Thursday, December 17, 2009

I'll at least have Paris...

Tuesday. I wake up at 2 in the morning. I’d been out a couple of hours, but I note that Ed is still up.

Let’s pack up and drive to Paris now.
Now?


We were to leave in the morning, but not this kind of morning, not when the sky is black and still has five hours of blackness before it.

Now? – Ed is trying to decide if I’m serious.
Yes. You haven’t slept. You might as well sleep in the car. I’ll drive and we’ll rest up once we get to Paris.

The issue for me is now my old elusive friend: time. We leave France early Wednesday morning. That’s coming up very very quickly. If we sleep through the night and drive to Paris Tuesday, that wont leave many hours for my most favorite of all cities. And I have a list of holiday shopping that I would like to do. And stores close in Paris, as in Dinan, at 7. None of this late night shopping. Late night is for food, for love, for anything but the mad flying from place to place with oversized shopping bags.

And so, in the middle of the night, we finish cleaning the apartment in Dinan, we pack, we leave a note for our landlord and we are on the road by 3 a.m..

At first I think this is a good idea. All is quiet. Empty. I have the night road to myself.

But at the same time, I’ve added hours to the trip. I avoided the highway and chose the slower roads, because the highway is so incredibly boring. But it is easy to get lost on the secondary roads. For the first few hours, Ed stays awake just to navigate us from one village to the next.

Moreover, there are relatively few gas stations in France (compared to what we’re used to in the States) and most of them close for the night. The rare one that stays open requires a European credit card.

But, I am optimistic. We are better off having left early, I say to myself.

...Until we hit the outskirts of Paris and the morning rush hour traffic. And now Ed does sleep, because there’s nothing to be gained by looking at the line of cars in front of us.

I do have an idea – why don’t I drive to our hotel and call the car rental agency? Last time they let us drop off the car in city center. It’ll save us a trip to the airport (where we’re scheduled to leave the car).

We pull up to our tiny but sweet hotel by the Luxembourg Gardens. The hotel clerk calls the rental agency. Yes, yes, drop off the car anywhere in Paris. She writes down the address of the closest agent at the Gare Montparnasse (the railway station on the left bank).

We unload the car and head for the agency. I’m a little apprehensive. I’ve dropped off any number of cars at this station and it’s never been easy. And I’ve not rented from National before. I’m not certain where to leave the car. (The address is of the office, which is not the same as the drop off point.)

I’ll spare you the uninteresting details of the next two hours. Suffice it to say that we spend this amount of time searching the boulevards and streets and cavernous innards of the Montparnasse Station. We have no cell phone (we’ve been using Skype on our computers for even local calls) and we have no card for the public phone. The street address clearly belongs to some office inside the complex maze of shops and bureaus that surround the station. We cannot find National.

We are about to return to the hotel and start from the beginning, when one lonely mechanic does remember that National has garage space four levels down, in the bowels of the public garage just up the road. Who would have known! We locate the stalls with relief, leave the car and now search the streets on foot for the agency's office.

There must have been signs of distress on my face because a woman, some Parisian person who obviously has compassion in her soul, comes up to me and asks if she can help. She lends us her cell phone so that we can get directions. And she leaves us her phone card in case we run into further trouble. Please, do not pay me. It’s nothing. She smiles, wishes us bonne chance and walks off.


Her kindness saves the day. By 12:30, we are rid of the car and keys, and we are walking back to our hotel. Life feels easy. We stop for a substantial lunch (or is it breakfast?) at the packed CafĂ© du Metro. Squeezed at a table to the side, I think how soothing it is to be doing this! Yes, travel time into Paris took nine hours instead of five, but so what – we are here and we’re eating hearty and honest foods (a peasant salad for me – with tomatoes, bacon, Catalan cheese and a poached egg) and the people watching is magnificent.

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So soothing is it that I see Ed is ready to fall asleep. We return to the hotel and I know that it is better for him to stay put... I shower, take a deep breath, forget about the fact that my eyes feel dry from lack of sleep and set out to face the shops of Paris.

But not immediately. I make a small detour first to the Luxembourg Gardens. If I had to choose a favorite place in Paris, I’d have to say I love these gardens best. Though this isn’t a day to contemplate life or much of anything here, from the chairs sprinkled throughout. It is brisk outside! And here, take a look at the fountain. Did you note that half of it is covered with a thin layer of ice?

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So, no takers for the chairs? That’s not entirely true. Off to the side, I see that a young woman and her partner are oblivious to the cold. Did I say partner? He is now that. He’s just handed her a small box. With something in it for her finger. Look at her reaction. Meanwhile, he’s popping a champagne cork. Good luck you two young things! May you always have time on your side.


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But they are the exception. Mostly, the park is in a state of waiting. Until Sunday. Until a climb of just five degrees. The chairs and benches will fill again, children will send boats sailing at the fountain.

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I’m in a hurry now. I move from one favorite store to another, selecting, rejecting, returning to the original selection. At one favorite little shop, I ask a clerk to hold an item or two until closing. That’s four hours away. I’ll be passing here before that. A bientot!

And all the time I am mindful that it is quite cold. Enough to keep the dog inside. Or at least to leave him waiting for your return.

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(Then there are those who shop without ever setting foot in a car; myself, sure, and others who move around on foot, by metro, or by motorbike.)

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Finally, I think I am done. As I walk back toward the shop with the held items, I notice that someone is locking up her store. Those French! Always closing earlier than they should. But then I see another doing the same. I glance at my watch. Seven. How did it get to be so late??

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Ed and I eat dinner at a place that I love for many reasons: it’s fantastic food in casual, artsy surroundings, it’s stuff I could never find back home, and finally – it has a big window between the dining room and the kitchen. Each time I’ve eaten here, I am able to watch the chef. He always looks up, he always catches your eye, and he always smiles. It is an extravagant meal -- far more so than our usual choices, but it is a warm and funky place too. Ed can wear his black t-shirt and jeans. He wont stand out (except for the fit of the jeans; what can I say -- Farm & Fleet, $19).

In a Parisian variation on the Brittany theme, Ed and I order (for an appetizer) the seafood (oysters, clams) in a ginger broth. Hello, Brittany, once again.

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I had wanted to go to the Eiffel Tower after dinner. But it couldn’t be. I am too tired.

We take a few steps toward the river -- not the Rance anymore. We're now by the Seine. Still, it's beautiful. Brilliantly so. I'm thinking -- rivers are so very memorable.


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I take the arm of my occasional traveling companion and slowly head back, away from the river, to the little hotel by the Luxembourg Gardens.