Thursday, September 2, 2010

Paris Diaries Part III: Centre Pompidou

The cup and saucer clattered loudly as they dropped onto the wrought iron table top. Bridget lowered her sunglasses to glare at the unapologetic waiter who had deposited them there. He slipped away with a scowl.

Bridget immediately stopped mulling over what she’d done this time. Or, more specifically, what she’d said or how she’d said it or how she’d said it incorrectly. She doused the coffee liberally with sugar and trained her gaze on the parade of people walking briskly down the boulevard St-Germain. As much as she didn’t want to let the rudeness of her waiter mar her sunny afternoon, she was steamed. Here it was, the halfway point of her long-awaited trip to Paris. She’d been stuck for hours in Gander, Newfoundland when her plane was diverted. The man she made the trip to meet, her lover Guillaume, turned out to be named Gunnar and was not French at all. And now her careful use of the language after weeks of study brought her nothing but grief.

No matter how hard she tried to speak French, her efforts were met with disdain. The ticket taker at the Musee D’Orsay. The waitress at the Indian Restaurant. And worst and most discourteous of all, the gelato dipper at the Rodin Museum, an insolent teenager with one flared nostril that accentuated her disgust.

Bridget mulled over her strategy for the next time this happened. And there would be a next time, she was convinced. Perhaps she would greet the snub with a loud guffaw. Or a sneer. No, too derivative of gelato girl. Suppose she threw herself on the floor and flailed about, overcome with emotion due to her inadvertent error in accent or word choice? Certainly something to consider.

The waiter returned briefly to rip off the check from the pad and drop it on the table. And a fine day to you, too, Bridget whispered to herself. She drained the cup, picked up her bag, and set off for the last stop of the day: The Centre Pompidou modern art museum.

On the street between the cafĂ© and the metro stop, a van disgorged a family of escapees from Eurodisney, the children coiffed with Mickey Mouse hats and character balloons bumping against each other over their heads. The parents, a grumpy and clearly unpleasant pair, shouted orders to the driver in English as they corralled the children massing around them. Oh, to be so uncaring of the world’s opinion.

Once on the metro, Bridget got off at the Rambuteau stop, walked up the stairs and easily found the distinctive building. She purchased her ticket on the ground floor, then found the escalator encased in Plexiglas that ascended up the side of the building. She looked over the brochure and planned to start at the top with a special exhibition on hair. She checked the dictionary to make sure. Yes, an exhibition on hair.

“This is not the ticket for this exhibit,” the ticket taker with a shock of maroon tresses said firmly as she clicked her tongue, immediately speaking to Bridget in English. “You must go downstairs and buy the correct one. This is to the third floor.” She reached over to the person behind Bridget, pushing Bridget aside with her elbow. “Downstairs” she said again firmly without looking at her.

Throw myself to the floor and flail about now? Bridget made a disapproving noise, the best she could manage, and went back down to the ground floor to purchase what she hoped would be the correct ticket. A long, long line greeted her. At the front and as before, the ticket seller insisted on speaking to her in English, even though she was sure she knew enough French to complete the transaction. She shoved the first ticket into her bag, then went back up again to the exhibition.

The maroon-headed woman no longer sat at the door and just beyond the turnstile. Instead, a man with wire-rimmed glasses and a blank stare had taken her place. He said nothing to any of those in front of Bridget, just took the tickets and allowed the next patron to pass. Then, Bridget’s eyes met his as he took the ticket from her. “This ticket…”

“What?” she snapped. “This is the wrong ticket?” She had never spoken English with such conviction. “I explained downstairs to the little toad at the ticket counter just exactly what I wanted. And I supposed you will say that my French isn’t good, that I should just stick with sign language and, hum, maybe semaphore? You know, flags? I don’t know just who you people think you are, but you could show some respect to someone who is trying very, very hard to communicate with you. Is that too much to ask? Huh, buddy? Too much for you?” She came close to mentioning how their French behinds were saved in the last world war, but stopped herself given that her knowledge of history was not great.

The ticket taker continued the blank stare, saying nothing for several minutes as Bridget, to her disappointment, felt the warmth of blood rush to her cheeks. Just as she was about to apologize and find out exactly what was wrong with the ticket she purchased, the ticket taker spoke.

“The ticket is the exhibition that close in fifteen minutes. We will go for coffee.”

Bridget’s eyes widened. “Coffee? Sure.”

He tore her ticket in two. “And what is toad?”

She smiled. “Nice man. Bon homme. I’ll be back in 15 minutes then.”

As Bridget walked through the door, she felt elated as she moved quickly from one bizarre hair display to the other. Her annoyance flitted away and she felt her fortunes change. Maybe this was the Frenchman she had really come to France to meet. C’est le destin.


  1. Absolutely cheered when Bridget had her perfectly understandable rant! :)

    But, so glad to know that maybe Cupid was masterminding the whole experience.

  2. Thanks, Marisa. Can anyone tell me if I've spelled "wrought iron" correctly? Something tells me that that is a mistake. As you can tell, I'm no steelworker.

  3. This is a delightful story Kim. I love how you describe her frustration, how it rings through loud and clear, and so glad she finally got it out, apparently to just the right man.

    You spelled wrought iron correctly.

  4. It took a little while but she's back! Will she ever get home, or is the homme enough?

  5. I like Bridget: she has spunk. Maybe her shortcomings with French will be compensated for by her successful learning of the international language of love. Sweet story.