Ambience of Paris by Patricia Steele
Our first night in Paris. Sweet, sweet beginnings. A comfortable bed, a beautiful room and asleep by midnight. Shortly afterward we popped up, sure we were in the middle of Tarzan’s jungle! Clunking cars were driving through our cobblestoned alley. What were those rattling noises and click-clacking of heels on stone? It dawned on us, as the noises were followed by loud conversations floating up into our open window, that the alley was a short cut between the buildings. I grumbled, closed the window and we lost our breeze. And then we were stunned to be rocked awake at daybreak. The thunderous rumble of garbage cans being wheeled over cobblestones below our closed window were so loud, it reminded us of a street parade in New York City.
But it was Paris and our cup was more than half full. By 8:30 that morning, we strolled through our scented courtyard toward our friend, Chloe's. We ordered coffee at a patisserie… bitter, strong espresso. At the first sip, I unsnapped my blouse and glanced down to confirm I hadn’t sprouted hair on my chest.
Mom laughed. “As mother would say, this is stronger than stud horse pee!” We snickered into the hot brew. The chocolate croissants made us swoon. Melting chocolate oozed into our mouths and tingled across our tongues with a thousand points of pleasure.
Chloe helped chart our day and led us to the Metro to buy an STP Orange train pass. “You must have your photograph on the pass,” she told us. “The kiosk is at the first stop. I must leave you here to go to university. You can do this, oui?”
Mom and I shook our heads. Of course, we could. How hard could it be? We jumped on the train. At the next train stop, well-armed with maps, we found the photo cubicle. But, what a fiasco! The French words perplexed us, but we dropped coins into the slot… repeatedly. The machine printed our photos, but none tiny enough for ID cards until nearly out of coins, the smaller images finally emerged.
Our first stop was Notre Dame. The towering thirteenth century cathedral was magnificent against the skyline. High above us, I could see the gargoyles. My research told me the creatures were actually drainpipes. Each grotesque figure has a passageway inside to carry rainwater from the roof and out through the gargoyle’s mouth. From the top of the cathedral’s towers it’s a magnificent view of Paris. However, we didn’t climb the million steps; pictures would suffice.
Looking quietly through the awesome cathedral, we peeked into tiny side chapels through marble archways. Benches, flowers and the scent of burning candles lent a prayerful atmosphere. Glancing up at the gorgeous, stained glass windows, the scent of incense stilled our breath. Candles glowed inside red votive holders atop footed wrought iron stands. Tenderness assailed us as we knelt on the knee-padded stand and lit a candle in my daughter’s memory. I inserted the coins, whispered prayers and fought sadness. Then we wove through the side aisles around burnished wooden pews and left quietly through gigantic, etched wooden doors.
The face of Notre Dame Cathedral looks onto a large courtyard surrounded by flowing trees. Benches sit amid a landscape of flowers and gray doves. The park offered beautiful views of the Seine River with bridges over the left bank. A Parisian breeze floated over us and my chest clogged. Finding a bench to rest, we watched people wander around us. Several ate tidbits of food from picnic lunches or pieces of fruit, and some snapped photos of each other. And we watched others watching us.
As we wandered across the boardwalk from the park toward the stone rampart above, we gazed down into the Seine. Slumbering boats drifted by among small pleasure crafts, large tourist boats and kayaks. Casual strollers walked below us as if the word hurry was not in their vocabulary. Lovers hugged or kissed before walking on, their clasped hands swinging in tandem.
That day, that place, we were overcome with the ambience of Paris. Words were unnecessary as we took our hundredth shuddering breath. We turned from the river, checked our guidebook and walked. We were mesmerized with the blissful peace and quiet. Paris is such a walkable city humming with life. I wanted to look up at the towering stone walls around me and just spin around like a child, arms splayed.
After traipsing beneath high green fronds of swaying trees in the Tuileries, the aroma of a little café with shelves filled with meats and pastries drew us in like the string on a bow. After ordering our food from the street window, we changed our mind and went inside where music played and chairs beckoned. But we learned suddenly it costs double to sit inside versus eating on the run. But, it felt delicious to sit down. We sipped tea, enjoyed sweet music and melted into the moment.
Outside again, everything turned black and the sky opened up, storming wildly. We hovered beneath shop awnings through two cloudbursts before arriving at the Arc de Triomphe where the boulevard circling the structure was a riot of chaotic traffic. But, we were too chicken to cross the road.
When the clouds lifted and the storm passed, we dragged ourselves to the Louvre. The soles of our feet were screaming after walking (at least?) twenty miles. But our friend, Chloe, wanted to introduce us to Le Bon Marche, which meant more walking. What? But of course, we followed her.
I was astounded to see so many types of cheeses in that massive marketplace. Afterward, the three of us cradled small packages of fromage (cheese), a loaf of soft pain (bread) and two bottles of red vin (wine) to our chest and prepared for a perfect evening -- eating cheese, crunching bread and sipping French wine.
But, a surprise awaited.
We’d been evicted.
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