Monday, February 21, 2011

Riding the Rails: Part Six

(Pont Neuf, Paris:  Afternoon Sunshine; Camille Pissarro; 1901; Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Finally, the warden makes a personal appearance at our cell.

He steps in and says, "We will be in Paris in five minutes. Please prepare for departure."

I thank God for letting me live long enough to savor this moment.

I want to jump up and smear sloppy, wet kisses over every inch of the warden's skinny little head.

But I restrain myself because I don't feel like finishing up this day in a French jail cell.

The warden turns on his heels, exits and hastily echoes the news up and down the corridor.

Matt looks at us and says, "The United States government has finally decided to spring us. The Secretary of State has just finished her negotiations with the French powers that be. We are free, people, we are free!"

We are free and we are filthy.

All I want in this whole world is a a nice warm shower.

"In due time," I tell myself, " all in due time."

(It's not nice to brag but I gotta say that I'm totally impressing myself here with this incredible practice of patience!)

We gather our coats, books, and personal items quickly and throw them into our bags.

When I use the word "throw," I mean that literally.

This is no time to concern ourselves with the fine art of packing.

As we exit the cell, I gaze fondly at the gigantic pile of trash spilling out of the tiny metal waste bin.

I glance into our lavatory as we line up with our fellow trainmates in the corridor.

Massive piles of wet paper towels are everywhere - on the sink, on the floor, on the open commode.

Two are stuck to the mirror.

Who knows what forms of nastiness are lurking on, under and around those towels?

I quickly channel Scarlett O'Hara and decide to think about that tomorrow.

There - I feel better already.

I glance at my watch.

The time is 5:40 p.m.

We have been cooped up on this train for nearly 24 mind numbing hours.

Slowly, we shuffle up the corridor and then arrive at the open exit door of our car.

Greedily, I suck in all the air my lungs will take.

Fresh air surrounds me as I step down and lower myself onto the platform of the train station.

Fresh air?

In a train station?


In a train station.

The air quality and quantity out here beats anything we've inhaled in the last day.

The crowds thin out as we walk up the lengthy platform.

I can actually stretch my legs and I can actually move them!

And I am immediately grateful.

Courtesy stewards in bright blue uniforms greet us with cold bottles of water and hot-out-of-the oven pastries.

For some mysterious reason, only the passengers from our train are invited to indulge in these treats.

Matt grabs a butter/raisin pastry from the cart as we fly by.

He says to me, "This is really good! You should get one."

My eagle eye is busy sizing up a chocolate croissant.

(Some things never change.)

But Matt convinces me to make a last second switch-a-roo.

I cram the raisin pastry into my mouth.

Oh, my stars!

It's like eating a warm cloud of sweet, buttery silkiness.

"You are so right!" I shout to Matt.

Minutes later, we jump in the first available taxi and enjoy our early evening ride through the streets of Paris.

Matt and Tara are seeing everything for the first time.

We drive parallel to the Seine and pass Notre Dame which is especially beautiful at night.

Powerful spotlights illuminate the cream-colored stone of the cathedral in the deep blue shadow of nightfall.

Seconds later, we pass the beloved bridge, Pont Neuf, immortalized by literary and artistic figures since it was first begun in 1578.

We see the Eiffel Tower in the distance - thousands of twinkling white lights cover the iron masterpiece.

Our hotel is just two blocks away from this French icon and I can't wait to see it up close and personal again.

We speed past the lavish Alexander III bridge - given to the city of Paris by the Russian people.

Tara turns to me and says, "This place is just beautiful!"

I reply, "Always! Paris is the most gorgeous city in the world. Now you see why they call it the 'City of Lights.'"

Our rooms at the hotel are tiny.

For a split second, we wonder whether we will be able to stash our bags anywhere inside them.

The shower is old and the space is tight, to put it politely.

The carpet has definitely seen its better day.

But as far as I'm concerned, this place rivals any room in Buckingham Palace.

Need I mention that I'm a fresh escapee from the train hotel?

That'll put things into perspective for ya!

The four of us walk to a small neighborhood Italian restaurant.

The lights are bright, the decor is contemporary and the people are lively.

We dine on grilled veggies, tomato-laced spaghetti, baguette slices drenched in olive oil, parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar.

We top off the meal with chocolate mousse.

I enjoy every delicious bite.

And I am thankful.

We talk and we laugh.

Leaving the restaurant, we stroll a short distance.

Rounding the corner at the end of the block, we turn and stare up at the majestic Eiffel Tower.

Its nearness is overpowering.

The lights of this bejeweled edifice shimmer in the evening moonlight.

Soon we stand beneath the tower and gaze up into its brightly lit belly.

Matt says, "This thing is huge!"

I say, "It's a lot bigger than I thought it would be!"

Bob and I take pictures of Matt and Tara in the freezing night air beside the glowing tower.

As they return the favor and snap pictures of us, I think to myself, " I wonder who will be taking the train hotel back to Madrid tonight? One thing I know for sure - it won't be us!"

Sometimes life just gets super spectacular, doesn't it?

And I am grateful.

1 comment:

  1. I will probably never see Paris, but that was almost like being there.