love being different
Part Seven of the short story 10 Days in Paris
Matilde’s voice was coming in a shouting whisper. I knew she was at the door, and that she was holding it open.
Maybe if I pretend to keep sleeping…
Okay, that was loud.
I turned around to face her. “What?”
“Good morning!” she said brightly, walking into the room then turning on the lights. “Please tell me you’re not hung over!”
“No, I am not hung over.”
“GREAT! Because I made breakfast, and you’re going to need it!”
I sat up. “Okay. Why?”
Matilde looked at me and put her hands on her hips. “Because today you are going to do Matilde’s Great Parisian Tour.” She took her hands off her hips and then theatrically threw her arms up in the air. “And we have to take a pretty picture of you! You can’t leave Paris without a pretty picture!”
“What time is it?” I asked.
“It’s seven o’clock,” she replied. “Hurry! I want to leave by nine, and you still have to tell me all about your date!”
Two hours later, we were on the bus, heading towards St. Sulpice, which was to be our first stop. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day; a perfect summer day in Paris. It seemed like everyone knew it too. Every person we walked by seemed ready with a smile and a “Bonjour.”
“So what’s the plan exactly?” I asked.
“Oh we’re just going to walk here and there,” Matilde replied. “Just things that I think you have to see and know about while you’re here.”
“Plus, of course, most of them are places where we can take a pretty picture!” she said, poking me in the ribs.
“Seriously, my feet are killing me. You need to rename this the Matilde Tour of Death.”
Jacques started laughing. “Do you need to be carried?” he asked. “It is just a bit further.”
We were in Montmartre. Jacques had joined us as soon as he’d gotten off work. After meeting with us at the Basilique du Sacré Coeur, he suggested we have our apéritif at a nearby hotel called Hôtel Particulier. We turned a corner and started to walk down what looked like an alley with a plain grey door at the end.
“Uh, are you guys sure this is the way?” I asked.
“Yes,” Matilde said. “Hôtel Particulier means private hotel. And it’s kind of, well, hidden.”
Jacques walked up to the door and pressed the buzzer. He started talking to the man in French. We heard a noise, the door opened, and we walked in.
“I feel like this is a scene from the Secret Garden,” I said.
Behind the grey door was a beautiful courtyard surrounded by trees and flowers. The compound’s walls were high. You couldn’t see the buildings beyond, making it seem like you were in a private world.
A waiter came up to us and spoke to Jacques. He then led us off to one side and down a stone staircase, to the right of which was a small private area. There were two couches facing each other, and in between them was glass coffee table. Jacques and Matilde took one couch and I took the other. Jacques spoke to the waiter some more as Matilde and I settled ourselves into comfortable positions.
“Voilà!!” Jacques said. “I have ordered us some wine and some cheese. Now you are seated comfortably. Put your feet up, if you like, and tell me about your day.”
Matilde looked at me and started to laugh. “I think I killed her,” she said.
I sighed. “She told me we would walk here and there. She didn’t tell me we were on a pilgrimage.”
“Ah!” Jacques said. “So you walked a lot?”
“We started at St. Sulpice,” I began.
“Oui, oui,” Jacques said. “This is a beautiful church.”
“Then we walked through the Luxembourg gardens, which were really pretty. There was one sculpture that was just incredible.”
“Then the Panthéon!” Matilde said.
“Another important landmark.” Jacques said, beaming at Matilde.
“We found a nice church next to the Pantheon,” Matilde told him.
“Yes. It had a purple door.” I said. “And I forget what it was dedicated to, but it was built for something… there was an underground passage, I think.”
“Interesting.” Jacques looked puzzled. “Did you stop for lunch? It must have been lunchtime by then.”
“NO!” I exclaimed. “This one,” I said, gesturing to Matilde. “Promised we’d eat lunch at Montmartre, but did we? Nope. Instead we walked around looking for the Arènes de Lutèce, which we found.”
“I explained to her that Lutèce or Lutetia was the original name of Paris,” Matilde said. “And that the name Paris was only used around year 300. After the Arènes, we took the metro to Moulin Rouge because of course she had to see Moulin Rouge, and after that we started walking up towards Montmartre.”
“But, of course, lunch was forgotten. She took me to see the Vignes de Montmartre.”
Just then, the waiter arrived with a plate of cheese and cold cuts, a basket of bread, a fresh salad, and three glasses of wine. I immediately grabbed some bread and a slice of cheese.
“I’m sorry, but I’m starving,” I said.
Jacques laughed. “It’s okay! Go ahead. The Vignes de Montmartre, this is nice to see; the only vineyard still existing in Paris. But the wine they produce is not very good.”
“That’s what I told her!” Matilde said, grabbing some bread for herself. “Then I took her to Moulin de la Galette so she could see Renoir’s inspiration—she likes impressionist art, did I tell you? Oh, and of course, to my favourite sculpture, Le Passe-Muraille on Rue Norvins.”
“Inspired by the short story of Aymé! Very good!” Jacques said. He looked at me sympathetically. “Wow, Vicky, that was a lot to do with no lunch. Matilde is a bit of a slave driver,” he said teasingly.
“Well, now that I have a glass of wine, I don’t mind too much. Montmartre is beautiful, and we passed a lot of quaint stores and artsy places. Matilde was a very good guide, actually. She would point out a lot of things, like the old signs that can no longer be taken down from buildings because the sign itself is part of history.” I paused. “I think there is nothing quite like seeing Paris with a Parisian.”
Matilde smiled at me. “And we ended with Sacré Coeur!” she said with a flourish. “Then you came!” She gave Jacques a kiss on the cheek. He smiled at her.
“You had a very cultural day,” he said, looking at me. “What would you like to do this evening?”
“Be carried to my bed,” I told him.
They both laughed.
“No. I’m serious!!”