Midnight in Paris

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Paris for Maison et Objet 2016. The tradeshow is arguably one of the most important in Interior Design and hosted an array of some of the most noteworthy names in the industry. The event also marked my first journey to Paris, and with it, obligatory misadventure.

We had just finished for the day in Hall 8 when I decided to accompany Eszter Imre, one of Lladro’s distinguished porcelain designers. The evening marked her last in Paris, and my first sliver of free time that I wanted to advantage of. Since both our hotel and the expo were near Charles de Gaulle, I had yet to see the Eiffel Tower or its majestic neighbors.

“Which way is the train?” I asked Eszter

“Umm I think it’s to the left.” We exited Hall 8 at the sprawling Parc des expositions de Paris-Nord Villepinte (try saying that 10 times fast) and veered in the direction of hundreds of others… left. We made it about 15 feet when we stopped like rocks in a crowded stream amidst a salmon migration.

“Wow- that ticket line” I felt a nauseating claustrophobia setting in. “Nope, nope… I’m getting a taxi. Come!” Eszter did a quick about-face and with all her luggage in tow, we started to cut clear across the courtyard.

I was walking briskly while trying to remember which hall led directly to the taxi stand. I looked left at Hall 3, right at 6, and decided to try my luck on 5. It was already dark out, but the circumference of the courtyard was lined with glass walls and doors accessing each hall, perfectly lighting the grounds from within. I could feel the excitement building- I had always wanted to visit Paris and I was finally going to see the Eiffel tower, a dozen other thoughts filled my brain, when all of a sudden... “BAM!”

I was stopped in my tracks by a single, bludgeoning blow to my face. I stood completely numb (literally) for about two seconds before I felt blood dripping down my nose. The sudden embarrassment of walking straight into a two and a half meter wide glass wall that separated me and about two hundred spectators culminated into one of my finest public moments. I turned around to Eszter whose eyes now read a surprised and sympathetic “oh shit!”

“Here take these napkins, let’s try and get you some help.” She quickly produced a bundle of restaurant napkins she had been saving for a rainy day.

“Does it look bad?” Her mouth pulled sideways to reveal a hissing sound. Breaking my nose in Paris would be exactly the thing to happen to me. She indicated that I had cut myself on the bridge of my nose, lip, and forehead, and I’ll have to admit, tending to each of those separately along with the heavy flow running out of both my nostrils proved a tad challenging. Alas, I remained stain free.

Not the most organized place on earth, it took our handsome Parisian security guard nearly 30 minutes to find a medic. In the middle of everything, I had to interrupt one of Eszter’s frantic phone calls to our group leader as what I recall being relayed was “A terrible accident! Blood! Jacob! Hospital!” Once intercepting her cell, I merely stated “I look awful, but I think I’m fine, we’ll call you if we have to!”

Once finally in the care of medics, I was cleaned up and assured that I didn’t break anything. I was also revealed a reflection that I realized, wasn’t as bad as I thought. Many people do a worse job on themselves shaving, and my forehead just looked like I had a gratuitous blemish, but cystic nonetheless.

When we initially left the medical staff, I felt defeated- I had wasted valuable time in the city I had always wanted to see, and for a moment, all I wanted to do was go back to my hotel room and sleep. As we approached the taxi stand though, and after a serious minute-long internal conversation that was saturated in Eckhart Tolle realness, something changed.

“Well?” asked Eszter “did you need to go to a hospital, or perhaps the hotel…?” Regardless, Eszter was going downtown to enjoy her last night in Paris, was I really going back to my room to sulk in a lost opportunity?

“No! I’m going out… like this!” I jutted my face toward her in a way that only be described as “Gloria Swanson circa Sunset Boulevard.”

As we rode the thirty minutes into the city center, my new friend gushed that I was her hero. I attested that stupidity was no substitute for heroism, a rebuttal to which she continuously refused.  I’ll admit, I had been so busy with all the changes in my life that the reality of my trip hadn’t actually sat in. It wasn’t until I noticed the radial light of the Eiffel Tower flashing in the distance that I started to feel excited, even… nervous. Slowly, the architecture of the buildings we passed started to change, rapidly. It was as if someone was peeling back the layers of time to reveal a story, carefully guarded, but free for all. We turned left down a stone street in perfect view of the city’s most famous landmark. As the Eiffel Tower grew with the horizon, I could hear the laughter of La Belle Époque, the salons of Gertrude Stein, and of course, all the present day hopes and dreams that are born within this city. It was utterly intoxicating.

Our taxi driver left us where we could snap the obligatory tourist photos in front of the icon. I no longer cared that although I had waited my whole life for this little picture, I had a less than photo ready face. I had a unique experience. With the last click of the lens, we bid adieu for now as it would only be a few days before we reconvened in Spain.

