Friday, September 11, 2015

Où le Bossu sonne le glas et la couleur du luxe est orange

A feeling of contentment washed over me as I waited in line to buy a ticket to go inside Notre-Dame. It was peaceful in the shade as I leaned up against the concrete that held the spike-topped wrought iron fence surrounding the Cathedral. Tourists were wandering around looking at their maps. Locals were going about their afternoon business. I stood observing. Life was hustle, bustle, and wait in line in my vicinity. A beggar woman straight out of that other Disney film, Beauty and the Beast, hobbled by with her crutch and cup, begging for change. The sounds of City life were alive all around me: sirens, traffic, chatter, Cathedral bells. After four days, I know where I am when I wake up, but it still seems so surreal to be here. 

Italian speakers to my left. Spanish speakers to my right. I recognized their language as they spoke to each other, but none of us spoke each other's. Gestures and single words helped us find common ground for communication. You know, you can't just speak louder to try to communicate. You've got to break it down and find other ways. It's a challenge. I did my best to figure out how. I was outside of my box; my comfort zone. It's supposed to be a good thing. It's supposed to help me grow. I think it has. I've tried to take stock every now and then and assess myself: how is my patience; tolerance; courage? Is my fuse quick or slow? At home I would say my fuse is much quicker than it has been here. I'm much quicker to lose patience there. In my line of work, I will be interested to see how this vacation translates when I'm back behind that glass selling those tickets to people who are visiting, merely trying to enjoy their experience in New York City. The amount of people I've encountered who have shown me kindness have greatly added to my experience. Hopefully I'll carry that home with me and remember the people who helped with a smile instead of doing it begrudgingly.

One has to accept himself. One has to be able to see the reflection in the mirror and stare into the eyes staring back at him and accept the failings, shortcomings, successes, idiosyncrasies that he knows are hidden beneath the surface. Sometimes I see him and I accept him even though I don't like him. Other times I stare at him and only see the superficial. I'm a tourist in a foreign country...alone. As strange as it sounds, I always try to look like I belong wherever I am even though one of my strongest desires is to stand out from the crowd. I like to be noticed; to be different than everyone else; to be chic, stylish, and unique. However, I have had to fight to accept that what makes me stand out in Paris is the fact that I am a tourist...well, my clothes, shoes, accessories, and personality do come into play also, but... I haven't really figured out what makes me so uncomfortable with being perceived as a tourist. Guess it's that not being in control of the unknown thing that plays hard and fast with my ability to function. My name is Michael and I'm a tourist. This City is filled with us. "Soap opera says One Life To Live." I'm living, I'm living!! To accept this me who is experiencing himself as a solo traveler is a challenge I've taken on even if I don't always like the result of my actions.

Two hours of observing, pondering, and sitting with myself (and my non English speaking companions) later I was finally at the front the line and my passage into the "symbol of medieval Paris" was about to begin. 

The views were, in a word, breathtaking. So were the stairs that I had to climb to get to the top so I could see those views. Merde! I don't know that any amount of physical training would prepare one for those stairs that spiraled to the top, getting more and more narrow the higher I went. I was breathless for two reasons (the views, the stairs). Merde! (It bears repeating). The view of Paris from atop Notre-Dame was C'est magnifique!! I marveled at the City laid out before me. I guess I've done the same thing anytime I've been high enough to see NYC spread out in all of her concrete and steel glory. For this view, however, the pinpoints of the Chrysler Building and One World Trade were replaced by the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Sacré-Coeur, and the Seine. "Spectacular Spectacular"! 

The spiral back down was less of a workout for the legs, although my right one was quivering a bit (this vacation has include a lot of walking. "Who are you to judge me?"). I stopped across the street for a tourist-priced café crème and my first street vendor crépe made with what all you people kept telling me to try...Nutella! Mon Dieu! (OMG for the Anglophiles.) It was amazing: rich, creamy, almost too much so to consume. Fear not. I ate the whole thing. "He likes it. Hey Mikey!" Sitting outside at the café, I met a lovely couple from Texas, Karen and Kent, who had enjoyed an early morning bike tour around Paris. They were kind and open and I'm so glad that I introduced myself after hearing their English. It was nice to have a conversation without worrying about the translation. 

I next set off to visit the dead at Père Lachaise Cemetery. After visiting a church, a cemetery seemed liked the logical sequel. The final resting place of Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein (with the unmarked grave of her lover Alice B. Toklas next to her), Chopin, Colette, Molière, even Jim Morrison, was a must see on my list the minute I knew I was going to visit Paris. It may seem macabre for some, but for me a cemetery is one of the most interesting places to wander/wonder in. Take a stroll through one and look at the age of the stones, how long the people lived, how long they've been dead. There is so much history right there beneath your feet. I was never one for history in school, but walking through a cemetery can open your eyes to the the lives of people who arrived and left before you got here. Cemeteries really are quite beautiful Cities of the Dead.

