It is the morning of my 50th birthday. I awake still not feeling my best. Tried, watery eyes, raw throat, but I go to the bathroom to pull myself together and try to make the best of things. After my shower I come out to find that my partner had swiftly festooned the room with crepe paper streamers exclaiming Happy Birthday. He then presents me with my gifts, a small stuffed dog that barks when you press his sides and the receipts to seats at a Chicago performance of La Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo taking place the following January. He decided, wisely, not to bring the actual tickets on the trip. Descending in the tiny elevator my partner rhetorically asks why they have installed such a high wattage lightbulb in it. I dryly suggest that when it is not being used to transport guests between floors it lives a second life as a tanning booth.
During breakfast at a local bakery I spot a woman who is unmistakably American. Over coiffed, over polished when she speaks to her daughter her accent removes all doubt as to her nationality. The women we encountered in Paris are nicely dressed but practical. The streets are a sea of attractive, well cared for "wash and wear' hair. The women carry an air of having more pressing concerns than spending time with a curling iron.
Arriving at the Louvre we find a line, beginning at the glass pyramid entrance and snaking through the courtyard. Due to the previous days strike the world famous museum's opening is delayed. Once the doors open the line moves quickly and we are soon inside surrounded by some of the world's greatest art treasures.
The Mona Lisa is sanctioned off to keep people a certain distance from it. It is surrounded by loud Japanese tourists snapping pictures of it. This does serve to remove some of the romance of viewing this glorious work. The Winged Victory and Venus de Milo are more accessible and their locales less crowded. The Apollo Gallery, with it's painted and gilded panels covering the walls and ceiling almost overshadows the jewels on display. Due to the lingering effects of the strike the Flemish galleries are closed. As we had spent a good deal of time in Amsterdam just days earlier coming into contact with some of the finest of this genre this was only a minor disappointment. Instead, we took in the Napoleon Apartments, which, although overwhelmingly opulent, looked as if they could use a good feather dusting. Going up a short flight of stairs we saw an area half hidden by folding work screens where ancient statuary was being crated prior to being shipped on loan to other institutions, or perhaps shipped back to their usual homes after a special exhibition at the Louvre.
After lunch at the museum diner and shopping at the museum store,we purchased a charming but quite heavy Christmas ornament. A cherub head with wings sprouting from her back rendered in plaster, we exited the museum.
Continuing to feel the effects of my flu, I rallied my internal resources and we headed to that portion of the Metro that was back in operation to make our way to the Arch de Triumph. This was our first of two encounters with extremely nasty French transit workers. Trying to ask a quite innocent question she immediately started screaming at me, gesticulating wildly, because I was not able to ask the question in French, I think. Attempting to ask another question of a different transit worker a short time later she also began screaming at us. Feeling quite ill by this time I had a complete melt down on the sidewalk across the street from the Arch. We both came to realize that things were still such a mess from the strike that we would have to head to the train station to ensure we had tickets back to Amsterdam the next day to catch our return flight.
The Metro ride to the station was like nothing I had ever experienced before. As only a portion of the system was operating the train was packed well above capacity. At each station people were standing shoulder to shoulder literally 5 deep waiting to board the reduced number of trains that were running. The scene at the train station was only slightly less chaotic. It took over an hour and a half for us to purchase two of the dwindling number of tickets out of the city the next afternoon. Matters were made worse due to the opening games of the World Rugby finals being played in Paris that evening with the French team in the game. The only thing that made the situation tolerable, ill as I was, was the firm, rounded, taut buttocks encased in well fitting track pants possessed by the young man standing ahead of us in line.
At this point I was almost staggering, completely spent by my illness. Upon reaching the room I knew the birthday dinner we had planned would not be happening and I would be spending the evening of my 50th birthday lying sick in a tiny Paris hotel room overlooking an airshaft watching the opening game of the World Rugby finals on French t.v.