Sunday, August 24, 2008

We'll Always Have Paris

“Let’s do a shopping weekend in Paris. Just you and me.”

And within minutes I had reserved our first class tickets on the Thalys and a room at Axial Beaubourg, a tiny yet chic hotel Rue du Temple in the Marais. That is one of my preferred hotels to stay in Paris. The Thalys arrives at Gare du Nord and it is a quick connection to the number 4 metro downstairs, change at Chatelet and catch line 1 for the one stop to Hotel de Ville. Once off the metro it is less than a minute’s walk to the hotel. Catching the train for the 10:03 arrival meant being checked in and having first cocktails in hand by 10:30.

Ann and I met when we both had our first day together at new company and I instantly took a liking to her. But we really bonded over a misunderstanding. I walked into her office one day and asked if she felt it was inappropriate to invite someone from the office out for a drink. A date, really. I assumed she had me figured out and she assumed I was talking about her. She assumed that I was hinting around, trying to figure out if she would say yes before I asked. After about fifteen minutes of awkward conversation we bridged that communication gap and she discovered I was really interested in the student she had hired on her team.

His name was Daniel and he had just arrived from Paris to work with us for a few months. A few months which would ultimately be a couple of years, and I did invite him out and he accepted and we spent the evening at de Paap drinking oversized beers, listening to music and talking about his girlfriend. Even though the evening seemed to be a total waste of brand new Dolce and Gabbana, we became friends. But before that, when she discovered I was not into her, at least not that way, she breathed a deep, audible sigh of relief and I wasn’t sure whether I should be insulted or not. But it didn’t matter. From then on, we were pretty much joined at the hip. She was fabulous and I was just happy to orbit.

Thursday evenings quickly became ours. We had very busy work schedules and it was the only evening when shops were open late. Normally everything was shut tight before we even thought about leaving the office, but Thursday evenings we tried to keep our date. We would load ourselves up with bags full of Dolce and Gabbana, Prada, Gucci and Chanel and then head over to H&M café for a glass of beer or wine while waiting for Ulco to arrive. We would all have dinner and Horace, one of the owners would make us go through our bags showing all of our new purchases. One by one the shoes and handbags, shirts, sweaters, scarves and whatever else caught our attention would get looked over and he would give us his blessing while Ulco rolled his eyes and tried to be supportive.

We had talked several times about going to Paris. A year earlier I had been going about every two weeks to see friends, taking the train after work and arriving in Paris in time for pre-dinner drinks followed by a night of great food and champagne. I rarely went with anyone else. I had my friends there, a bit of a life that would be reborn every other Friday evening. And suddenly Ann wanted to go with me.

But she was also on a secret mission. I didn’t know it at the time, but she had major lust in her heart. Lust for the silver Louis Vuitton Monogram Vernis Houston handbag and I was to be her accomplice, her usual partner in crime. Whenever we went shopping, Ann would pick something out and I would give my honest opinion, we would debate and deliberate, argue and concur before anything was ever purchased. It was our thing. It as what we did.

We woke up that Saturday morning with our goal in mind and made our way to Avenue Montaigne and before I knew it, I was walking staring into the Louis Vuitton windows which were tastefully decorated with the coveted handbag in every color possible. We walked in and Ann marched up to the counter and caught the temporary attention of the saleswoman.

“I’ll take that silver one.”
“I can’t help you right now. There is a list. You need to be on the list.”
“Excuse me? The list?”
“Find the man with the clipboard. He will put you on the list.”

We went to find the man with the list, the short little man holding the passport to the kingdom Ann was so desperate to enter and he informed us that we had to wait just to get wait-listed. The list was full. It was not yet lunch-time. We were basically on luxury purchase stand-by. The store, as usual, was full of Japanese shoppers with seemingly bottomless wallets who bought up everything in sight. The air was tense. Beneath her cool exterior, I could feel Ann’s fear. A fear they would sell out before we even made it to the bottom of the list. I wanted to be supportive but I started complaining.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. You are seriously going to make us wait so we can put our names on a list so we can wait some more so that you can spend a ton of money on a handbag? A handbag?”
“It’s not a handbag. It’s the Vernis Houston. It’s not a handbag. It’s a work of art.”
“Heather Locklear has one. It was in Vogue.”

It was a dirty low-down trick to play the “Amanda Woodward” card and she knew it. If Heather Locklear had one, I knew there was no way she was leaving Paris empty armed. She knew I would have nothing to say and no choice but to wait it out with her. An hour or so later, they were kind enough to let her hand over an absurd sum of money for, I have to admit, a rather fabulous bag which spent the rest of the trip hanging off the arm of a glowing Ann who would every now and again get a far off look in her eye as she stopped to pet the new love of her life.

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