Christina & Butchie's Walk of Life (and all the perils, confusions and magic they went through...)
After a month in the islands, Butchie decided to go to France with Christina. He noticed that she was becoming a little restless and uneasy. He had taken her to Buck Island in the dingy and she had snorkeled and seen red, blue, orange and yellow fishes in that blue, clear water sea but she was still pretty much impatient. He felt like going to Paris, again but with her this time. He wanted to show her the hotel and the places he went to and that he had liked so much. He wanted Paris with her. He wanted it all with her and so they went not before leaving Riley at the vet to be taken care of for some weeks.
They stayed in a nice but overpriced hotel in Montmartre, off Rue Le Pic, near the hills of the Sacre Couer. It was cold, windy and rainy. They stayed in the hotel and in bed (they loved this) and they ate cheese, baguettes, croissants with nice French wine and his beer. They bought grapes and fruits and he watched her happily speak in French to the people and how well they responded to her and to her politeness. They did encounter many rude, nasty Parisians but this was already kind of expected from them. Were French rude to foreigners or only to Americans?
They went to a play and Butchie was nearly assaulted by a French man because he was about to enter the women's bathroom, while his wife shouted pejorative words at him. There is no forgiveness from their part even if you are a tourist and confused by words or signs in doors.
Butchie showed Paris to Christina but Paris was different now and they saw hoe it was slowly deteriorating. He hadn't noticed this before because, as Christina rightly said, he was always inside the hotel, or inside Montmartre, or inside the Cyberspace Café or inside a movie theater but not really seeing the real Paris, where the tourist went, where the real things happened. He was always protected from perils, madness and violence. Or was it mere fury?
They had gone on a bus tour downtown Paris and the Louvre. Butchie was miserable because of the cold weather and rain but he quietly sat, frozen to death, near her on their way to the Eiffel Tower. She was excited. She had been to Paris many years ago, with Jack and her mother, but Butchie came every year. As a matter of fact, she was a bit jealous because the last time he was in Paris, he came with another woman...
They saw transit, agitation, small cars, motorcycles, much, much noise, smoke and fumes, people and more people, tour buses and tourists; they saw strike and strikers that were protesting about banking systems and looking at the tourists in their tour buses and showing their middle finger at them just because they were tourists; they saw a local, big bus hit a biker, they saw him fall on the street, get hurt yet quickly get up, pick the bike up and ride away as fast as he could otherwise the buses and cars would go right over him... They heard the tour bus driver noisily shout Merde! Merde! Merde! every time he reached a red light; they saw the decaying fall of an empire in ruins...in the 21st. century. They saw black immigrants shouting words of anger and revenge at people that calmly sipped their little coffee in their little tables on the Cafés' sidewalks. They saw lonely, older people dressed in black and younger, hungry, homeless people in the street corners. They saw Paris the way Paris really was now... and that lovers from all around the world don't notice, don't see... Fury and beauty. Beauty and fury. This was the Paris that Butchie had seen or felt but kind of forgotten about. He was sad, shocked and surprised and so was Christina.
The Eiffel Tower
She stayed in the Eiffel Tower's ticket line for 1, 5 hour. She was below it and could see all the majestic strength and steel of that 19th century representation of how metal and screws could assemble such architecture and engineering construction. While she was there she noticed 18 or 20 signs alerting tourists which read: PRENDE ATTENTION POUR LES PICKPOCKETS. Oh my God. She held to the little money she had and told Butchie about it. While she waited in the line to buy the tickets she saw how old, dirty the tower was and it smelled everywhere. She bought the tickets and they observed Paris from the top. Christina thought that maybe people and lovers were not leaving their hearts in Paris anymore. And she wouldn't this time. Was it still the City of Lovers?
Madeleine's Metro Station & the Pickpocket
On their way back, in Madeleine's Métropolitain or métro station, Butchie was pick pocketed and stolen violently. As he told later, it was like a perfect orchestrated dance performed by the ticket cashier, by a pregnant woman with a baby, on a baby carriage, and by a thin, short French looking man, dressed in black and wearing a black leather jacket. They pulled Christina's hair so hard, in order to divert her attention from him, that her some of her hair and a chain with a lock were pulled off, taken and lost. Butchie was pushed and thrown and he felt a sudden, fast touch on his left upper pocket inside his Brionne leather jacket. After all the dizziness and assault, the pain and the mental rape, he knew that he had lost all his credit cards, his money and his identity, in Paris. The fury (and no more beauty), the insanity, the sheer madness and rage of a big city that was still attempting to survive its own death.
They looked in trash cans and on the floors of the metro station desperately trying to find the wallet with his credit cards and identities. Nothing. In Paris without money and credit cards. In Paris without a cent. Madness. Hopeless anger; with a feeling of total loss and despair, they held hands and with some money she had in her purse, returned to the protection of the hotel's arrondissement. He spent hours on the phone and they only relaxed when all his credit cards and bank accounts were canceled, protected. In matter of seconds your stolen credit card can be used in various ways and ranging from 600 to 6,000 dollars, the hotel's receptionist had alerted them when they safely got back. Go to the police? It won't make any difference, he told them. It happens all the time, he told them.
