Loud music assaulted my ears. Two men in denim overalls pulled a buffing machine from a closet by the elevator. Their boom box blasted American pop music at full volume as they prepared to clean floors. Fleeing the building, I passed the Planet Hollywood club, its windows displaying ultra-geeky mannequins in gaudy outfits and space glasses. So much for Paris fashion.
A thin fog drifted in as I walked along the deserted sidewalk—not just down any street but the most famous boulevard anywhere. I stopped at the window of the Brioche Dorée. Tasty-looking croissants, raisin wheels, apricot rolls, and strawberry tarts beckoned, but the sign said Fermé (Closed).
I heard a putt-putt sound and spotted first one, then another, spring-green contraption. Soon, several of them were buzzing along the sidewalk. Silly gizmos…no, ingenious. They were a cross between a street sweeper, a mini garbage truck, and a miniature bucket-truck that can lift a person. I watched as a fellow in an orange jumpsuit pulled his green truck in front of a darker green kiosk, elevated himself in his bucket, and began cleaning the structure with a jet of water.
I stopped at an ATM, requested 2000 francs ($350), and received it in a few seconds—a modern miracle. Everything was working great and feeling good. And this was Paris—too exciting to miss. Time to go wake Marguerite.
Marguerite wrapped herself tighter in her jacket and put her arm around my waist. “You got me out here. Now I need coffee.”
I led her to a brasserie, just opening for the day, and checked the menu. “We’re not getting it here. It’s $10 for only two croissants and a coffee to share.”
“That’s crazy. We’ll never make our budget.” We had decided we could spend up to $50 a day on food, entertainment, and incidentals.
We hustled down rue Lincoln, a side street, to the Bar-Brasserie Saucisson, a little place with red leather booths and a bartender in black vest and bow tie. I helped Marguerite onto a stool and ordered croissants and cafés au lait.
“Cafés crèmes,” the waiter corrected.
“Man, I don’t even know how to order coffee.”
The barman gestured toward a booth and rattled off some French, which I comprehended not at all. But I got the gist and said, “Non, merci.”
“The guidebooks were right,” I told Marguerite. “If we follow his suggestion and sit at a table, the prices will double.”
“This is a lovely stool.” Marguerite shifted to get more comfortable, as the barman eyed us to see if we would reconsider.
The coffee and croissants arrived. I requested confitures. The barman—a laconic, short-haired, sharp-nosed fellow—understood my French just fine and set a bowl of rich peach preserves before me, but he replied with not a word that I could recognize. Was he a French Eliza Doolittle, or did he intentionally put on this accent to befuddle tourists?
I devoured two pastries to Marguerite’s one, and then we shared another. “The best croissants in the world,” I proclaimed. Indeed they were, but the four croissants and three large crèmes we consumed were all the more delicious because we spent less than half of what we would have at the other brasserie.
“I am satisfied beyond belief,” Marguerite said, yawning. “But I feel a nap coming on.”
“But…but…don’t you want to see the city?”
“We have a month.”
A whole month—learning about Paris…learning a little French …beginning to watch expenses. Outside, sidewalks glistened with the moisture of a recent washing. The fog was beginning to dissipate. Everything was new, bright, and thrilling.
Marguerite agreed to visit the tourist office first and to stop in at the Métro to buy monthly passes, but then I took her home and left her to nap with Felicia.
It was late in the morning as I walked along the Seine. I crossed the elaborate, gold-statued Alexander III Bridge and glimpsed the Eiffel Tower in the distance. It was all still sinking in.
From the riverbank near the Musée d’Orsay, I spotted the expansive palace of the Louvre farther down across the Seine, then the funky booksellers along the quay, and Notre Dame. I watched a juggler on a unicycle perform for a crowd on the bridge to the Ile Saint-Louis, and then my eyes circled the island with its quaint, elegant apartment buildings.
Part of me longed to be with Marguerite, as she slept with Felicia curled against her chest…to share our first moments…in our Paris apartment…on the Champs-Elysées, our home for all of April.
We had dreamed and planned and hoped for so long. This couldn’t be real. But with each street and each city square like a museum before me, I knew it was. We were really here, living our dream. Would it pass too quickly? Would I be back at work in the blink of an eye?
Our year of Sundays was beginning.
Copyright 2004 by Edward D. Webster