I wasn't ready to rent a car yet. I wanted to tour the city by taxi and get my bearings, and learn more of the ways of the streets before risking my life behind the wheel. Carl (the world's greatest Waco biplane pilot) and I arranged for an English speaking taxi driver, who was in fact a native of Ghana, to drive us into Paris (only 15 kilometers) and give us a tour.
First stop was a brief photo opportunity at the Eiffel Tower. Our driver, Peter, dropped us off while he circled in traffic until we had taken our shots. I took Carl's picture with his camera, then Carl tried to take my photo with my digital camera. As I sat on a wall in front of the Eiffel Tower, trying to look nonchalant about it all, I noticed that 10' to my right a very pretty young lady was doing the same, posing for a shot for her (probably) mother. I don't know what came over me, it must have been the pheromones, but it seemed the perfectly natural thing to do to scoot over next to her, put my arm around her shoulder and to make a more interesting picture for both of our photo albums. She was a great sport, and thoroughly pleased with all of this. She told me her name was Maria Something-Very-Italiano and I told her my name was Michael Something-Very-McIrish. We posed for the photos, then shook hands and laughed and parted company with a smile. I hope her photo turned out good because Carl didn't hold the button down long enough on my camera, the shot was never taken.
That's one nice thing about Digital Cameras, instant gratification. Or in this case instant disappointment. With this camera you can immediately view the photo you have taken. When we got back to the taxi, I displayed all the photos in the camera, but the lovely Maria was nowhere to be found.
Next on the list was the Arc de Triomphe, a little bauble of a monument which Napoleon had erected in his own honor. The elevators to the top were closed, so we climbed the 284 steps via a circular staircase. It seemed to be a Parisian version of the StairMaster exercise machine. The view from the top is "magnifique". My favorite vantage point was the scene looking down the Avenue Des Champs Elysees toward the Musee du Louvre. The walk down was a lot easier, but for some reason seemed to invoke a mild vertigo, possibly because of the much faster circular pace. Back on the ground, I walked around the monument and measured it in my mind to determine if it was possible to fly a biplane through it's center. It seems as if my Waco would fit quite comfortably. Carl agreed, but suggested that it would almost certainly be the last flight one would take, as the gendarmes, and the FAA, would make certain of it. I think it would be an ideal last flight to make if you knew in advance that you were going to lose your medical certificate!
Here's a photo Carl took of me atop the Arc de Triomphe:
I present this photo not for it's journalistic excellence but as a proof that I am really here. It seems that some friends are skeptical that I am indeed in Paris and not just making this all up!
Another landmark we visited was the Notre Dame cathedral, situated on a small island in the middle of the Seine river. They were cleaning up the place when we got there. The facade was covered with scaffolding two-thirds of the way up. The top third, having already been cleaned, was a lovely shade of light beige stone. The bottom two thirds were almost black with the pollution of the last century's automotive emissions. I think the finest features of the cathedral were the stained glass rosette windows.
It was such a perfect day that we released Peter to find other passengers so that we could walk the Champs Elysees and mingle with the Parisians and tourists. We stopped for a meal at Fouguets, a sidewalk cafe at Avenue George V and engaged in some serious people-watching.
This is "Springtime in Paris", and couples in love seemed to be everywhere, oblivious to everything around them. Another thing I noticed immediately were the sidewalk cafes. There must be at least a hundred of them on the Champs Elysee' between the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre museum, a distance of about 4 kilometers (2.4 miles). The sidewalks are very wide, at least 60', so these are not little intimate sidewalk cafes, rather they are quite large affairs, and there seems to be only a small space indoors.
The streets were filled with vehicles I have never seen before, some of them very futuristic. My favorite was a custom Harley Davidson with California plates which expired 1995. I like to think the owner came to visit and stayed. I thought also that it would be considerably less expensive to ship a Harley to Paris than it was to ship my biplane. Store that thought for when I get a Harley.
Another thing which stuck me was that the sidewalks were completely devoid (if you'll excuse the pun) of the sidewalk urinals which for some reason I have associated with Paris.
This very famous street, the Avenue des Champs Elysees, is like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, in that there are so many stores which cater to rich women who like to dress in the latest fashions. For this reason, there were many beautiful, well-dressed women to be found in the neighborhood. It seems that for this season at least, the navel is "in". There were more female navels on this street today than I think I have ever seen, life to date. A fashion statement which I found to be interesting was the use of see-through plastic panels inserted into clothing at strategic spots such as over the navel, of course. It seemed to me to be a way of saying "You can look, but you cannot touch, and even if you do I will be safe from your germs!"
Whether I was sitting quietly in a sidewalk cafe, or admiring the cityscape of LaDefense, I found my thoughts drifting up into the sky, measuring the clouds and the winds and thinking of the day very soon when I would again fly my lovely biplane. Sixty days without flying it is a heavy price to pay for the opportunity to fly the skies of Europe. Only a few more days...
We taxied back to our hotel at LeBourget airport to clean up and rest before we again head back into the city. It's Saturday night, and Springtime, and it's Paris, so I am sure there is some nasty bit of trouble I can get into, but since this email is rated for "General Audiences", I will not go into detail...