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Paris: Expect it All
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Paris: Expect it All
  Paris Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton

paris_venusdemilo4.jpg "Mais non, Madame," said the clerk at the Ritz, the most super deluxe hotel in Paris. "We are full! You have no reserver?" He gazed down his nose at us. He wasn't a very tall man so in order to perform that feat he had to lean back far. Any farther and he would have toppled backwards.

Our luggage was stored at the Gare Saint Lazare. With no baggage, our non-designer wrinkled clothes, bloodshot eyes, my greasy hair and Bob's unshaven face, even our American Express Card didn't work. Monsieur looked appropriately shocked. Which was just as well. Who wants to spend $200 for a single night?

We continued walking east on Rue Lafayette. It was early. Not quite 9:00 a.m. The sidewalks were fairly bare; however, the traffic in the streets was mass confusion. Motorists came from every direction. ( The streets of Paris have more angles then a politician. )

Outdoor venders were setting up shop. Sweeping, dusting and firing up their portable kitchens. In homey cafes and pastry ships, doors swung open and the tantalizing smell of coffee spilled out. Behind plate glass windows mannequins teased and tempted with the latest fashions. One by one, Parisians appeared, the plain and the sophisticated, wearing looks of intent and purpose. By the time we reached Hotel Hamilton, Paris had come alive.

We found the perfect room in a small hotel. Clean, with a private bath and cheap -- about $50.

We were in the heart of Paris. The Opera House, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arch de Triomphe, the River Seine, the Left Bank, the Right Bank, the Ille de Cite the stuff of romantic tomes, of endless sagas was within walking distance.

That night we were the street walkers of Paris. On Champs-Elysees, des Avenue of grand hotels, boutiques, movie houses and sidewalk cafes, we stopped to watch the dance of two street performers.

Dressed in zebra striped skin suits, the youthful and agile couple twisted and turned to the music blaring from a cassette recorder. Such precision and style deserved the centimes and francs that lay scattered at their feet.

They no sooner ended their act when a juggler materialized. Daring and brave, he tossed knives and ruby red apples high in the air and with dramatic flare, sliced the fruit as it fell.

Stepping carefully over doggy doo ( France loves dogs. ) we continued our rambling, examining every bit of architecture on the way. Glass and steel skyscrapers loomed on either side of the broad tree-lined avenue. Between the modern buildings were the statues and the monuments of yesterday.

We circled the giant Arc de Triomphe. I got goose bumps. How many times had I seen it on TV! The parades! The protests! The speeches! They all seemed to be held at the famous Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon must be smiling with satisfaction.

Up ahead a sidewalk cafe sparkled and beckoned. Its mosaic tiers and terraces crept into the street. In minutes, we were inside looking out. Huge marble columns separated us from the busy pavement. The distinguished grey-haired bartender resembled a king protecting his gold and crystal throne.

The prices were high, the clientele of the affluent society.

It was like watching a foreign movie without English subtitles -- wealthy Parisians in animated motion.

Their voice was energetic, their dress, designer. And why not? Paris is home to Dior, Saint Laurent, Chanel and a host of other worldly haute couture. They smiled at one another. Perfect smiles with perfect teeth. Bob and I touched our cups and smiled at one another. Not so perfect smiles with not so perfect teeth.

" Paris is so romantic! " I gushed. I sounded surprised. But I wasn't. It was exactly as I expected.

The next morning, at the entrance to the Louvre, a pack of dirty children appeared, maybe ten -- twelve years old. They surrounded me, fell on me. They kissed my arms and hands, murmuring " beautiful lady, we love you, love you, love you ... " Like wild wasps, they swarmed all over my body, stroking my face, my hair, forcing me to the ground.

They frightened me. "Get them off me!" I cried to Bob. He reached for my bag that I had raised above my head and they vanished. Just like that. They vanished.

paris_monalisa4.jpg I didn't stop trembling until we were inside the museum and I was looking at the most famous work of art in the world: Leonardo de Vinci's Mona Lisa. The painting hung on a smoky wall behind glass. About thirty people were standing in front of it. Silent. Hypnotized. I stared at her. She stared back at me.

The Louvre is the largest royal palace in the world and home to a mind boggling collection of paintings from the beginning of time itself. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of carefully preserved canvases fill the rooms -- some covering whole walls. For someone like me, whose knowledge of art wouldn't fill a page, it was a revelation in our need for self-expression.

Painting is only one form. We had tour tickets to a 'sexy show' in 'Forbidden Paris' -- another form of self-expression.

