Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Jacket

A guardian of Notre Dame

Preface:  I think the most interesting travel stories are about the unexpected happenings and encounters - those unusual situations that make a trip more memorable.  The following is one such account that occurred in Paris during the summer of 2007. 

The Jacket
a travel memoir
by Greg Larson

     Back in the early 1980’s I found a jacket at Woolf Brothers in Kansas City at their Ward Parkway department store.  I couldn’t afford the dark teal-blue Christian Dior jacket but it was such a lightweight fabric, and it fit so well that I bought it. I never regretted the purchase.  It was almost like an old friend.  I was comfortable going anywhere with it.  Over the years it survived a lot of wear and tear, and I had washed it many times.  It had a big Christian Dior tag on the inside below the collar that said “New York – London – Paris” with smaller letters below that said “made in Taiwan”.
     As we planned our 2007 summer trip to France, my wife, Gretta, and I noticed that the Paris temperatures were 50 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so I decided the jacket would be perfect for the Paris segment of the trip, especially on the night we planned for our dinner cruise on the Seine River.
A cruise on the Seine River in the heart of Paris

     The dinner cruise was the highlight of our brief time in the beautiful city of Paris.  It was our last evening there before we departed on a train to southern France for our bike tour, so we cherished each moment of our time in a city that was so alive.  The glass-enclosed boat departed near the Eiffel Tower and cruised through the heart of Paris, passing the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, the Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Bibliothèque; then turning around for the return to the Eiffel Tower.  The Parisians looked so happy, especially during an evening along the Seine.  Lovers sitting on the quays and the banks waved to us as we glided past.  We raised our wine glasses as a toast, and they raised their bottles to us!  Children jumped up and down, pointing to us with one hand, holding on to their parents with the other hand.  The summer evening sun reflected in a golden hue on the Cathedral which towered above the river bank on the Île de la Cité, as lights began to come on throughout the city, sparkling and reflecting off the water.  Finally, the lights of the Eiffel Tower came into view.  The boat had just pulled into the dock when the strobe lights on the tower began sparkling and flashing like fireworks, announcing the beginning of the eleven o’clock hour.
La Tour Eiffel

Greg (with jacket on chair) and Gretta

     It wasn’t until the next morning on the train to southern France that I realized my teal blue jacket was missing.  I remembered carrying it in my hand as we departed the cruise, but then I probably left it on the subway or possibly at l’Hôtel Eugénie, where we had stayed.  I told Gretta that it might be at the hotel, and we could have them look in their lost-and-found items on our return to Paris, since we would be staying there again for two nights.  The jacket was getting old, I rationalized, and I did get my money’s worth from it.
     When we returned to l’Hôtel Eugénie, we checked into the same room we had occupied less than two weeks earlier.  As we left to go sight-seeing, Gretta stopped at the front desk to ask the clerk if the jacket was in the lost-and-found.  The desk clerk had a confident air as he spoke, although he was very polite.  He had dark hair and bushy eyebrows and looked like an authority figure to me.  I could picture him as a detective or a supervisor.  Gretta did an excellent job of speaking in French to him as she explained our problem.  He frowned and said, “Hmmm”, and then he got on the phone and the intercom and talked to the maids on duty.
     He asked the color again, and I said in my best French, “Bleu! Christian Dior!”
     His large eyebrows raised and he turned one eye to look at me as he purred, “Ah, Christian Dior!”  Then he got on the phone and talked to the maids again, and he asked Gretta if we were sure we left the jacket in the hotel.
     “Non” said Gretta.  We weren’t sure where it was misplaced, and we thanked him for his time.
Paris - a city to embrace

     The weather was cool and there was a mist in the air as we walked out onto the streets.  I didn’t want to wear my neon yellow cycling jacket around Paris.  That would be a bit too garish. Gretta suggested we go over to the department stores in the shopping district on the Rive Droite and see if we could find something.  The store she had remembered from her previous times in Paris was closed for remodeling, but we did see a lot of people going into another store, so we followed the crowds.  It appeared that summer sales were on, and the place was crawling with people sifting and pawing through the merchandise.  I hadn’t seen this many people in a downtown department store since I was a little kid at Christmas time.
     We went up to the men’s apparel department on the second floor and I selected some nice jackets to try on for fit and look. Then I glanced at myself in the mirror.
     “Look at us” I told Gretta, “Here we are - two people who dislike shopping - in downtown Paris getting caught up in the mobs at the summer sales!” I found a wonderful classic jacket with a zipper AND buttons.
     Gretta said, “You look very European in that jacket!”
     Her comment boosted my ego, so I looked in the mirror again.  Yeah, I thought, I look just like some Belgian cycling fan at the one-day spring classic races standing in the North Sea drizzle.  I’ll buy it!  Gretta discovered the jacket was 50% off the tag price, so it cost me only 25 euros or about $32.  If I’d found it at Dillard’s or Macy’s, it might have been $100 or more!
     I put it on just as we left the store and was glad to wear it in the mist.  I’d already found a new friend in the jacket.  Maybe we can go places together for another 25 years, I thought, and Gretta can come, too!  I popped open the umbrella, put my arm around her, and we walked onto the crowded sidewalks of Paris.
Greg with new jacket - looking so continental

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