Saturday, July 18, 2009

Mrs. Schott - Part II

Lying in the dark in the hotel room I waited for Nancy to finish her conversation on the phone with Mrs. Schott, the woman whose voice sounded mature and strong when I answered. As they talked I imagined her – a stately, “older” woman who sees Europe from the upper floors of five star hotel rooms.
At last Nancy hung up and told me what Mrs. Schott told her had transpired since she had delivered Nancy’s abandoned passport to the hotel concierge. (See last post.)
“After doing what I thought to be a good deed yesterday for you, what happened today was a surprise. I was heading to a charity luncheon – a charity for children. So on the way, I had my driver stop at the chocolatier to pick up candies for the children. He had to wait in the car at the curb while I walked up the alley to the shop’s door. Suddenly a thief grabbed me, tore the ring off my finger, took my purse, and threw me to the sidewalk!”
The hard fall onto the concrete had broken Mrs. Schott’s shoulder, and she had spent the day at the hospital. A cast not being possible, she had to wear her arm in a sling.
“But I would like to meet you and your sister tomorrow if you have time.”
So Nancy had arranged for us to visit her in the morning in the lobby of the InterContinental on our way out for the day.
Next morning en route the few blocks between our modest little hotel and the luxe InterContinental we remembered a florist near Place Vendome, so we headed straight there to pick up a nice (expensive) arrangement for Nancy’s injured benefactor. She picked the bouquet bottom, center.

At the InterContinental the concierge escorted us to Mrs. Schott sitting in a cool, dark corner of the lobby where it seemed every staff person was attending to her. Tuxedoed men floated to her with trays and greeted her with obvious concern about her injury.
You can’t imagine Nancy’s and my surprise when we saw her. There she was standing up to greet us, a willowy six-foot tall elegant young-ish woman reminding us of Princess Diana (who died two months later just a few blocks from that spot). We spent a short hour with Mrs. Schott and her sweet pooch Redford. We bonded, and she even said she would send her driver around for us later in the week to go out for the day. She also wanted us to come visit her in Switzerland where she and her husband oversaw their European-wide hotel chain.
You can barely see the empty left sleeve of her white sweater gracefully pinned up to accommodate her slinged arm against her chest.

Our hearts were a-flutter when we left, feeling as if we’d met and befriended royalty. If we’d known she would not follow through on her promise and collect us in a couple of days, we would have asked more questions, like which hotel chain? But as we explored Paris day after day for the remainder of our two weeks and waited for a call from Mrs. Schott, it never came, and we wistfully put our visions of a grand European friendship to rest. I have tried in vain to locate a hotel chain connected with the name Schott.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mrs. Schott - Part I

"OH NO! I don't have my passport!!"

What should have been a pleasant, relaxing moment to eat croissants and sip café crèmes in the tiny hotel dining room before a day out in sunny Paris turned into panic. My sister was frantically rifling through her bag looking for what couldn't be found. Suddenly she remembered we had stopped at the nearby Hotel InterContinental's bathroom on our way home from dinner the night before, and she had hung her little passport bag on the bathroom stall door! She lept from her chair and ran out the door "I'll be back!" leaving me and my croissant very nervous.

When she came back less than an hour later, this is what she told me.

After running the few blocks to the InterContinental, she slipped into the cool, elegant lobby and straight to the Concierge who was standing at his perch. Before she could utter a word, he said calmly with a welcoming smile, "You must be Ms. Hart, we have been expecting you."

He went on to explain that a certain Mrs. Schott had found Nancy's passport bag hanging on the bathroom stall door and delivered it to him with explicit and emphatic instructions: "Place this passport in the hotel safe, and if you do not see Ms. Hart this morning, we will contact the American Consulate to see if she has contacted them."

With relief and gratitude filling her heart, Nancy asked if he had stationery for her to write a thank you note to Mrs. Schott, a guest in the hotel. She wrote a lengthy, heartfelt message and returned to me in our tiny, shabby hotel lobby where every half minute felt like an hour to me. She held up her passport with a radiant smile.

That night, after traipsing through Paris all day up one side and down the other, our legs throbbing and our eyes drooping, we fell into bed early and slept hard. When the telephone rang suddenly at 10, with a stranger's voice telling me she was Mrs. Schott and could she please speak with Nancy, I was suddenly wide awake and handed Nancy the phone, whispering "IT'S MRS. SCHOTT!"

Next post I'll tell you what happened with Mrs. Schott. I promise it won't take me two weeks to tell the rest of the story.

Monday, June 22, 2009

DAY 3: Toupary restaurant (La Tour Eiffel and Musee d'Orsay)


DAY 3 of a week in Paris - Tuesday
La Tour Eiffel & Musee d'Orsay

It's taken a while, but we are waking up to our third full day in Paris. Well, to be honest, I want to skip the day for now and jump straight to evening. I can't wait to tell you about one of my favorite spots in the city. I'll tell you later about the other stops on our itinerary, ok? (I had problems with the HTML for my itinerary, strangely enough, so I am not posting it. I'll figure it out next post hopefully.)

The Toupary restaurant may not be the best reviewed or have as fine a cuisine as Taillevant, for instance (I'll tell you about that Michelin 3-star restaurant one of these posts), but it is one of my favorite spots to eat in Paris. As I've said before, I think my simple palate would be happy with a grilled sandwich at a gas station in France, so maybe you shouldn't trust me. But I do love me some good food. And I am willing to spend money on it if the experience warrants it.