In the course of transit, I had relayed my unfortunate experience with friend and fellow New Yorker, Olivier, who was also in Paris for Maison. After I explained I was still going out to take in the evening, he suggested we meet up for dinner at the charming Café Lezard.

I was lucky to have a driver who was quick, but not so much that I missed anything. He made sure to point out the Pont Alexandre III and the Louvre as he drove me along the Seine, stopping briefly to wave at friends he knew who were smoking cigarettes outside a brasserie. The city itself had the essence of a vintage photograph, like there was nothing to be gained had Casablanca been filmed in Technicolor.  As we got closer, we meandered slowly among the people, and the countless crepe stands. Once at a stubborn intersection, he attested that I could just walk the rest of the way, and that it was surely close.

Sure enough, I made it past one shop, turned right, and saw Café Lezard resting at the peak of a tapered intersection- much like a miniature Flatiron Building with a glass-encased patio. I made my way through the smoky restaurant to find myself two feet from my friend, but at a road block of chaise proportions. I quickly u-turned and Tour de Franced my way through the entire establishment before I found myself seated opposite my friend.

“Ooh look at YOU!” He exclaimed while tensely holding back his laughter.

“Ugh I know” I flourished my hand over my injury.

“Oh stop! In this lighting? You can’t even tell. I mean that SUIT! You look so American, so business, you have to relax more!” This was true- I wasn’t really sure what to wear at Maison, and though I had met my entire team the day before dressed in their most business formal, a great chunk of them had transitioned into more trendy combinations for the duration of the event. It didn’t help that Olivier looked like he hopped straight out of a catalogue for Hugo Boss. I will say this much however, if anyone could dawn every color of the rainbow and still be fashionable, it would be him- not that this was the case.

The cigarette smoke seemed to carry with it the slow, percussive tempo around us before it dissipated through the skylight. Olivier had to once remind me “laissez-faire!” as I began to devour my foie gras. Dinner was exactly what I had hoped for, delicious, quaint, and French.

 For my second course I had steak tartar and frites- a dish my affinity for surprised even myself years ago at the Upper West Side’s Café du Soleil. I had helped my friend Adele move into a new apartment, which earned me a dinner with her wonderfully international parents. When her mother ordered a serving for herself, she encouraged me to try it, thus engaging me in a love affair with raw meat.

Olivier and I laughed and took notice of the residents of the neighborhood who were now shouting drunk and adoringly at each other from their windows. All of a sudden, it seemed like no time had passed between hopping in that first taxi and what was now a dangerously evocative moelleux au chocolate staring right at me. In true French form, I worked at demolishing the dessert as slowly, and menacingly as possible- an unfair death for anyone.

After we said goodbye, I continued down Rue Marcel and meandered my way in the direction of the Seine. I thought about my Senior AP English teacher Valerie, whom I had save a $2 bill for me at 17 as collateral for snack change she lent me. We had both forgotten the exchange, and my $2 bill set off on a whirlwind adventure around the world for seven years. She had been leading year-end educational tours abroad for students in her new high school- unknowingly taking my $2 bill with her to a dozen foreign countries. It wasn’t until I ran into her in my home town three and a half years ago that she reminded me and gave it back. Largely forgotten, It was only when I was packing for my trip to Europe that the currency fell out of an old wallet I was purging and into my passport holder.

As I walked the streets of Paris alone, and ever the romantic, I realized that I had to make it to Les Deux Magots. I slowly walked in and out of unfamiliar streets, plazas, and corners just like I love to do when experiencing someplace new. I crossed the Seine, but not before stopping for just a moment. And within that instant, I thought immediately of all things, “Into the Woods.” My favorite quote from the musical reads “but if life were only moments, then you’d never know you had one.” And that’s true- living in New York, my whole life is a moment, and I realized that in all my efforts to get my picture in front of the Eiffel Tower, I still haven’t taken a photograph of myself in front of any iconic buildings where I live- and no, the various photos I do have where the Empire State Building is smaller than my head do not count.

I continued down windy streets to my destination where I finally sat down and checked in on social media. For the first time in over three years I heard from Adele “try a steak tartar while you’re there” I replied immediately that I had her beat, and of course, thought of her. While I hate being a tourist, I adored being able to go and have a drink where some of my favorite writers hung out and forever etched out their legacies- not to be confused with the scrappy Picasso fan graffiti in the bathroom stalls.  Maybe to literary fans and hopefuls, Les Deux Magots is a mecca of sorts, but certainly to any, it is a great end to memorable evening.