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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

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Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Friday, October 27, 2006

Day 4, l’Arc de Trimphe, le Louvre, et le Tombeau Napoleon

The church bells sound nine times and I lay there, staring at the ceiling. My roommates are already up, gathering their stuff. They tell me they are leaving today, so the first thing I do is plan to get the bottom bunk the moment they’re out the door. They take their time, and I lay in bed listening to suitcase zippers and the sounds of clothes being shuffled. Finally they leave and I fall asleep again.

When the church sounds ten a.m., I get up and nearly fall to the floor. The bottom bunk is clear, so I begin to move my stuff to it. I lock the door and take off my clothes. Then I waltz. Push, wash, scrub. Lather, lather, push. Push, scrub rinse. Anne-Marie’s towel seems to have suffered no ill effects from hanging off the top bunk frame for 36 hours.

Down at the bar, Nima is talking to Paul, Justin and Erin. They’re going to go to the Louvre in the morning, and we’ll meet for dinner at about six, hopefully then we can go on the night-time bike tour, maybe even go to the top of the Eiffel tower beforehand. I don’t invite anyone to go with me, partly because I don’t think they’ll want to, and partly because this is the morning where I’ll try to meet my parents’ friend on the Champs-Elysée. While I’m there I’ll check out the Arc de Triomphe.

I take the Metro to the George V. station, which puts me on the street right next to Lido, a cabaret near the gentleman’s office.

The fellow I’m trying to find is an exporter of French goods to America, and all-around well-connected guy. Evidently he’s quite wealthy (you’d have to be to have an office on the Champs-Elysée), and I’m hoping he’ll buy me a nice lunch or put me up in a fabulous hotel or something. Hey, it doesn’t hurt to hope.

I find Lido before I’m on the street level: it’s visible as I walk up the stairs to the street-level. I stand outside it, trying to observe whether or not it’s open. The buildings to the right and left look like modest office properties, and there are car dealerships and cafes not much further up and down the street. I enter the Lido and ask whether the doorman has heard of the man I'm looking for. He waves me past, to a set of double-doors leading to what turns out to be the auditorium. This is a world-famous cabaret after all. So, I’m excited now about two things: this guy should be able to get good deals on tickets to a world-famous cabaret, and the fact that I was waved right by means I definitely have the right place. Right?

Through the double-doors I approach a long desk with two people, a man and a woman, sitting in front of an enormous aquarium. I ask the woman if she knows the man, and she’s never heard of him. I explain that he’s a friend of my parents, that I have sketchy directions to find him at or near the Lido cabaret, and that my parents haven’t spoken to him in over 10 years, so this may well not turn out well. She has worked at Lido for well more than 10 years, and if she hasn’t heard of him, he’s neither an employee nor a regular customer. To humor me, she asks the gentleman next to her, after he’s off the phone, if he’s ever heard of the man. He hasn’t.

I thank them and walk back out to the street. The building on the left has no doorman but a placard with names on it. I scrutinize each of them, trying to find the name. On the other side of the cabaret the building does have a doorman (doorlady, I might say). There’s no name placard, and the doorlady is no help either. I'm going to call this project finished. I can’t call my parents now (it’s 4 a.m. in America). I should try to find a directory, but I’m kinda eager to be done with the whole thing. Truth be told, I feel weird about dropping in on him anyway.

Back on the Champs-Elysée, I approach l’Arc de Triomphe. You have to go underground to get to it, as the Arc itself is at the center of a roundabout where twelve streets meet. Jeremy from the bike tour told us there’s an accident there every 45 minutes or so, and seeing it now, I can believe it. I go under, through a long tunnel, and reach the ticket office. I calculate that at 18E, a Carte d’Orange for the day will pay for itself if I go to three attractions (the average price is 6,50E). A plan starts to form for the rest of the day.

After I have my ticket, I begin the stairs. 284 steps, most of which are in the narrowest spiral staircase I’ve been in. I count to 100 and take a rest, my hamstrings burning and my calves stretched. My blisters are somehow not terribly painful, but I think this is mind over matter. I walk some more, singing songs and counting as I go until I’m finally in a trance-like state, clomping my feet over and over again, up and up, trying to imagine my angle to the street or to the Eiffel Tower. When I hit a landing I figure I’m done. I enter a museum inside the Arc, a permanent exhibition of World War I photography and video. The pictures are in color. Never in my life have I imagined The Great War in color. I look at picture after picture, fascinated, until the burn starts to go away and I realize I still have a few steps to go. I approach the staircase a little frightened, but once I reach the top I’m inspired. I’ve never been to the top of the UT tower, but I’ll bet it’s hard to see the Eiffel Tower from it. There’s nothing quite like that. There’s a mistiness, a fog, hanging over the city, but I can see the dome of Napoleon’s tomb, the Louvre, and Notre Dame. Over on a hill, I can see the blinding whiteness of Sacre Coeur.