I didn't make it to Père Lachaise Cemetery next, however. I made a snafu that I still haven't quite figured out with the Metro after I finished the crêpe. I started walking in the direction of my hotel and found myself lost then back on track then right near a Metro stop. Even though I was now back on the right track I thought that instead of walking back to the hotel I should save a little time and get on the Metro and take myself nearer to Père Lachaise Cemetery. It seemed a better choice than if I walked back to the hotel and then navigated from there. I still don't know what coordinates I put into my Paris Metro app, but I followed them to the tee and found myself smack in the middle of Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Seriously?!? I couldn't imagine this location was going to have me anywhere near a cemetery even if I had to walk a short distance. Can you imagine a cemetery just off Fifth or Madison? Or, God forbid, 42nd Street? I couldn't get my Google maps app to load my route (Verizon has not made me a happy customer during this trip) so I was kind of stuck wondering what to do, where to go from there. Then it struck me. I wanted to find Hermès. I hadn't found it the day I'd wondered down the Champs-Élysées. One of my map apps was working and told me it was merely across the street and down a side road. I quickly forgot about my trip to see where the dead were resting and made my way toward the gleaming orange of luxury leather goods...and scarves. 

There was no champagne offered to me at Hermès Paris like at Saint Laurent Paris, but that didn't change the fantastic experience one bit. Alexandra was perfect for me. She spoke a bit of English and not once made me feel inadequate when I used my French with her. Okay, some might say it's her job to be nice because she's working on commission. Who cares. I connected with her and she connected to my excitement at being in the store and we fit together like Cinderella and that glass slipper. On a side note: there were some beautiful men, in suits (IN SUITS!) working, whose attention I would have enjoyed, but knowing myself as I do (remember I'm looking at the eyes staring back at me in that mirror) I know I would have been a little timid, a little coquettish with them. Handsome men in suits put me a flutter in all kinds of ways. So while I was happy to be able to observe them while I waited, Alexandra was perfect for me. 

I knew I wanted the classic "H" belt buckle. It screams Hermès to me. When I see it, I know. The only choice, for me, was silver for the buckle. Classic. I wanted something in Hermès-orange and would have purchased the reversible orange/black if they had had my size. Alas, they did not. What I went for was a beautiful blue, that should coordinate beautifully with my Cole Haan blue Chukkas, which reverses to black. I have a black belt already and also a blue belt, so I didn't really need this belt. But it's a beautiful belt and the leather is in a word...supple. And it has the status symbol "H" buckle. And it's pretty! Hi, my name is Michael and I'm a label whore. 

Alexandra helped me figure out the perfect size belt. Then she helped me choose the perfect colored enamel bracelet. I didn't want black or brown. I wanted orange. Hermès-orange! The orange one was a little too tight on my wrist, though. Not to be deterred, Alexandra brought out a beautiful deep red-colored enamel bracelet with a more modern "H" clasp than the classic "H" of the buckle. It was brushed silver instead of shiny. I would have taken the shiny in a heartbeat, but as I said it didn't fit. Alexandra had one more thought. I was finding the idea of the deep red enamel intriguing, but she wanted to check her inventory for the possible arrival of the more pumpkin shaded orange-colored enamel with the brushed silver clasp. While she was checking the inventory I met a lovely couple from North Carolina. The accent was unmistakably from "back home" and I couldn't resist an introduction. Super nice people. Again, so glad I said hello.

I had resigned myself to the idea of buying the deep red-colored enamel bracelet if the more muted orange one was not in stock. I needn't have worried at all. It was in stock. She came back to me wearing a large smile and I knew. It was the perfect choice. Alexandra, the belt, the buckle, the bracelet...all things meant for Michael at that particular moment. 

I might never have purchased a piece of Hermès in New York City no matter how badly I wanted to. But in Paris, the only option was immediately clear. I provided the man at the register with my Venture card and signed my name to the slip. 

The list of things I wanted to see on this trip included touristy things: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées, Versailles, Notre Dame, Palaise Garnier, Père Lachaise Cemetery (ok, maybe that last one's not for every tourist, but it is listed in my guidebook). But it also included Louis Vuitton, Ladurée, Chanel, Dior, and Hermès. As I review the week so far, I seem to have put a check mark next to all but one of these. 

Maybe I'll see that city of the dead tomorrow if it doesn't rain. As for tonight, I tried foie gras. Si bon!