A travel story by DICKSON IGWE, Contributor
First impressions: and Paris is ruled by a rich French culture, freedom-loving peoples, good governance, and an exceptional ethical subset.
Mixing the preceding with one of the world’s finest rail and metro networks, and a physical and social infrastructure that is second to none, and the result is that Paris is the greatest city on earth.
London, on the other hand, is equally ancient and historic. The city possesses a great social and physical infrastructure, with an equally great rail and underground network.
However, London is a Great City that has become increasingly claustrophobic and miserable.
This may be the result of a culture and a society that is antithetical to change, even while the world all around is changing at a ‘maddening pace’.
The British are resourceful, heroic, gifted, and warlike people. And social class is an interesting British idiosyncrasy.
But it is an anachronism: an outdated social subset. And it may have outlived its purpose of stratifying a Britain that needed class layers for effectively managing a large, demographically and geographically complex, empire.
Brexit, growing nationwide moroseness, labor and union tensions, increasing unease at the periphery, and a slowing economy, are the results of a class system that is becoming increasingly myopic and destructive
Now this Old Boy was in Europe on holiday in December 2016. He had a number of tough months at work.
He works with children and youth in the Virgin Islands for a living; teaches kids and adults to swim; enjoys walking the pristine beaches of the Virgin Islands; snorkels; dives for conch shells in the Caribbean Sea; rides a mountain bike; and writes funny stories and social commentary as a hobby.
And the three months ending in early December 2016 were certainly not easy.
So he did a wonderful thing. He packed his bags and did what is always recommended when one has been in a pressure cooker for too long. He fled to foreign shores.
He went on a ‘great escape’. He travelled to London, but he spent a long weekend in Paris. It was well worth the odyssey.
London was cold and miserable, as is to be expected in early December.
So, very early on a frigid Friday morning, he drove his rental car from his London hotel, through the cold damp streets of the UK capital, and along the M4.
He parked at the Long Term Car Park at Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport.
He was delighted with the extensive renovations at Heathrow Airport. He did not notice these changes on his arrival from Miami days earlier.
There has been a complete remake of Europe’s busiest airport. Most of the terminals have been rebuilt: 2, 3, and 5, including the Cargo Terminal.
The terminals have also been turned into malls where nearly everything is available to the weary traveler.
The new Terminal 5 is not just user friendly, it is futuristic and space age: great design, imaginative engineering, and dizzying architecture. It is a massive space ship made of unbreakable glass.
The brilliant structure is held together with formidable steel beams and gigantic metal girders.
It offers the traveler a 360 degree view of the outside environs.
Terminal Three is also a spectacular structure and futuristic, with an amazing and bustling, Virgin Atlantic Travel Hub.
Heathrow Airport is one of the busiest in the world. It functions like clockworks.
On a cold morning, the sight of airbuses, 777s and 747s from all the world’s major nations, lining up for takeoff to destinations on all 4 corners of the globe was exhilarating.
The roar of Jets landing, one after another, added to the intoxicating choreography.
Approaching the airport periphery by car, Heathrow and its surrounds, at darkest dawn, with a remote sun rising on the freezing horizon, resembled a giant model toy, sitting on vast and dark flooring.
From three miles distance, early in the morning, Heathrow airport is a delightful meccano set.
It welcomes the traveler with a subtle smell of jet fumes, coupled with the ubiquitous roar of jet engines.
It is well lit, with thousands of colored and blinking lights, from trucks, control towers, beacons, airplanes, satellite equipment, global positioning hardware, and more.
Before dusk, Heathrow is a shining city in the black darkness.
Heathrow is an air travel ecosystem: a beehive. It is made up of terminals, sub terminals, scores of rumbling buses, darting black cabs and roaming cow boy taxis, tarmac workers, armed policemen, security officers, car rental businesses, and a metro network that connects to Central London.
Heathrow hums with impatient travelers, and continually screams with jet liners taking off and landing.
It bustles with hectic activity. Heathrow is a plane watchers paradise.
OK. The three quarter hour flight to Paris France, and the atmosphere at Charles De Gaulle Airport was a revelation.
In Paris, on the day this ‘Wannabe Bohemian’ and Traveler landed, the government declared that all travel by train and metro about the city was free until further notice.
This was to discourage Parisians using their cars during a period of health threatening smog.
That was a godsend to this Graying Voyager, and not because he could not afford the rail and metro fares. It was just a massive convenience.
All the entries, gates, barriers, and doors, at the metro stations, swung open in welcome, and without any need to put tickets through slots. This was a wonderful welcome.
Consequently, he travelled around Paris during much of the long weekend easily, effortlessly, and enjoyably.
His frugal side was probably coming out. He smiled widely the whole time. There is nothing quite so ‘swell’ as a quality ‘freebee’.
Paris has great chefs, waiters, cafes, restaurants, cheeses, bread, food, and wine. It is a gourmet wonderland.
Parisians are cultured, urbane, and genteel, but with a natural defiance and reserve.
The Frenchman is freedom loving. He will not allow anyone to take his liberty away. He lives his ‘liberty, equality, and fraternity’.
Unlike the UK, there appear to be no major social class distinctions in France. The main social distinctions are between the white French, and African and Middle Eastern Migrants.
The latter have never fully integrated into the French culture. The French appear nuanced and detached.
French culture is the core determinant for social advancement. That is how it should be everywhere. When in Rome do as Romans.
Like in the US, there is a reaching upwards, towards aspects of French culture, language, accent, nuance, habit, and value set, that bring personal advancement.
The culture of France is aspirational. That is unlike the UK, where the working classes delight in their working class sub culture, lower class habits, and conversation.
The result of French social egalitarianism, a child of the French Revolution, is an equally aspirational architecture and planning, that also looks up and out.
French society pulls everyone up the ladder towards the ‘Promised Land’.
London on the other hand, is still divided into working class and upper class suburbs and communities.
Working class areas of London are grubbier and dirtier than upper class areas. This speaks of the lower self-esteem of the British working classes.
Class division in the UK is set in stone. There were a number of rail and airline strikes in the UK in December.
Most had class division as a subset in their disagreements.
Still, one must be careful. It has been said that getting tired of London is getting tired of life.
To be continued
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