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  • Writer's pictureChris Morkides

The Paris Diaries - Days 7-12

DAY SEVEN

Alisa and I are celebrating our 20th anniversary tonight at La Place Royale, a restaurant on the Places de Vosges. It probably holds more fond memories for us than any other restaurant in Paris, which is why we picked it.


It also isn’t expensive, so we’ll save money for yet another trip to Berthillon and their insanely decadent dark chocolate sorbet.


When we finish toasting and ordering and telling each other how much we care about each other tonight, I’m sure we’ll look out at the Places de Vosges, a gem of a park tucked in the Marais district, and think of previous dinners at La Place Royale and other trips we made to the park, a blanket, a picnic basket, Kina and a bottle of wine in tow.


“Remember that political consultant we sat next to?” I’ll probably say. “I sure hope he’s not consulting anymore.”


The year was 2016, the election when Hillary Clinton was supposed to send Donald Trump scurrying up that escalator with his tail tucked between his legs. At least that’s what all of the political pundits were saying. It certainly was what this political consultant was saying, a little too confidently as it turned out.


“Trump will take the South,” he said. “Maybe he’ll pick up a few states in the Midwest. Otherwise, get ready for your first female President.”


Looking back, maybe he was just trying to make our foie gras go down easier.


And there was the Mozart concert we went to in this little courtyard at the corner of the Places de Vosges. I’m not a big classical music fan but, for five euros, how could we go wrong?


We didn’t. Alisa and I had tears in our eyes listening to the music. Was it Mozart? Was it Paris? It probably was a combination of the two because I haven’t been to a classical music concert since but plan to go to one during our stay this time.


I also might glance over to a fancier restaurant at another corner of the Places de Vosges, the Ma Bourgogne. It’s where I tried to break up with Alisa over 20 years ago.


“This isn’t working,” I remember saying during dinner that night.


“The food is fine,” Alisa said.


“I wasn’t talking about the food.”


I was talking about our relationship although, with over 20 years of hindsight teaching me more about myself, I really was talking about my inability to commit. Not just to Alisa. But to a number of women who preceded Alisa.


Fortunately, Alisa wouldn’t let me off the hook so easily. We kept in touch when we got back to the U.S., went out for a casual lunch, and casual lunches turned into not-so-casual dinners and our 20th anniversary tonight.


I hear Mozart as I write this. And my eyes are welling up again.


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DAY EIGHT

Paris, it turns out, isn’t perfect.


I learned that yesterday when I passed signs advertising anti-racist and anti-sexist rallies plastered on a pole during the early moments of what turned into an excruciatingly long and painful journey to find a Metro station, a journey made longer and even more painful when I got off the train and tried using Google Maps to find the exhibit.


Actually, I knew that Paris wasn’t perfect already. I met an attractive and much younger Muslim Moroccan woman during my pre-Alisa days in 1999. Why would she decide to spend time with me? It wasn’t money; I didn’t have any. It wasn’t my charm; it’s hard to be charming when you don’t speak the language. I’m guessing it’s because of the anti-Muslim sentiment in Paris made her feel like a second-class citizen and had to settle for me.


Paris’ perfect veneer was literally washed away further when I finally found a Metro station, walked down the steps and saw a Metro worker scrubbing graffiti from a wall. A lot of things pass for art. Graffiti isn’t one of them. Tattoos don’t qualify, either, and you don’t find many of them in Paris.


It’s easy to think a city is perfect when you’re staying in one beautiful apartment in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower before moving to another beautiful apartment a stone’s throw away from the Seine and Berthillon ice cream.


“But Paris is perfect,” Alisa said this morning.


“What about those anti-racism and anti-sexism demonstrations?”


“It’s good that they’re against racism and sexism.”


“What about the graffiti?”


“You got me there. Want to get some ice cream later?”


One other imperfection raised its ugly head yesterday after I got off the Metro, close to the exhibit, and Google Maps directed me on a two-hour jaunt that brought me back to where I started. The art exhibit will have to wait. I’ll take Uber next time.


This noticed this imperfection after I spotted a woman in a wedding gown posing with a man in a tuxedo, perilously close to the Metro tracks.


“Don’t jump! It might work out!” I wanted to scream as a wedding photographer snapped away.


But the imperfection wasn’t the bride or the groom or the train speeding down the track behind the bride and groom.


