When I went to Paris for the first time in 2004, arriving there in the late hours of a warm night in July, one of the first things that I happened to behold, moments after stepping off the Metro at the station in Pigalle, was a male prostitute in drag. He (or should it rightly be "she"?) was standing alone on a corner in the dim light of a side street, wearing a short skirt and apparently trying to attract customers.
As I surveyed my surroundings and tried to determine which direction to take, I gingerly made my way past the streetwalker, being careful not to stare. I courteously nodded in greeting, while grinning to myself. Then I turned to my wife, Angela, who was walking beside me, and said, "Honey, did you see that guy?"
We had arrived in France after a long day and a stressful journey. We started in the morning, across the channel in England, where we had been staying at a hotel in Liverpool, near the River Mersey. From Lime Street in Liverpool we had taken a train down to London. We then spent the later part of the afternoon and the early part of the evening amidst the crowded madness of Heathrow Airport. After missing one flight to Paris, we succeeded in getting two seats on a second plane.
Our luck changed for the better once the plane landed. Somehow, with the use of a map, a smile, and the handful of French words that I remembered from high school, I was able to solicit necessary information from several Parisians at the airport, who kindly offered their assistance. In the late evening, I finally got us onto the right train from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Montmartre. We had reserved a room in the Hotel du Moulin, a small hostelry on Rue Aristide Bruant, a few streets away from the Moulin Rouge, in the 18th arrondissement.
When we awoke the next morning, we decided that our first destination, after we had refreshed ourselves with a light breakfast of tea and pastries at a local cafe, would be the Musee du Louvre. On our way to the museum, we chanced to have our first glimpse of the Effiel Tower. It stood at a distance, coming into our view as we came up the steps from the metro, near the Place de la Concorde. At that moment, we knew for certain that we were in Paris.
For several hours, Angela and I wandered, wide-eyed and awestruck, through the extraordinary halls of the Louvre, getting brief looks at the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and other renowned works of art. My wife, who has a longstanding interest in ancient Egypt, particularly enjoyed having an opportunity to view the impressive displays in the Department of Egyptian Antiquities. We could easily have stayed in the museum for a week without ever being bored, but we were pressed for time and had to depart too soon for our liking.
After spending our morning looking at paintings and statues in the Louvre, we headed toward the Champs Elysees in the afternoon. We eagerly joined the flow in a moving throng of tourists on the famous boulevard, frequently stepping aside to poke our heads into shops and bakeries, until we finally came to the Arc de Triomphe. Standing in front of its regal splendor, we rejoiced to ourselves at being two visitors in the City of Light. We then went back to our room at the Hotel du Moulin, having seen as much as we could hope to see in one outing, and ended the day by watching game shows on French television.
On our second day in Paris, we elected to take a long walk down the Boulevard de Clichy. From there we allowed ourselves to ramble for several hours. We sauntered through the narrow streets of Montmartre, stopping every few minutes to marvel at what we saw and to take photographs, feeling as if we were two characters in a French film. Everything around us was touched with bright splashes of charm and color, giving the appearance of an Impressionist painting to the Parisian sidewalks.
The next day happened to be July 14, which is Bastille Day in France, but Angela and I could not stay any longer. We had to go back to the airport on that day, to catch a flight to the United States, so we were unable to join in the public festivities. We went home in a happy frame of mind, however, filled with a deep affection for the people and the sights of Paris, along with a strong desire to return.