The view from my window on the 26th floor of the Concorde Lafayette was stunning - across the city dusted with snow and carved into mysterious chunks by roads, with Sacre Coeur springing up like a fantasy in stone. The 360-degree viewer on the rather impenetrable hotel Web site doesn't do it justice! By now I was ravenous; the hotel has a panoramic bar on the 34th floor but that didn't open until 4pm when we were supposed to leave; so we tried the panoramic view from the club lounge but the room service prices there were scary and drove us to the bar on the ground floor where it took an age to get served; but the hot open sandwiches where worth waiting for.
Paris is splendid in the snow even at ground level; many of the Christmas decorations were still up, including banks of trees covered in lights and illuminated by washes of colour. We watched the keynote from the foyer of the Pompidou Centre, distracted only slightly by the enormous gilded flowerpot in the square, then rode the escalators up to the top floor to see the new notebooks and hustle through the donnybrook to grab a drink and a canapé. These ranged from delicious to bizarre and it was very crowded. The view is amazing up there; riding up a series of escalators you gradually move to the top of the tall buildings in the square (some draped in sheets of lights) and look down on the people and the sculpture gallery, then you start to see beyond. The moon appeared, a thick yellow crescent in the sky, then the top of the Eiffel tower, then a flag blowing in the breeze and reflecting the lights like a splash of liquid fire against a golden dome. I love looking at cities at night, or from high up and this was a stunning view. The sheer mass of people made getting at the food difficult; one of the UK journalists had lost his luggage and spent the day at the airport trying to retrieve it and he was faint with hunger. I was shattered and not in a party mood; I asked an Apple guy some questions and never actually noticed that he was someone I'd known for years at Microsoft (as he put it the next day 'I thought I recognised you among the 2.5 million people I spoke to last night but I wasn't sure' and I had a badge with my name on!) So three of us took a last look at the city and bailed; the street was bitterly cold so we walked towards the metro, flagged down the first taxi we saw back to the hotel and had dinner in a nice little cafe (Le Petit Sale - selle d'agneau for me, cassoulet for them, a very young and fresh Cotes du Rhone and delicious chocolate mousse, profiteroles and tarte tatin).
I always try to speak the language wherever I am but I think of my French as rusty and creaky. I was impressing everyone by actually communicating in French pretty well this time; the usher at the keynote told me about the seating arrangements and for the first time in years I understood the French in my head without translating it - I just understood it! The waiters at the restaurant only spoke to us in French even though we were talking English together, even things like did I want the lamb rare (oh yes!) and I managed things like 'we all need separate receipts for work expenses'!
The night view of Paris from my room was mesmerising too, with Sacre Coeur competing with the Hitachi sign! After a nice long sleep and a morning of briefings, I spent a happy afternoon dashing around the shops: 4 tins of cassoulet from Galleries Lafayette Gourmet, new BD comics from Album and oops, I seem to have bought a carpet and a couple of other things while I was looking for the cash point! I was so impressed with myself, because I did it all in French and not only could I make myself understood and understand everything they said to me, I was doing well enough that no-one dropped back into English with me. So I asked the man selling the fabulous silk carpets (jewel-like colours that glow like enamel or stained glass, in a mosaic design that alternates vivid and pastel colours; I saw it in the window and tracked down the shop three flours down in the shopping centre!) if he'd rent me the carpet when I meant to say could he arrange delivery to London but we got there in the end! I got to ask him to show me the different sizes and patterns and to express why I liked the carpet - the quality of the colours - and I understood the charming little speech about how gad he was I liked it and had happened to see it and made one of my own about how helpful he was and how I would be glad not to take the carpet shopping with me!
I'm a bit disappointed that I got mixed up in the metro: I walked for ages through the RER station to get line E to Magenta, which is next to Gard du Nord when if I'd understood the chap in the comic shop properly I could have got the metro line to Gare de l'Est from outside the shop (ten minutes closer than the RER) and walked over to the Gare du Nord faster than trekking through the RER. I thought he said the platforms for the metro lines were right across from one another but I didn't want to change with the wheelie suitcase of cassoulet; he actually said, as I realised later, that the Gare de l'Est is right across from the Gare du Nord. I was more bothered by misunderstanding him than by missing the train. Well, I was there in time but the check-in had just closed; luckily I had a flexible ticket because I'd only booked it that morning, because my plane ticket had been for 10am, which would have meant I'd have missed all the press briefings, so I sat in the bar with a book and a nice glass of Biere Bruggse Blanche de Bruges (yes, I know!).
Actually, the plane ticket being wrong was lucky for me too. Coming back on Wednesday it was the snow at Heathrow causing problems. Because the plane ticket was wrong and couldn't be changed, I'd said I'd just go back by train but everyone else went to the airport, spent three hours waiting for planes while I was shopping and either got diverted to London City and Bristol (handy for the ones from Bath of course) or came back into Paris to get the same train as me (I met them as they came back from the buffet!). The train was warm and fast; the train back from Waterloo to Putney was fine too, but as one of my bags had split in transit I asked Simon to drive down (the little black car is all white!) and pick me up so I could enjoy the snow without walking through it!
This was fun: the press briefings were well worth the trip, I caught up with some friends, Paris in the snow is so pretty, I spent way too much money shopping... Go me!