"Pardonnez moi, Monsieur, Parlez-vous Anglais?" I asked the thin man looking at the facade of Notre Dame.
"No I do not, and I am busy", he replied in slightly accented English.
We left the US on a Friday evening. Dave, my young engineer colleague and I were off to important business meetings in France. This was not the first trip to Europe for either of us. We had upgraded to business class, and we left early to take advantage of lower fares for the Saturday stay. We also hoped to see the sites of Paris if possible before taking the train to the Loire Valley location of the factory on Sunday. I tried to get as much sleep on the plane as I could, long ago I had learned the best way to deal with the time difference and jet lag was to get on the new time zone as soon as possible. As we would arrive at Chuck de Gaulle airport in the morning, French time, I planned to stay awake as long as I could after arrival.
We arrived, went through customs etc. with no problem. The hotel was a short shuttle bus ride from the airport. We agreed to take a quick hour to relax, freshen up and shower then we would meet to go see the sights of gay Paree.
We took the shuttle back to the airport and bought train tickets to downtown Paris. The airport is some distance from the city. We got off the train at Mont St Michel, across the Seine from the Ille de Citie and the great Cathedral of Notre Dame. Like any good tourist we came from the underground station and looked around for a cafe to enjoy a beer after the arduous journey. After a quick "mission accomplished" we crossed the bridge to the Cathedral. It was much less impressive than I expected. The facade was covered with scaffolding for restoration work, but it was much smaller and less ornate than some of the huge churches we had seen in Germany. The churches in Regensburg and Bamburg were bigger and more ornate. We toured inside and tried to take some pictures of the dim interior. I would scan and post some pictures here, but I do not want to distract from the story. Plus I am too lazy. We spent about 20 minutes at the Church. I saw no hunchbacks, no hot chicks with goats either -- damn cartoon.
We decided we had to hit the Louvre (I do not know , I think it is pronounced Louvre like Favre). I asked a thin guy looking at the flying buttresses. He looked French, or at least European. If you have been to Europe you can pick out the Americans from the Europeans, we are fatter, and dress different. I studied French for four years in high school. I also had an advanced course in that language in College. I had not spoken a word of it in 20 years. Other than curse words, I was a bit rusty ( I could still read it though -- at least 50%). I politely asked the man if he spoke English. He looked me over. He could tell I was definitely American, not only did my white sneakers give me away, but my jean shorts confirmed his suspicion I was a damn American. The subsequent conversation began this story.
Here we were, short on time, trying to see the sights of Paris in one afternoon. We had no map, no plan, little language skills, and no desire to take a formal tour. We were on the Ille de Citie and need some help.
One of the most disturbing scenes in Europe (and especially France) is how heavily armed the police are. There are police with machine guns, soldiers with body armor and machine guns and police dogs patrolling the streets. I approached one such gendarme, his "assault weapon" slung from his shoulder. "excusez moi, ou es la Louvre s'Il vous plais?" He gave me directions in French. Then asked me in English to repeat them. He was very nice. We had to go up a few blocks and turn left. The Museum was on the left on that street. We took off at a fast clip. I guess not ALL French are assholes.
We found the Louvre and the glass pyramid entrance made more famous by that crazy "code" book. The lines were long. There appeared to be the equivalent of a whole tour bus of Chinese in line in front of us. At one point they decided to take a group picture. While they were getting organized we did the ugly American thing and pushed to the front of the line. The resulting "Hung yan who ha hee hang" or whatever they were shouting was really funny. Dave called them Commie Bastards, or maybe that was me. WTF, we were in a hurry.
Next: HB and Dave do the Louvre.