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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

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Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Day 3, Napoleon's Tomb and Back to the Hostel

5:30 p.m.

We leave, the mime spinning a tray on his finger and waving with the other hand. We cross r. de l’universite and Bd St-Germain and turn right on Grenelle. We can see the golden dome of Napoleon's tomb over the skyline. We turn again, left, then right on r. Varenne, and pass the gardens of the Musee Rodin. It’s difficult to see in, but we catch odd angles of bronze and marble. Wrought-iron fence and green hedges tower ten feet from street level, so we cross Bd des Invalides to see if we can get a better look. There’s the Thinker, but that’s all we can see. The museum is closed this late in the day anyway.

We walk parallel with the gardens of les Invalides until we reach a gate. The guard tells us we have ten minutes, and that it’s too late for the tomb, but we can knock ourselves out in the gardens.

We walk through it, admiring the bullet-shaped hedges and fountains. Tulips spring up in rows underneath thin trees, and benches sit in the shade and in the sun. People are reading in the little squares. We walk straight to the exit and look back at the dome. Through the binoculars I see angels and gargoyles, and I wonder if it’s easier to fashion gold or marble. I first decide it’s gold, because you can always fix your errors. But then I realize it’s got to be marble, because you have to get it right the first time--you can't ever know you're finished when you can forever change it.

We walk over the moat and leave the complex, trying to decide where to go exactly. We cross the front of the building and head down Ave de Tourville. On the other side of the street we realize that six different streets lead away from les Invalides. An older couple asks us if we’re lost. I start to answer in French, but Nima says, “Yes.” We’re looking for a street called Lowendal, and they point us in the right direction. We follow along behind l’Ecole Militaire and get back into a residential area. We pass a Moroccan restaurant with an elaborately carved door, and I take a picture.

We turn on Grenelle and see a tiny garden. We go in for a stroll and sit on the bench for a few minutes. I ask for my notebook and start to write. Nima does the same thing. I write about the lunch and try to finish a paragraph I’d started on the previous day, only I've lost my pen. I have to write in a different color ink.

We turn onto r. Commerce and see the church that has become my landmark for "the hostel is nearby". We stop in a small boulangerie and buy a baguette. We get back to the hostel and go to our rooms.

I take off my shoes and lay down for a few minutes, rubbing my feet and my calves the whole time. Nima’s in the next room and I can hear her, talking to Paul and Justin and making her apologies about missing them for "the run at 5".

I get up and join them. Justin has cheese he bought earlier that day and we all smear it on the baguette and drink wine Nima smuggled in. We drink it from paper cups and it seems very appropriate. After a few minutes I head down to the bar and order a beer.

Malcolm is there and tells me my story needs severe editing. I don’t want to hear it, so I invite myself to sit with the Aussie girls I’d been speaking to the night before.

10:30 p.m.

I’m very tipsy. I have the tolerance of a canary. I’ve had about half a bottle of wine and four or five beers over the past 4 hours, and my throat hurts from talking. Paul wants to write a Masters thesis on the Simpsons and their treatment of mob mentality (in particular Sideshow Mel's role in this). Justin wants to read my book (the one about the door carver, not the one about the Basques. Nobody cares about the Basques, dammit). Several more people are stacked up in the bar and I’ve gotten to know them all by name. There are Brazilians, Argentineans, Chileans, Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, and I think I’m the only Texan.

“We need to go to the Eiffel Tower,” I say. Nobody reacts. Nobody fucking does anything.
An hour later. “We need to go to the Eiffel Tower and see it lit up and stand under it while we’re drunk.”

30 minutes later. “I’m going to the Eiffel Tower. Who’s going with me?”

Three Brazilians, Paul, Justin, Nima, an American girl named Erin stand up. We set out up Commerce. Following the route that’s starting to seem familiar, I turn on Grenelle. French people are walking with their children and their dogs and they barely look at us as they cross to the opposite side of the street and back again after we’ve passed. The Aussies are singing and Justin and I are talking about geek stuff. We all grab a crèpe from a little stand at Grenelle and Av de Suffren. Mine is called “Trois Fromages + jambon”, and it’s wonderful.

We cross the outer gardens and onto the gravel walkway. People are jogging, and Nima can’t believe anyone would exercise so late. I don’t think she appreciates that we’ve walked nearly 3 km from the hostel to where we’re at now.

There’s a group of French people trying to figure out their digital cameras nearby. Paul asks one of them to take his picture with his camera, and the man has trouble with the controls. I manage to do a fair job of translator, but mostly I just talk to them about the coldness and about whether or not there will be any more shows tonight from the tower. We were all told they would go on until 1 a.m., so until then we’ll have to believe it.

The tower is bright, its normal brown bathed in mercury-vapor-orange lamps. Erin steps over a small chain to walk on the grass, and I follow. We sit together lined up perfectly with the tower. We’re told that the sparkling happens every hour, on the hour, until 1am. We have a few minutes. She tells me about Spain and I tell her about Spain, and it’s cold and I offer her my gloves. She’s adorable in her youth and in how she refers to her boyfriend every fifth word. I hope I’m adorable as I mention my little boy Alex every tenth. Nima, Paul, and Justin are in a tight circle back on the gravel road, talking loudly and singing what sound like rugby songs.

The tower goes black, and people gasp. After fifteen seconds people start to grumble and mutter, when it erupts in a starburst. White speckles that look like they’re inches apart are going off all over the tower. They twinkle, like a thousand-foot Christmas tree. The light reflects off buildings and off the glass war monument behind us. I concentrate on one point on the tower, but it seems like the same light is never in the same place twice. Are they projected? No, they’re too precise. Are they physically moving? I may never know. It’s a completely silent show, put on for the world every hour, and once again I realize what an empty experience it is to see this show without K or the boy. Erin pulls her sweater around her and wonders aloud what it would be like to have an apartment that faces this.

“I’ll bet it’d be horrible,” she says.

“Not for a kid,” I say.

After a few minutes of this we see the Paul-Justin-Nima group start to head back, so we turn around. We have to go 3km in less than 50 minutes, so it’s a good time to start. My buzz is wearing off, but I’m not cold. Erin offers my gloves back but I say I don’t need them. We rejoin the group and walk back. The French people are still walking their children and their dogs. I see a thousand places I want to visit in the daytime when they’re open. Lingerie shops (Erin and Nima tease me about buying at least one nice piece for K), children’s toy shops, and culinary shops display beautiful scenes in their windows. We walk slower to get back than we did setting out.

We make it in plenty of time for curfew and I again wake the Italians as I climb into the damned bunk. I’m 32 years old. There should be a hostel rule that says anyone over 27 should get to sleep in the bottom bunk. We’re in the real land of égalité, fraternité here, right? Make me equal to this my-brother-the-whippersnapper by kicking him the hell out of my bottom bunk!

I take Tylenol, drink a lot of water, and I’m asleep within 5 minutes.

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