Monday, January 17, 2011

C'est moi...

Paris is always a good idea.
~Audrey Hepburn

Our first full day together in Paris. For most of it, all we did was wander, eat, and then wander again as per our vacation modus operandi.

Modus operandi, as an aside, and a particularly irreverent and unnecessary one, is Latin, not French, and that's one language I'm even worse at than French. Utterly ruined my University GPA one year, I can tell you.

Pardon my aside. Back to the tale. Paris in August is especially nice in one particular way: most of the Parisians have flown the coop, gone on their own vacations. Thus many of the storefronts and restaurants have been closed for the month, leaving behind a Paris that is...a little bit, just a little bit, more peaceful. Slightly more relaxed.

You see? Empty seats at a cafe. We could sit down and have a coffee -a perfect European coffee- any...time...we...wanted.

And we could drift through the city on our own time, admire the architecture,

(those balconies! The wrought iron! Oh, the bliss!)

and since many of the stores were closed, I wasn't half as tempted to buy lovely Parisian wares.

Of which there were many.

More fun than buying tschotskes, though, and considerably less weight to carry, not to mention to later clutter up the house, was taking photographs. Parisians are infinitely visually amusing.

Who wouldn't love this turquoise Vespa scooter sporting the Virgin Mary?

Or this sign, which would have been amusing without the addition of the Star Wars Stormtrooper helmet:

No mini-me kilted Stormtroopers in this area

(What does that mean? No men with little girls? No pedestrians -which didn't seem to be the case, or maybe end of school zone? Don't forget to hold your child's hand when you cross? It was a mystery.)

Or this one, which I interpreted (with apologies) as: "Run away, kids! Happy humping here!"

It is an awfully cute road hump, one must say. Très adorable.

I made Mike wait...and wait...and wait as I drooled on the booksellers' displays along the Seine

and somehow managed to resist buying not only those intriguing tomes but also such things as French pepper plants, which I honestly couldn't have brought home with me anyway. They appealed in their charmingly the French even use hot peppers in their cooking? Did I miss that episode of Julia Child?

Speaking of Julia Child, I also dragged Mike to Shakespeare and Company on the Left Bank, as they say, at 37 Rue Bûcherie, THE bookstore to visit in Paris, in a picturesque spot across the Seine from Notre Dame.

The publishers of James Joyce's Ulysses, Shakespeare and Co was a gathering spot for authors including Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald. As far as I know, none of those distinguished names ever darkened the door of this Shakespeare and Co; the spot where they met was closed down by the Nazis, never to be reopened, after the proprietor refused to hand over the last copy of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake to a German officer during the occupation of France. Or so the legend goes.

Regardless, I had burned through all my reading material on the trains and, feeling it a worthy and carryable souvenir, purchased a stamped copy of Julie/Julia (a romp of a read -brace yourself for the language, which I loved and will not apologise for but may not be your cup of tea, and a fun foodie movie to boot), Meryl Streep beaming from the cover as the immortal Julia Child. I thought about getting Hemingway's Movable Feast as well, but everybody does that, ergo it's especially overpriced.

Unlike many places we've visited, in Paris I never found myself wondering, what if we lived here? What if our residence was right through that door?

I simply couldn't imagine living in such surroundings. To you who have actually done it I tip my hat. Wow. Life in Dubai has given me great resistance, almost an immunity, really, against being impressed by monied surroundings, cars, stuff, clothing, the latest plastic surgery, but while the United Arab Emirates have a varied and fascinating history, with their Bedouin past they do not, for the most part have the richness of historical buildings.

Paris has plenty of that. to say the least.

We especially gawked at the elaborate and very beautiful exterior of the Louvre museum. The statues, the columns, the windows and wonderful symmetry of design on such an impressive scale, well, it was great.

Remember how I said that Paris is a little less crowded in August? This was true, but not so much so that major attractions like the Louvre had lines short enough that we were willing to stand in them. The line to enter the glass pyramid went on forever.

And, frankly, we were more than a little bit intimidated by the size and scope of the Louvre. This is somewhat embarrassing, to be sure, but honesty is still a virtue, correct?

Besides, you're going to laugh way harder at me by the end of this post, unless I am very much mistaken.

The one place I had scheduled for the day, the place I was making absolutely totally utterly and absolutely sure Mike got to go, was up the Eiffel Tower. I'd bought our tickets far in advance, on the same day I bought tickets to the Burj Khalifa, in fact. Two iconic buildings to experience, for very different reasons.

We were scheduled to ascend at 6:30 pm. The thought was to watch the light change and then go to dinner afterwards. Romantic, yes?

We rode the peerless Paris trains and got off at the station where the inevitable Eiffel souvenir sellers were in the greatest numbers, their wares spread out over the pavement, many tiny towers blinking merrily with LED lights.

While we waited for the elevator, again trying not to feel, or worse, look smug moving past the ticketless line to the ticketed line (taunting the have-nots in Paris didn't work out well for Marie Antoinette, best not to push one's luck) I had a serious surge of guilt. You see, I had mentioned buying tickets to the Eiffel Tower to a running friend in Dubai, and he had said something along the lines of "oh, you MUST run up the stairs there, there are plaques at various points showing jaw dropping records set by runners in the past. It's great."

I breezily said that of course I would run up the stairs. Of course I said that. No one is surprised by this.

