Feeling the heat in Paris
JANUARY 1, 2004
"Meet me at the bonfire. Saturday at noon," said The Mole to Isabelle, his beautiful spy at Renault. The words were designed to mean nothing to anyone listening, but Isabelle knew immediately that "the bonfire" was their codename for a statue in the Place de l'Alma in Paris, a golden flame modelled on the one that sits on top of the torch of the Statue of Liberty in New York. It had been a gift from the American business community to the French nation to mark the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.
Isabelle was delighted at the news because she knew that meeting The Mole there meant that he would take her to lunch at Alain Ducasse's Michelin three star restaurant in the Hotel Plaza Athenee, just a block away. Working at Renault was not a very lucrative job but Isabelle is a girl who knows how to appreciate the good things in life.
At midday on Saturday she was standing by the golden flame, looking like a million dollars and feeling like two million. If anyone had crept close enough they would have picked up a hint of Arpege, the only perfume for grown-up girls. She watched as The Mole came shambling across the road to meet her. Englishmen, she thought, are always so untidy but when they speak she cannot help but find them sexy. English is a most beautiful language. She pondered for a moment whether she should tell The Mole that if he read her some Shakespeare, she might become decidedly amorous.
In the end, she decided to talk about the shopping.
"I love the Avenue Montaigne," she said. "It's divine."
"I thought," said The Mole, "that we might have a spot of lunch at the Plaza. I do hope that's all right?"
Isabelle smiled, bathing herself in The Mole's Englishness.
"I will survive," she said, with a coy smile.
"I love The Plaza," said The Mole. "So elegant, so refined."
"I used to come here sometimes with my lover," said Isabelle.
"Oh," said The Mole. "I always come with my wife."
There was a pause and they smiled sweetly at one another.
"And," said Isabelle. "I suppose that you never stray from Madame Mole?"
"English gentlemen never talk about that sort of thing," said The Mole with a fake frown.
"Ah, you English," said Isabelle. "You are so backward in your passions."
"Not to mention our cooking," said The Mole, deciding that the conversation had best move on.
"C'est vrai," said Isabelle. "You eat a pudding that you can see through. It is orange and it wobbles."
"Yes," said The Mole. "We call it jelly."
"C'est degueulasse," she said.
"Anyway," said The Mole. "As much as I love to discuss sex, good food and shopping, I am really here to find out about the French Grand Prix."
"Ah bon," said Isabelle. "You only want me for my information."
The Mole laughed.
They were ushered into the hotel and up to the sumptuous dining room, overlooking the courtyard with its famous red awnings and geraniums. The Mole was not very hungry and ordered only the half-cooked crayfish with caviar. He did not even notice what Isabelle had ordered. He was enjoying the moment too much.
"The Grand Prix?" said The Mole when everything was in order.
"Well," said Isabelle, leaning forward and adopting a conspiratorial tone. "This promoter type, Monsieur Hodel, he has been trying to get Renault to pay money to save the race. He's even been to Michelin. And I guess he's been to see Elf as well. The problem, you see, is that no-one wants to pay for Magny-Cours."
"What about the government?" said The Mole. "They are always bailing out companies that they are not supposed to be helping."
"They do not care," said Isabelle. "Magny-Cours is a monument to the bad old days of socialism but the people in power now are Republicans. They believe that the Nievre department has had enough public money for the race track. Down in Nevers they are desperate. They have blown the whole story to the press in the hope that public opinion will force the government to act. They think that France cannot exist without a Grand Prix.
"What about the Minister of Sport," said The Mole.
"As in Dorothy?" said The Mole.
"As in love," said Isabelle with a little smile. "Monsieur Lamour says that he will do everything in his power to fix the problem. That means he's not going to do anything. The Federation Francaise du Sport Automobile has given up. The only hope was the regional council of the Nievre. But Marcel Charmant, the boss of that council, has said that the answer is no."
"Charmant as in charming?" asked The Mole.
"Alas," said Isabelle. "He is not a prince."
"Well, if you French will chop of the heads of all your aristocrats," said The Mole. "I am afraid you'll just have to live without Prince Charmings."
"Ah, but we have you English to charm us," said Isabelle. "Anyway, you jelly-eaters can have your princes and now you can have your Grand Prix on July 11. I shall be on holiday. That is the weekend just before the Quatorze Juillet holiday and everyone in France will, how do you say, faire le pont. I don't know the English word. We will make a bridge between the weekend and the national holiday and so everyone will get five days off work. Fantastique, huh? And I am not going to waste my time in Northampton having to eat your jelly and your sausages and mash."
"Silverstone is not very thrilling," admitted The Mole. "I am sure that you can go to the beach and get some nice young man to rub oil into your half-naked body."
"Half naked?" she laughed. "I will be only a petit triangle of silk away from total nakedness."
For a moment The Mole thought about spending Saturday afternoon with Isabelle in a room at the Plaza. But then, feeling horribly guilty, he changed the subject.
"What else do you hear?" he said, awkwardly.
"An old flame from the Williams-Renault days says that Williams are in heavy negotiation to sign Rubens Barrichello to replace Montoya in 2005."
The Mole was not really listening, struggling with his decision.
"A good choice," he said finally.
"I am not so sure," said Isabelle. "I think that other options are much more exciting."
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