I am posting Part Two early (see here for Part One). For one thing, I simply can’t leave you hanging! And for another thing, we’re spending the entire day in the city of Bordeaux tomorrow so I fear I will be late if I don’t actually post early.
Enjoy the rest of this delightful and adventure-filled post!
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There are those who say that the Eiffel Tower is no big deal. Those people are idiots. Or, they have never seen it in person and are insanely envious of those who have. Then there are those who have seen it and say that the experience is ruined by the hordes of tourists thronging about. You may safely ignore such cretinous assertions.
Of course, people come from all over the world to see the Tour Eiffel. It is a construct of magnificence. Gustave Eiffel was a genius and his tower is unquestionably a wonder of the modern world. I would advise people to go see the Eiffel Tower from wherever they are in Europe. Visiting London? Get on a plane, go see the Eiffel. Vacationing in Berlin or Rome? Go to Paris, see the tower.
Massively impressive in scope, and yet constructed with such beautiful and eloquently sensuous lines, it is a masterpiece of design and execution. In truth, it is not in and of itself what makes Paris the marvelous place that it is, yet the tower is the perfect emblem for the city – beauty for beauty’s sake.
Rome may be the seat of ancient power, Athens the seat of Western philosophy, New York, London, Berlin, Tokyo, and Shanghai the forums of modern commerce – Paris is for those who love beauty; indeed, Paris, as the old saying goes, is for lovers. The Eiffel Tower embodies the truth of it. Take the one you love, and go there, if you can.
As Karen and I walked westward along the Right Bank of the Seine, the tower rose on our left – our destination for the afternoon. First, though, we came to the most beautiful bridge in the world, the Pont Alexandre III. Built in honor of Tsar Alexander the Third of Russia, who signed the armistice ending the Franco-Prussian War, it astonishes the eye. Constructed of one single, incredibly long, low arch, it seems to hover magically above the water. Gilded statues guard its four corners, two on the Right Bank and two on the Left, marking France’s “four eras”. There is an enormous lion on the northeast corner and, with my testosterone raised by about 50% by my surroundings, I had to pose.
This is Paris’ heart, and perhaps its most beautiful sector. Declaring such a thing however, is a bit like insisting that a fine bottle of wine’s second glass is somehow better than the third – or the first or the fourth. Every building, whether it be a bank, a municipal office, a row of residences or luxury apartments above shops and restaurants, is of an older, finer world, and is a marvel of architecture. Only one word works here. Stunning.
We reached the Eiffel and crossed over the Seine to stand beneath it and gaze upward in awe. The lines to go up were formidable, the hour was late and we’d grown tired, so we sat and enjoyed the spectacular view, and then Karen bought souvenirs. And, of course, we kissed – for the camera, and, actually, not so much for the camera. We men are generally not fervent kissers, I know, but I promise you; take a beautiful woman to Paris and you will do a fair amount of it. I did, and more.
While there, I was treated to the novel experience of having a young French couple from out of town ask me for directions to the Champs Elysees. I knew where it was (just across the river and four or five blocks further on) and my French had improved to the point that I could send them in the right direction.
Once again, we went away from the crowd. After a brief discussion we decided to leave the Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe for the morrow. The sun was declining toward evening and anyway the headquarters of Napoleon’s Grand Armee (which I’ve always wanted to see) was at the other end of the mall by the Metro station that would take us home. There was also a grand long view of the tower from there – so, more pictures.
That evening was a reprise of our first – wine, cheese, pastries, and fresh fruit, enjoyed with an amazing view of the city as the evening faded to twilight. At one point, Karen turned to me and declared that the day just ending was, “the best day of my life thus far.” She got no argument from me. Besides, she looked lovely in the last fading glow of the sunset, and there was a bedroom just up the stairs…..
Karen loves to shop, but due to our circumstances, shopping is something she gets to enjoy very little and very seldom. On our last morning, consequently, I suggested that we save the Arc de Triomphe for our next trip (God willing, there will be one) and that she go shopping at the various markets in the neighborhood.
