Thursday, October 25, 2012

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Chapter 4

It was unnaturally warm for a late summer night. Brakes squealed, cars accelerated, glass bottles rattled in wicker baskets on bicycles going by. Neighbours were still yelling friendly banter at each other through the windows of their apartments across the cobbled streets far below. It was midnight in Paris, a late September evening and the “City of Romance” was showing no signs of going to bed anytime soon. He was hungry, hungry but not for food that comes on a plate; he had eaten a bowl of French onion soup on the Champs Elysees just a few hours ago. No, his hunger was for sights and sounds and scents to add to his collection of memories, along with as many smiles as he could find.

He nodded at the clerk and stepped out of the lobby of his hotel onto the tiled sidewalk following the natural slope of the city south towards the river Seine. He strolled leisurely down the Rue de Louvre where he could walk in any direction for hours and never grow tired of entertaining his senses. After all, these were the very streets that Hemmingway walked. As he walked past Les Halles, he wondered about “The City of Romance” and what creates such an ambience that the whole world talks about it. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but there was no doubt about it, Paris had it, and by the end of the night he would know why. Along the way, he enjoyed the sounds of party-goers in the apartments above the shops, laughing happily drunk people spilling out onto cobbled brick streets where they sipped their wine and blew cigarette smoke up into the night sky. He walked past restaurants, shops and cafes. Straight and gay candlelit conversations at sidewalk tables blended with the soothing jazz he heard on outside speakers. Lovers joined hands, lips and bodies on park benches, in horse drawn carriages and while walking, a nice contrast from England where public displays of affection are rarely seen. Beautiful women, tall and slim in their hip hugging skirts walked towards him meeting his glances, their hips swaying no less than if they were on the runways of Milan, their matching outfits with designer heels, belts, purses and perfumes. He began collecting smiles.

Noticing the Eiffel Tower off to the south west, on the other side of the wide river, he returned to the Louvre, the most visited if not largest art museum in the world, where he had spent the better part of his day until closing time. Memories of Antonio Canova’s “Psych ranimee par la baiser de l’Amour”(Psche Reviving Love) and Michelangelo’s “Dying Slave” still floating through the theatre of his mind. He continued west, along side the closed but aromatic public garden named Jardin des Tuileries, it’s delicate perfumed flowers, ivy’s and manicured shrubs inviting him back when it is open. He came to La Place de la Concorde, the largest public square in Paris, and along with dozens of tourists still milling around, he watched the cars and taxis zip around the largest traffic circle he had ever seen in his life. Awestruck, he took a picture of the rotating light on the top of the Eiffel tower in the shadow of the Egyptian obelisk. He stopped to admire the fountains and statues of long dead French kings and sat for a few minutes on the steps of the famous luxury Hotel de Crillon, formerly the headquarters of the German High Command during the occupation of WWII. Many years before that, King Louis XV, Queen Marie Antoinette, Princess Elisabeth and a dozen other members of royal families lost their heads to the guillotine here, along with over 1300 commoners, in this very spot!

From there, he strolled up the Champs Elysees, the widest retail street in the world with all its top name brand glitter and bling. Eventually he came to the Arc de Triomphe at the west end of the Champs Elysees, another one of the most famous monuments in all of Paris. 164 feet tall and 148 feet wide, this imposing four sided arch sits in the centre of La Place Charles de Gaulle, yet another gargantuan traffic circle. The Arc de Triomphe honours French war veterans and beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

Strolling back to towards the Louvre he found an open liquor store where he selected a chilled bottle of French champagne and bought it, leaving it in the paper bag. As he walked back towards the Louvre, he sipped on the gassy liquid, belching happily as he continued exploring the French capital block by block. He took his shoes and socks off and crossed the wide lawn south of the Louvre, he took note of the couples sitting on the grass having late night picnics, checkered red and white tablecloths spread out on the ground with lit candles and baskets of cheese, long French loaves, wine bottles and glasses scattered here and there. Lovers lay sprawled in intimate embraces and from dark corners in the hedges came ecstatic grunts and moans. He smiled, sipped on his champagne and walked across the street to the banks of the Seine, where an esplanade runs for miles up and down both sides. Hundreds of happy people, mostly young adults, sat in the moonlight, laughing, drinking, dancing, groping and listening to musicians who play saxophones, clarinets and drums under the streetlights. As he watched, a group of giggling teen girls ran hand in hand past him, down the esplanade. One quickly broke free and ducked under a tree, hiking her skirt up and leaning back against the trunk, giggling at him as she spread her legs and peed in the dirt.

Half drunk, he walked on until he came to the Pont del'Acheveche, one of 37 bridges which cross the Seine, and took the stairs up to street level, where vendors were selling vintage art collectibles, comic books and novels from their carts. He wandered across the bridge, its sides heavy with lover’s padlocks gleaming in the moonlight. He smiled at the thought of returning one day with a sweetheart, and locking their names to the bridge forevermore.

After another hour of walking towards the Eiffel Tower, he finally came to it, though it’s lights were turned off at 1:00 am. It lost none of its majesty sitting there in the moonlight, presiding over the sleepless city. He satisfied his sense of disappointment with the purchase of a fresh and delicious Nutella crepe on the street and walked back across the Seine over the Pont des Invalides. Realizing it was 4:30 am, he walked east on the river side of les Tuileries, past the Louvre before heading north again on the tiled sidewalks of Rue Saint-Denis hoping his hotel would be where he left it.

Senses dulled by the now empty bottle of champagne, he….