Maitaitom’s Christmas Miracle: Paris/Reims 2006
Day Five: Walk Till You Drop, The Attack Of The Newspaper Man, I’m Going To Croque, Is That Sperm In The Pantheon, Giving us The Bird, What A View And Fork It Over!
Looking out the window as daylight finally arrived, we surmised it was going to be another spectacularly sunny day. This provided us with an early day dilemma. We had scheduled a tour with Michael Osman, who would be arriving in a little less than an hour to take us on a tour of the Louvre. However, since it was going to be another spectacular day (something you can’t take lightly being in Paris during the winter), we really didn’t want to be stuck in a museum all day. I could hear Karl Malden asking, “What do you do? What do you do?”
As mentioned, Tracy and I had won a half-day tour with Michael on SlowTravel thanks to them liking my story about our Italian trip in 2005 (finally there was a reason why I put the wrong gas in the car). I really had no idea what to expect of Michael, since I had not read a lot about him before, other than he was an artist and was from Philadelphia. Was he fun? Was he stodgy? Was he interesting? Only time would tell.
I was in the bookstore (foreshadowing for later that morning) next to the hotel when he arrived and met Tracy (at least he knew that ½ of his contingent was normal). As soon as I met Michael, I knew that stodgy was out while fun and interesting were definitely in.
He was wearing a black hat, had a satchel under one arm and, as we were to find out, he had a lot more than a satchel full of information and tidbits about Paris. If you could picture in your mind the person you would want to give you a tour, this guy was it.
I sheepishly inquired whether he could change from a Louvre Tour to an outside walking tour. He replied that he had his Louvre game face on, but that he loved walking in Paris, so he replied, “Let’s see what happens.” I love spontaneity.
When we got off the metro, Michael showed us where we could go on a boat ride that would take us through locks. I hadn’t known that this little trip existed, and it sounded interesting for a future Paris trip (when it’s a little warmer).
Then it was on to the Place des Vosges and more fun facts.
We found a walkway through a courtyard to a bookstore in an old residence near the Place des Vosges where I suffered the second attack in two days, this time by a crazed Frenchman carrying a wadded up newspaper. As I was about to go through the door, the man (possibly retaliating for my pummeling of a blind man only 26 hours earlier on the other side of town), starting shouting in a crazed, and I might say, drunken barrage.
He then took his wadded up newspaper and beat me about the head and shoulders as I attempted to go in. I had learned yesterday that my now superhuman powers could nearly cause a blind guy to be hurled feet (perhaps yards) backward, so instead of retaliating from this merciless pummeling, I sought refuge in the Paris travel book section. I told them there was no bruising, but I believe I saw the remnants of newsprint on my new overcoat. It was at this point both Tracy AND Michael gave me the look.
Michael had taken us to the store because there are some very good books about Paris, although not all of them are in English.
After showing us a piece of the old Paris wall from the 11th and 12th centuries, Michael took us through the Jewish quarter of the Marais and showed us where an assassin killed six people at the Goldenberg restaurant on rue de Rosiers in August of 1982.
We then ducked into the Musée Carnavalet – Historie de Paris. Michael gave us a greatest hits tour, which took us to the paintings about the French Revolution, which included many going to their inglorious ends.
As we had crossed the bridge to the restaurant, we got our last sunny look at Notre Dame…
…and soon the Pantheon loomed in the distance, through what Michael called “an impressionistic haze (I’ve got to use that the next time people come to our home near Los Angeles and complain about the smog).”
After lunch, it was decision time again. It was still gorgeous, and Michael asked what we wanted to do. For some reason, I had never gone to the Pantheon on any previous visits, so I said, “Let’s head up there.”
We stopped by Eglise Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, and Michael said it was unlike the others. “You’ll see,” he said. It wasn’t because of the church interior; it was the people that were a little, uh, off. I guess they don’t get a lot of visitors, because they were much more religious, and as we exited the church one guy was giving me “the look” of a different kind, the blank kind. It was a little weird, but well worth the experience to witness the Stepford Parishioner.
We walked up to the Pantheon, and when we got inside there were white nylon things hanging down from the ceiling, and they were filled with white Styrofoam. It looked like something out of Woody Allen’s “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex.” Indeed, without too much imagination, they looked like sperm. “I never had anything like this in sixth-grade Sex-Ed,” I said.
I have no idea why we had never visited the Pantheon, but I liked it (even with the sperm hanging down). The only down side was that the crypts were closed that day, which was sad because, like that kid in the movie, “I like seeing dead people.”
As we walked out, and impressionistic haze shrouded the Eiffel Tower.
Next stop was the nearby church of Saint Etienne-du-Mont, and we weren’t going to let a little thing like a funeral get in the way of tourism. Fortunately Michael knew the back entrance to the church where a few pieces of St. Genevieve, the patron saint, of Paris still reside, and where we would not disturb the people at the funeral.
