Saved by Ruby Slippers by Elizabeth Moore
My first visit to Paris. From the moment my high-school French teacher describes her years at the Sorbonne, I am transported from a hot summer classroom to the City of Light. Cicadas droned their summer chant as I hear the words Sacre Couer, croissants, Bastille Day, Delacrox – even Edith Piaf. I desperately want to see what the Left Bank is like, drink coffee (I am twelve) and buy posters from a bookseller by the Seine.
My sister and I have rented a tiny Art Deco apartment just off the Champs Elysees. We stow our luggage and almost immediately find ourselves in a small brasserie having champagne for breakfast. “Pour le petit dejeuner” the waiter smiles as he delivers our brimming glasses.
We anticipate a day of exploration. My sister has a striking pair of walking shoes - red faux crocodile skin with glamorous laces. I have what I believe to be serviceable footwear but I covet her ruby slippers.
As we walk, Paris introduces herself. Statues, fountains, cafes, beautiful department stores and Haussman’s boulevards become theatre sets for the life that surges around us. Crafty scammers are dismissed as we pass vagrants with sleeping cats and dogs on blankets. Impossibly parked cars share their tiny spaces with bossy pigeons. That French women are effortlessly stylish is also confirmed. The city is an impeccable hostess. We roam Paris for miles but my feet finally protest. These are not serviceable shoes and I walk back to our apartment in bare feet. Nobody seems to notice or care but to my mind the ruby slippers seem a little smug.
The next morning Montmartre welcomes us. My choice of shoes is sensible but not stylish or colourful. As we climb towards Sacre Coeur, stalls and shopfronts assail us with an impossible array of souvenirs. I find a t-shirt and decide to use my limited French to see if the young man in the store has a larger size. My sister goes ahead to find somewhere for lunch, but I am determined to try my high school French and ask about the shirt. I am doing rather well I think until I search for the word for size – “taille”. I don’t know what I said but he looks at me “Madame, do you speak English?” I nod. “Let’s go with that then.” I do buy the shirt, but his smile as I depart leaves me wondering what I actually asked for.
My sister and I eat lunch with a window view of the beautiful spires of the basilica and plan our afternoon. We climb the steps to the church, past the carousel and the many panhandlers. The view of Paris from this the highest point is extensive and beautiful. It seems that the city is laid out below just for us. She has wrapped herself around the Seine, challenging us to pinpoint some of her more famous landmarks; quietly pleased that we find such delight in her landscape. I also want to see if we can find Café des 2 Moulins featured in the movie “Amelie” and so we head down to ask directions.
Armed with a small map sketched on a café napkin we set off. My sister suddenly turns to me and asks if I managed enough French to buy my shirt. My gaze turns from the rough map I have been studying to the shopping bag on my arm and I reach in to show her my purchase. I fail to see the step down onto the street, completely lose my footing and tumble forward.
I have a very sharp memory of watching the uneven cobblestones rise towards me and my quick inventory of probable smashed glasses, bloodied cracked nose and broken teeth blur into a red chequered image as my face reaches ground level with a thud. My left knee cracks but I lift my head and gingerly inspect what I imagine will be my shattered face. Nothing – even my glasses are in one piece.
I catch my breath and sit motionless on the uneven street. Cars – usually the height of Parisian intolerance – edge slowly around me as I gather my wits and take stock. A rather concerned chef from the restaurant next to me hurries out with a bag of ice for my knee. I hear a covey of mesdames who lunch tutting and making soothing noises from their table
There is movement beside me and I realise my darling sister is collecting my possessions and getting ready to help me to a safer spot. Suddenly red faux crocodile and fancy laces come into sharp focus. The ruby slippers! I collided with one of them as my sister stepped in front of my face, nanoseconds before I was due to crash into a Paris street. I had bounced harmlessly off a handsome soft red walking shoe.
I decide that my knee is best served walking. I return the ice pack and off we go – slowly. I never do find the Two Windmills Café from Amelie but the ruby slippers wink shyly at me as we head down the hill towards Pigalle.