A young lady approaches me. She can’t be older than eighteen, with a beautiful face, and what is becoming a typical heroine in my fiction: olive skin and long black curly hair. She’s a foot shorter than I am. As she walks up I smile, and she asks me if I speak English. I don’t say anything and I look at her hands. She has the same exact Bosnian sob story as the woman near the Eiffel tower, handwritten on a small piece of paper.

I say, “Non, je ne parle pas anglais. Je suis désolé.”

If fire could shoot from her eyes I’d be going home in a crate marked “carbon sample”. She knows I’m lying as easily as she knows I’m human. She backs off and walks away, turning twice to glare at me. I want to apologize for some reason, but I know it will cost me money. There are a lot of rich Americans on this street. Let them pay her for my apology.

To my right there’s a young couple. They embrace and kiss each other. A little further down there’s a much older couple doing the same thing. I look out again across the swath of Paris on all sides, and suddenly it’s an empty experience. I’ve been going down the list of landmarks I can identify by sight, mentally checking them off, then moving on to the next. Not sharing it with anyone turns out to be a drag. I stay up long enough to get some pictures and study some things with my binoculars, and then I go down the 284 steps, not stopping again in the museum.
At street level I walk around the bottom of the Arc until I see the tomb of the unknown soldier. I always find these moving. The flame burns, hopefully eternally, just like it does in Westminster Abbey in London and at Arlington cemetery in the States. I stand for a few moments and watch the flame, trying to imagine what the body underneath looks like now. Is he wearing a uniform still? Was he decorated? Was he married? Did he have a little Alex at home?

After taking a few more pictures of the statues and garlands, I go down the steps again to cross over to the Champs-Elysee.

There’s a large, glass-fronted bookstore. I go in and try to find something to replace my copy of Madame Bovary, but the best I can manage is a mass-market edition (finally!) of the Da Vinci Code. I wish I could find it translated into French. I might learn a word or two, and I wouldn’t be distracted by Dan Brown’s dogshit prose. It’s 12E. I remember one of my teachers at UT telling me what a rip-off books are in the US. Yet another stereotype destroyed.

I walk downhill, mindful of the time and of my aching calf muscles. I need to decide what to do next, and soon. I don’t care too much about being on the Champs-Elysées, because I’ve been on Rodeo in L.A., I’ve been on 5th avenue in New York City, and I’ve been on Michigan Ave in Chicago. This may want to be different, but it’s not, and suddenly I feel like I’ve got to get out of here.

On the way to the Franklin D. Roosevelt station, I see across the street a Luis Vuitton shop, with a handbag, as big as my house, covering the facade. I take a picture for my friend Theresa, the youngest person I’ve ever met who has three (real) LV handbags.



Car dealerships, more cafés, more Americans wandering around. It’s getting to be lunchtime, so I start to look at menu prices. Everything is more than 15E for a fixed menu. I turn off the main boulevard and immediately run into a Lebanese café. Nothing is over 10E. I order a chicken shawarma and a beef kebab, served with rice on the side and a Coke. It's awesome. I eat it standing up, watching the plasma-screen show MTV-2. Very good-looking people. The food is fantastic, subtly seasoned and not over-salted. The chicken is tender and there are no “disturbing parts,” as K calls them. I pay and thank the man, and he complements my French. I thank him again.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Web said...

Take it from me: bicyling through Paris at night can be a euphoric experience. Whether you ride with or without a tour group, try it.

Respectfully,
Larry Lagarde
World-Class-Bike-Trails.blogspot.com
Ph: 504-324-2492
Urging bicycling for recreation, commuting, health and a better future.

Fri Oct 27, 08:30:00 AM  
Anonymous euroarabe said...

i like your blog.
and talk of lebanese food turns me drooling pavlovian.

i remember when they were building that giant handbag. i though i was seeing things. now i know i was not. or maybe we are both seeing things. i think a handbag that huge deserves a wide open space. and then i have evil thoughts about fancy-shmancy wanna-be people who can fathom throwing that much cash on a stupid bag getting locked in there while the giantess who owns the handbag takes them to burning man with her because the giantess is love with the burning man. and then they get stuck in the desert with only chanel lipstick to eat as they try to run away from the unbathed artists types with dreads running top-less around them.

needless to say, i don't know how i arrived at this fantasy but it's high time i stop.

Fri Oct 27, 01:19:00 PM  

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