On a balmy July afternoon, I found myself wandering the streets of Paris alone. The friend I had traveled there with had left early that morning, and with my flight not leaving until the next day, I relished in the opportunity to take myself out on a date in the city known throughout the world for its romance.
I walked a lot that day. I took the metro from my hotel to Champs Elysees Clemenceau and crossed the gorgeous bridge, then walked along the Seine, past Musee D’orsay towards St. Michele.
The vendors that normally line the Quay had shuttered their giant green boxes for lunch. A small, older woman with missing teeth stopped me with a scam where she pretended to find a ring that must belong to me, and begged for money for a sandwich for a reward. We argued back and forth until she walked the other way, quietly cursing me in French.My anger and confusion quickly wore off, though, as I walked along the Seine, realizing that I was not the first, nor certainly the last, to be prey for a scam along the famous quay.
I turned right at the fontaine St. Michele, and found a crepe cart. I walked the narrow, cobble stoned streets of the Left Bank, eating my crepe champignon and wondering which of the little apartments had Hemingway holed up in.
I crossed the river at Notre Dame and marveled again at her beauty before heading back towards Champs-Elysees. As I strolled down the famous walk way, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment. Wasn’t this world famous avenue known for its glamour, its fashion, its utterly French sense of chic? I passed street performers dancing in front of Sephora, H&M, Zara. I thought a girl like me wasn’t supposed to be able to shop on Champs-Elysees.
I crossed streets at the circle where Champs-Elysees intersects Avenue Franklin Delano Roosevelt, ignoring cross signals like a true Parisian, and wandered up the quaint, tree-lined road. The store fronts became noticeably smaller, with handsome men attending the doors. Looking at the signs above each door, I realized that this was the street I had so imagined, where Chanel solemnly faces Dior, where women stroll, yes stroll as only Parisian women can in their louboutins after lunch. THIS was what I have dreamed of since I was a little girl sitting in front of the VCR watching The Aristocats and wondering if Paris was a real place, since I was a chubby awkward girl in 4th period French.
I had to go in a store. And I couldn’t go in all tourist-like to look around and ogle the place; I had to go in and buy something.
After pacing the block where Chanel and Dior stand, I anxiously played out the scenario in my head. Would this be like the scene in Pretty Woman where she shops at Rodeo and the snooty sales girl says they have nothing for her? I am certainly no hooker, but after two weeks of traveling, I wasn’t glamorous either. I wore ripped “boyfriend” jeans, a turquoise and white off the shoulder top, Sperry Topsiders, my hair in loose blonde waves. By Huntington Beach standards, I looked fairly stylish. But I was a long, long way from Huntington Beach.
I took in a deep breath and walked towards the door at Dior, ready to push through and seize the day. Instead, a very attractive man with perfect hair and a tailored Dior suit greeted me with “Bonjour, Mademoiselle, ” and opened the door for me. I wanted to squeal. I think (hope) I suppressed it.
I made a quick lap through the store room, afraid that I would somehow knock over/spill some imaginary liquid on/soil with my unworthiness the thousands of dollars worth of handbags, shoes, and dresses. In the cosmetics and perfume room I thought, okay, I can afford things in this room, I can do this. But one look at the supermodel sales girls made me doubt that capability, and I quickly walked passed the mens’ sunglasses to another exit, where an even more handsome man in a suit opened the door with a smile and a “Merci.”
Once outside I walked up the block and back down, wondering why I was such a spaz. It’s just perfume. Rachel, this is your last day in Paris. You own several bottles of Dior perfumes. You can do this. With a sigh I went back to the same door, where the man grinned and winked as he opened the door once again.
I walked to the perfume display, and tried my best to be nonchalant about smelling different bottles and deciding on one. I knew already that I wanted a bottle of Miss Dior; I had bottles of other Dior perfumes at home, but the small sample bottle of Miss Dior that I had was one of my favorites. As I waited, I watched as a sales girl came back to the floor from her smoke break; she took a sample bottle and spritzed perfume in her arm pits, puckered her lips in a mirror to reapply lipstick, then sauntered over with cat-like indifference to a customer interested in anti-aging creams. I don’t think I will ever see something more Parisian than that moment.
I then began to panic. Wait, how do I ask to purchase perfume in French?! The words were not coming to me, and what’s worse, one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, a tall, thin brunette with hair slicked back in a chic pony tail, chiseled cheekbones, crimson lipstick, and a perfectly tailored dress suit was walking towards me. Was this super model about to ask me to leave? In French?
No, she asked me sweetly, with impeccable English, if I was interested in a bottle of perfume. “Ah, one of my favorites,” she purred when I mentioned Miss Dior. She asked if I would like a sample first, and then applied three spritzes to my neck and wrists (2 more spritzes than I would ever apply). I smiled as I sniffed my wrist, murmuring “That’s soo lovely.”
“Yes,” she purred again, in a heavy Parisian accent. “An elegant perfume for an elegant woman, no?”
I was smitten. I barely remember her filling out a sales slip for me to take the next room, where the next fashion model/sales person swiped my credit card.
With my dainty Dior bag in hand, I walked back down Avenue FDR to the nearest Metro station. An occasion like this called for a long soak in the bath and a change of wardrobe before I rounded out the last, perfect day in Paris.