I turned the corner and gasped. She loomed in front of me. I was caught unawares and, frankly, was not prepared for the rush of emotion. I couldn't keep myself from smiling. I was seeing her in person for the first time. This mythic creature from photographs and films. This erection of iron from 1889. The epitome of the "art of the modern engineer, but also the century of Industry and Science in which we are living," so said Monsieur Eiffel back in 1885. Today it stands as major a tourist destination in Paris as the Empire State Building is in New York City. Of course I'm referring to the Eiffel Tower.
Rife with pigeons and tourists alike, it was not that different from the melting pot of colors and languages that one would find near, I'm assuming, any major city's major attraction. I stared. It was okay to stare. She likes it. I looked up from directly underneath and marveled. I was the tourist with his chic touristy-ness on display. I ordered a café crème and Pain au chocolat and made my way to a park bench to sip, eat, and ponder the beauty in front of me.
I could have been in any park anywhere. I could have been in New York City. There were certainly enough pecking pigeons hovering around waiting for that one crumb I didn't drop. There were certainly enough pedi-cabs cycling by. There were certainly enough people sitting on benches, going about their day. I wasn't anywhere else though. I was in a park in Paris. Sipping coffee on a park bench with the Eiffel Tower majestically, proudly standing in front of me. If you think I cried you're almost right. The tears welled up but I wouldn't let them fall.
The sights (kids hanging out on the sidewalk in clusters before heading home from wherever they've been, people walking into and out of the Metro, jaywalking) and sounds (traffic, horns, jackhammers) were much like those in New York City. I don't know what I was expecting, but we're all the same, we humans. We interact the same. We laugh the same. We beg on the Metro the same. We may speak different languages, but the results are translatable. You don't even need an app. Just use use your eyes and ears.
Visiting the Arc de Triomphe was, for me, much more on par with seeing, say, the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. I love the fountain. It's one of my favorite spots in the park, but it's just something beautiful to see. The Arc de Triomphe was a monument on my Must See list, but it wasn't as breathtaking as the Eiffel Tower. I didn't gasp when it came into view as I exited the Metro. I smiled. I mean, let me be honest, I was actually in its presence so that was pretty cool. But it wasn't the same experience, for me, as turning that corner and the Eiffel Tower standing in front of me. I did love the rotary surrounding the Arc de Triomphe and how one doesn't have to cross the traffic to get to it. I seriously stood there wondering how I was going to get across. I couldn't find a pattern for the traffic that didn't always have cars moving in that circle. The Parisians were smart enough to construct an underground walkway. Clever. Not saying we Americans wouldn't do that, just wondering if it might be an afterthought instead of a forethought. I'm just saying the concept was pretty brilliant. Traffic continues to flow and pedestrians don't have to be "en garde" for their lives.
My stroll down the Champs-Élysées (a little Fifth/Madison Avenues with a little bit of 42nd Street thrown in to give everyone a chance) was the kind of stroll that raises the heart rate even though it's merely a stroll. When you stumble upon Louis Vuitton and Ladurée even though you can visit them anytime in their locations in New York City on Fifth Avenue or Madison Avenue respectively, it's somehow different to see them in their country of origin. One must participate in the joy this brings either by taking photos, window shopping, stepping inside to experience the atmosphere, or buying the set of six macarons, which include The Marie Antoinette flavor, which I've not seen available in New York City. Although, it could be available at this moment as these are the Les macarons--Septembre.
When I arrived at what appeared to be the end of the Champs-Élysées I was a little puzzled. I hadn't seen Chanel or Dior yet. I was sure they each had a boutique located on the Champs-Élysées. Then I turned the corner (I seem to be turning a lot of corners today) onto Avenue Montaigne. It was a cloudy day in Paris, but the fashion gods shined their sun rays down on me because there they were, illuminated and lining the Avenue Montaigne: boutiques for Dolce & Gabbana, Saint Laurent, Fendi, Marni, Celine, Chanel, Givenchy, Dior, Valentino. It was the avenue of gay-man-fashionista dreams. Hell, even Marlene Dietrich used to live on Avenue Montaigne.
After wandering down the Avenue for minutes, hours(?), just taking it all in, I went back to Saint Laurent. I wanted to go inside, but started to walk past. Then I remembered that I wanted to participate. I wanted to be me in Paris. I wanted to go inside the store. So, I stopped myself. I stepped inside the door. I asked the portier, "May I," and he preceded, in English, to point me in the direction of accessories and ready-to-wear for women and the collection for men, which was upstairs. It was while perusing the accessories for women that I not only recognized the pink of my Chuck Taylor's (I was wearing them) in the leather bags and wallets on display in front of me, but I recognized former French Vogue editor, and founder of CR Fashion Book, Carine Roitfeld shopping in the store. That was a surreal moment. She's a beautiful older woman whose face looks the same in the magazines as it does in person. I wanted a selfie with her but maintained restraint and decorum. I was in the flagship store of Yves Saint Laurent, ok. No need to go off the rails.
Upstairs I encountered the lovely Anna. She accepted my French, but recognized me as American. She spoke just enough English for us to communicate almost effortlessly. While discussing with me a particular wallet that I took a liking to but did not need (I have a recently purchase Louis Vuitton so this would have been wallet excess just for the excess), she offered me a glass of champagne. Who was I to say no. I mean, I recently made myself say yes in Tiffany & Co in New York City. I wasn't about to give pause to saying yes in Saint Laurent in Paris. I drank a glass of Champagne rosé while shopping in Saint Laurent. You bet your ass I did! After I admired the clothes, the wallets, and the sunglasses I decided that I couldn't walk out of the boutique without a pair of love-at-first-sight the sunglasses. They're part of the fall collection and they fit my face beautifully. That was the moment that I nearly cried. I love Yves Saint Laurent. To purchase a YSL accessory from the flagship Paris boutique was almost to much joy to contain. I'm certain that being in the boutique...in Paris...allowed me to throw all caution (and thought of price) to the wind. But I don't care. The price was actually not an issue. The moment, however, was spectacular and can never be recaptured. The memory of the purchase of my first piece of YSL with forever be a cherished memory.
Running on adrenaline, excitement, and the fumes of that Pain au chocolat consumed earlier in the day, I took myself toward "home" and the necessity of food and desire for wine. Côtes du Rhône, anyone? Oui!