I have just returned to my desk after a three week tour of France and Italy. I can still taste the buttery flakes of the pain au chocolat I had for breakfast my last morning in Paris; still hear the soul-stirring gong of the bells of the Duomo of San Gimignano; still feel the knot of jet-lagged muscles in my shoulders and back.
And yet, here I am, seated in my small, dark office, pecking away at the keyboard long before the sun has deigned to rise. Most people would be catching up on sleep, but I am here reliving every pastry, mentally revisiting every cathedral and museum, because I am eager to share the details of my journey with you, my beloved readers.
Day 1 ~ Paris
I arrived in Paris three hours behind schedule and in a heightened state of irritation. My annoyance began during my layover at the Toronto International Airport. Ninety minutes after my scheduled departure, Air Canada announced they were experiencing mechanical problems with the aircraft and would therefore need to swap it for a smaller plane. They advised passengers to line up to receive their new seating arrangements. Even though I had paid for a window seat with extra leg room, I was reassigned a middle seat about as wide as an infant's highchair. I politely explained to the frazzled attendant that I needed a window seat.
"There are no window seats available."
"I don't understand. I paid for a window seat with extra leg room a year in advance."
"Sorry," she said, shrugging her shoulders and shifting her gaze to the person standing behind me. "Next!"
"No, no! Not next," I said, smiling apologetically at the woman in line behind me and then turning back to the frazzled attendant. "I didn't choose a window seat because I like gazing at the fluffy clouds. I have a neck condition and need to be able to stretch it and rest my head on something."
"I am sorry but there are no window seats available," she repeated.
And then I did something that would fill most seasoned travelers with shame: I cried. Tears filled my eyes and spilled down my cheeks. I think I might have even emitted one of those pathetic little hiccups. In that moment, the prospect of spending nine hours crammed into a narrow little airplane seat between two strangers, seemed overwhelming. (For the record: My over-emotional, completely out of character public display of distress might have been a result of the glass of wine I consumed during my layover. The consumption of wine seems to amp the volume of my emotions. I know what you are thinking, "One glass, Leah, really?" It's true. I am a light-weight.)
My tears acted like solvent on Miss Air Canada's starched countenance. Her posture relaxed. Her lips - previously an angry slash in her face - softened to form something almost resembling a smile.
She handed me my ticket and told me to follow her. Together, we walked down the gang plank and onto the aircraft. I listened as Miss Air Canada explained my predicament to the steward (who resembled Ricky Gervais).
Steward Ricky turned to look at me. He smiled so broadly, his red, fleshy cheeks resembled two plump apples. He took my ticket and glanced at my seating assignment. 33E
"Oh, that's way in the back of the plane."
"Yes, I wanted to travel steerage, in one of those dog kennels, but cargo was full."
Apparently, Steward Ricky missed the class How to Identify Sarcasm in Passengers 101 when he attended Air Canada's Steward School. (Though, I am sure he excelled at Pouring Soda 101 and Navigating the Inflatable Slide: Bottoms Up!)
"Passengers aren't allowed to travel in cargo," he said.
He took my ticket and said, "Let me see what I can do. I will ask some passengers if they would like to swap their comfortable window seat for your Judas Chair."
(For the record: Steward Ricky didn't really refer to my seat as a medieval torture chair but I believe that is only because he couldn't think of the name of the device used to inflict agony on victims of the Inquisition. I am certain he meant to call it a Judas Chair.)
I think you know what happened next. Steward Ricky walked up and down the aisle, beseeching passengers to swap seats with me, but to no avail. Then he turned to me and smiled his apple-cheeked smile.
"Do you have medication for your neck?"
"Good. Looks like you're going to need it."
And with that, he returned to the front of the plane to continue greeting embarking passengers. To be fair, he did check in on me later during the flight. He even brought me a little treat.
"How are you?" he chirped.
"Oh, I am sorry," he said, tilting his head to one side and scrunching up his nose. "Maybe this will help."
He handed me a piece of almond biscotti as if I were an unruly infant easily placated with sweets.
So, there I was, sitting in my high chair, my legs curled up under my chin, a teething biscuit hanging out of my mouth, shooting voo-doo looks at the loud, unruly toddler jumping on his seat a row ahead of me. (His WINDOW seat)
When we finally touched down in Paris, I had an excruciating neck ache and a belly full of stale biscotti.