What might surprise you was that my left foot hurt quite a bit by that stage in our trip and I wasn't actually looking forward to trying to run up those stairs, having checked the height out the day before. I was determined to grit my teeth and do it anyway, and limp a lot more the next day, but then it turned out that the ticket for both of us didn't allow for climbing the stairs, which you would do up a different leg of the Eiffel Tower and from a completely different line.

the wheel that turns to bring the elevator up and back down

So, hoping karma wouldn't bite me too badly, and looking at the elevation gain, a hidden but major sigh of relief, I rode up the elevator with Mike who unsurprisingly had said something along the lines that there was no way he would climb those stairs, what an utterly asinine idea.

Actually, his phrasing probably wasn't that polite, but you get the gist.

We looked out over Paris. Apparently some folks voice their surprise that you "can't see the Eiffel Tower, where is it?" from such a height.

Some people shouldn't be allowed to speak at all, but there it is. One can only hope they don't hold public office.

Looking up the Eiffel Tower from midlevel.

The 1889 tower itself wasn't the steel gray color I remembered it being. As it turns out, they paint it now and then and do indeed change the color. I read that it has 40 tons of paint.

I had lots of time to take creative shots like the one above since we had to wait an hour in line for the next elevator, this one to the top.

Occasionally an employee would remind us, make sure you have tickets to the top. No problem. It was printed right on our ticket, of course, 2nd floor. We had taken one elevator and climbed some more stairs, and now we would take our second elevator to the top.

Looking out over the landscape of Paris, we spotted a rainbow over the Louvre. Can you see it?

The waiting in line for the second elevator got a little old, of course, and it wasn't the warmest, we still adjusting from desert weather, but finally we shuffled our way to the front of the line. Big smile, I presented our ticket to the ticket taker perched on a stool next to the elevator doors.

Oh, non, she said, without too much emphasis, this is only a ticket to thees level.

There was a very long second of total disbelief after her pronouncement. My mind stopped, total blankness that must have shown on my face, then the brain raced. How in hell had I messed this up?

OK, I said slowly, what do we do?

view from the Eiffel Tower. Not the top, though.

First, she said firmly, you get out of line.

We stood to the side, while others proceeded past us, they failing not to look pitying and possibly, though I didn't look to verify either, smug.

When the elevator had left us behind, I implored the ticket taker as to what we should do next.

Now, she said, you must go over zhere and purchase ticket at ze stand to go to ze top. Of course, you remember that zeticket stand is closed.

How we were supposed to remember this, I do not know, but it was definitely closed. In a very French film moment, no one could tell us when it might reopen, either. There were a few folks standing there in a ragged line, looking confused. We could have joined them, I suppose. But we didn't.

To say I wasn't happy would be a major understatement. I was furious, furious with myself, and when I'm upset with myself no quarter is given. All I wanted to do was to bonk my head repeatedly against the cold metal of La Tour Eiffel and see if it made a resonant sort of sound. Poor Mike, who, if anyone should have been upset, it should have been him, tried to console me, but it was no use.

I was pissed off. I'd ruined the party. I wanted off of the Eiffel Tower and off the world and that was it. I nearly stamped my foot. Which would have hurt, and looked really childish, so I sniffed and snuffed and tried not to bawl like a cow.

I didn't even want a couple photo with Mike when he, of all people, volunteered to have one taken. This was a major concession: Mike hates having his photo taken. I refused to preserve the moment and took one of him alone instead, calling it good.

My wise spousal unit must have seen something in my eye he didn't like, because he didn't press the issue and we went back down to ground level, where I continued my self berating until even I was sick of it.

Eventually I got over my pique. I think we had left France by then. Mike spent good time and energy that evening trying to convince me that it was no matter, that he didn't mind, that it was all OK. He's a good sort.

But I couldn't let it go. I'd screwed up the Eiffel Tower, ruined, I had no perspective. Even now I'm not smiling about it.

But I hope you are.

After La Tour debacle we went out for our second mediocre dinner. Mike was carefully solicitous of my feelings. I tried, probably unsuccessfully, to look at least moderately cheerful.

I also confessed, via email, to my friend back in Dubai about not running up the stairs. He forgave me easily, not concerned in the least.

There's a postscript to this story. There always is, isn't there? When we got back to the States and I was recounting the tale to my Mom, she protested gently, but Natalie, you told me when you bought the tickets that you never planned to go to the top, remember? You said that you were already going to the top of the Burj Khalifa and that you'd read that going to the top of the Eifel Tower wasn't worth the cost or the wait in the line on the second floor.


heart created by some lovely soul in the grass beneath the Eiffel Tower.

Some days I am my own worst enemy, and that, my dears, is the truth.


AKBrady said...

Join the club. At least your mom straightened you out. Ha.
Oh well, seen one view, seen 'em all. WTH. Right.

Natalie said...

Erin, you're the best, girl. Glad to have company like you. :)

Anonymous said...

Hope you get to read
A Paris Christmas Immovable
John Baxter
Lots of soul, food and humanity.
How an Ossy got to become a member of a French family, even cooking for them! Turns out Paris will be good for you in December too!
S from Seattle

*Paula* said...

Oh dear! Poor Natalie! That is so like something I would do - seriously!! And now that I think of it, Mike sounds very much like Matt ;) At least you have the funny signs - I took many similar photos of signs while in Prague :)

Will & Cheyenne said...

LOVE the pictures!!! You are very lucky to have been able to go.

Friendly Neighborhood Librarian said...

Natalie, I hate to hear you beating yourself up!
When Dave and I spent a weekend in Seattle, we went to the top of the Smith Tower.
Give that a try - there was no line at all.