After our adventure to the town of Enchanted School Children and the Small Castle, we ended up not at the Torcadero but the Champs-Elysées. This was perfectly fine with us, we were in Paris who cares where we ended up. We’d built up quite an appetite wandering and happened upon a crêpe stand shaped like a tiny round house. It’s still there last time we checked in 2009. It sits at the top of the Champs-Elysées, on the outskirts of a lovely park where you can sit and eat your crêpe in peace. The park stretches all the way down the avenue and ends where the stores begin.
Standing in line, anxious to order my very first French crêpe, I realized I didn’t know how to order. How do you say ham and cheese in French? It makes me laugh now because those two words are such an integral part of French cuisine. It’s like saying cheeseburger and fries in the States. After a moment, the nice middle-eastern woman in the stand faintly smiled, patiently waiting for me. I blushed and said, “Ummm, ham and cheese please.” She shook her head and went away. “I make you my favorite.” She said confidently, in good English.
As I watched her smooth the thin batter over the hot disk (which reminded me of a record) with a strange wooden tool, I grew excited. She flipped it once with a long, thin metal spatula and looked at me, as if to make sure I was watching. Next, she smoothed butter on top, sprinkled extra fine sugar and then chopped up banana – at an angle, laying it neatly into one corner of the crêpe. She was good, very-very good. After expertly folding my crêpe, she wrapping it in crisp, white sandwich paper and handed it over to me steaming hot. The exchange reminded me of a nurse handing over a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. “Merci Beaucoup Madame.” I said smiling gratefully.
Tony didn’t know how to say jambon et fromage either and ordered, “Ham and cheese.” He got ham and cheese. My first bite was crisp and buttery and full of banana flavor. It was utterly delicious. When Tony sat beside me on the park bench we took big bites out of each other’s crêpes. “UH!” He managed to say about my creation. “I know! Right?!” I said enthusiastically. His was really good too. When he had finished his jambon et fromage he ordered another crêpe like mine, along with a big cappuccino. He wanted to make sure we were fueled-up for our next adventure.
As we said au revoir to our crêpe lady and our park bench, I felt a little sad. It was such a great time sitting there talking, kissing and feeding the black birds crêpe crumbs; watching little Parisian children holding and eating their own crêpes without the assistance of their parents. It was a truly magical experience.
As my husband walked me down the Champs-Elysées, touted as the most beautiful avenue in the world, I soon discovered why. It’s the home of Chanel, Louis Pion, Bally, Louis Vuitton, YSL, Peugeot automobiles, and Häagen-Dazs thank you very much. The Champs-Elysées is where the fashion houses are, where they design the most beautiful clothing, and make Haute Couture for the world over. To sum up, whatever is in fashion today comes from this very street. The trends are then imitated or hacked by mall stores brands like Ann Taylor, Banana Republic and Target.
Now, I’m not a materialistic woman. By far, I’ve been wearing the same dress black shoes for almost ten years (hey, they’re good shoes). But when I walked down the Champs Elysees, devouring window displays one after the other, my heart was pounding like crazy! If this is how a woman feels when she is struck by the desire to own a soft as silk, caramel brown leather satchel by YSL then you can count me out. As I nervously walked about the YSL boutique, Tony offered to buy me anything I wanted. I bashfully declined and practically sprinted out the door. It was too rich for my blood, bordering on opulent I told him. In truth, I was afraid the same thing that happened to me at La Farine would happen again (story coming soon). Instead of expensive French pastries, it would be exquisite leather goods. No, my cloth bag from Cost Plus suited me just fine. Of course when we hit Louis Pion, a watch dazzled me there and Tony surprisingly bought it for me, which taught me a valuable lesson. Being newlyweds, we were still learning about each other, and one precious aspect about my husband is that he can refuse me nothing. If I show serious interest in something of quality, he wants to get it for me. It’s so endearing. If I were a different sort of woman however, we would be in serious financial trouble.
Every step we took down the Champs-Elysées filled me with excitement. This wasn’t only due to the fact that it was buzzing with Paris fashion, beautiful people and Häagen-Dazs. We were drawing closer and closer to my most favorite monument in the world – the Arc de Triomphe. When we finally stood across the street from the arch I became so excited that I started laughing and jumping up and down like a schoolgirl. My husband was so surprised that he started laughing too. After making a complete fool of myself and rousing the attention of others, I suddenly stopped and began to cry. As my husband held me, the other tourists walked on, confused – but my husband knew what was happening. This was the second dream that had ever come true for me, in my life. My first was to fall deeply in love with a man who would never hurt me. My second was to go to Paris and see the Arc de Triomphe with my very own eyes. For years it seemed like a pipe dream but there I was, standing before my monument, taking in the beauty of that moment.
How the Arc de Triomphe became MY monument is quite whimsical. Only six years prior, I was a single girl working for The Limited in Oakland. It was pretty mind numbing work, but it paid. One day we received a shipment of clothes and french inspired jewelry, ie: the Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Louvre Pyramid, etc.. In the mix were five Arc de Triomphe necklaces that hung on long silver chains. At the time I didn’t even know what monument it was, but I liked its symmetry. I bought one and wore it every single day – to work, lounging, dancing, church, everywhere. When people started asking me what it was, I felt compelled to educate myself and find out. I discovered the Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in both the French Revolution and the wars during Napoleon’s reign. It’s also a monument to the nameless soldiers who died in WWI. Then, of course there’s the humiliating history: twice Germany marched their troops through the arch in an act of intimidation. After discovering its historical significance I grew curious about the country, which developed my love for all things French.
What started out as a fashion piece became a real desire to see the Arc de Triomphe and Paris with my very own eyes, which meant traveling out of the USA, a dream I never thought I could afford. I think I wore that necklace well past the age of thirty, and when the loop that held the chain broke, my heart broke. But I had seen it, I had been to Paris and my experiences there fed my mind and my heart with even more dreams, like attending UC Berkeley at the age of thrity-three (yet another story).
That night, in our shabby little hotel in Paris we slept like newlyweds, and I dreamt of croissants and crêpes…and the Arc de Triomphe. I dreamt I was standing at it’s base, gazing up at the sun, smiling. I remember feeling warm and safe, like I had triumphed myself in a way – and I had. I married a truly great man and he took me to France. Which proves, dreams really do come true.