April 3, 2018
A quick shower, catch my bearings and Paris begins. I can’t help but be me, so I decide I need to start with a bang. I settle on Notre Dame. I consult the map and get the general idea. I know these days there is GPS on the phone, but by design, I will never use it once on this trip. It’s just old fashioned map and wits for me. I’m out the door and moving through the streets. It doesn’t take long before I begin to see the real charm of where I am staying. I’m blocks from narrow streets lined with every kind of bar and restaurant I’ve dreamt of. The happy little boy is back. Smile ear to ear, I bounce around while singing the french song from Toto the Hero. Momentary memory of weekends spent escaping my parent’s divorce at Bob Becker’s house when he showed me wild movies like Toto, Hairdresser’s Husband, and Betty Blue to name just a few. Maybe I’ve misjudged this trip I think as I pass the restaurants. Maybe this is just a week of hedonist delights, eating and drinking my face off. I don’t worry so much about the path and let my jones takes me where it may. If there is a narrow street, I head down it. I make lists in my head of places I must dine. Is that an egg inside a terrine with filet mignon chunks? How rich can that be? I don’t like pastries and I am blown away by the look of those doggies in the window. I give up on my dining list cause I can’t can’t keep track of them. Besides, I keep wandering through streets not knowing where I am. Occasionally I check in with my map and course correct. My always true sense of direction will fail me here more than anywhere I have ever been.
Notre Dame isn’t as big as I was expecting but it’s certainly as beautiful. Gothic, ornate architecture ensnares the cathedral. I decide to grab a quick bite before I head in feeling suddenly ravenous. 5 euros gets me a ham and egg crepe on the street that is magic. I sit in the park across from the butt of the church, munching and staring at gargoyles who snarl back at me. I snap a few photos, put in some quality self loathing time at my selfie attempts and then jump on the line. It’s very quick, despite the non-stop complaining I hear from the American woman behind me, and I’m inside in no time.
Dark, brooding, holy. That year of Art History must be more than twenty years ago (ugh), what do I even remember? I search for it, but mostly it’s been washed away. It has a real emotional affect on me. I’m not proud of this, but it quickly turns to annoyance. Not proud still, this leads to a bunch of spoken blasphemy as I curse under my breath at some of my fellow tourists. Then, repentance, “Jesus Johnny! Stop fucking taking the Lord’s name in vain in this church. Shit!”. Most everyone else in the cathedral is experiencing it through their phones. Everyone is video taping, posing and snapping away. The overwhelming majority of the populated church is walking around phone held above their heads, not even looking at what they are filming. Announcements continue to ask for silence that fellow tourists aggressively, audibly disobey. “The center section is for worshipers only” signs posted everywhere “no cameras. no flash” also spelled out in 5 languages. A group of ladies pushes their way in in full conversation (FRENCH! I’m not even talking about only Americans!) and hold up their iPhones as they record video and talk to each other. More anger, more accidental blasphemy. “Fuck”. What is this world becoming? Deep breathes. “Let it go”, I tell myself. I read about the cathedral’s construction. I look at every stain glass window, every statue, every chapel, every arch high above my head. I sit in the main section and bow my head and pray. On the other side of annoyance I leave inspired. Paris is on! Site seeing is on! Europe is on! From Notre Dame I start to wander in the right bank. I take every winding street possible. No course, I weave by the designs of what delights my eyes. I look in every window, every cafe, bistro and brasserie. I walk along the Seine. I cross bridges and back again. Grand, majestic old buildings. Walking in history. I stop into every church I pass. I look at the stained glass, the stone carvings, the woodwork, the paintings. I say the Lord’s Prayer each time, (something I learned at 28 when I was at Hartford Stage playing an Italian priest from 1860 who recited it on stage. Am I real or make believe?). I light a candle for Aunt Roe, like I have in every church ever since I was a teenager. One burning for you in France.
After Notre Dame I wander and wander. I happen upon the Pantheon, so naturally I go in. I see a familiar face in paintings of Joan of Arc.
As I leave it’s starting to rain. It’s been a few hours of walking. I decide it’s time for an afternoon beverage, it being 4pm and being on vacation. I find a cafe with a window seat that looks out on two perfectly French streets. The rain increases. I am drinking a glass of Chablis (medium dry, apple, muted cantaloupe) and reading Hemingway. I purchased A Moveable Feast, a memoir of his time in Paris with ex-pat, artists, the lost generation, as perfectly assigned reading for the trip. Who’s as good as me? I feel relaxed. Actually relaxed for the first time in a VERY long time.
I start to nod in the cafe. It all hits me and suddenly I’m having trouble staying awake; body warm, heavy, eyes closing. Shit. Sniffle, tight throat, for a second it’s all going south. A wealthy couple and their two kids park next to me. His family came over on the Mayflower. I know this from seeing him. He’s impressively tall, lean, light hair and eyes, square jawed, classically handsome, accomplished looking and exudes wealth. Her family did not. She’s shorter, maybe Hungarian or some Eastern European stock. She’s put the work in, decked in designer wear, styled from head to toe with effort . She’s fighting with her angsty 9 year old daughter. “You’re in Paris on Spring Break so you better get happy right now young lady!”. “How long are you visiting for?” the husband suddenly asks me, almost interrupting his wife and it snaps me to life. “New York?”, he follows. I think he’s profiling me like I just did them till I remember I’m wearing a Yankee cap. “Think Judge can repeat?”. He keeps up the questions like he’s reading my thoughts. “I think his batter’s eye translates and the power is for real. Plus he wants it and has the right make up. Batting second, maybe not as many home runs, but yeah, I believe in him and bet he has a good year”. These are the first things I say. Clearly this is a more involved answer then he was expecting. But I’ve won a friend in his son, who looks at me through giant coke bottle glasses, (reeking of “not living up to Dad’s early expectations”), like I am his new hero. They try to engage me a bit. Lite conversation. When they discover I am alone the wife says, “Oh, you must be here on business then”. Let me paint the picture. I haven’t shaved in 5 days, I’m wearing a Yankee cap, hoodie, ripped jeans, sneakers, and falling asleep with a glass of wine in a cafe midday. Like an ass I say confidently, “Yup, business”. “Oh, what business? What do you do?”. Well shit. This is my least favorite thing in the world. What do you do? It’s a topic I hate and avoid discussing even under the rosiest of circumstances. So………now that’s it’s started, it’s not really a question of if I will continue to lie, but what? And given I’m a shitty liar, it won’t sound good anyway. “I work in wine”. It’s not a lie! They want more. “Imports or exports?”. And there it goes. How do I say something without saying anything? – I ponder. A tremendous stroke of luck! Their food arrives and the daughter has a breakdown. She will not eat this! Love that kid. I find the waiter to pay the bill, we wish each other pleasant stays and I depart in a flash.
That night, tired and voice gone, I go the bistro on the corner by my hotel. Once again, disaster at ordering. Another good looking waitress. She has long reddish hair and keeps pulling up her pants, wanting a belt that isn’t there, as they slide down her slender figure. She flaunts an aggressive, “don’t forget to pull my hair” sexuality. I have escargot and think of the great man. But I always do. I’m in Paris Grandpa.