It All Starts in Paris

“Paris is where everyone falls in love with France.” ~ Jan Taylor

We were hurled via shuttle to within walking distance of the Louvre. This involved lots of honking, weaving, and skillful application of the brakes.  With overcast skies Paris felt like home.  It had a backstreet Seattle feel…grittier, older, French…but there was something about the light.

Of course we had our first bump.  We found our first flat, but couldn’t find a way in.  All the contact information was on Donna’s phone.  Verizon hadn’t managed to engage her international plan.  My phone, the one without any useful information on it, was fully operational.  There were several ways to get the information we needed, but we weren’t figuring them out.  After being awake for more than 24 hours standing on a narrow sidewalk in front of a flat you can’t access makes your face ache.  Getting your brain to make coherent connections is challenging.  Communication takes real fortitude.

Part of me was figuring, “What the Hell?”  There was a Hotel down the block and we could attempt to check in.  As I was figuring a flock of perfectly attired elderly women fluttered out of a shop two doors down.  I chanced buzzing into the shop and asking the shopkeeper if she knew the proprietor of the VRBO.  The proprietor was the shopkeeper’s mother.  We were promptly and graciously let into our flat.

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A couple of lessons…a hard copy of all contact information is critical.  Also, call your phone company the day before you leave the country to ensure they have done what they said they would.  Being jet lagged in a new city allows a bit of panic to creep in.  The other reality check is that making connections with VRBO hosts in a foreign city isn’t like checking into a hotel.  The place you are staying is going to be on an obscure side street. International travel is going to make you late. Traffic and other appointments will make them late.  The host might send someone who doesn’t speak English, or the language you  diligently practiced for a couple months before you set out.  It has always worked out so far, but that hotel option should probably be written into the plan.

Napped, showered, and changed we headed out to explore.  We wandered down to Jardin Des Tuileries and the Louvre.  Despite overcast skies it was a pleasant 70 degrees and perfect wandering weather.  We got the general lay of the land and then looked for a place to eat.  This involved several phone searches, circling around reading menus, and a Google guided walk to a restaurant.  We almost made it to the restaurant we were headed to, but found a rough substitute instead.  It was a little bistro and several glasses of wine, steak and frites, and a cheese plate later we were satisfactorily fed.

If you can hit a random, but likely looking bistro and it’s actually good, you might be in Paris.  Maybe not the Paris of your dreams, but the real one.  If the person in the flat above you happens to be the mother of a friend??? That’s magic!  It’s what Paris promises and seems to effortlessly deliver.

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THE LOUVRE

Carefully composed and stuck up on the walls, or perched on pedestals, the Louvre is full of masterpieces that have endured.  Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Diana, Sphinxes, and Napoleon’s apartments are all on magnificent display. That said, the Louvre’s most fascinating attraction is people watching.

You can’t help but notice the guided tours.  A flag carrying guide narrates each notable work of art like a game of golf.  The horde bursts into corridors bewildered and expectant, or vaguely frantic, held together by static electricity.  You can’t tell what they are looking at, but it’s not where they are going.  It can be a feeding frenzy, or a detached blank stare focused on upheld cell phones.  It depends upon what is being viewed.  The Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo really froth up the waters.

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Every once in a while cell phone Ninjas pop out of the horde.  Cell phones set to video they glide on tiptoes while scanning entire walls of paintings and artifacts.  They work alone, or in groups of two or three, devouring the landscapes and portraits.  When a notable work is recognized they freeze, whirl out of the group and engage in an elaborately choreographed still frame capture dance.  With the image captured they whirl back into their Ninja cohort and work the other side of the room.

I tried to photograph them.  They were in and out of the room and down the corridor in moments.  Too fast to capture.  I can only imagine what watching their videos must be like.  Dizzying to the point of motion sickness, or a grindingly slow blink of single frames.  Either way it’s an exhaustive and exhausting approach.  Cell phone Ninjas engaged in their own intense and purposeful dance.

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