Michael Jackson. RIP...........well, not quite . News comes in that he has been re-packed and removed to a secret destination . No peace as yet, poor chap.
Michael Jackson was part of the background scenery throughout my son's growing up years.
His infancy was spent in the Ilupeju district of Lagos, Nigeria. This was in a pre-cellphone, pre-email era when postal mail took 15 days to reach and the telephone exchange of that area did not process ISD. ( overseas calls had to be made from The External Telecommunications Department in the business district ). With no easy and immediate access to the support system of elderly female relatives, it was a perfect setting for a nascent mother to lose her marbles.
I was often at wits end when the little tyrant brought the house down with his inscrutable tantrums. As i had much trust in the calming magic of music, i religiously tried out various genres on the hyperactive child: Vocal, instrumental, classical, pop, folk, desi, western, filmy......My dear son, least affected by the dulcet soundwaves, would continue with his devilry -of -the- day to the beat of his own high decibel vocals.
Till he heard : " Dont Stop till you get enough !"
Purely by chance, i noticed that when this song came on the TV Screen with the visuals of an ecstatic young Jackson floating down continually against a psychedelic background, my boy became a transformed person. He sat as though mesmerised ! That voice had that power over him.
From then on, Jackson became my rock, my magic wand. One ominous pout on the little one's face and my cassette player would start belting out Jackson in continuous loop, smothering out any incipient tornado.
And my son grew up Jackson- crazy. We had all the songs in multiple editions.
The childhood craze not only endured, but grew in intensity....... As a teen, he treasured a particular pair of branded shoes with the signature and the lettering "MJ" embossed on its side........ And just the other day, he and his wife were planning to wrangle tickets for the O2 concert in London when the bad news was flashed.
Made us all very sad.
And , inevitably, some memories were dug up and ruminated upon.
MJ had hogged our family holiday once - on the kids' first visit to Paris.
Eiffel Tower was done almost immediately upon arrival. Went up. Went under. Went around. Photographed from all over.
Next on list, Arc D'Triomphe, though they dint find it all that exciting. They hardly paid any attention to my enthusiastic lecture in history ; but were suitably impressed by The Egyptian Obelisk at Place de la Concorde : a 3300 year old , 23 meters high red granite monolith covered with hieroglyphics praising the Pharoah Ramases II . ( Years later, we would see its twin in Luxor).
(The Egyptian Obelisk)
We'd scheduled Louvre for two days, as one trip would not be enough even to scratch the surface of this mind blowing museum. ( A discovery : Tickets sold after 3 pm. cost less) But on the first day, unfortunately, we got wedged in an interminable queue to see the Mona Lisa, which i suspect put the kids off any culture-vulture activities for life . I cant forget what my little daughter said when we finally stood before the hallowed painting. " You made us stand in line to see this ! This picture was all over the platforms when we came here, dint you see ! " The poor child was genuinely perplexed. ( the reproductions on art paper , sold everywhere, are too good, its true).
(Winged Nike in Louvre )
And the next morning, the very mention of "Museum" had them both glaring daggers at me. So , dumped Louvre and decided on the beautiful basilica of Sacre Coeur in Montmarte - an area bursting at its seams with artistic activity, which i was keen for the kids to experience.
But, we'd barely got to the underground station near our hotel,when the son shrieked like he'd had a divine vision . And a divine vision it truly was, because plastered on a huge bill board was MJ ! A 3D movie starring him as Captain EO was showing at the Euro- Disneyland. That decided the plan for the day, then and there. Disneyland Paris, which was to be the last item on our trip became the most urgently, immediately sought destination.
Once in presence of those fairy tale turrets and the bright face of the beloved Mickey Mouse, i myself regressed to childhood : 'Lets do the Pirates Ride !......the Haunted castle !..... the African Safari !'.......and suddenly realised that the little ones were not adding any enthusiastic whoops to my breathless excitement.
They stood rooted under a sign board, hands on hips in determination and defiance :
"M-i-c-h-a-e-l J-a-c-k-s-o-n." They declared - steely eyed and mafioso-like .
So, to the awesome theatre.
MJ , as Captain EO , with his sidekick, Fuzzball, set the screen ablaze with his inimitable moves. In 3D, almost in flesh and blood, his long fingers reached out to brush our faces and the kids were electrified ! (To be honest, so were their parents !)
