In August, the streets of Paris swell with an assortment of people from every walk of life. The Asian tourists giggle down the Champs-Elysées in their kitten heels, toting their status inside of their Ladurée and Louis Vuitton shopping bags. Summer students float from monument to monument in packs, playfully clinging to one another. Groups of senior citizens take up every bit of the side walks as they emerge from their tour buses. American families laden with merchandise, stop in each boutique like bees pollinating flowers. Young beautiful couples sit at tiny round tables staring lovestruck at their own reflections in each-others sunglasses.
But, there is one group missing… the Parisians! For the summer months in France, there is a mass exodus of French citizens. Many businesses shut down for several weeks in August, forcing a slow grinding halt to nearly all industries except tourism.
Lucky for me, I am a tourist! My goal for the day is to do things that I have never done before. Inspired by Holly Golightly, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I’m setting out to fill my day with new experiences.
First, I ease into this objective by walking down the Seine to explore the many bridges from the lower foot path. This path hugs the waterline and passes below the roads and bridges that connect the city from the left bank to the right bank. It’s from below that I gain a better appreciation of how these bridges were constructed and the materials that were used. Each one is different but, even for their lack of continuity, their unique designs complement their surroundings. Though I have walked back and forth, beside and over these bridges, I have yet to pass underneath them consecutively.
On this route, I come to a beachy oasis known as Des Plages. These temporary sandboxes stretch for three city blocks and allow hundreds of sun-seekers the opportunity to strip down and bronze themselves. Some people work quite diligently making sand castles and others lay blankets for picnics. I even witness a domestic dispute resulting from too much wine, sunshine, and from what I can discern… a possible indiscretion regarding infidelity.
Then, I take a chance on the sewer tour. All I can say is that I regret this decision the second I step down into the dungeon-like bowels of Paris. Victor Hugo wrote many detailed descriptions of the secret passages and labyrinthian networks of tunnels in his novels. I should have let Hugo’s romanticism of the sewer-system assuage my curiosity.
Rank liquids flow through the open troughs. It’s like someone has farted in my face and I don’t know what’s worse: breathing through my nose and smelling it, or, breathing through my mouth and tasting it… I can’t find the sortie fast enough as I have just convinced myself that I have contracted the bubonic plague.
Next, I head to the amusement park beside the Louvre where I hire a gun and shoot things like John Wayne and then elect to be catapulted into the air on the end of a bungee cord. Spinning above the city catching glimpses of the Eiffel Tower and Grand Palais, I think… This Is Amazing!
I enter the Eglise de la Madeleine with an “I heart La Boule” sticker on my chest. It’s my badge of honour for the bungee cord incident. Tonight there is a gospel choir singing in the famous church and I am keen grab a seat.
The choir members bounce on their tip toes at the front of the church. A wave of energy passes through each pew, through each person and through each soul. I never knew religion could be so much fun. There is electricity emanating from the choir. To the left and right of me people are bouncing their heads, clapping their hands and shouting “Hallelujah!” I’m buying into it… The lady beside me jumps up and runs thirty rows to the stage to join the choir… I can’t help but share her enthusiasm (though I stay firmly planted in my seat).
Walking home, I stop in for a last drink at the local bar. I figure… hey, I’m going to hear these guys talk all night… I might as well join them for one. And that’s where it happens… I get invited to share in conversation with a group of friends that are REAL Parisians! Born and bread in Paris… and speaking French! (Not ex-pats, or tourists… real Parisians!) Oh-my-god, I’ve just been asked to sit at the cool kids’ table! It’s nearly impossible for an outsider to penetrate into these social circles… The French like the French. They must have had some openings since it’s the summer and all.
I’m all bashful about speaking French at first, but as the night progresses and the wine flows I realize that I am possibly speaking French! Though, I’m not sure. And, then they ask me to join them to go to the Opera. And, I’m like… “What? Um, yeah! Yayayayaya… Lemme just stash this book that I’ve been carrying around all day in my apartment across the street.”
They wait for me. I’m so excited! The only other time I can remember feeling this way is when I was six, and the dickey-dee would peddle up my street ringing his bells. I would run into my house and grab my life’s savings and blow it all on rocket Popsicle. I race up the hundreds of stairs to my fifth floor apartment, throw my book on the ground, grab my party dress and lipstick and head out into Paris like Zelda Fitzgerald!