I’m in Paris tonight. Sounds exotic doesn’t it; maybe even romantic. Except this is a business trip and I’m staying in La Défense.
The business trip part means that I travelled here from Switzerland at the close of the working day, arrived at around 21.00 and worked with the team until midnight on the presentation that we will make tomorrow at 10.00.
The La Défense part means that I’m not really in the Paris of your imagination with medieval gargoyles looking down from Notre Dame to Belle Époque grandeur that seems approachable simply because it is so familiar.
La Défense is SimCity with a French accent. It is a temple of commerce with huge ego buildings rising up like Superman’s crystal palace, vying with one another to be the tallest or the most dramatic and dwarfing the tens of thousands of people that Métro disgorges here each day. This is about using math to challenge physics. It is the physical manifestation of the triumph of rationalism over nature. There is not a tree in sight. Everything is planned, including the line of sight from Grande Arche to the Arc De Triumph. Everything shouts “See how important we are.” It is an impressive display but I think that, as a way of designing a city, it has all the evolutionary redundancy of peacock’s tail.
Still, this is where you come if you want to do business with the big boys. In fact, that’s what this is, a play fort for all those captains of industry who’ve never grown out of the need to impress.
I wasn’t supposed to be here tonight. This morning, I thought I’d be in Brussels tonight, but the French client changed their mind about who they needed to see before they will sign the deal so I got a call saying, “Come to Paris tonight.”
Strange how that sounds more exciting in the telling than it was in the living.
I was in Geneva when the call came. I booked myself on the TGV, the high-speed train, which covers the distance between Geneva and Paris in about three hours.
It was my first time on the TGV. I sat upstairs in a seat with plenty of space and a power point for my laptop. The ticket price includes a meal served at your seat. I took the Greek Salad and the Grilled Salmon steak. It was much more edible than airline food.
I took a taxi from Gare de Lyon to my hotel and rediscovered that Parisian taxi drivers all seem to be retired jet test pilots, with killer reflexes and no regard for the number of Gs they subject their passengers to.
The final stretch of road out from the centre of Paris to La Défense is very wide, three lanes in each direction, into which the French seem to manage to pack at least eight lines of fast-moving traffic.
I almost died on the road tonight. A car heading into Paris lost a tyre, span out of control and hit the cast iron railing in the centre of the road so hard that a car-length of railing was thrown into my lane. I saw the whole thing as if it was in slow motion, realizing that we were in the way of the railing at the same time that I registered that two more cars were about to hit the one that had already crashed. My test-pilot driver hit the accelerator hard enough to throw me back against my seat and moved to the right at the same time. The iron railing missed us. Life carried on.
As I listened to the driver, still moving at speed through the traffic, calling the emergency services and asking them to send an ambulance or maybe two, I imagined how things might have been if he had been a little slower to react.
What a story it would have made: Mike makes an unplanned trip to Paris, just in time to be impaled on flying French railings.
Of course, in another part of the multiverse, I guess that’s exactly what happened.
In my reality, I have to be up in six hours to do a final walk-through before we meet the client, so I’m saying bon soirée and going and getting some sleep.
Thanks for listening.