A simulated spaceship flight , after the movie, made their day and after that thrill, everything else - Pirates, Jungles, Ghosts, cartoon characters -just palled.
( Basilica Sacre Coeur)
For the remainder of our time in Paris, the kids were sort of floating around like zoombies , muttering only about Captain EO. I wonder if the magnificence of The Invalides, the grim glory of The Place de la Bastille or the immanent joy of Champs Elysees registered in their minds at all. Worse, if by accident, they caught a strain of "Bad" or " Billie Jean" on the TV in the hotel room, they refused to budge out for sightseeing.
Some vignettes ( from different visits) of the enchanting city that is feted, drooled over and sung about like no other:
If Eiffel Tower is the symbol of the city, the Cathedral of Notre Dame is , in my view, its masterpiece. The Gothic monument, though damaged during wars, stands tall as a showcase to the inspired magnificence of religious art. Notre Dame is also called Point Zero, since distances to all districts are measured from here. Near the cathedral is a famous Ice Cream Parlour which has been dishing out treats made with natural ingredients since long before "Natural"became a fashionable mantra.
Paris has a fair share of immigrants . Tamils ( both indian and srilankan variety) in great numbers, cluster around La Chapelle , Gare du Nord and Passage Brady. The last is choc-a-bloc with Indian eateries.
Parisians seem to have a very great love for dogs. The Best Friends are all over the place, as pet, fashion accessory , guide, family member or temporary adoptee. I learnt that there are special squads ( Poo Police ?) just to keep an eye on people who dont clean up after their dogs in public places.
Paris is a lovely , lively city. But the average Parisian ( -nne) cannot be truly classified as warm and friendly. Shop keepers and ticketing clerks are quite often surly. And ofcourse, there's this unflagging sense of superiority about their French Culture, French food, French language . Carrying this chauvinism a bit too far, even those who can speak English, resolutely don't.
We heard of a funny ,but legal , property deal used in Paris. Called Viager, its a contract where a dwelling is sold outright, but the buyer cannot claim it till the seller is dead !
Another "tradition" which is tolerated : If a national holiday falls on Thursday or Tuesday, people can take leave on the intervening Friday day or Monday, to get a long weekend. Such days are called "ponts" ( bridges) and greatly looked forward to. The workforce enjoys a legal minimun of 5 weeks a year as vacation . While a Work Week is only 35 hours ! And like our own West Bengal, there's a strike at the drop of a hat ( or scarf). Wonder how work gets done !
With the River Seine cutting across the city, there are two faces to Paris : The Right Bank ( Rive Droit)and The Left Bank(Rive Gauche) . This is not merely a geographical partition. There seems to be a marked cultural and lifestyle divide as well. The Right Bank is associated with elegance , while the Left Bank is more bohemian .
Paris has a Museum- obsession . There are about 40 known and advertised museums and many a private do. ........ Picasso, Rodin, Moreau and The Impressionist Movement , deservedly, have their dedicated museums. But there are those not so usual ones too :A Hunting museum, a medal museum, a ship museum, a wine museum....... The grandest of all is ofcourse The Louvre , a treasure house of staggering proportions. 35,000 permanent exhibits in 60,000Sq. meters. Temporary and traveling exhibits are extra. I find The Etruscan Section and Antiquities of The Levant very impressive. Though Mona Lisa is the face of Louvre, there are many other paintings ( some by Da Vinci himself) that are more arresting and charming than that one.
( Titian : The Entombment of Christ)
No trip to Paris is truly complete without a visit to its famous cabaret halls Lido and Moulin Rouge. On a kid-less trip, we saw a fantastic show at Lido .The synchronisation achieved by two dozen dancers was unbelievable. These shows pull out all stops. There were real elephants , real rain and thunderstorms onstage. A rich production in every sense, except for the severe economising on the female performers' clothing !
Paris is not one entity.They say it is reborn or re-invents itself everyday. And that no two visitors see the same Paris. Seems true.
"City Of Light" is one of the numerous, superlative titles bestowed on Paris, for whatever reason. But we found our own justification for it when one day, gallivanting without looking at the watch, we wondered why we were all feeling tired and sleepy around mid afternoon, a healthy sun glowing cheerfully overhead : The watch informed us it was 8.30 pm.! This was disorienting for us south- indians, so used to dusk closing in by 5 pm. and 8.30 considered "night".
Like they say, you live and you learn.
Adieu, Captain EO