Paris or Bust!
Many years ago, I used to work for American Airlines as a Special Services agent at Dallas/Fort Worth airport. As a Special Services agent I used to meet and greet the full fare, first class, international passengers and sometimes celebrity passengers and assist them with their journey through immigration, customs and on to any connecting flights. We would sometimes drive our VIPs through the airport on a little cart with a blue and white striped awning. Being a very busy airport, you'd maybe hear us amid the cacophony of noise shouting ever so politely, "Excuse the cart please!" What we were really thinking is, "I wish I had a cattle prod right about now!" Probably my most memorable passenger was Little Richard, in full LR drag complete with tall wig, high heels, shimmering with glitter, and the nicest, friendliest nature. He waved and waved to all around him, saying "Hi, I'm Little Richard!" as if he needed any introduction! But, that is a whole other hub!
It was a great job in many way, if very underpaid. Still the whole point was that we got passes to fly cheaply to wherever AA could take you! I used them often to fly home to the UK or for a trip to San Franciso, New Orleans, San Diego or maybe a week in Paris...pourquoi pas?
The plot thickens...
It began as an idle plot amongst six of us American Airlines Special Services girls.
"A week in Paris, ooh, yes, let's do it!"
Having lived in Paris for six years, and being a licensed guide of France (please see my other 2 related hubs about "How my 6 months in Paris turned into 6 years" and "Confessions of a French Tour Guide"), I was quickly appointed chief organizer. So, I set about arranging everything. For $50 a day each, I found us a six-bed, two-bath apartment in the peaceful and pretty 15th arrondissement, through an agency. The big problem, however, was being able to get us all in first class on the Paris flight. (How else would we go, ma chère?) Well, we got on...ok, we had to take a small detour to Brussels, but we all staunchly agreed that we had wanted to see the Grande Place there anyway!
On the train to Paris, we set about the business of spinning yarns and telling risqué jokes, six giggly women, aged between 31 and late 50s, who had had no sleep for about 20 hours! By the time we reached Paris, we were like toys with broken springs. A lasting memory was of one of our number crawling on hands and knees under the Paris Metro turnstile, cheeks aflame and dragging her Chanel purse behind her! Hey, I didn't say we were going luxury style!
Our apartment ended up being a fairly palatial place complete with leather couches and glass top tables and a balcony overlooking a beautiful garden. Score 1 for Pam! We drew lots to see who would sleep in which room. While Cheryl and I took a quick bounce on our beds in our assigned room, we heard a wail of disappointment from another room. As we crowded around Dee's bed, a respectful silence fell over us. Dee's proposed bed was a baby bed! Unscore 1 for Pam!
"Not by any stretch of the imagination!" exclaimed Dee. "I guess I'm on the couch."
Looking sheepish, we all mumbled our agreement.
Day 1 in the City of Lights
After meeting my Mum and her friend, who were joining us for a few days from London, we set off. Dressed to kill in shorts, T-shirts and sneakers (nobody could possibly have known we were from America!) we took a northbound bus from our apartment on the Left Bank, then launched our ascent on Montmartre's south face. Arriving at the top, sweaty and hot, we collapsed gratefully at a café on the Place du Tertre, the famous painters' square. This is where the likes of Toulouse Lautrec, Picasso, Modigliani, Monet, van Gogh, Utrillo, Renoir, Verlaine, et al lived and/or worked. We ambled among the present day painters and tourists and squeezed into tiny shops with the goal of rooting out some souvenirs. We had a quick peek at the Moulin Radet, at the corner of rue Girardon and rue Lepic, one of the two remaining windmills left on the hill, which at one time was covered with them. The mill is only a copy of the original mill which was demolished in 1925, due to its dilapidated state. Despite it's real name being the Moulin Radet, it soon became known as the Moulin de la Galette, due to the fact that when the owner, Monsieur Debray, converted it and built a ballroom onto it, he would serve white wine and galettes (a kind of pastry), thus giving the mill it's new name. This is the backdrop for Renoir's famous painting called Dance at the Moulin de la Galette. Eventually the name Moulin de la Galette was transferred to the Blute Fin, the other windmill a stone's thrown down rue Lepic, which has kept it ever since. Confusingly, the Radet mill now has a very good restaurant under it, called, yes you guessed it, the Moulin de la Galette!
After lunch, we toured the nineteenth-century Sacre Coeur church, which crowns the highest point of Montmartre and, indeed, Paris. Though today the Basilica is known for being dedicated in honor of the 58,000 who lost their lives during the war, the decree of the Assemblée nationale, in 1873, specifies that it is to "expiate the crimes of the Commune." Afterwards, we began our descent of Montmartre the easy way, by Funiculaire (cable car).