“What will you do?” She asked. “Go from cafe to cafe,” was my answer. She agreed gladly. “But what about money?” I pulled the two hundred euros that our son had given me for emergencies out of my pocket. “I’ll pay Nate back somehow,” I said.
I sat on benches or in cafes, enjoying what turned out to be a perfect day weather-wise, intending to let her shop for the three hours or so until time to go to the airport.
And then I made my big mistake. Oh, boy.
Having found a sidewalk cafe with the perfect mixture of sun and shade and wine and coffee, I decided to stay put while she shopped up and down the street. Sometime later, she came back and asked if she could just cross over one street a block or so down Rue de Pyranees and go to a shop she could see a bit further on.
Now, before all you feminists get your knickers in a knot, let me explain two things about the woman I love.
First, she means much more to me than my own life. Secondly, despite her intelligence and many talents (she is probably one of the foremost diamond salespersons in the United States) she has two shortcomings that can become dangerous in unknown places. She possesses very little in the way of a sense of direction – she gets turned around quite easily – and she has no concept of the passage of time. Over the years I have come to believe that she is convinced that if she’s not looking at her watch, it doesn’t move. So, fifteen minutes, or an hour and fifteen minutes; it’s all the same to her.
After an hour or so of enjoying my wine and suffering my own lapse in the area of the concept of time’s passage, it dawned upon me that she had been gone too long. I very quickly settled my bill and went in search of her. She was nowhere along the street, in none of the shops between my cafe and the Metro station at the plaza. Concern setting in quickly and rather deeply, I repeated the search in the opposite direction. No Karen. Concern became panic.
Paris – so I had read in one magazine in preparation for this trip – is a city where attractive women tend to disappear, though mostly at the airport, and mostly young college women, but from other parts of the city as well – their destination being the ports of the ongoing slave trade. Damn that magazine! Reason told me that she had spied another shop down some side street and had gone there on impulse. But reason failed utterly in the presence of panic. More time passed, I searched along the street, I couldn’t find her. Stupidly, I had turned off both cell phones and stored them in the luggage. There was no means of contact. There I stood, wide-eyed with terror in a strange city, the light of my life nowhere in sight.
Then, there she was, blithely and happily clicking along the street toward me in her high heels, looking every bit at home – the elegant Parisien woman. She had indeed crossed the avenue to a shop on the other side. I had searched that side, too, but at that moment she had evidently been in the back, trying something on. Thanking God profusely, I gripped her hand tightly, ignored her raised and questioning eyebrows, and headed for the Metro.
The train going out through the northern suburbs toward CDG Airport was overcrowded. After a few stops, I claimed a seat for Karen, but I continued to stand in the crush of people going home from work
At one particularly busy stop, I heard a woman ask in English with a French accent, “Does this belong to someone?” I looked out onto the platform and felt for my belt at the same time, finding an empty place where my camera had been. She was holding it! Like an idiot I had left it clipped to my belt and it had gotten knocked off in the melee.
Behind her, a group of young men lounged on the platform. One of them, taller than the rest, reached over her, snatched the camera and headed off down the track. And the train was about to leave.
Now, if it had been just the camera, I might have kissed the $150 goodbye. But stupidly, I had failed to change the memory card – all of our memories of Paris were in that camera. I went after him. He tried to get away but the crowded conditions hindered him and aided me. I caught him and spun him around and grabbed the camera. “Mine,” I said. Now, he was younger than me, a bit taller, probably stronger. But when our eyes locked, he must have seen what I was willing to do to regain our precious memories. After a moment, he let go, shrugged, and walked away with a pretty decent swagger. I dashed back to the train. The others held the door for me.
I had the chance to thank the young woman, who’d gotten on the train. If she hadn’t picked it up, I wouldn’t have missed it until too late. “Merci, mademoiselle, merci!” I repeated until she blushed. God bless her!
A little while later, our plane hove northward and Paris slipped over the horizon. My one thought? We will return.
Au revoir, fair city.