I feel like there is so much more to write about Paris before I move on, yet so much is happening in the present that I’m torn between trying to write more about Paris before I forget all the details or writing about the amazing weekend I’m having creating new art with Jillian Ann. You can have a sneak peek of what we’ve been up to if you click on her link there.
So back to Paris and a few more highlights…
Moulin Rouge. Even before the movie starring Nicole and Ewan, I had a sense that Moulin Rouge was this amazing place where moral boundaries were pushed and Absinthe flowed freely. Then the movie came out and fine tuned everyone’s idea of what Moulin Rouge was. Romantic, sexy. Well, there’s yet another version of Moulin Rouge- the reality of it.
As we reached the top of the hill that the north end of Paris sits on, the first thing we spotted was the familiar windmill. The large red lettering that spelled out Moulin Rouge… then the cheap food stand next to it… and the unremarkable square it sort of anchored. It was smaller and much less grand than I was expecting. But like most things that you build up in your head or see in movies, the reality sometimes doesn’t measure up.
In a beautiful city such as Paris, it was remarkably mundane somehow. Almost out of place. It was lacking a certain historical presence that I was expecting to feel. It was… well… touristy.
Not to say that we didn’t have a great time there because we did. But I think we had to do a little quick mental adjustment to compensate as we were whisked in to the red, atmospheric, if a little worn, theater. I don’t know if it was our improving French or the positive vibe we tried to present everywhere we went, we were seated in the front row… nearly on stage. I mean we could have put our drinks on the stage if our small table became too cramped with our entrees.
The way Moulin Rouge works is that you can attend one of two performances they have each evening. The first one seats for dinner at 7pm with the show at 9pm, and the second is just a performance only sometime around 11 or 11:30. We opted for dinner and it turned out to be the only dinner we planned in advance of arriving in Paris. There were three dinner menu choices. We opted for the Talouse Lautrec.
During the dinner the 1970’s era black sparkley Merv Griffen-esque curtain parted to reveal the dinner band who performed a set of oddly American easy listening hits, like Feelings and Blue Bayou. It was at this point that I motioned to the waiter to bring us another bottle of wine. Nothing like a little wine buzz to turn a wedding-band-like performance into something amusing. And Morgan and I laughed and talked and I’m pretty sure we were having more fun there than anyone there. Not sure what people were expecting, but there were a lot of stone faces in there during dinner.
Finally, though, the show started and it was actually quite good… in a cheesy kind of way. The music was all pre-recorded and Morgan and I spent a lot of time playing “What movie soundtrack is that from,” during the evening.
About the only thing that was as expected during the whole evening was that there were a lot of topless women on stage. And happily all of the small and real variety. I think I speak for Morgan as well when I say we would have been disappointed to watch a burlesque review with a lot of fake plastic boobs. They were actually all very good dancers. In fact during the big highly costumed and choreographed entrance, since we were so close to the stage as I mentioned before, one of the billowing capes of one of the dancers managed to drag across our table and knock our little table lamp over and onto the stage. Morgan was on lamp duty for the rest of the evening.
The men were… how should I put this… well… flaming. They were all impeccably good looking, but their costumes were something like a cross between a gay male ice capades review and backup dancers in a 1983 Pat Benatar music video. Very entertaining though. In fact, at one point as the curtain opened to reveal a lone male sailor singing his heart out alone on a very cheesy boat set, Morgan lost it and spent the next ten minutes trying to keep her laughter under control. Of course watching her shaking uncontrollably set me off and I thought we were doing a pretty good job of keeping it under control until I realized that the afore mentioned table lamp was wobbling back and forth so violently from the vibration of our laughter that we weren’t fooling anyone.
An interesting thing about a topless show is that after a while you get a little numb to the naked breasts, even as nice as they were. And I guess I kinda felt bad about that for a while. I mean, here are these women dancing their topless hearts out and we’re not even appreciating that they’re doing it half naked. I think the Moulin Rouge was aware of this and every so often another kind of act would come on stage as a little boobie sorbet. One was two men who very adeptly balanced all over each other. Impressive. Another was a man with a light projector and a movie screen who did a very nice job of shadow puppetry. No really, it was entertaining in an odd European kind of way. I enjoyed it. Another time a sort of clown came out with a big oversized clown movie camera with a big crank and recruited a handful of tourists to act out his little play. Actually very entertaining as well. Really, and I usually hate clowns.