Onward we marched to Notre-Dame, on the Île de la Cité viewing the interior of this beautiful Gothic cathedral, dating from 1163. It took almost 200 years to build and is one of the first examples of the new Gothic architecture, notable for its "flying buttresses" (supports) on the outside of the building and ribbed vaulting in the ceiling, to allow for much thinner and lighter, and therfore taller, ceilings than the old romanesque architecture. The tall stained glass windows would also let in much more light. Of the three famous rose windows, only the north one has the original thirteenth-century stained glass. The cathedral suffered a lot of damage during the Revolution and the people of Paris ripped down the row of statues on the facade, believing them to be the kings of France and decapitated them (as if the first time wasn't enough!) It turns out these were statues of the biblical kings of Judah. By the 19th century, Gothic architecture had really lost favor with the Parisians and the cathedral was left to fall into a state of dilapidation. Two of the people responsible for helping to save the old cathedral from ruin and eventual destruction were the architect Viollet-le-Duc, who undertook the restoration project, and the writer Victor Hugo, whose novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame ended up shaming the City of Paris into having the building restored to its former glory.
That evening, while eating at a river front restaurant, we made one of those "last minute" decisions to go for broke and try and reach the "Bateaux Mouche" river trip before the last sailing at 11:30 p.m.! This involved sprinting along a large portion of the banks of the Seine river on full stomachs and with blisters on every foot! With a joint adrenaline rush, we managed it just in time, although we did lose two of our team to fatigue, but on we staggered, bunions and blisters screaming. It was well worth the trip to see the magnificently lit riverfront buildings.
Shopping came next. We went to the lesser known boutique district of the Rue de Passy in the western and very upmarket 16th arrondissement. A short jaunt took us to the Champs-Élysées, the famous avenue leading up to the Arc De Triomphe. Some of us went to the Musée d'Orsay, the art museum housed inside an old railway station right on the Seine and home to many famous Impressionist works.The rest of us mooched around the Île Saint-Louis, where one of the girls decided to be adventurous and try Andouille sausage and nearly spat it across the room, much to the amusement of the French couple next to us. Andouille is like haggis - ya just don't wanna know what's in it!
Day 3 - Versailles
We took the train to Louis XIV's château, approximately 30 minutes away. I had actually booked us a slot for a tour, in my capacity of National Guide of France. I slapped on the old Guide badge and after waiting in the correct line, we were sucked into the stuffy depths of the palace. We saw the Hall of Mirrors and Marie Antoinette's bedroom, which has been restored to its original look at the end of the 18th century. After the Revolution of 1789, the furniture was auctioned off all over the world. It has been said that the Queen's bed turned up in a New York antique dealer's store!
Day 4 - The Louvre
400,000 works of art to see and so little time! We were to learn just how right I was. After entering through the controversial (at that time) glass pyramid, we found that a general strike meant the museum would be closing in 30 minutes! We huddled close for a quick briefing, then, raising my arm like a banner, I told the troops to follow me! Yelling the battle cry of the insane tourist, we set off at a canter down the endless corridors. Everyone wanted to see the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and the Victory of Samothrace, at the very least. Maintaining a tight formation, we dipped and weaved our way through the crowd, passing by Old Masters, glassy eyed and with barely a nod of recognition. No time.
"Must see Mona...must see Mona," we chanted.
Thirty minutes later, breathless but triumphant, we skidded to a halt on the cobblesones outside, the doors of the Louvre slamming behind us. We had done it, we had seen our three famous grande dames of the Louvre without a second to spare!
That night, we took in a show at the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Pigalle (or Pig-Alley as the American GIs used to call it due to its doubtful reputation). Acres of naked flesh raced across the stage in front of our eyes. We all agreed that it was such a shame our husbands had missed it! Next a comedian came on stage and started fishing in the audience for likely participants in the show. We hooted and howled at the poor, unsuspecting foreigners he picked. Hang on a minute, he's coming close to our table. I felt the clutch of a warm hand on my shoulder...
"And what's your name young lady?" "Er..."
Before I knew it, I was whisked up onto the stage to the uprorious applause and whistles of my gang. All I could think of as I stumbled ungracefully up the steps to the stage was whether my dress was see through! I found myself in a row of unsuspecting, self-conscious tourists. The Japanese man next to me grinned in shared embarassment. We cavorted (literally) like fools around the stage much to the amusement of the audience and then I raced, red-faced, down to my table. How they picked me, I'll never know, but, to this day, I suspect one of our party!
All good things come to an end.
My friends and I have many great photos and super memories of a crazy few days in Paris. We hardly slept, staying up to play a particularly silly but funny (on a few glasses of vino) card game called "Oh sh**!" I had never heard of it but the most dainty, classy and senior lady in our party introduced us to it! This trip was a once in a lifetime experience that I will carry with me forever, thanks to my great pals, Cheryl, Dee, Suzie, Pam, Carolyn and my Mum!
Video of dancing at the Moulin de la Galette in the 1940s
- 1940s: MOULIN DE LA GALETTE BALLROOM: VS Moulin de la - T3Media
Stock Video Footage - 1940s: MOULIN DE LA GALETTE BALLROOM: VS Moulin de la Galette windmill, neon signs at night "Moulin de la Galette." INT VS Large crowd dancing in ballroom (aka Guinguette), couples dancing. VS Accordion band & costumed perfo