Friday, 19 August 2011

One night in Paris

One of the iconic places to go in Paris, after dark, is the Moulin Rouge, the cabaret made famous by post-impressionist painter Henri Toulouse Lautrec (the short guy). Henri, a friend to Van Gogh and Oscar Wilde, used to hang out in Montmartre and paint the dancers and prostitutes amongst other subjects. He drew a series of posters for the cabaret and thus earned himself a permanent seat there as well as a place to display his art.

His painting career lasted less than 20 years and ended due to alcoholism and syphilis in his 36th year but his style is synonymous with the famous cabaret where the cancan was created. I was determined that Laura and I would experience the magic of this place.

I’d reserved dinner and a show in advance. You can choose your menu online according to taste and price. I’d also reserved a hotel room in the middle of Pigalle; Villa Royale, which is in a Belle Epoque style in keeping with our Montmartre experiences.

Travelling by train and metro again we were delighted to discover that our hotel was just across from the metro station and that our room had been upgraded to a view of the Sacre Coeur cathedral.

Our bathroom was spacious and the receptionist very helpful. As you go up in the lift, artworks scroll down the side. Each room has an individual name. Ours was Claude Debussy, located on the sixth floor.
Laura was still suffering the effects of jetlag. Tired with constant headaches, it was difficult for her to relax and admire the city but it didn’t stop the guys in the area from jumping out at her, offering to marry her (or do other things). Slightly amusing I think it also unnerved her a bit, at least initially. I explained that this is the red light district of Paris so it’s to be expected. Sex shops out-number any other kind.

Too tired to drink our half-bottles of wine, we got ourselves into our evening clothes and makeup just as the sky turned ominously dark and the wind picked up. Soon the curtains were lashing themselves about and we had to shut ourselves out from the view. All except the view of the rain pelting down. It was fortunate I’d thought to bring my umbrella and I knew it wasn’t all that far to walk to the cabaret. We completely underestimated what would happen and we could never have imagined it anyway.

By the time we’d tottered down in our high heels and best party clothes the weather had turned unbelievably bad. No sensible person was walking on the streets. In fact you could barely make out the footpaths because the downpours were so heavy. So heavy and fast that the stormwater system couldn’t cope after five minutes and the streets flooded. Each intersection with a side road or alleyway became a major ford. With only one umbrella between us I hugged Laura as close as she could breathe. We had to walk without delay because we needed to collect the tickets for the performance and get into the queue. A walk of 5 paces saw anyone soaked to the skin. We had to walk a few hundred metres.

The shop keepers and their customers were sheltering in shop doorways gazing in amazement at the amount of water falling and then in amusement as we two stomped by up to our ankles, evening shoes completely drowned. There came a moment when we reached some traffic lights and had to step off the pavement to cross. I had a bad feeling about it and the unusual sense of anticipation I was receiving from a couple of smirking spectators did nothing to dispel it.

We stepped onto the crossing and up to our knees in raging water, dresses flowing in the torrent, leggings inundated, hair drenched. A shriek of laughter went up at our plight and we had to laugh too. It was funny in a spontaneous way. It was the most amazing downpour we had ever seen. We were having some unexpected experiences but it was highly unpleasant standing in a queue, waiting to be let in, in such a cold and soaked state. The cloakroom and its fee is compulsory. I handed over two soaked jackets from me and one from Laura plus our umbrella. The cloakroom ladies looked at us as if we’d survived a major natural disaster.

We forgot being wet and cold as we soaked up the atmosphere, the food and the extraordinary entertainment of the evening for three hours. The topless Doris girls are lovely to watch and nothing is sleazy. The choreographies and costumes are outstanding, the variety acts like the ventriloquist, the little ponies, the acrobats and clowns are first rate. Everything is highly professional and then more some. It’s expensive so most of the patrons would be tourists or business people with sizeable expense accounts but it was worth the months of scrimping. It turned out the high point of Laura’s trip. For a moment the two of us could lose ourselves in one of the worlds special spectacles and do it together.

Afterwards, damp coats retrieved, we walked down drier streets and past the grins of various men back to our hotel room and fell into bed. We were looking forward to going up the Eiffel Tower the next day.

It wasn’t to be. Laura became unexpected ill and the next morning was spent trying to find a doctor in Pigalle who could see us at short notice. We did find one and then it was challenging for me to do the explanations in French and the translations for Laura in English. We got there and obtained some effective medicine but it was clear we’d have to go straight home. A terrible shame but nothing else for it. We had a spare day up our sleeves the following week.
Photos show Henri, the Villa Royale at Pigalle, the view (literally) from our window and Laura in her party clothes.


Alison said...

Oh gosh! What AWFUL weather! It certainly hasn't been a fabulous summer in France. But never mind - adventures like that always make for a good story in the retlling. :-) I've never been to the Moulin Rouge - you have whtted my appetite!

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