An Unexpected Day May 26, 2014
So today was a rainy day, and museums were open – a no brainer. One of the museum exhibits we’d highlighted on our to-do list was the Paris 1900 exhibit at the “Petit Palais,” a building from the 1898 Paris World’s Fair (which was also the source of the Eiffel Tower. ) We got on our handy dandy bus route maps and figured out how to get there, and off we went.
After a while, as I was watching bus stops go by and calculating how far it still was to the stop at which we needed to get off to change buses, I suddenly realized – Oops! We were on the wrong bus! Hmmmm!!! On the bus, we couldn’t use our cell phones to figure out how to change the route. So, remembering that the bus we were on went through the courtyard of the Louvre, I suggested we get off there, and go visit the Louvre shop instead of trying to get to the Petit Palais. I say the “Louvre shop” because the museum itself is so intensely crowded — a constantly shifting sea of humans — that it seems unimaginable to spend enough time in the mob to actually try to see anything. But last year, we visited the Louvre shop, found a section where they were selling old etchings, and we each found a reasonably priced old original etching to bring home as a treasured souvenir. We hoped we could repeat that lucky find. Unfortunately, it was not to be! In the interim, they have totally redone the graphics shop, in the process dramatically reducing the range of works offered – dumbing it down dramatically. I asked the fellow behind the counter what they had done, and he said, well they had reduced the number of works “a little” (like about 90%!). He wouldn’t cop to more than that. Bummer!
We left the shop to cross once again the mob scene in the entry foyer, and what we had dreaded happened. I turned around, and Nancy was not behind me. Oh, dear!! Our phones aren’t working here. How to communicate to find each other again?? I stood still for a while, and looked around carefully. Finally, a gap opened up in the crowd, and I could see her, also standing still, about 40 feet away. It was good that we each knew to stop and wait if separated!
Then, reunited, we strolled down the street and found a café that was a bit more plush than our usual type of hangout. The food turned out to be exceptional, and we enjoyed a full two hour Parisian lunch.
As we were watching the people passing outside the café, it occurred to me that Paris has become a bit like Disney World. The tour buses pass by incessantly. And the pedestrians are mostly composed of groups of 30 to 60 tourists being led around by a guide holding aloft some agreed upon item – a huge artificial flower, a brightly colored umbrella, or perhaps a sign of some sort, or a flag. They don’t dare get separated, so the group members huddle together and move en masse. It’s always possible to tell a group –in addition to the swiftly moving leader, all their members have something in common that makes them stand out from the French public — youth, nationality, language, ethnic appearance, type of clothing – and there are all kinds of groups. I’m glad that on this trip we’ve mostly been able to keep a distance from the most crowded tourist haunts, although even so, the human environment on the streets and in the cafes is multi-ethnic and polyglot. Only the bus riders are fairly consistently French.
Finally, refreshed after our mega-lunch, we left the café and walked the two blocks to the Tuileries Gardens, which abut the Louvre. We hadn’t really planned to go to the Tuileries, but I’m so glad we were right next door because of our bus mistake this morning. It was more beautiful than I could ever have imagined, and it was a spectacular way to end our day in the 1st Arondissement.
Coming back home, we actually figured out — without online access — a way to take a bus from where we were to a point where we could connect with a bus that would take us back home. We were proud of ourselves.