The Painting, The Peoguot, and Le Seul Leotard Noir – Paris and the Benelux countries of Europe

The Painting, The Peoguot, and Le Seul Leotard Noir

Paris and the Benelux countries of Europe

Ground shot from the top of the Eiffel
Ground shot from the top of the Eiffel
I kept the painting as near to my body as possible as I lugged my thirty-pound carry-on through the ribbon of travelers meandering through security. The cubic yard parcel covered in cardboard, brown paper, and snuggly wrapped in twine wasn’t going to get out of my sight.

The painting was Lee’s original, entrusted to me, and a gift for Claude, one of his collectors. It was also my first trip to Europe. I could tell I over-packed. I checked my other bag and wished this one were in the same place. I began to grow weary with each step lugging two cumbersome pieces.
Lee was already in Paris two days before and I was expected in fifteen hours. He knew my schedule.

Lee started painting in the eighties and had some pretty good stuff inspired by the nouveau and deco movements, along with his close cohorts; beatniks, weed, and dry martinis. He graduated into bronze sculpting and Claude loved Lee’s work. Lee’s past career was that of a restaurateur. They met in Vail at the Moritz where Claude in his early days helped the chef.

After Lee’s thirty some year tour of duty with restaurants, he pretty much read the paper at the kitchen bar, still drinking martinis, and lived off his investments, when he wasn’t sculpting.

“You can’t take that on board,” the flight attendant stated flatly when I handed her my ticket.
“I can’t! Why not?”
“It won’t fit in the overheads. You’ll have to leave it here.”

The plane was boarding. I had a $900 ticket in my hand. I had been on my feet with almost fifty pounds of weight for two hours, thrashing the throngs of molesters disguised as security agents, on my first trip to Europe, with a priceless painting, and was told I’d have to “just throw it away!”

I politely stepped out of line to assess my options and waited until all the passengers were checked in. Then I walked up to her, handed her my ticket and said, “I’m going and I’m taking this with me. And you can bet, I will find a place where it “will” fit,” I declared, and calmly walked down the aisle and boarded the plane.

I sat my bag in my seat when I found it and continued to the rear of the plane with the painting where I stashed it behind the row of seats in front of the latrine, relaying my story to the folks seated in front of it. They agreed, while shaking their heads, that they wouldn’t get bumped for a painting either.

I got at least one dirty glare from the stewardess as she walked by me, as though thinking “How dare you.” Then I slept until we arrived at Charles deGaulle.

It was nighttime when I departed the plane. Lee spotted the painting first and then me as I continued my struggle with it.
“Is that all you brought?”
“No, we’ll have to go to baggage claim.”

Lee knew how to get there so we were off. We got there and watched and waited, and waited and watched. My bag never showed up causing another trip to Terminal One and the claims office. I filled out three pages in triplicate, noting each item I had in my suitcase. That’s when the reality of having over-packed really hit home. Not only had I over-packed, but I did something no one should ever do; never, never, never put your travelers’ checks inside a checked bag!

I handed the completed paperwork back to the agent and was told to check with them in the morning.
“We apologize for any inconvenience and we’ll do our best to locate your bag and have it for you in the morning.” I didn’t feel reassured.

The next morning I called, and the next and the next and still nothing. The only thing they affirmed was that baggage somehow got transported to d’Orly, de Roissy from de Gaulle the night of my arrival. So here I was my first visit to Paris with no baggage, no change of clothes, and no money, plus I had only a ten day vacation.

On the third day a call came in from the airline, “nous avons disponible à vous un règlement dans le montant de 375 francs.”

In other words they were making a settlement of 375 francs for a nearly 600-dollar loss. I called American Express that next morning anyway to report the traveler check mishap and loss, so they cancelled those in the bag and reissued. Thankfully, I carried the stubs in my carry-on.

The agent continued by saying, “Je suis sûr que nous vous récupérerons sac, mais je ne peux pas dire quand.” [I am sure we will recover your bag, but I cannot say when.]

