Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"I Once Went To Paris (Actually, Twice) - Part Two"

Paris has stuff to see in it.  And every day, twenty-two year old Earlo would venture forth, accompanied by the “Paris” chapter he has torn out of his Europe On Five Dollars A Day, and he’d check out the sights.

The Arc de Triomphe at the end of the Champs Elysees, the iconic Eiffel Tower, the Louvre museum, housing world-famous paintings, including Leonardo Da Vinci’s  Mona Lisa.  I recall standing at the back of a crowd gathered around the now-Plexiglas-encased treasure, crossing it off my “Must-See When Visiting Paris” list, and moving on.  Then, I remember stopping myself, and saying, at least partially out loud,

“Earl!  That’s the Mona Lisa.  Go back and look at it!”

So I did. 

I waited for the throng to disperse, and I sat on a bench opposite the painting, giving it my undivided attention.  Hard as it is to believe, and even harder to prove, I can almost swear that the Mona Lisa was looking back at me.  And talking!

“Pretty good, eh?”


I won’t presume to explain it from a technique and compositional standpoint, but when you just sit there and give it some time, that 500 year-old portrait can really get under your skin.

I saw Notre Dame Cathedral, minus the Hunchback.  You have to draw him in with your imagination, though when you look at the place, that is not all that hard.  It is unlikely they would have an ogre of that description working on the premises today.  I would think it would be actionably discriminatory in our current times to advertise in the paper: “Bell ringer needed.  Hunchbacks only!”  The best they could hope for is a guy with a mild stoop.

The Palace of Versailles is a little out of town, or at least, an extended subway ride away.  Fortunately, the Paris subways were great.  I recall that there was this wall map that, when you told it your destination, an illuminated trail of tiny bulbs lit up, showing you the exact route to your destination, and which trains you would be required to take, making it virtually impossible to get lost, even for me.  (I get lost in Los Angeles all the time.  Which is one reason I am reluctant to leave the house.)

I did, however, receive a citation on the subway for sitting in a seat specifically allocated to disabled veterans.  It was an innocent mistake.  I took French in High School, but the textbooks involved children named Raymond and Suzette, who in their numerous adventures, never once encountered a disabled veteran, so I did not recognize the words.

The cost of the ticket for this infraction, which the gendarme insisted on collecting on the spot, took a big bite out of my five-dollar-a-day budget.  My travel guide has not factored in “Citations For Erroneously Occupying A Seat Designated For A Person Who Got Hurt In A War.” 

At the risk of sounding defensive, I actually feel this was some kind of premeditated “tourist trap.”  My butt had barely touched the seat before the cop came flying at me, stylo (pen) and Citation Pad at the ready!  It was like he laying in wait for me,

“Ho, ho, hon!  I have caught-ed you!”

Versailles was amazing, even though, it being March, the magnificent gardens were bereft of flowers.  Once again, you had to paint them in with your imagination.  The opulent flowerbeds were a sight to behold.  And I’m a terrible painter!

For me, less memorable than the historic sights of Paris were the everyday occurrences.  Once, around one P.M. or so, I started looking around for a place to eat, only to find that the half a dozen restaurants I tried had signs hanging in their doors saying,

“Closed For Lunch.”

I had never seen that before.  In service-oriented America, the restaurants are open at lunchtime, because…that’s when the customers want to eat.  In Paris, at least to some degree, lunchtime is the designated period for the restaurant employees to eat.  You could see them in there, people in aprons and chef’s hats, sitting around tables, stuffing their faces.  And I’m on the outside going, “Hey!  I’m hungry!”

I ended up, following my guidebook’s direction, lunching at a cafeteria, which somehow found a less inconvenient time to feed its personnel.  I generally associate cafeterias with the culinary atrocities of High School.  Not so, however, in Paris. 

Coq au vin.  Delicate pastries.  And the only available beverage: soda-sized bottles of red wine.  I recall distinctly, after enjoying this bargain-basement banquet, walking out of the place, not entirely steadily, slurring to no one in particular,

“I just got drunk in a cafeteria.”      

Evenings were occupied with the standard Parisian entertainments, Follies Bergere, and so on, with one notable exception.  I bought tickets to see The Odd Couple, in French. 

I was well acquainted with The Odd Couple from having seen productions of the play on Broadway and in London.  Between my familiarity with the material and my High School French, I was easily to decipher a large portion of Neil Simon’s comedy classic.  It was instructive to see the injection of cultural differences in the proceedings.  The French Odd Couple was more physical, with its increased number of exaggerated gestures and ladle brandishing.

You know, reading this over, it occurs to me that, notwithstanding the inevitable dulling of memory induced by the distancing passage of time, my Parisian reminiscences lack the bursting excitement of my chronicles of London, or of Rome, which demonstrably exhibit a greater enthusiasmical spark than the current offering.  My best explanation for this may be simply that, at least comparatively, I am not as equally smitten with Paris.

I’m not sure I get it.  I am aware, because I read a book about it – David McCullough’s recommendable The Greater Journey – that Americans have been traveling to Paris dating back the earliest days of its (America’s) history, believing that, without the Parisian experience under their belts, something was seriously lacking in their educational, and sophisticational, development.

Writers, artists, students of medicine, they absolutely swore by the place.  I like it.  But I must truthfully acknowledge that Paris has never really knocked off my feet.

This March, there are plans afoot for Dr. M and myself (commemorating our March 21st  anniversary), and Anna and her husband Colby (celebrating Anna’s March 21st  birthday) to take a two-couple visit to Paris.  Despite my habitual “one-and-out” judgmentalism, I am giving Paree another chance. 

Hopefully, by now, they have worked out that “fermee-at-lunchtime” restaurant foolishness.

By the way, the acting troupe that played internal organs?  I never saw them again. 


Mac said...

Well, you had a better time there than I ever did. Mind you I've only been there for work, and the last thing you need after a hard day's work, is getting served by a waiters who are shocked and appalled that you're expecting to be served food in a restaurant. Then there's the shop assistants who deeply resent you coming into their shops and trying to buy stuff. And the locals who react to being asked directions as if you've asked if you can sleep with their wives. And that's not just Johnny Brit who says that, every French person outside Paris says it.

But maybe I should go back on holiday - you probably gave off a more chilled-out vibe than I did.

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