Friday, April 15, 2011

Oh, Champs Elysées

A metaphorical experience

Last night, he had an after-work social hour just off the Champs Elysées. When I met him there, he was two gin and tonics into a very good mood and I was tired and sobered, having finished my happy hours across town before making the trek to my least favorite place in all of Paris. Don’t get me wrong. The Champs Elysées is gorgeous—wide and tree-lined, cobble-stoned, with classy storefronts and cafes along both sides and the impressive Arc de Triomphe at the end. But no sooner had I come out of the Metro at Avenue Hoche than two Chinese tourists approached me and asked if I knew where the Louis Vuitton store was. “No,” I said plainly, and “I’m sorry… It must be on the Champs Elysées.” But they insisted that it was somewhere else and so what I didn’t say was that I couldn’t care less where it was or is or will be.

This is what I hate about the Champs Elysées: The tourists. All the luxury boutiques—cars, jewelry, clothes that would never fit me—high-priced restaurants and cafes where people go to be seen, where you will be scolded for not having made a reservation even if the restaurant is half empty, the nightclubs that pick and choose their patrons at the door. I can walk for hours and find nothing of interest. Not even the beggars are authentic, and the street dancers that draw large circles of on lookers are too cheesy for words.

He usually walks a couple of paces ahead of me… no matter how many times I ask him to walk beside me. He blames the dog, his Paris tempo, but not last night. Last night we strolled—well, I dragged and he strolled. The weather was not so cold and, as usual, we had no idea where we were going. We were hungry and he was high on life. When we went to cross the wide street—four lanes in each direction, or is it five?—he stopped half-way across the eastbound side to tie his shoe, which took him a while so I waited at the median until the pedestrian signs turned red in both directions. He had just seconds left to get out of the street when what does he do? He walks on across the westbound lanes too, passing me patiently waiting for him in the middle. The light had been red long enough that I knew we would get caught in front of the twin Mercedes already revving their engines, the scooters rocking back and forth. So I waited and he walked. He walked as if he owned the Avenue and all the cars waited for him and there I was standing in the middle, having waited there for him to tie his shoe.

As the cars zoomed past in both directions, I knew that this was a metaphor for my entire life. Patience and caution and observation, people passing me by. He’s right when he says I belong in the past. He usually says that I need to be more assertive. But last night he just laughed. From across the wide street, he pointed and laughed and looked around him at all the pretty things while he waited for me. When the light finally turned, I did not hurry to him. I did not even put my arm around him until he made me. “C’mon!” he prodded. “This is the best street in the world!” I gave him a look that prompted the question, “What’s the best street in the world for you?”

“Pacific Coast Highway,” I replied, though really I’d prefer any late night street in this city. Emptied of cars, emptied of tourists, with just my own footsteps setting the pace.