Cloudy and overcast in Paris… Bundling up, I skip the steps down three flights from my apartment to the street, enter the Metro, change trains at Republique and exit the #1 at the Louvre Museum. The downstairs is now a shopping mall, replete with Starbucks (tea grande, $4!) and an Apple store (with free WIFI) –In basic French, I buy my ticket, head upstairs for a headset and begin my own private tour of “the Masterpieces” en englais (in English).
Eventually, I find what I’m looking for: the Winged Victory, polished and glowing on the landing between the entrance and the grand rooms that house the other masterpieces … “So Grandma,” I whisper, lifting my Evian water in a quiet salute to the woman who took me here the first time, “je suis ici encore” (I’m here again), “thinking of you” –and all my own small moments of triumph since … “Steady,” I hear in my headset, “her chest thrusts forward on top of a small stone, wings spread behind, in perfect balance.”
I complete the tour with Mona Lisa’s eyes following me from side to side and make my way out to walk along the Seine (in the freezing cold!!) towards Les Invalides where I’m to meet my niece Brigitte for a planned look/see at the Christmas Market on the Champs Elysee. The night sky is clear. I pull out my camera and holding it backwards at arms length, I smile for a couple of pics of me with the Louvre and then the Eiffel Tower, both glowing magnificently in the distance. This isn’t Kansas, Toto.
E-mailing back and forth as we make our way towards the rendezvous point, we meet and begin the journey along the Festive stalls on either side of the boulevard. Warmly dressed sellers are hawking candles in shapes of fruits with matching scents, wide felt double headbands that split into hats and neck turtles, woolen shoe inserts – and way too many food stalls … crepes, waffles, nuts… and the requisite French cheeses. We taste as many free samples as are offered before scurrying off to a warm upscale lounge near the famous Bristol Hotel for a glass of wine.
Brigitte spots a couple of good looking men sitting at a banquet and maneuvers us close by, being sure to sit where she can be seen; nothing naïve in her deliberate moves, in fact, impressive.
We chat; they leave and eventually we pay our bill and head for home. We part on the Metro as I trot off to catch my connection at Republique, never imagining that I will wake up in the middle of the night, reach for my blackberry and find an email informing me she’d been mugged at gunpoint in the stairwell of her apartment!!
I may be a savvy New Yorker but even I am shocked(!) In a second email she wrote she was “fine, back in the apartment” having given up only cash and her new iPhone … but still . . .
Earlier that evening, just as I was shutting down, I read one final email — from Paley. Our beloved musical was closing after 60 days on Broadway. The protestors scared away the audience and despite article after article in the The New York Times –and other rags rallying to our defense, the good guys are losing. Excedrin PM didn’t stand a chance of working its magic … tossing and turning while wondering what I could do for my show from a distance, I then read Brigitte’s email and realized (since they took her iPhone) there was nothing I could do, even this close, for my niece.
Adding more bazaar to the crazy, I staggered out of bed in the morning and with wrinkle-weary eyes, read an email from my youngest, informing me she spent the night before in the ER, having breathing issues and wound up on an IV. She was “home now, on meds and feeling better” – what the F—k does that mean????
I was suddenly aware of being alone, physically distanced, helpless … Was I in Paris or on the moon?? With very little omprehensible TV, email is my only link to the outside world … and then there’s the time difference. I was becoming a non-participant in my own life, watching my computer screen, wondering how to feel. Paris or the moon — I didn’t feel safe.
My own stairwell seemed longer and darker when I left my apartment for Brigitte’s pilates class; at least I knew I would catch up with her by 10 a.m. Fearful for my own safety and confused by the chaos I was still digesting, I looked both ways before entering the Metro, didn’t dare make eye contact and counted the stops to Odeon. Brigitte’s not the clearest with directions, intentionally forcing me to interact with strangers to get where I’m going … carefully targeting ONLY females or gendarmes, I eventually found the studio — and her, animated and decidedly grateful it was just her money [hard earned, I might add] and the fancy phone she could do without. She was fine, laughing, declaring it all a good story to share when she goes home for the holidays.
I left Brigitte arguing for a replacement phone at the store post pilates and set myself up in a WIFI café where I connected with both Paley and Emma for an update on the show … We got a two- week extension and discussions were underway for next steps. Deep breath … it started to dawn on me that the distance was keeping me out of the fray and I might then be able to provide an objective perspective on the flurry of emails going back and forth…
As for my daughter, before leaving the apartment, I cut and pasted her words into an email to our Gyno, along with the question: “should I be worried?” Dr. Gyno phoned my daughter — and I got a scathing email afterwards “how could you, mom??? It had nothing to do with my vagina – I’ve got bronchitis! Next time ask ME before you sound the alarm!” – there was no mention of bronchitis in her trauma/drama email to me and little joy in replying that I’d “cut and pasted” her exact words. But the good news is: She’s fine.
So now I’m determined not to look both ways before entering or leaving the Metro … and I make a point of checking in with Brigitte at night. I made a series of SKYPE dates with my daughter to stay “in the know” — and sent off a long email to my son. The grandkiddos are opening their Chanukah gifts that I managed to get to them before I left, so my big girls are emailing at the moment –and happily decorating their homes for the holidays.
NOTE TO SELF: Save the padding!
Postscript: Unlike in the beloved Peter Sellers series, the real Inspector Clouseau actually caught the thieves two days after the robbery. Brigitte identified them in a line up, Paris is safe again and life? … well, mes amis, I guess it’s back in balance.