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Sunday, April 22, 2012

My Snapshot Views of Paris (Part Two)

   One of my goals in Paris was to visit a movie location from the Harrison Ford picture Frantic.  The final scene, where Ford and Emmanuelle Seigner confront the villains, is set below the Pont de Grenelle on the Ile aux Cygnes.  This long, thin island in the middle of the Seine is a stunningly beautiful place.  I was disappointed to find that the tip of the island, where the scene was shot, did not resemble the movie.  Either it was shot elsewhere, or it has changed dramatically in the the last thirty years.  I'll have to do some research and figure that one out.  However, as has happened several times on this trip, any little bump in the road like this has turned into something grand.  That's Paris.  A wrong turn and you will find yourself in an even more beautiful spot.  A place this perfect should be illegal.  Disappointed, or to be more exact, perplexed at my discovery, we began the long walk back along the Allee des Cygnes (Swan Alley).  We were feeling quite good, having just eaten at Jolanda's on the Quai de Grenelle after taking refuge there during a brief rain shower.  So far, rain showers in Paris have only been brief.  Full of good food (Jennifer had a marvelous cup of soupe a l'oignon), overjoyed at the scenery we had found along this idyllic island, we strolled slowly along.  In front of us, I watched a little girl stomping through a puddle in her pink rain boots.  I did not have the camera ready then, but I quickly pulled it out, and snapped a few shots of her.  She heard me, turned with arms stretched out to either side, and stopped.  A smile covered the whole of her face.  Her mother, pushing a stroller, said nothing, but waited patiently for her.  When the girl saw I was not taking any more pictures, she continued walking.  I snapped some more pictures.  She turned around again.  This girl was a natural for the camera.  She was going to be a handful when she became a young woman.  Eventually, we passed them by, as Jennifer complimented the little girl in French.  I'm sure the mother was glad we did, so she was not forced to continue to stop and wait for her daughter to keep posing for the camera.
   In all my preparations for our trip I had never given much thought to the Eiffel Tower.  I must admit that it has never been a favorite Parisian icon for me.  It is technically interesting, and impressive when one considers that it was the tallest man-made structure when it was built, and continued to be so until the Chrysler Building topped it.  But I always felt much like Maupassant, who said he enjoyed the tower's restaurant since it was the only place in Paris where he did not have to look at it.  We had been here nearly a full week before we decided to go see it.  We had only caught glimpses of it from Montmartre as well as the Pantheon.  It is mostly hidden with the six-story high buildings that line every Parisian street.  So on a partly cloudy Saturday, we took the number 87 bus to the Champ de Mars district.   We were simply amazed.  The tower is set in the middle of a beautiful park that was absolutely magnificent.  The crowds were all down at the tower itself, and also across the Seine nearer the Trocadero.  On our side, the great lawn was only dotted with tourists.  What I mostly saw were Parisians out with their families, enjoying a simple Saturday in the sun.  Along the sides of this park are straight lines of manicured trees with green benches tucked in between them.  One gentleman sat alone, taking in the scene, wearing a black ascot cap.  He looked very pleased with himself, and I was more than pleased to catch a few shots of him.  It was that kind of day; sit on a bench and watch the clouds and people go by.
As we prepared to leave for the evening, coming back from the Ile aux Cygnes, we walked along the left bank of the Seine, and ascended the stairs at the Pont de'Lena.  We waited for the little green walking man light to announce it was safe to cross the Quai Branly, and when he appeared, we began to cross.  To our surprise, a Gendarme stepped out from the curb and spread his arms out, calling for us and the other tourists to please wait.  We stopped, in the middle of the road.  The Gendarme was only about six inches from us, trying to stare ahead with a neutral expression.  After a few moments, he realized he must have looked a bit silly.  With a gleam in his eye, he said pleasantly, "Bienvenue a Paris" and smiled broadly, which drew laughter from all of us in the street.  The gendarmes were positioning their vehicles in a line along the curb, and we waited as one of them waved in one of the big blue vans.  Once it was in place, we slipped around it, in search of our bus stop.
   That's when we really paid attention to what was going on.  All around us, uniformed men were climbing out of vans and milling about in riot gear.  This was not something I was use to seeing, save for those international reports of protests in exotic cities like London and Paris.  Well, it did not take long for me to remember we were in Paris.  I also remembered that there was a Presidential election scheduled for the very next day.  I had an idea where this was going.  Someone was planning to protest something, and we were not far from being in the middle of it.  Whatever it was, we were glad to be heading back to the apartment.  We made our way down the east side of the Champ de Mars, found our bus stop for the number 87 line, and were soon 'home'.  I have not been able to discover the event that was unfolding at the tower.  Perhaps if any of you readers out there know, you might leave a comment.

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