Friday, April 19, 2013

"Pensees De Paree - Les Hilites"

Here’s how people (with questionable intentions) can mess you up when you return from a trip:

“So you went to Paris, huh?”

“Yeah, it was great.”

“Did you go to the Catacombs?”


“The Rodin museum?


“The Parisian sewer tour?”


Les Invalides?”


“The Pere Lachaise cemetery?”



“Did you go to Paris at all?”


“What did you do?  Stay in the room?”

Okay, so my “Paris Experience” has been effectively peed upon.  I went, but I, apparently, saw nussing! 

How did I miss everything?  Well, our guidebook asserts there are 1566 things to do in Paris.  We did maybe eleven of them.  But I have to tell you, it was a memorable eleven.

Top of the list was exploring Paris with in the company of my wife, my daughter Anna and her husband Colby.  We were there together.  As Rick said in Casablanca, and no more sincerely than Dr. M expressed it for all of us:

“We will always have Paris.”
The touristical highlights?

Riding the buses to destinations unknown (except, hopefully, to the bus driver.)

Visiting the Pantheon, the final resting place of many of France’s most exalted writers – Victor “Les Miserables” Hugo, Alexandre “The Three Museketeers” Dumas, Emile “J’Accuse” Zola.  I like a city that honors its scribblers.   Perhaps someday Los Angeles will similarly entomb its respected sitcom writers. 

Enjoying an extended walking tour (led by the enthusiastic Sophie) exposing us to the great Parisian landmarks – the venerable churches of St. Sulpice, St.-Germain-des-Pres and Notre Dame, the two thousand year-old remnants of the Roman baths, and, perhaps most impressively, the magical street from Midnight In Paris, where they picked up Owen Wilson and took him back to the twenties.  And you know the coolest part?  While we were there, the old clock started bonging. 

A second walking tour, (led by Margo, a Dutch emigree who bore a striking resemblance to Susan Sarandon at her most luminous) focused exclusively on the French Revolution.  We were shown the prisons housing the impending guillotine victims, most excitingly, the cell under the Palace of Justice where Marie Antoinette lived out her final moments, winding up at the Place de la Concorde, where the executions were carried out.  Though generally no fan of French aristocracy, the place made me unexpectedly sad.

Owing to Anna’s interests, we visited the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, offering samplings of fashion and furniture throughout the ages.  Colby’s engineering background took us us to the Musee des Arts et Metiers, showcasing scientific instruments and inventions, ranging from a replica of Galileo’s telescope to robotic vehicles that had driven the moon.

Finally…no wait, I have to include this, even though this event was more a highlight for others than for myself, where it fell closer to the opposite end of the memorability spectrum.

Due to one of our family member’s bottomless enthusiasm for a particular form of entertainment, we attended a magic show, conducted entirely in French.  The evening involved, what they call, “close-in” magic, primarily card tricks, accompanied by hilarious (for fluent French speakers) French patter.   

The problem for me was the venue.  Upon entering, we were directed down a spiraling stone staircase to what can only be described as a cave – because that’s what it was, the kind of spot where Jews would meet in secret to hold forbidden services. 

The “auditorium”, which could comfortably accommodate a dozen audience members, instead held forty.   Our party was crowded into the topmost row, from which, no matter the necessity, we would be unable to get out.

At this point, I should inform you that not once during our ten-day visit did I avail myself of our hotel’s tiny elevator, opting instead for the eight-five steps separating our Fourth Floor hotel room from the lobby.  Claustrophobia is my middle name. 

Actually, it’s Raymond, but only because, at my birth, my mother was unaware of my panic-inducing aversion to enclosed spaces.  I do not know how I handled in utero.

The magician would have a daunting challenge ahead of him.  He would have to be distracting enough to make me forget that I was trapped.  How did he do with that?  Well, he was extremely talented.

But not quite talented enough.

One more reminiscence before “finally.”  On the second night of Passover, Dr. M and I attended a communal Seder, conducted in English, French and Hebrew, though not necessarily in that order, and spearheaded by a black piano-playing cantor who performed the traditional Seder melodies to a rockingly infectious ragtime rhythm.  Imagine Little Richard doing Dayenu, and you’ve got it. 

Partaking of Passover seven thousand miles from home, hearing the same songs – albeit idiosyncratically arranged – observing the same Haggaddah rituals, feeling viscerally connected to a group and its three thousand-year history was well worth the elaborate long-distance arrangements. 

Jews together on the holidays – it’s a nourishing thing.

Now, finally, for me, the crowning cherry on the delectable sundae that was our Parisian vacation – a one-day excursion to the Normandy beaches.  (Conducted by the knowledgeable Sendrine, whose response to almost every question was “Absolu’ly.)

Standing on the bluffs, the chill wind whipping at your face, looking out at the water and the beaches down below, with the knowledge and awareness that regular people – “Citizen Soldiers”, they called them – had to force themselves out of the boats, hit the beaches, and ascend those bluffs under withering fire – what can I tell you, it just gets to you.   

At the nearby Memorial Cemetery, where nine thousand of the fallen lie together, there’s a book that visitors are invited to sign, include where they’re from, and offer accompanying “remarks.”  Other visitors wrote down “Honor”, “Respect”, “Duty.”  My emotions moved me to inscribe in the word “Heroes.” 

Though our visit was terrific, and memorable, gustatorially delightful, educational and fun, at our final evening, I heard myself explaining that, for me, Paris, though wonderful, is somebody else’s girlfriend.  I can easily understand why others love her, but on the all-important “Tingle Test”, it does not precisely hit the spot. 

That’s London, for a number of reasons.  And, to some degree, Rome, whose assault of history hits you like a ton of bricks.

Still, I would not have missed Paris – in the company of my loved ones – for the world. 

Au revoir, Paree. 

It’s been great knowin’ ya.


Canda said...

Delightful. I wish you'd share how we could get your tour guide.

By the way, as a claustrophobic, I would like to share my secret on how to have an MRI if you're claustrophobic. I blindfold myself before I enter the room where the machine is. One look at the machine and you're done. I'm led in, laid out, and then instruct them to put in the CD. I had a CD of the 7th game of the 1960 World Series, and knew that when we got to the middle of the 5th, the 45 minutes of the test would be over. Yes, there's clanging noises, but I could still hear the game. The entire time I envisioned myself at Forbes Field, the sun beating down on me. When the test is over, I have them lead me out of the room. I never remove the blindfold, in case I ever have to come back. I don't want to know what the MRI machine looks like.

JED said...

I really enjoyed this series of stories. You have such a wonderful way of describing your trip. I can just see you in each of the situations.

I've been fortunate to get to visit Paris a few times and really enjoyed it each time. I think I sounded so helpless (three years of high school French) that the Parisians took pity on me and were very nice to me and my companions. Even in the restaurants.

The highlight of one of the trips was seeing Woody Allen's Sleeper in a tiny little cinema. The movie was in English with French subtitles so we were laughing a few seconds before everyone else. I hope we didn't annoy them but what could we do? By the way, the title was Woody et les Robots there.

Mac said...

Very cool Earl, looking forward to the kindle download.

Parisian food is (rightly) celebrated, but LA food (which is not) is truly amazing. The variety of different cuisine from all around the world is staggering, and because there are so many communities form around the world who want to eat the real deal, you can try an incredible range of world cuisine as it should be eaten, without having to fork out for the airfare.
The seafood is amazing, especially around Santa Monica and up the coast, and you don't need to take out a second mortgage to eat it like you do in the UK.
But there you go "Parisian cuisine" is always going to sound better than "LA cuisine" but for variety and quality across these different varieties, LA tops Paris.