The Brave Warrior in West Africa 6 – Dernier jour à Paris

In Travels on February 1, 2013 at 9:10 am


A Brave Warrior is trained from birth, possibly even in the womb, not to show too much outward sign of emotions, positive or negative. The Mongols called it the ‘cold face’.

So, in delight of having obtained my visa for Congo in just 20 minutes, I avoid skipping lightheartedly down the street, swinging from lampposts, or doing a wonderful impression of Gene Kelly in the musical ‘An American in Paris’. But inside, I am extremely relieved. With my aches and pains, the thought of having to come back to Central Paris tomorrow was not a great motivator.

I decide as I am near, and in fact can see a part of it at the top of the road, to walk to the Place de l’Etoile. This is the famous circle where the Arc de Triomphe is situated. There are some 12 major avenues leading into and out of it. Only a Frenchman can take delight at driving into this major Paris landmark. As I walk around the edges, I realise just how massive the Place de l’Etoile really is. Probably outside of Tien an Men Square in Beijing, I’ve never seen a bigger ‘carrefour’. The Arc has a giant French tricolore hanging from the middle.

There is also a Mauritian connection… On the walls is a plaque commemorating the (only) French Napoleonic naval victory against the British. This took place in 1810 and is known as the battle of Grand Port, situated just north of Mahebourg. The French soundly defeated the attack of General Pym, although it must be said that they surrendered the whole island to the overwhelming British forces within a few weeks. This reminds me of an interesting incident on Google some time back where entering the search item “French Military Victories|” yielded the response: “Your search did not match any documents. Did you mean ‘French military defeats?

As I consider this singular moment in French naval history, I can’t help but think of my recent visit with my mother to the truly magnificent Chateau de Versailles. There is an entire wing there dedicated to famous French military victories, with an imposing gold engraving at the entrance declaring “A toutes les gloires de la  France”. What struck me then and does so again, is how a nation has somehow managed to salvage glory out of so many abject defeats. Going back all the way to Vercingetorix against Caesar (52 BC); 7 battles, including Crecy against the English in 1345-1347; Agincourt (1415), Blenheim (1704); Quebec City (1759); Trafalgar (1805); Waterloo (1815); the siege of Paris (1870); Hitler bypassing the ‘impenetrable’ Maginot Line for the battle of France in 1940; Dien Bien Phu (1954); the nation has known calamitous defeats, yet they can still build magnificent monuments to ‘All the Glories of France’! Without being too biased here, the Brave Warrior code of impartiality does require that I mention that in 1066 Guillaume of Normandy, known to us a William the Conqueror, was the last foreigner to invade England successfully. There is also that famous battle involving the Marquis de la Fayette in the North American revolutionary war that turned the tide against the British, thereby resulting in the creation of the USA. So, the French have also won some world changing battles as well! So much for the history lesson…

Before disappearing underground into the Metro, I am privileged to take in the truly magically beautiful sight of the Champs Elysées lit up with the Christmas lights. They don’t call Paris ‘Ville Lumière’ for nothing.

After a very long day, a very tired Brave Warrior finally gets home. Dinner, seated next to a roaring fire with (Youngest) daughter no.3 and new Son-in-law, at a fine restaurant in the woods rounds off the soirée very nicely indeed.

Friday morning is spent on Skype with various people in Mauritius, before I realise with a start that I have a business appointment in Central Paris. One of the companies I advise has asked me to meet with a potential supplier of Turkish dried fruits and nuts. Rush to Central Paris once again; spend an interesting hour learning all about French Levantine traders in Turkey.

What is more fascinating is the fact that the gentleman I am talking to is actually a Mauritian, married into the Franco-Turkish Pagy family who have been trading products from the ancient city of Smyrna (Izmir) for the past 270 years. How likely is it that from all the companies I could have approached? Would you believe that a month ago, I travelled to Saarbucken in Germany to visit a Christian publishing house. The lady I had been dealing with turns out to be a Mauritian from Rose Hill, who listens to our live broadcasts on Nuradio from Trianon every Sunday. I wonder if there is something afoot in all this? All I need now is to meet a couple of Mauritians in Africa…

As duty calls, I also have to go the Angolan Embassy. It is only to check out if it is possible to get a visa quickly to fly to Luanda when I get back from Ivory Coast next week. Of course, the embassy is located on one of the prime luxury addresses of Paris at 19 Avenue Foch. There is probably no better location in Paris. It is cold and wet as I make my way past the large properties on this wide avenue.

I enter the gate and see a massive 4-story ‘hotel’ as they are known here. To my left is a gatehouse that is larger than my apartment back home. There is space to park and manoeuvre at least 25 cars in the courtyard. A smart suited gentleman comes out and looks at me questioningly before informing me that this is the Embassy. The consulate is located some distance away near the Parc Monceau. One has to wonder what they do in this large building that they need another one elsewhere just for passports and visas.

On arrival at the consulate at 13:15, a few minutes before closing time, I am greeting by 4 extremely bored looking ladies who hand me a form and instruction sheet. One tells me that a visa takes between 15 and 21 days, as the file has to be sent to Luanda. I explain my particular circumstances, and she disinterestedly tells me to tell all that to the ‘man’ who will be there shortly. I sit outside in the waiting room listening to a group of bike couriers exchange ‘war’ stories. It seems the chappie can come downstairs at any point between 14:00 and 15:00, which sounds very promising indeed. After 40 minute or so, I approach the desk again, wanting to know when ‘Monsieur’ will be down. She tells me: “He will!” Because I don’t move, she sniffs and deigns to ring his office before telling me curtly that he will be only a few more minutes.

Just before 14:30, a young dude complete with leather jacket makes an appearance. His arms are loaded with passports. The couriers seem to know him well. His name, strangely for a Portuguese speaking Angolan, is Elton… My latest good friend Elton tells me that anyone seeking a visa must come in person to submit the application. The delay is usually around 15 days with no guarantees. I explain my circumstances – that I can hardly spend 2 weeks in Paris waiting for a visa – and am told that I should try London if I think it might faster. I ask about South Africa; he has no clue how it works there. I speak about SADC or COMESA countries; he doesn’t seem to have heard of these either. Conclusion: it is highly unlikely that I could decide on a whim to pop off to Angola.

It is dark and cold and wet as the Brave Warrior wraps up his tour of African embassies. Despite still dragging a cold and the associated aches and pains, he must still go to a dinner with some French ladies to discuss a project for CTMI Media. A pleasant Parisian evening later, he heads home to pack his bags.

I have to leave for the airport at 7am for my flight to Brazzaville tomorrow.



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