Thursday, January 29, 2009
Remembering the historical penchant of the French for lopping off the heads of those which whom they did not communicate so well, I had been putting off getting a haircut. But there comes a time, and this morning was it. I had made an appointment, necessary here, and settled uneasily into the chair, hoping to strike up some kind of rapport with the rather austere balding fellow before me. “You speak a little English?”, I queried. “None,” he replied. I pointed to what I thought was the service I wanted from several choices on his blackboard and he drew his hand across his throat in a fashion that I assumed meant I was ordering a shave, an act I had just completed. So I pointed again and he stuck his head in the sink. No, don’t want a shampoo. So, in sign language I indicated that it was a haircut I had come for and further suggested that I would like a medium cut (with hands extended about a foot apart), rather than a long one (with arms stretched to the maximum), or a short one (hands closed). “Oh,, oui.” The barber was efficient, flashing about with two pair of incredibly sharp scissors . . . one little miscue, I thought. But in a matter of about eight minutes, he put down the scissors, removed the jacket he had dressed me in, and nodded inquisitively. “Oui, oui,” I grinned. The job was done and I left with all parts in tact. Guess I will see him again in about three weeks, now that we are good buddies.
It was just beautiful today, cold but sunny, so I decided to go to the Eiffel Tower. Word on the street, in the paper and on television was that there was to be a one-day strike of disgruntled transportation workers in France and so I was prepared to have a major hike over to the 7th arrondissement. But I noticed people heading down the Metro steps and so I managed to ask, and managed to understand the response—the Metro was running. What a great relief as it saved about an hour of foot travel.
The Eiffel Tower is just amazing. Situated at one end of a very long and pretty greensward and just on the edge of the Seine, it is a mighty engineering marvel, as everyone knows. The trick is, what to do when you arrive. I have become fairly good at translating some basic words that enable me to make my way around town. Alas, “escalier” was not in my vocabulary, but it seemed reasonable to me that it indicated some form of escalator or elevator. And so I zipped right up to the ticket counter, cheerily noted how few folks had come to the tower today, and slipped through the turnstile. When I inquired as to which way to the elevator, the attendant pointed up. And he was right: “escalier” means stairs, and with the option I had selected, I only would reach the elevator to the second level once I CLIMBED 320 STEPS to the first level! No wonder no one was in that line. I spied the huge queue for elevator tickets diagonally across the way as I huffed my way slowly up and up and up. One step at a time. There was quite a crowd on that first level. About three of us had WALKED UP. Anyway, the views are amazing, particularly looking west down at the Trocadero, know also as the Palais de Chaillot, another of those majestic structures that dot the Paris landscape. I stopped to have a glass of wine in the cafe, but a pigeon came to my table, took his place, and just sat there. So I departed, and walked back to earth.
Just up the way is Les Invalides, so I stopped for an omelette before heading over to see Napoleon’s final resting place. Not bad. A huge alabaster-colored building topped by a golden dome and surrounded by various other buildings housing military matters and a few military men and women. But it was the crypt I came to see and, not surprisingly, it is as outsized as all things Napoleon are. It is positioned in the center of a sunken area which first you gaze down on and then, walk down SOME MORE STAIRS to have a closer look.
A few other luminaries are buried here as well, including Napoleon’s son Joe, modestly known also as the Emperor of Rome. The most moving scene is the memorial to World War I commander Marechal Foch, shown being borne by a group of his soldiers.
Thank goodness the Metro was not struck, because it would have been a major assignment to walk home. I did feel fit enough in late afternoon to have about a hour walk along the river, then came home and retired to look through a few guidebooks. What’s next?.