It was the man sitting in the chair next to me. He leaped to his feet as the train hurtled closer to the couple, I thought initially, to try to save them from disaster. No. He saw the opportunity to take an unusual train/trousseau shot and, with an I-phone attached to his hand, seized it.


Some things shouldn’t change. People used to drink in scenery, creating memories without feeling the need to take pictures.


And some things should change. Like racism, sexism and our attachment to I-phones which, apparently, exist in Paris.


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DAY NINE

I was sitting on a bench by the Seine yesterday as the Bateaux-Mouches passed, me watching the tourists and, I’m guessing, a few of the tourists watching me.


And a question came to mind: better to be on the Bateaux-Mouches or better to be on my stone bench?


I’ve been on a few Seine excursions. They are fun. And very, very informative.


“To your right,” I can hear the guide saying on one tour, “you will see the Eiffel Tower, the most emblematic monument in all of France and of the world. It was constructed in two years by Gustave Eiffel for the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1889....”


At that point, I probably was into my second glass of wine and making some inane comment to Alisa -- “Some erection, huh?” -- as we made our way to the next historical site.


“And on your left, you will find the cathedral, Notre Dame de Paris, one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Construction of the cathedral began in 1163 under Bishop Maurice de Sully and...”


I was probably on my fourth glass of wine at that point and making another inane comment to Alisa -- “Some, erection, huh?” -- as we reached the midway point of our Bateaux-Mouche tour.


Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with boat rides up and down the Seine. You learn a lot, including how much wine it takes to drown out the mountain of trivia tour guides hurl your way.


I’m sure most of those people I was watching yesterday enjoyed themselves, with or without wine. But, as I sat watching them and listening to my ever-present Cyrille Aimee Pandora station, I couldn’t help thinking that I had the better vantage point.


Alisa and I talked about a year ago about possibly moving to Paris permanently. But our family is in the Wilmington, Delaware area. And our jobs – until both of us retired – were there, too. Plus, I don’t speak French. Plus, our friends are there. Plus and plus and plus and plus.


All of the pluses made this vacation just that – a vacation – when we got here on Oct. 3. We’d go back, live our lives in Wilmington, Delaware, and probably return to Paris intermittently.


But now? After listening to the music and eating the pastries and enjoying a wedding anniversary celebration more than we’ve ever enjoyed one before, we don’t know.


Maybe a tour guide can point us in the right direction.


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DAY 10

It strikes me that I have been in Paris two weeks and have done none of the things you are supposed to do in Paris. I haven’t visited the Louvre. I haven’t visited the Eiffel Tower, although I did take a picture of Alisa and Kina posing on our balcony with the Eiffel Tower looming in the background. The only quasi-institution I have visited is Berthillon’s ice cream, which is down the street from our apartment and features a dark chocolate sorbet which would hang in the Louvre if sorbets didn’t melt.


It also strikes me that I have started this diary and people might want to read about me experiencing French institutions.


What to do?


The easiest – and, therefore, best – thing to do was go on the Internet this morning and look up a definition of a French term, “flaneur.” According to Google, which has supplanted Merriam-Webster as the go-to destination for definitions, a flaneur is a “stroller, lounger, saunterer or loafer, but with some nuanced meanings.....Traditionally depicted as a male, a flaneur is an ambivalent figure of urban affluence and modernity, representing the ability to wander detached from society with no other purpose than to be an observer of contemporary life.”


Voila! Now, where did that come from? A solution to my dilemma. I have been sauntering and loafing pretty much 24 hours a day since I’ve been here so, by the French Google definition, have been living the quintessential French life.


No need to visit the Louvre and bore my friends when I get home about the beauty of Mona Lisa’s smile. No need to take an elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower.


“You’re lazy.” That’s my Mother’s voice in my head.


“No, I’m not.” That’s my voice in my head. “I’m a flaneur.”


“A what?”


Anyway, I still might visit the Louvre. I still might take the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I still might visit Versailles.


But I don’t have to do any of those things today which, to me, is one of the charms of France. I can loaf, even saunter, and nobody will judge. The French even have a complimentary word for it.


----


DAY 11

I came, I saw, my feet hurt.


But let me back up a bit before I talk about my excursion to the Louvre yesterday. I’ve written about being a flaneur, about how it’s an art form in France to do nothing and, seeing as how I was practicing this art form in the United States, Paris is the perfect place for me.