Lee and I had lounged around Claude’s estate for two and half days, I, in the same clothes. Not that it was a bad place to lounge; Claude’s place was a mansion deep in the forest near St. Germaine.
On the north side of the property sat a dense forest. I’d gaze at it through my shuttered window from our bungalow that sat on top of the workout gymnasium. The west end of the six-car garage neighbored our stairway. The outdoor hot tub was right by the gym room, which had glass walls, but for one full, single-paned mirror covering the east wall. Lee and I were both ready to see a bit of Paris. We had been wined and dined and waited on hand and foot far too long. We decided to get some lunch in town and pick up the airport’s offer, so we loaded ourselves in the rented squirrel-cage Peoguot and headed back to the airport to pick up $67 in chump change.

I signed off on it when we got there, they gave cash, and I begged Lee to take me shopping so I could buy some clothes. We headed off to Printemps at the nearest mall.

View Notre Dame through this clock in Musee d'Orsay
View Notre Dame through this clock in Musee d’Orsay
I guess I felt that I had been with Lee so long the beatnik look rubbed off. I have a long-standing stereotype-view of “shady” French women in black, so I had to buy a black, velvet leotard, with matching ribbon choker, modest top, spiked heels, and a red tam. I wanted to blend in with the French. Not that they dress like that, but in my personal view I felt and looked French. I even had a fancy cigarette holder complete with cigarette to droop from my lower lip if I wanted to.

The next day I wore that garb and dragged Lee to the Eiffel Tower. I couldn’t miss that. Lee had other things in mind, but we still had five days. His goal was to see the works of Francois Auguste Rene Rodin in Calais, which is northwest of Paris near the waters of the English Channel. His purpose was to get up close and personal with The Burghers of Calais. He doesn’t surf the net; he goes straight to the source.

The Eiffel is located to the south of the river, the Rive Gauche (Left Bank).

Not far from the Eiffel Tower is the Musee d’Orsay housed in a former railway station that was built in 1900. Reinauguration of this museum in its present form took place in 1986. Inside is a treasure trove of art produced between 1848 and 1917, including Impressionist and Post-impressionist works. Most of the paintings and sculptures are found on the ground floor and the skylight-lit upper level, while the middle level showcases Art-Nouveau.

Nearby was the Musée Rodin, which displays bronze and marble sculptures by Claudel, and Rodin, including casts of some of his most celebrated works. There’s a sculpture garden in the back. It was just around the corner from the Hotel d’Invalides and near the Hotel Biron. This Musée Rodin was the final town home of Mr. Rodin.

The area north of the river, the Rive Droite (Right Bank), includes the tree-lined Avenue des Champs-Élysées, running west to the Arc de Triomphe. Watch out driving there. There are no traffic lights. Traffic lights do exist down the avenues, but not at the massive traffic bulkhead by the Arc. It’s a one-for-all and all-for-one free-for-all, where a person hears a lot of lively horn music and a barrage of French slang. East of the avenue was the massive Musée du Louvre, the Centre Georges Pompidou and a district of museums, shops, markets and restaurants. South of the Pompidou Centre on the ÃŽle de la Cité sits Notre Dame. The Saint Germain de Prés and Montparnasse districts lie east of there.

The next day we borrowed Claude’s car. I was very happy not to take the Peugeot. It rattled and shook and we were so close to the ground, besides having such a frail looking, unsafe body. Instead we took this great car, a Saab Turbo 2500 and drove like maniacs from Paris to Calais. The hilly French country roads dip and curve like a meandering river. It is pretty barren, but for every 10 to 15 kilometers another church steeple crops up making us aware there was more to France than Paris. Westerners think Paris is all there is of France, and along with the French everyone goes to Paris. It is, after all, the largest city the French have. It’s where to shop!

By the way, one can (although, not legally) go just as fast off the Audubon as on. We were up to 125 km in three seconds or less in this turbo. I felt weightless and as though I left my body in Paris.

The Burghers of Calais is a commemorative piece, dedicated to six of Calais’s most respected citizens, who were willing to give up their lives to save the rest of the town’s people. It is truly awesome and huge. After the English victory at Crecy, near Abbeville, in September 1346, Edward III of England laid siege to Calais. In its 11th, month the starving Calaisiens decided they couldn’t take it. The Governor, Jean de Vienne, sent a message to the English king saying he would surrender if everyone in the town, soldiers and citizens alike, was given a pardon. The king replied that he would accept the surrender provided six of Calais’s most respected citizens came to hand over the keys to the castle and town to arrive barefoot, with nooses around their necks, and that they should beg him for mercy.