That said, the food I've eaten in my four or five meals there has been superb and the service terrific. But the main reason I chose it in 1997, alone for lunch in the second week with my sister Nancy after we learned in the first week we liked spending our time and money differently, was for the view. It is on the fifth floor of the Samaritaine Department store - which has since closed (is there anything else in the building now, I wonder?).

You can see the Pont Neuf from my table in the top photo, my favorite bridge in the city. It's rather a cliché to love this bridge, as there have been countless movies about it. But that's OK, there are reasons for it. It is at the point of the island for one thing, and it's just so darn picturesque.

When I excused myself to myself (you must be polite to yourself when you go out alone) to go to the ladies room, I was tickled to find this gorgeous view there too. Of course I had to take my camera with me as there was no one to guard it at the table, and wasn't it handy to photograph myself in the mirror that stood in front of this marvelous sight? I nabbed the orange card for my scrapbook.

Again when Don and I went to Paris for our 25th anniversary in 2003, I wanted to eat there to celebrate. Do you see our water glasses reflected in the window?

But below are the glasses we wanted to steal. I don't think I've ever been tempted to steal before this (and later I did steal a Guinness glass from the Guinness factory in Dublin), but this was just too sweet! Because they knew it was our big 25th anniversary, they brought our champagne in this special glass set. We asked if we could purchase one, but they didn't have them to sell. So, we seriously contemplated hiding them under Don's sportcoat. Ha. But we didn't do it, although it might have been fun to meet Inspector Clouseau.

We asked the waitress (rare female in this male dominated profession in Paris) to snap our pic, but this is the result. It's probably not her fault, since the light was behind us.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009



DAY 2 of a week in Paris - Monday

Le Louvre et Champs-Elysées

  • BREAKFAST: la patisserie below the apartment
  • Le Louvre
  • LUNCH: Angelina tea salon. 226 Rue de Rivoli (between Rues d'Alger and de Castiglione)
  • Tuilleries
  • Madeleine Church & Place de la Concorde
  • Place Vendome
  • Arc de Triomphe - view Paris (daily 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.)
  • Champs-Elysées - TODAY'S POST
  • DINNER: La Boutique à Sandwiches. 12 Rue du Colisée (between Rue de Ponethieu and Ave des Champs-Elysées)
  • Buddha Bar (8 rue Boissy d'Anglais, near Place de la Concorde)
Next on our itinerary after the Tuilleries is the Madeleine Church, which I have posted about here and here.

So today I'm sharing just a little bit about the Champs-Elysées. Because I have never been a person of means - or a shopper (maybe they go hand in hand) - I have not spent much time on this fashionable avenue.

I have already told the story of meeting Catherine, an American woman traveling alone like me. I first noticed her at the café in the photo of me at top drinking a café crème (taken by a Chinese couple who first asked me with gestures to take their picture). Funny how you notice other Americans in a foreign city. Catherine and I didn't speak there, but later in the day when we saw each other in a totally different part of the city, we stopped and introduced ourselves. Has that ever happened to you? You're in one of the world's big cities, and you see the same people in different spots, sometimes even on different days?

This little hour at a café on my solo 2006 trip is one of a few Champs-Elysées memories.

The first happened with Nancy in 1997. We had not yet heard of Sephora, the cosmetics store par excellence. So when we walked into their flagship store on the Champs-Elysées we felt we'd entered a magical realm of womanly dreams come true. What aided that fantasy was a tall beautiful model in a maxi-length black coat and one white glove opening the door for us. Throughout the vast store were many other beautiful male and female models/sales clerks dressed in the same costume. The room's walls were lined floor to ceiling with women's perfume on one wall and men's cologne on the other, then make-up down the center. Any product queen would feel she'd died and gone to heaven. We saw dutiful husbands (or lovers) leaving with pretty little bags that we assumed contained tiny bottles of perfume. In the middle of our browsing, suddenly we were being rushed out of the store. There was a bomb scare! We were able to go back into the store after a few minutes to finish dipping white paper dipsticks into perfume bottles to sample scents. (Imagine how the avenue would have smelled if a bomb had gone off. Ok, somber but fragrant thought.) I was a dutiful wife and bought my husband a bottle of cologne (was it Dior?).

Now, of course, Americans can go into a Sephora in any shopping mall or even JC Penneys. But for us, the experience was part of the Paris mystique.

Don snapped this in 2003

Another Champs-Elysées memory was with Don in 2003. I posted about the gracious French doctor - Giancarlo - who owned the apartment where we stayed on the tiny island Ile Saint-Louis. He refused to settle for handing us a key to the apartment in a café and instead insisted on picking us up at the airport! And not only that. Knowing from our emails that this was Don's first visit to this gorgeous city, he took the extra effort to drive in on the Champs-Elysées en route to the apartment so that Don would see the best and most interesting approach right off the bat. So much for a French reputation of rudeness! On this crazy heart-racing drive he also told us how the city hires cleaners who every night wash graffiti off the city's white buildings, leaving them pristine and fresh every morning. Oh, and one more thing. At Rond-point at Place de Charles De Gaulle the circle around the Arc de Triomphe, suddenly all cars - which had been driving at breakneck speed - slowed to a crawl. Giancarlo explained that in this circle of pavement, insurance does not cover drivers!

One of the happy discoveries while walking with Nancy, in the 1997 photo below, was the Allée Marcel Proust, just at the start of the Champs-Elysées, and parallel with it. It is a pretty park-like walkway, quiet and protected from the hustle of the busy avenue.

We found
Allée Marcel Proust just after watching President Clinton's limousine speed by on his way to the presidential palace to see Jacques Chirac. Clinton was in Paris to give a NATO speech.