His reasons were his own. He only wished he knew what they were.
- Irwin Shaw, The Top of the Hill
Done with lunch, feet and legs rested a bit - though not enough - and spirits somewhat restored, I walked on down along the Seine and crossed the pedestrians-only Pont des Arts to the enormous complex of the Louvre - the biggest building in Paris, the biggest palace in Europe, no doubt the most famous art museum in the world. As the page said to Richard the Lionhearted, I was unprepared for the size of it.
I didn't go in. I love art but something about museums and galleries throws me off. Anyway, the place was obviously too big to offer any hope of seeing more than a tiny bit in one afternoon. And there were the crowds.
Anyway, if you wanted to look at art works, there were plenty of them scattered about the adjoining Jardin de Carrousel and then the Tuileries, free for the looking. True, most of them were pretty lousy - imitation-classic stuff - but what the hell. Not many signs, but you could have fun trying to figure out what they represented.
I think this one, for example, represents a guy vowing never to fly Tourist again.
As I say, the French love dogs and spoil them badly, sometimes leading to awkward situations such as this attractive young lady finds herself in. "For God's sake, you had to go, scratch scratch whine whine, couldn't even let put my damn clothes on first, now what's the holdup?"
And it was here that I finally met someone. She didn't have much to say, but I knew as soon as our eyes met that she wanted me:
The Tuileries is - are? - an utterly wonderful park, with carefully-tended flower gardens and trees and shady walks; even on a day like this the place was beautiful, and I can only guess what it must be like under a sunny sky.
This is also the bottom end of the Champs Élysées - a big wide street of a type that can be found in any major city in the world: fancy shops selling expensive things to people with money. Park Avenue, Knightsbridge Road: the names out front are the same and so are the people.
The Place de la Concorde marked the end of my northwesterly wanderings; it was time to head back toward camp. With some trepidation I found a Metro station and bought a ticket and nervously studied the map. It didn't look very complicated, and it wasn't. I felt a great irritation with myself for having let it intimidate me.
Climbing the stairs to that little room, after all that walking, was a major ordeal, and I was certain I'd never be able to make myself go out again; but later on, after a bit of rest, I went back out to get dinner - taking my jacket, this time, though it had warmed up a little.
A short distance away, just a few blocks up the Rue de Lyon, was the Place de la Bastille - the site of the infamous old hellhole prison, totally destroyed after the Revolution and its place marked only by the Bastille monument. (The National Boner before the Eiffel Tower.) The square is a noisy, busy place surrounded by mostly dubious-looking restaurants - one claimed to offer "Tex-Mex"; I shuddered and moved on.
Surrounding the Place de la Bastille, though, spreading over much of the Third and Fourth Arrondissements, is an area called the Marais; which literally means "swamp", which is what the area was before it was drained in the 13th century. It is a very old part of Paris and nowadays a very hip one, home to a considerable Jewish community and also to a lively gay and lesbian scene; a bit like the old Village, really.
Also an excellent place to dine, and not nearly as pricey as you'd expect. In fact the only problem was in deciding among the various almost irresistible alternatives.
Even a Sonic burger would taste pretty good in surroundings like that; but what I had was utterly superb - blanquette de veau, a kind of veal stew, with carrots and rice, with a pichet of good red Côtes de Rhône to wash it down; the best meal I'd had in France so far, and the first that really lived up to the national culinary reputation.
The waiter, however, utterly failed to measure up to image. By all the most authoritative accounts, he should have been rude, unpleasant, and insulting; but somebody must have forgotten to tell him he was supposed to be an asshole, because he was - like every other French waiter I ever encountered, with one exception - impeccably courteous, pleasant, helpful, and efficient. Even admitted to understanding my French....
Sitting there looking out over the busy street in the fading light, sipping wine and watching the people going by and feeling a fine warmth spreading from inside, I decided that this was more like it. For the first time I thought I was beginning to understand a little of why people from all over the world came to love this country and this city. On impulse I raised my wine glass to an elegantly-dressed old lady who was walking slowly past; she did a decorous double take, raised her eyebrows, and then gave me a brief blinding smile before walking on. Oh, yes, I thought, this is more like it, this is much more like it.
Inspired, I got out my little pocket notebook and composed a poem:
(Henri IV, however, if he were alive today, would ride a motorcycle - a Ducati, I think, or maybe a BMW; a Harley would be too slow and clumsy for his style. I bet he wouldn't be caught dead on a scooter.)
But back to the Glorious Past...this is, as I think I said, a very old part of Paris, and heavy with associations. Like so many of Henri's projects, this one was completed only after his murder, but plenty of other famous people lived on or near the Place des Vosges over the next couple of centuries: from Cardinal Richelieu to Victor Hugo, and Mozart once played here at the age of seven.
Today the little alley is still a creepy place, and - particularly at dusk - it is easy to imagine this as the scene of bloody murder and violent death. It is also, I am told, an excellent example of a medieval Paris street, with big paving stones and overhanging buildings; but all I could think about was its history, and I snapped a couple of photos and got the hell out of there.
Back at the hotel once again, I thought briefly of going out to check out the legendary Paris night life; but I was tired and my legs were killing me, and anyway I didn't really have the money for that sort of thing. I turned on the TV and watched a bit, trying to understand the weather forecast - it didn't look promising - and then switched the tiny set off and went to bed, thinking, one more day.
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