Then I started thinking: What will my relatives say? What will my friends say? What will everybody say when they ask what I did on my trip to Paris, I tell them nothing and they jump into the conversational vacuum and start talking about boring work-related activities.


So, I started off for the Louvre, in part, to prevent those work-related conversations but, in greater part, to see if I had changed since my last visit to the Louvre about 20 years ago. Maybe I had matured? Maybe I would appreciate Mona Lisa’s smile? Maybe I’d be able to figure out why Winged Victory is such a revered work of art when, in fact, Winged Victory has no wings or even arms.


“You’re what?” Alisa said when I told her of my plans.


“Like I don’t have culture?”


“That photo of Ali standing over Liston in your old apartment gives you culture?”


Anyway, the first part of my trip was great because I located the metro station closest to my apartment easily, got off at the correct metro station easily, and found my way to the Louvre. I even enjoyed standing in the long ticket line. The Delfonics, Dells and Spinners were singing to me through my ear buds, and I wanted to shout “Philly in the house!”


My first impression of the Louvre: it’s big. You can spend weeks there, I’m told, and not see everything.


My second impression: these marble floors are hard. I didn’t have arthritis in my feet when I visited 20 years ago. I have arthritis now and knew, early on, that I wouldn’t make it to the ancient Tibetan, post- and pre-apocalyptic impressionist section.


I’ll skip the less important exhibits – people oohing and aahing while posing near rocks; really? -- and get to the biggies.


The Venus de Milo. Not bad. But not great. I visited the Rodin Museum years ago and was more enthused. I even laughed when my then three-year-old daughter, Kina, looked at the statues and wondered: “How do they hold their arms up so long?”


Winged Victory. No wings. No arms. Enough said.


And, finally, the coup de grace: the Mona Lisa. The lines were so long that I couldn’t get close to the painting. I took a picture in which you can barely make out the face, let alone the smile. I took another picture of a poster board showing the Mona Lisa and listing a lot of Mona Lisa facts. I didn’t take pictures of signs scattered about the museum directing visitors toward the Mona Lisa. A few people, no doubt living out the rest of their lives in the Bastille, had painted moustaches on a few of those Mona Lisa signs.


I exited the museum just over an hour after I entered it.


The best thing: my family and friends won’t look at me like I’m an idiot when they ask what I did in Paris.


The worst thing: my feet are killing me.


----


DAY 12

Ella Fitzgerald almost blew it. Before any of you Ella fans enthralled by arguably the most perfect voice of all time get angry, let me explain.


I settled into my baseball listening seat in my Paris apartment last night, Alisa and Kina away on a side trip, ready to listen to the Phillies play the Padres in Game Four of the National League Championship Series. I’m a huge sports fan and might have cancelled this entire Paris trip beforehand if I knew that a fairly mediocre Phillies team would duck into a phone booth, emerge as Supermen, play deep into my trip and make me wish I was at home with my buddies, trading beer, pizza and belches in front of a TV.


Who am I kidding? I still would have chosen Paris.


Anyway, I settle in my seat, turn on the ESPN feed, am mildly surprised to find that my visual and audio feeds don’t work and resign myself to “following” the game by looking at the red dots blink out balls, strikes and outs.


“You watched red dots all night?” Alisa asked when I spoke to her this morning.


“And made a bunch of posts on the Phillies blogging site.”


“Sounds like fun.”


The fun part, though, was listening to my ever-present Cyrille Aimee jazz station while I watched the red dots and posted on the Phillies blog and shared an occasional incisive email with my friend, Irv – “How ‘bout them Phils!” -- during the game.


The Padres jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first. Not good for the home team and not good for my Ella Fitzgerald fandom. I was listening to Ella’s perfect voice during a perfectly horrible top-of-the-first for the Phillies.


The game and those red dots continued to blink in the bottom of the first, though. And, thankfully for the Phillies, other singers – all female, all singing jazz standards – took over for Ella. There was Cyrille. And Blossom Dearie. And Diana Krall. And a bunch of French jazz singers I can’t name, but whose voices make my heart melt.


As it turned out, their voices also made the Padres melt. The Phillies scored three in the bottom of the first to close to within one. They took the lead – a whole bunch of red dots giving me a headache, in the meantime – in the fifth inning.


The game ended, the Phillies prevailed, and I turned off my French jazz station, a unique sports-following experience made even more unique by a Philadelphia team actually winning.


As for Ella? Her voice is perfect, my Philadelphia sports teams rarely are, and the twain never should meet again.


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