no idea what the main meal food was like, as I didn't eat except for breakfast - with a cold cappuccino. You're supposed to heat the milk, Singapore Girl. No, I did not get her number.
Charles de Gaulle Airport was simple enough to get around, a bit outdated compared to all the recent Asian creations, the guards helpful even at 7am, and soon enough I was at Roissy station, ready to Get Down in Paris.
Like a sex machine...
I queued up at the booth for a ticket on the RER to town and asked for ten tickets, which I read would be the most efficient way of using the Metro.
"You want ten tickets TO Paris?" wondered the young cashier, in English, as obviously I was alone.
"Non, non, non. Un carnet, ten billets for the Metro in Paris, s'il vous plait."
Phew, that nearly cost me a fortune...
I had to change from the RER at Denfort-Rocherau to get across to the Metro station closest to my hotel in Montparnasse. Mistake. There are no escalators or lifts in many of the Metro stations. I had to lug my large suitcase up and down four or six (it's a blur) flights of stairs. It got caught in the special luggage slot and was really tough to extricate.
It was rush hour as well. I had to squeeze my bag into the crowded, un-airconditioned train for two stops.
My hotel is only 50 metres from the Edgar Quinet exit. It was a nice morning. It was 8am. I was sweating. Paul Gaugin once stayed in this hotel a plaque reads. So did Andre Breton according to another plaque on the opposite wall.
"J'ai fait une réservation. M.E@L ." With my flowing French accent, finely honed from years of doing Inspector Clouseau imitations to the delight (to my face) and consternation (behind my back) of friends, family and colleagues - ("A BBBEEEEERRRMMMM????") - I seemed to have convinced the clerk that I was a native.
"Ah, oui. A-ha! Exceptionnel!" The fair-haired male clerk, maybe 40 years old, casually dressed, maybe the manager, placed a key on the desk and looked E@L in the eye. His expression is serious, mouth contracted, head tilted down slightly to look out from under his eyebrows - maybe he was trying to convey the, well, exceptionality of the situation.
"Superbe!" said E@L, thinking maybe he has been upgraded to a suite.
"Sur les plaiges les enfants de castille a le pont d'avingnon elle roule coulez coulez voulez-vous couche je suis une rock star merde entre dans asseyez vous avec moi...." etc, etc, for some minutes.
E@L looked at him, looked at the key.
"Does this mean my room is ready?"
The clerk stopped talking. He looked at me. His face fell, just small notch, but it fell. He took a breath, subtly, but he took a breath.
"Yes monsieur. Zat is what I hef been saying to you, in [sigh] French. You are verrr luckeee. Ze room is free right from now. Most... unusual. Breakfast is available also if you want for today. A buffet." There were four small tables in a breakfast nook by the main door. Six people, mainly middle aged and large were partaking of coffee and croissants, I took in at a glance.
"Mercy, but I ate on the plane." I'll save myself for something more exceptionnel when I Get Down to one of those street cafes.
"Have a pleasant stay, Monsieur E@L ."
"Mercy. Beau-cup. I am sure I will."
The room is small, non surprise there, but neat and tidy. Cream and pale yellow broad vertical striped wallpaper. The bed looks comfortable, but I have to get into synch, I cannot sleep yet...
More about Paris: Day One and Day Two (maybe) later.
OTHER MONKEYS SAID
So you're not staying very far from where I stayed when I was there in March. Allow me to recommend a bistro I found on my first night that was just fabulous. More than 100 years old, classic bistro look feel & taste, loved every second of it. It's called Restaurant Vagenende and it's on boulevard St Germain.
Wish I could join you there, we could tear the place up!
The restaurant suggested looks magnifique!
They may even allow a cigarette after the meal?
If I were you Phillipe, I'd try that one out! Oh I wish I was adventurous, and could afford to travel...
Spike: it's on my list, now...
Mariah: I'm noticing people smoking Camels and Marlboros, but no Gittanes (?sp) yet. Haven't actually been INSIDE a restaurant yet to see if they smoke, been sitting in the outdoors sections (yes they smoke!) In fact I've only been eating crap junk food so far - croque monsieur x 2 and a gyros (schawama).
Mind you that croque monsieur - a toasted ham and cheese open-sandwich - and two beers set me back over Euro33. That's $70 Sing, $59 AUD or $45 USD! Not cheap this junk food.
So I bought a bottle of St Emilion for Euro10 to make up the difference and am sipping it now... mmm Bordeaux, is there nothing it can't do?
Spike: there is a "Big Man's Store" just around the corner from that restaurant in the Rue De L'Ancienne Comedie which I will be returning to on Monday, so will pop in there for lunch and/or dinner after I get a jacket I saw in the window.
They all look the same those brasserie places... Had a beer in Le Deux Magots, Satre's favorite place, yesterday.