What was more surprising was the way it was all so perfectly organized. The tell was the cashier in the metro station booth. When he saw tourists with cash and kind of vulnerable, distracted and happy or just simply in love and distracted, he would make a signal with his head to someone close, probably the short, Frenchman, who would find the perfect moment to hit, strike, attack, distract, hurt, mug and steal wallets and purses or jewelry. As he hit and stole, the pregnant woman with a baby in a carriage would ease her way through a door that was only opened by the cashier in the booth and that only opened for carriages or wheel chairs and the thief would escape, unnoticed. It was very well organized and prepared and for sure they worked together and formed a con group specialized in mugging tourists. And so he escaped with Butchie's wallet, Driver's License, Id's and Social Security Card. You felt vandalized and hurt in unimaginable ways. And worse, there were no policemen to be found, anywhere.
The two questions tourists ask one another today after being to Paris are:
1) Were you pick pocketed?
2) Were you treated rudely?
They had tickets to go to Southeastern France from Lyon's Paris Central Gare by train (TGV) to Avignon, a city well known for its Palais des Papes, where several popes and antipopes lived from the early 14th to early 15th centuries. The train took 2 hours and they spent 2 days inside the Mercure Pont d'Avignon Hotel before they ever went out to visit the Palace of the Popes, in another cold day. First they went to the famous Pont D'Avignon which was over the Rhône River and that Christina had heard so much about, before going to the older part of Avignon with its Roman walls or fortification dating from the 1st century. She remembered a song she learnt in La Chassotte, in Switzerland called Sur Le Pont D'Avignon and the chorus was:
Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse, l'on y danse
Sur le pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse tous en rond
After discovering a bit of the city they were hungry and so they walked back to the city walls and looked for a place to eat. It was rainy and cold and still too early and everything was closed. They saw a McDonald's down the road, why not?
The "French" McDonald's
Christina wanted to pee and wash her hands. Butchie went to the line. As she was going up the stairs and to where it read Toilette, she was abruptly stopped by one of the cashiers that loudly said in French:
- You can't go through this way, madame!
- Excuse me?
- You can't go through this way, madame!
- But I want to go to the restroom!
- You need to buy a meal in order to use the restroom!
- Oui, madame.
- Are you kidding with me?
- Non, madame.
- Because it's the rule.
- Are you preventing me from using a public restroom unless I buy a meal?
- Oui. That's it, madame.
- This is disgusting!
- I can't do a thing about it!
She went back and told Butchie that they had not allowed her to pee unless she bought a combo or something before using a McDonald's public bathroom! A famous American fast food chain restaurant, in France, made you buy food in order to pee in their bathroom? A very expensive pee it was and in Euros. Butchie was pissed off and offended and didn't like what they had done to his Christina at all. She could not go into a McDonald's public bathroom to pee??? Many American soldiers had died in this country fighting against Nazism and Fascism and now Americans and tourists from all over the world were bluntly disrespected this way?
He bought her a hamburger and gave her the ticket. It had to have a number on it otherwise you couldn't go up the restroom. INCREDIBLE! What would have Mr. McDonald's thought about this? He wouldn't have liked it at all!
When she came out he had already gone to the restroom, too. He was holding a tray with a hamburger. She saw him leave, before her, and down the stairs. She followed him. While she was descending the long stairs she saw Butchie doing the following:
In front of the cashiers and all the people sitting in the open area (it was a very elegant and elegant place), he put the tray down with the hamburger, on the white, marble floor. While everybody looked at him in curiosity, he turned slowly around the tray 3 times, and then, lifted his right foot and THUMP! He vigorously stepped and squashed the hamburger and turned his foot on it many times... squish squash and looking at the cashiers, said:
- McDonald's SUCKS!!! Shit! Shit! Shit!
The cashier that stopped me from peeing said to him in French:
- Why are you doing this, Monsieur? Oh, Monsieur...
Butchie calmly picked the tray up, threw the squashed burger in the tray, held Christina by her hand, and they both walked out of McDonald's calmly. Outside, running and screaming as if they were Jessie James and Sundance Kid... they ran for their lives! Yet, they knew that there weren't any policemen around the arrondissement to catch him for squashing burgers in Avignon! She knew that she would proudly go to jail with him if necessary but they ran down the wet sidewalks until they were breathless; laughing, giggling and screaming: VIVE BUTCHIE! Not Vive la France! Vive Butchie! Vive Butchie! Vive Butchie! Vive la Revolution!
It was payback time! And yes, they felt good doing that and she was so pleased and so proud to see that man defending her so beautifully and so charmingly. This is what romance and love was all about...
After 3 weeks they were back to the islands and home. Riley was grumpy and in a bad mood for being left alone again but was happy to see them and following Christina all over the house. She was in love with this soft, sweet, needy half blind dog. And, she was loved by him. She was slowly becoming Riley's owner and Butchie, his master for 13-14 years, was a bit jealous when one sees that you are being exchanged so quickly by a mad woman in a dog's mysterious, devoted little heart.
Love was in the air... Oh yes it was.