By Harry Mottram: Last September I was deported from Rome as my passport was officially stolen – now with a new passport I took a day trip from Bristol Airport to Paris to check I wouldn’t get detained, interrogated, and accompanied by an armed guard and put back on a plane home. And so, with some trepidation I entered the Automated Passport Control at Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) after an Easy Jet flight and hoped it would wave me through. Or rather the machine having scanned my face (sans hat and sans glasses) said I was who I said I was and not an international criminal like last time and waved me through. Phew.

My wife Linda has booked a long weekend in Marseilles in June this year sending me into a panic. What if I was refused entry having had the experience of Rome last year when she had to have a holiday without me after the police put me on a plane home? It was the closest we’ve come to a divorce – as she said, “the only thing you had to do was to make sure your passport was OK – I’ve done everything else.” Thankfully I wasn’t the only one as Linda teamed up with Megan from America whose husband, I met in Rome’s police station, also had a dodgy passport. There’s something comforting knowing you are not the only idiot.

So, one day in March 2023, I arrived in the French capital with only a sketchy idea of what to do as I had expected to be sent home on the next plane. Without a plan with my newfound freedom, I walked what seemed several miles of corridors through the airport to the railway station. And after checking a map I took a train into the centre of the city – once I had worked out how to buy a ticket at one of the machines – which are not as easy as you might imagine.

With the civil unrest in France and Paris in particular, over the pension reform strikes and demonstrations I was hoping to witness rioting workers and perhaps getting a stun grenade thrown at me by a gendarme. No such luck. At least I hoped to see the piles of rubbish that had been widely reported. Sadly, apart from a couple bin liners outside a restaurant in the Sorbonne area the streets were clean. Or rather cleanish. Just like Bristol, London or even Yatton, there were scattered alongside the railway and main roads the usual sort of single use plastic bottles, cans and food wrappers – and on any empty shop front or concrete wall there were the ubiquitous graffiti tags and incomprehensible words. All in contrast to a Netflix documentary I had seen before I went in which the actor Hugh Laurie went on about how clean Paris is. Clearly, he didn’t take the RER B to the city centre from CDG Airport.

Emerging from the huge shopping centre that is Les Halles, I headed to the nearby Pompidou Centre having read about it and seen the photographs of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano’s ‘inside out’ arts centre and library. The vast construction – a mass of steel girders and glass panels with its distinctive colour coded utility pipes and ascending exterior escalators inside a tube of Perspex stands high above the surrounding buildings.

The Centre national d’art et de culture Georges-Pompidou to use its full name was covered in bird poo and needed a good clean when I visited.  Like many tourists I stopped as I entered the piazza and took a photo as much to say to myself, I had made it to Paris, and I suspected this would be my one and only visit to the centre. The piazza was filled with parties of students eating their MacDonalds burgers and fries bought from the nearby outlet in the appropriately named Rue Berger.

I had expected queues, and had bought my ticket in advance online, but I was disappointed as there were no crowds – in fact I walked straight in and had a coffee in the empty cafe. The art exhibitions were less than inspiring. Room after room, gallery after gallery displayed the works of modern artists which left one feeling puzzled, confused and at best mystified. There was an exhibition by the Indian artist Sayed Haider Raza and one by Germaine Richier which made more sense with her sculptures, engravings and drawings depicting the human form since WW2. And a silk screen print of Elizabeth Taylor by Andy Warhol – one of a very few representations of the human face – gave me the satisfying feeling I’d seen something famous – not exactly a bucket list moment but as an ex-art student Warhol’s silk screen prints were something to be noted. But the permanent collection was impossible to take in with one canvas displayed on its own in a large room featuring just one uniform colour of er… black paint. There was a security guard in the room just in case you were tempted to pinch it.

Deciding I needed a sarnie and a glass of vino to inject some sanity into my bloodstream I left the modernist centre where I had that familiar feeling experienced in futuristic buildings: where was the exit? Eventually finding it I pressed a button to allow me to leave and as I did so a large number of teenagers entered without paying. Good luck to them I thought, and I wasn’t convinced they were entering to appreciate the exhibitions – but perhaps to use the toilets or just to hang out.

I was in Paris with barely four hours to spend – and with fine spring weather I decided to walk. After the Pompidou Centre I crossed the Seine to the Notre Dame half expecting the cathedral to still be smouldering after the fire. Instead, it was covered in scaffolding with a wooden grandstand positioned in front of the twin towers so tourists could sit and watch the restoration work. I took my place and like everyone else took a photo and relaxed in the sunshine. And listened into the conversations of those around me. One girl nearby complained the restoration work wasn’t completed as she had wanted a selfie for her Instagram account. Honestly, it was most inconsiderate of the workforce not to have speeded up the repairs on the Notre-Dame de Paris ahead of its reopening in December 2024. Instagram cannot wait that long.

On again and across the river. Outside the Louvre I was accosted by young scammers trying to get me to part with two Euros as part of a photocopied petition of unlikely names to save ‘deaf, dumb and blind children’ in France. I’m sure no such charity exists and if it did the name would not be the one on the fake petition. They got very angry with me when I said it was a scam and I had to wrestle my way free.

With limited time I had decided not to buy a ticket for the Louvre and judging by the vast queues outside it was one of my better decisions. Walking up through the Jardin des Tuileries the crowds were vast. This was a Wednesday in March – not the height of the season. Beautifully laid out as they are the gardens don’t have many public loos and the only one I found was tiny with a long queue to go in, however there were no crowds at the Museum of Modern Art where I headed next. And apart from spotless toilets there was the spectacular fresco painted for the 1937 International Exposition by Raoul Dufy to sit and gape at. Sorry – appreciate. It is an incredible painting with its depiction of all the men (and one woman) who made breakthroughs in the discovery and eventual taming of electricity. (

One footnote on my walk along the banks of the river was coming across the Flame of Liberty which has been turned into a shrine to the late Diana Princess of Wales. Beneath the replica of the flame in New York’s Statue of Liberty was the underpass where she died in a car crash. There was a steady trickle of pilgrims to this rather melancholy latter day modern cultural memorial. Flowers were left along with countless padlocks and some photographs.

With time running out I walked back to Les Halles calling in at the Church of St Eustace – a vast Gothic cathedral like building every bit as stunning as the closed Notre Dame – and with hardly a single tourist. Its interior is filled with paintings, statues and shrines to Christian martyrs, beautiful chapels, with its blend of Renaissance and Gothic columns and vaults. Some of the paintings take time to decipher such as the Virgin comforting the afflicted but are worth sitting in the cool of the pews to gaze at and wonder at the scale and beauty.

Back at the airport via the RER B train I contemplated my rather pricey day trip. The airflight was around £90, the train about £20, a meal around £20, Pompidou Centre entry £12, snacks and drinks £10 and of course my new passport setting me back £82.50. It was the most expensive day out I’ve ever had but if it means no divorce papers are served after an abortive trip to Marseilles this June with Linda – then it was money well spent. And I did get to see Paris on a spring day – but no gendarmes beating demonstrators or piles of uncollected garbage. Still – you can’t have everything.

Rapscallion Magazine is an online publication edited by Harry Mottram

Harry is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc

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