But then in short order the boobies were back on stage and all was right with the world. They confiscated all of our cameras before we went in, or I’m sure Morgan would have managed to capture some of the fun on the sly. She’s just that good. But we were thwarted… this time at least.
After the show we walked along boulevard de Clichy, one of the seedier streets in Paris. Sex shows everywhere. We took pictures of course and then found a bar with a seemingly filthy name, although it was just an English bar called the Cockney Pub. Even though they had Cosmopolitan listed on their drink menu, the waiter seemed a little confused when we asked for two. He brought us a distant cousin to the Cosmo, so we decided it would probably be best to stick with beer after that. We had another great conversation. Laughed some more about the sailor in Moulin Rouge and headed back to Champs-Elysees to walk and people watch. Since it was late we took a cab there and had a great conversation with Rohmey our taxi driver. We spoke French to start and then he spoke English back to us and we had a great laugh and he told us how much he liked The Blues Brothers and “black music.” We encouraged him to turn up the Barry White he was clearly dying to show off and we drove through the streets of Paris with I Only Want To Be With You absolutely blaring out the windows at 1am.
As the week passed we made no fewer than three attempts to see the Chagall ceiling in the Paris Opera. Each time we were told not today due to a rehearsal, but they kept letting us use our admission ticket from the first day to wander around in the still amazing lobby and outer hallways. So we would do the only thing you can do in Paris when you can’t get your way. We stopped at a café and had espressos and people watched. C’est la vie.
Notre Dame was beautiful, although I have to admit I felt strangely uncomfortable on the inside. I think in some ways I’m still coming to terms with my Catholic upbringing and sometimes I don’t like what the church represents. It doesn’t happen in every church or cathedral I go into, but it did happen at Notre Dame. Maybe there are bad ghosts there. I’m not sure. Maybe I just always felt sorry for Quasimoto. There have been plenty of unobtainable Esmereldas in my life. Who knows. We walked outside and started to take a few photographs of the front of the cathedral. Framing, backing up a few steps to try to get the massive towers in the frame, backing up a few more steps, trying again, backing up some more. Finally we found ourselves on the back of the square and only then, even with fairly wide angle lenses could we fit everything we wanted into the frame.
We sat there for a while and talked about the uncomfortableness on the inside of the cathedral and what it meant. We people watched some more. Always fascinating. We walked around to the back and found a beautiful garden. We took more pictures there and it felt a little more comfortable there. Morgan learned over one garden rail as far as she could trying to get a macro close-up photo of a bee on a flower. We figured out that if I held her hand and leaned back a little, she could lean in an extra foot or so and get right on top of the bee. I guess we managed to mimic the flying buttresses that we seemed to be standing in the shadows of.
Since I’m writing about the week in no particular order… how French of me… I find myself thinking of our last morning in Paris. One last thing we both seemed drawn to was the Luxembourg Gardens which were ironically closer to our hotel than most of the other things we had spent the week walking around Paris to see. I had picked up a baguette, some grapes and some cheese while Morgan was getting ready and we headed off. We didn’t have much time before we needed to get back to the hotel to pick up our bags and head off to Charles de Gaul Airport, but we made the most of it. We talked, we sat silently, we enjoyed our little breakfast.
We picked up a few French magazines. Paris Vogue, Paris Elle, Numero, and Paris Photo. Grabbed a taxi and headed back to the hotel that really was beginning to feel like home after a week of living there, amazing late night/early morning conversations fueled by French wine and a lovely view out of our top floor windows.
As I was settling with the hotel manager, he thanked me and told me he really enjoyed us being there and that we were very polite. Now that really meant something to me. It made me feel good. We did try to do as the French do while we were visiting Paris. We really did try to speak French and respect their city and the customs as we discovered them. We tried to blend as much as we could. So to hear the manager of our hotel say we were polite, that was just about the highest compliment I could have imagined.
We did it. We lived in Paris. And we did it well.
As we jumped into the taxi to go to the airport, the gentle sprinkle of rain that started at the hotel got heavier. Morgan and I just looked out of our respective windows as the rainy streets of Paris passed in front of our eyes. We didn’t feel sad about leaving because we knew we would be back. We had experienced a week that changed both of our lives. We were coming back to Chicago with a new outlook on the future. A future in which anything was possible.
“You know what this is?” I asked Morgan, pointing to the sky. She shook her head no. “Paris is crying because we’re leaving,” I said. Morgan smiled, “We’ll be back.”
Indeed we will.