IMG_0642.JPGAround me swirls an exotic tango of French dialogue and cigarette smoke. We approached the Café Limo on this, our final night in Paris, tentatively. We had been worried that our whim, a quick stroll for a night cap and a chance to soak up our last hours in the city, would be thwarted by lowered curtains, stacked chairs, and a sign reading Fermé.

But coming around the corner into the Place Gustave, we were shocked to see that every café on the square was ablaze with lights and abuzz with the happy, animated conversations of Parisian night owls.

This is where we sat on our first night in Paris, a Saturday, after 13 hours of plane and train travel.  Our hotel, the Hotel France Albion, is just down the street.  We went in search of a late dinner that evening.  What we found was true Paris hospitality.  Our waitress came and sat at my elbow, offering translation of their French-only menu.

Thankfully, my choice to enroll in college French classes for the last couple of semesters has prepared me for food ordering, at the very least.  I've used my "skills" at every food-related turn.  It's been fun!  And it's led to a couple of amusing mix-ups.

For example, on Sunday morning, we visited the Eiffel Tower. We had not expected the heat to be so intense in the shadow of the grand monument, but considering the thousands of people gathered there, cote a cote, as it were, Jon and I were soon very thirsty.  Before we began our climb, we decided water would be necessary.  I located a cart selling bottles of water, gelato, miniature French flags, post cards, and teeny Eiffel Tower replica key chains.

"Bonjour!" I said, greeting the proprietress of the little concessions trailer.  She was a drooping middle-aged woman with dyed hair and a James Dean tank top.

"Bonjour," she replied with a lot less enthusiasm.

"Je voudrais un boite d'eau, s'il vous plait."  I was all smiles, and suddenly, so was she.

"Un bouteille," she corrected, gently.  "Pas un boit. Un bouteille."

Blushing, I laughed at my mistake.  "Oh, oui!  Un bouteille!  Merci!"

Echoing her au revoir, I grasped the perspiring bottle of water and turned to go, grateful it was not the "box of water" I'd actually requested.
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parisatnight_byjon.jpgThough awash in the deep shadows of late evening, my face is aglow with the reflected light of a single, hearty flame rooted in the concrete before me. The flame bends and writhes in the breeze which channels between the massive stone columns to my right and my left. I am entranced, a cobra's prey, mesmerized by a dangerous waltz.

Between flickerings, I can read the French words engraved beneath the flame:

ICI
REPOSE
UN SOLDAT
FRANCAIS
MORT
POUR PATRIE

This is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, dedicated to the nameless French patriots who died in World War I. It burns directly beneath, l'Arc du Triomphe, the Paris memorial to all its veterans, especially those who fought in the Napoleanic Wars in the early part of the 19th century.  I appreciate these symbols and I appreciate this light.

We took the Metro to the Franklin D. Roosevelt station which let us out onto the Champs-Élysées, that fabled avenue of restaurants and shops which I've heard about in movies and books all my life.  The street breaks at a very famous traffic circle which skirts l'Arc du Triomph.  At night, hundreds of pairs of headlights sweep across the four sides of monument, banking to the right and becoming lost in a river of red and white.  

This dazzling whirlpool of electric color is most dramatic from above and, thankfully, our Paris Museum Pass allowed us to ascend the spiral staircase concealed in one of the columns.  Inside, there is a very small set of exhibits about L'Arc du Triomphe and its conception, construction, and symbolism. But the real reason for our climb was through another dim corridor, dank with the sweat and odor of the hundreds of tourists who make this climb every day.  Up a few more stairs and out into the warm night air we realized our goal.

After dark, every hour on the hour, la Tour Eiffel is set sparkling with white lights.  Of course, it remains brightly lit all night long, a beacon of gold, a guardian, a herald.  But at each hour, someone flips a magic switch. 

Though there are technically no tripods allowed at the top of the Arc, we found a way around that prohibition by bringing our little "gorilla pod," an all-terrain tri-pod with flexible, prehensile limbs.  It was small enough not to arouse suspicion, and it allowed us to get some wonderful low light shots of this glorious city.

Paris stretches beyond the line of sight from any vantage point.  During the day, its size, when seen from above is intimidating, overwhelming, too much.  But at night, it is a veritable sea of lights, all colors, shimmering like a dream.
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