They were Jean d’Aire, Jacques and Pierre de Wissant, Jean de Fiennes, Andrieus d’Andres and Eustache de Saint-Pierre, one of the town’s richest inhabitants. Edward’s consort, Queen Philippina, was so moved that she pleaded with the king not to harm them, which he did. They became heroes. This piece was made between 1884 and 1886 and stands in front of the British Parliament building in Calais.

Rodin created his works in the 19th century during the Impressionism era of art history. An almost scientific interest in the visual experience began in the late 1860s to late 1890s. French painting, sometimes called optical realism, utilized the effect of light and movement on the appearance of objects. The Impressionist motto? The human eye is a marvelous instrument. Fascination with light and movement was at the core of their art.

Rodin castings can be seen in the United States in Philadelphia at the Rodin Museum and at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California in the sculpture garden. A casting of the Burghers stands in the NYC Metropolitan Museum. San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor has an excellent collection as well.

After lunch in Calais, where our French waiter didn’t understand the French word for mustard, (I asked for moutarde), we drove to Brussels and on to Luxembourg where we holed up for the night.

Just after touring downtown where ornate, thin buildings loomed our aura threatening to crush us, we stopped at a red light. It turned green and Lee remained parked in the lane of traffic. I soon became mesmerized by the lunatic in the car behind us, shaking her fist out the window and screaming profanities at us.

“Lee, don’t you think you better drive, or get out and see what she wants?”

He started to drive and she continued fast and hard on our tailgate still pitching a fit. Then she pulled up along side and we pulled over.

The gals’ name was Tammy. She lived in Luxembourg and was yelling in that language (it was not French, she insisted, it was Belgique. I think I insulted her) at us for not going when the light was green. (Sometimes Lee forgets to pay attention to small details like that, and my navigation skills went out the window that time). When she learned we were American tourists, she changed her tune from “mad, wet hen” to “I will do anything if you take me to America with you.”

We turned the car around and followed her to a bed and breakfast called Auberge Le Chatelet located at Bd. de la Pétrusse 2, Luxembourg City 2320, Luxembourg. Its rooms are divided between two lovely old Luxembourg homes with comfortable furnishings and a rustic restaurant. Tammy’s friend owned it. Tammy spoke excellent English; it was the other language that was questionable. After a small meal with Tammy at our side and three more hours later, she finally gave up and went home, while Lee and I retired for the night sinking into a down mattress and crisp white sheets. In the morning we were served a traditional continental breakfast with cheese, meats, juice, and sweetbreads. It was moderately priced and cozy.

Rodin's Gates of Hell in Musee d'Orsay
Rodin’s Gates of Hell in Musee d’Orsay
The next day as we drove on to Rotterdam, we were stopped by a policeman. My heart stopped. I thought we were going to be ticketed for something, I just didn’t know what. He said we were driving as though we were lost. I think we were, but Lee insisted we weren’t and continued into downtown where we parked and found the nearest bar. Lee just had to check out the legal hashish bars. It was interesting, but not my gig; the cloud when I walked was too much for me.

After a beer and some of his shenanigans, we drove to Utrecht and spent the night at Best Western Amrath Hotel at Vredenburg 14, Utrecht, Holland. This sits near Central Station. Amsterdam is thirty minutes away. We had juice, toast and coffee that morning. Try the traditional toast in Holland covered with colorful aniseed sprinkles. It is delicious if you like the taste of licorice, which is similar to aniseed. Then we were on to Amsterdam, Maastrich, into Germany near Essen, and back to the south of France. We drove the Black Forest, but didn’t stop. Yes, there were many castles peering out of those deep, dark woods. We packed a lot into four days and traveled 820 miles.

I haven’t donned the total “shady lady” garb since my trip; I think I wore it out already. I managed to bring mon seul leotard noir home with me and I wear it to bed sometimes and quietly reflect on my Paris moments, chuckling, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

Claude loved the painting I was able to get to him unscathed. I tried to barter it for his car to no avail. The car was black, too, but the painting wasn’t. That would have been a kick, Lee giving Claude a black canvas called Black Cat in the Dead of Night. I wouldn’t put it past him.

Despite having no luggage and a fast, but thankfully not too furious, four-day road trip in Europe, it was an unforgettable and wonderful experience.