Our female tour guide, around 30 years old, was fluent in English, German, Italian and French. The average age of our group, all couples as far as I could tell, was around sixty, Most of us were dressed in clothing that could have been purchased from the Sears catalogue. Nearly everybody was a touch overweight. What struck me was that nobody was particularly friendly. Not even to each other. Otherwise, we could have been a busload of churchgoers on our way to a church social.

We drove to a dumpy theater and shuffled to our seats like lambs to slaughter. The floor inclined slightly to an elevated stage that held a makeshift wall, a chair and a table. Almost immediately, a naked woman of about twenty-five, slight, with short hair and delicate features walked in. Her eyes were cold and hard. She was laughing at us. Up the aisle she sauntered, hands on hips, defying us to make a sound. Nobody did. She flopped down on a man's lap and flung a leg around his neck. Spreading her legs, she taunted in half English and half French. " regardez, tu manger, oui? You want touch, non? " She continued making suggestive remarks as to what he'd really like to do. The man had a sick grin on his face.

In total control, she cruised the aisle, choosing at random, her next victim. A second naked lady, very tall and thin and not as pretty, joined her.

By now, they were behind me and I, determined not to turn, watched the audience instead. They cranked their heads straining to see. Both men and women. It was the oddest thing. Their faces were void of expression. I could only guess at what was happening with all the shouting and the moaning going on.

Arguing in French, the women ran to the stage where they intermittently fondled and slapped each other. The petite woman left angrily and the tall woman proceeded to rub her body against the wall. A man, fully clothed, walked in and began to disrobe. A horrid wailing sound startled me. The anguished cry I heard came from behind me. I turned around. A young woman was sobbing horribly. It was too much for me, this sexy show in naughty Paris. Bob and I got up and left.

The bus was gone.

We sat at an outdoor cafe and waited.

" So this is Forbidden Paris. " I said.

Up and down and across the street weak neon signs with burnt and missing bulbs advertised live sex acts -- one, two, or three girls; one, two, or three boys. Only the most shocking will be seen, blinked the messages.

A confused and sobbing woman ran from the theater. She joined us. " We're on our honeymoon, " she wept. " I swear, I had no idea what the show was about. I can't stand it. "

I bit my tongue to keep from telling her what I thought of her husband. Bob, wisely changing the subject, asked where she was from.

" San Francisco. " she sniffled.

So what's so different here from San Francisco, I wondered, where shills outside curtained doorways promise " any fantasy your little heart desires " as they try to pull you in?

I surveyed the area. The streets were empty. The faces on the attendant in the rundown theater, the waiter at the neglected cafe, the two lonely customers nursing a beer, the girls on the stage, all were lifeless and resigned.

" Paris is so ugly, " I whispered. I sounded surprised. But, I wasn't. It was exactly as I expected.

The next day we explored the left bank and the residential district and discovered a romantic candle-lit cafe. A stuffy waiter wearing a black vest and a bow tie seated us with a slight nod. He pointed to the menu above a chrome counter, which looked a little out of place next to the yellow roses and pink lace tablecloths. He shrugged non-commitedly when we chose steak for Bob and a creamy seafood dish for me. We waited quietly, the only sound in the room was a melodic harmonica solo.

Our meals arrived with great aplomb, the servings piled high on the plates. Bob's steak looked like a roast, and came with the biggest bone imaginable. We ate slowly, the waiter hovering in the doorway through the entire meal, sauntering over to fill our goblets whenever necessary. We finished eating and Bob requested the check, pointing to the dinosaur bone that sat conspicuously on his plate. He remarked with a smile, " I saved the bone for your dog.", (assuming by now that every Parisian owned a dog but never for a minute imagining what was about to take place.)

"Bon, monsieur," said our waiter, and hollered "Fido!".

Not in the least self-conscious, the waiter tossed the bone into the air and from somewhere previously unnoticed by us, Fido, the biggest German shepherd I have ever seen, leapt across the counter, and snapped the bone in midair.

Later that afternoon we shopped for French perfume and a teeny-weeny black Parisian dress. Before we went dancing, we climbed the Eiffel Tower. Was it the scent of roses, the height, or was it the view that made me dizzy? I'm not sure. I just know the scene hit me hard. The city grid is as artful and profound as the stone cathedrals that dominate the sky. It is as beautifully sculptured as the gardens that reign supreme, it is as natural as the River Seine that snakes through it all.

"Paris is so beautiful!", I gulped. I sounded surprised. But I wasn't. It was exactly as I expected.

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