Still, I was in Paris. PARIS! The most beautiful, romantic, and culturally stimulating city in the Universe. Sigh.
I dropped off my bags and hit the ground jogging (running is too exhausting and besides, who wants to perspire in Paris?)
My first stop was the fountaine des Quatre-Saisons at 57-59 rue de Grenelle. This eighteenth century fountain is not listed in most travel guides and would probably be of little interest to the average traveler. Designed by Louis XV's official sculptor, Edme Bouchardon, the ornate fountain was constructed in 1745 to provide drinking water to the residents of the Saint-Germain area. I mention the fountain in my sixth novel, Redemption. My heroine, Arabella Saint-Simon, spent her childhood in a grand maison situated across from the fountain. She would often open a front window and listen to the delightful gurgle of the water. Later, after she fled revolutionary France, she remembered the fountain fondly. In fact, the fountain plays a pivotal role in the love story between Arabella Saint-Simon and my hero, Sloan Blackmore. So, for me, the fountain was a must see site.
Next stop: Musee Nissim de Camondo
Located in the 8th arrondissment, the Musee Nissim de Camondo was once the home of Moïse de Camondo, a Parisian banker during the Belle Epoque and a collector of French furniture and art objects from the eighteenth century. The museum is located near Parc Monceau, a public park that was created in the late 18th Century by Phillippe d'Orléans, Duke of Chartres, King Louis XVI's treacherous cousin (read more about this faithless libertine here).
Stepping inside the foyer is like stepping back to the time of Marie Antoinette. Gilded railings, limestone walls, and
Here are a few of the photos I took of the museum. I will be posting more photos and detailed descriptions of items contained within the museum on my other blog, Titillating Tidbits About the Life and Times of Marie Antoinette.
|The magnificent foyer of Musee |
Nissim de Camondo -
by Leah Marie Brown
|Upstairs foyer of Musee Nissim de Camondo|
by Leah Marie Brown
|Detail of railing at Musee Nissim de Camondo by|
Leah Marie Brown.
|Leah and her best friend enjoying chocolat|
L'Africain at Angelina Tearoom, only a few
hours after arriving in Paris.
Final Stop: Pont des Arts
After our restorative at Angelina Tearoom, my best friend announced she had a surprise planned for us. She steered us in the direction of the Pont des Arts, a charming pedestrian bridge spanning the Seine. The Pont des Arts links the central square of the palais du Louvre and the Institut de France. Built between 1802-1804, the metallic bridge has been used as a site for open air art exhibitions and impromptu concerts. It is a popular bridge for strollers who wish to see and be seen. Recently, it has become a destination for lovers and dear friends. Once we were standing in the middle of the bridge, Stephanie produced a pink (she knows me well) padlock upon which she had written: Best friends for life. We affixed the lock to the bridge (directly in the middle, close to the bottom, on the right hand side if one were coming from the Louvre, beneath a lamppost). Tradition called for us to toss the keys in the river, but we opted to keep them. We promised that whenever one of us returned to Paris, we would visit our lock and think of our friendship. (Stephanie has a mischievous streak. I would not be surprised if she moved the lock the next time she visited. I can see her standing on the bridge, chuckling, as she imagined me dashing about trying to find our lock. Truth be known, I might do the same thing. It's one of the reasons we are best friends).
Standing on the bridge in the golden glow of gloaming, I looked around at the other people taking part in this strange, sentimental tradition. A beautiful young redhead and her muscular beau were leaning over the rail, poised to toss their keys in the river. A Japanese couple were staring at a day-glow green lock and giggling behind their hands. An elderly couple who had been strolling along the bridge paused to read the messages inscribed on the locks. It occurred to me then that Stephanie and I were the only same-sex pair on the bridge. (That might have been why the Japanese tourists gave us strange looks)
A less secure person might have felt uncomfortable, but not me. I felt a warmth spread from deep in my belly; a warmth that had not been generated by the chocolat L'Africain but by contentment. In that perfect Paris moment, as the brisk evening wind nipped at my cheeks, I felt warmed by the knowledge that I was blessed with a lovely, difficult, special, endearing friendship. Merci Fanny!