Michael wanted to show us a back room where there are some spectacular pieces of stained glass that can be viewed. It was cool to be able to actually stand within an arm’s length of these pieces, because you could actually see the story that was depicted within each frame.
We bid au revoir to Genevieve and headed for the rue de Mouffetard and its shops, restaurants, patisseries, cafes and open markets. It has a great Parisian flavor to it (there was an organ grinder in front of one store and some kids were shooting a low budget movie on one of the side streets).
In our quest to visit all ethnicities, our next stop was the Paris Mosque. It was nearing dusk, so we didn’t have a lot of time, but we ducked inside and there is a tearoom, a restaurant (that was very colorful and looked charming) along with a spa. We didn’t get back on this trip, but have marked it down for our next Paris experience.
We scurried through the Jardine des Plants and found Michael’s favorite carrousel in Paris, the one next to the Musée National d’ Historie Naturelle. It contained dinosaurs and other exotic creatures instead of horses. As a fan of Godzilla (only the one with Raymond Burr, please), it was fun.
We got on the #24 bus, but as we made a right turn over the Seine, Michael said, “This is strange. The bus is headed in the wrong direction.” Within a few minutes the opera lay ahead, Michael told us that we had just passed near Harry’s Bar (trip report foreshadowing again) and we were headed toward Printemps.
It just so happens that earlier in the day Michael had said the roof of Printemps gives you an amazing view out over Paris at night. As the bus headed toward the Printemps stop, Michael said, “You guys want to go see the view?”
We never met a view we didn’t like, so up the 12,000 escalators we rode to the top of Printemps. Out on the roof, the view was mind-boggling. We got there just after 6 p.m., and the Eiffel Tower was doing its light show incroyable with what looked like a million sparkling colors dancing like a freaked-out 80s’ disco. Wow!
Behind us was Sacré-Coeur, basking in its lights on its façade. Other monuments (the Madeleine in its blue lights was astounding) and churches throughout Paris were lit, and words cannot describe how beautiful and exhilarating the experience was for us.
We told Michael that we had probably worn him out enough for the day, so we all walked back together to the metro station where we were to say good-bye. Sadly, our guide then had to be witness to another Maitaitom wardrobe malfunction.
Michael’s tour went above and beyond the call of duty, so I thought it would be nice to give him a substantial tip. Unfortunately I had worn my tighter black jeans on this day. Located inside my right front pocket were our two passports and my wallet, containing the aforementioned tip. I had also buttoned down my coat too far…again.
As I moved away from Michael and Tracy in a surreptitious attempt to get out my wallet, I started to go into my “wild and crazy guy” routine. I think Michael was about to call the Paris paramedics when Tracy said, “Oh no, it’s just my stupid husband trying to get his wallet out of his pocket.” Well, so much for the surprise tip, eh?
We bid farewell to Michael (and told him we’d take that Louvre Tour the next time we visited), and as we headed back to the hotel, we both marveled at how fun the day had been. If anyone wants an up close and personal guide to Paris, Michael gets our highest recommendation. He is very informative but above all, he is just a joy to spend the day with and learn about Paris.
The evening was still young, so we hopped in the shower, hopped on the metro and out we went. We scurried by Nore Dame obecause we had dinner reservations at Le Tastévin on the Ilé Saint Louis.
We were going to be late for our 8:30 reservation, so I hurried ahead of Tracy to make sure our table was still there, opened the door and saw…no one! Yep, we were the only people there (a few minutes later, others started trickling in).
Now, I have never been known as Mr. Etiquette, but I do have a sense of decorum and have not embarrassed anyone too much at a meal (well, since I was 40). I have never noticed that in some restaurants in Paris, the forks by your plate are turned downward.
We ordered our dinner and a bottle of wine, and as we sat there chatting, I fiddled with my turned-down fork. Suddenly my mother was reincarnated in the form of the restaurant owner. If she’d had a ruler, she would have smacked my hand.
“You are in Paris. In Paris, the fork is always turned down,” she said, and she didn’t have that Colgate smile when she relayed this startling information to me. Needless to say, I didn’t move that damned fork until my dinner came, because I think she had a secret peephole in the wall to spy on unsuspecting Americans who play with their forks when she leaves the room.
The dinner (except for the fork incident) was uninspiring, but the molten chocolate cake for dessert was phenomenal. I would not recommend the place, even if the owner was a tad less obsessive-compulsive about her forks. Not until the last night of our trip did we encounter another restaurant where the fork was turned down. Fortunately, that restaurant was sans peepholes and peeping restaurant owners.
It had been a long day (we didn’t get home until nearly midnight) but one that shall long be remembered. We got to see beautiful architecture…
…and be informed and entertained by a great guide. Not bad for a long day in Paris.
Next – Day Six: The Infamous Rue Cler, A Grand Exhibition, There’s Been A Change In The Weather, The Lilies Let Down, Walk Like An Egyptian And Finally Florimond!