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Written by: Danny Spitler

10 October 2002

When we emerged from the subway and entered the street scene we understood exactly what she had meant. We were in a bustling, working class neighborhood filled with a myriad of people of varying nationalities. Obviously a melting pot neighborhood. We also quickly decided that it was the “outlet mall” district of Paris. Retail stores filled the bottom floors of all the buildings and their goods overflowed onto the sidewalks.

The walk down the crowded sidewalk was an interesting challenge because we were competing for space with tables loaded with goods, salesmen hawking their products, shoppers picking through the selection of goods, and plenty of people just trying to use the sidewalk to get from point A to point B. I was beginning to get the same claustrophobic feeling I had in the Spice Markets of Istanbul when Pam spotted a bargain. There in front of a woman’s clothing store was a rack of tailored pants suits.
The suits were nicely lined, good quality and very stylish. We did the conversion from francs into dollars and calculated that the price was just under $30. Of course we had not taken the time to figure out the European sizing. A very harried salesman was waving his arms at another couple of shoppers and telling them in no uncertain terms to take their business elsewhere. He turned to us with a frustrated expression and said, “Russians, they are impossible.” We wondered what he thought of Americans.

He was a tall handsome Spaniard who spoke a little English and Pam let him know that she wasn’t sure what size she would wear. He looked her up and down (a little too admiringly in my opinion) and grab a size 40 off the rack.
She slipped into the jacket and it fit perfectly. She asked where she could try on the pants and he gave her a look that seemed to say, “Come on lady you are getting a $200 suit for thirty bucks and you want to try it on? Give me a break here.” She settled for holding the pants against her waist and hoping for a good fit. She picked out a pale blue and a dark blue, paid the tab, and we dove back into the sidewalk frenzy. Of course I now had to deal with the idea that I’m in love with a woman who wears a size 40.

We found the side street leading up to the cathedral and walked to the base of the mountain where our subway passes were good for a funicular which would carry us up the steepest part of the hill to the cathedral. The cathedral has a curious architectural style, which the guidebook calls a mixture of Romanesque and Byzantine. It is gleaming white with one tall dome and four smaller domes.
The interior was typically impressive, but I was anxious to see if there was a stairway to the top of the dome.

I can tell that Pam still isn’t too sure about this growing obsession for climbing to the top of cathedrals. However, she just rolled her eyes with acceptance as she has done with my uncontrollable desire to change lanes and my need to grab the remote control and check out the other eighty TV stations during a two-minute commercial break in the movie we are watching.

I guess that the Catholics have discovered that there is money to be made from those of us with these masochistic tendencies, so there is usually a tab to pay to abuse your legs on the churches’ narrow spiraling staircases. I paid the required number of francs and began my assault on the 293 steps. The spiral staircase was so narrow in places that I felt like the point of a corkscrew working my way through the cork of a wine bottle; however, arrival at the very top provided a wonderful reward for my effort. Once again Paris was laid out before me, and this time the sight of the Eiffel Tower was included in the view. It was a partially sunny day so parts of the city were in the shadows of fluffy white clouds, while other parts were basking in bright sunlight. It was a very nice effect.

It was approaching lunchtime when I reconnected with Pam and we rode the funicular back down to the street below the cathedral grounds. The first place we saw on the street was a tiny crepe shop with three tables, one of which was vacant. We sat down next to a large family who was vacationing in Paris from Mexico City. There was mom and dad, mom’s sister, grandma and grandpa, and two small children, and they were a happy group of tourists. The owner of the crepe shop was from India and he was a gregarious and entertaining host to his customers. We ordered a sandwich for lunch and had him make us a delicious strawberry crepe for dessert. After loading up with a few more souvenirs we made our way back to our hotel to deposit all of our goodies before striking out on our afternoon tour.

We headed for the Les Invalides. This is a vast complex of buildings, which was originally built as a home for old and invalid soldiers. Since the French royalty enjoyed fighting wars as much as they enjoyed building palaces they had more than their fair share of old soldiers. Also on the grounds is a spectacular domed cathedral, which houses the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. I decided that I should pay homage to Napoleon since we have so much in common.
Just like me the guy was short and he was well traveled.
The only difference is that, when he traveled, he took along a huge army. I just take along a beautiful blond.
The building complex that housed all of the old soldiers is now a large military museum. We picked out some exhibits that were of particular interest and spent the rest of the afternoon on French military history, including an excellent section on World War II.

We did a little more walking before catching the subway back to the hotel where we embarked on another quest for an interesting restaurant. We were sufficiently indecisive until we stumbled into another sidewalk crepe shop where we relaxed, munched a ham and cheese crepe and watched the sidewalk scene. We asked the cook if there was a pastry shop nearby and he said there was one right down the street but it closed at 8:00. My watch was reading 7:59 so we dashed down the street and found it just as they were locking the doors. The sales girl let us in and we pointed to a couple of delicious looking fruit pastries and a small loaf of French bread.

We were ready for an early night. It was still daylight when we adjourned to our small French hotel room. We opened the window and listened to the street noises drift up to our seventh floor room. We enjoyed the flaky crust with peach filling, we made love, and then we drifted off to sleep.

It was our last night in Paris.