Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lines, Lines and yet more Lines

There has to be a joke somewhere about the French and their lines?  I imagine it going something like this.   

Gogo: "Bonjour mon ami Didi; do you know what you find at the end of a French line?"
Didi: "Je ne sais pas, ce qui?"
Gogo: "Another line."

(Suddenly a French mime appears, making a silent rimshot on a drum)

The Louvre

We went to the Louvre, leaving to get there at a reasonably early time.  We get there and what do we find?  A line.  I start to grumble, falling fast into my middle-aged rant.  My wife, Maggie, sees the need for a psychiatric intervention and stops me with a small pill of positive thinking.  "It's okay," she says, "it will move along."

However, no sooner does she say this when an employee of the Louvre stands near us with a sign that says "An hour wait from here."  "See," I say, being a complete jerk.  Suddenly, Maggie gives me that look--you know, the one that only couples married for over 20 years have, which says, if you want to stay married, back down, because there are lots of cute French guys around here.

"Back, back, neurosis," I whisper to myself,  "Cause, losing it in front of your family and a bunch of sophisticated Parisians at the Louvre, during Christmas, is not the photo album you want to take home."  Phew!

Okay.  No big deal.  Have fun, laugh, we are in Paris, right?

Little did we know, though, that standing in this line was only the beginning of our Absurdist experience here, in the most beautiful city in the world. Later, I would come to think that, perhaps, the French, in every line they create, think themselves performing some sort of Breton/surrealist-inspired play, complete with nobody but us stupid tourists actually thinking that lines exist for a purpose.  See, the French like to create lines, but then not use them.  I saw lines at various places form, watch them suddenly, without warning, branch into two lines--going, I might add, to the same destination of a door--only to find, minutes later, that our line now went to a different door: the wrong one.  And, I watched, with nerves slowly coming undone, as the Parisians around me paid no attention to the lines they formed.  This, to me, is picture perfect Paris: an odd juxtaposition of Gaullist/Napoleonic/bureaucratic order coupled with a blatant, resistant, disregarding, laissez-faire attitude of, "You want us to do what?"

Okay, perhaps I am being a bit ridiculous.  But, you be the judge.  And so I shall proceed. Back to our line at the Louvre.

So, forty minutes later, we are closing in on the pyramid door to the Louvre.  "See," says Maggie.  Okay, she is right.  But then I see it, slowly coming into focus. "What is that?" I say, starting to whine again.  My daughter, who has the best vision of us all exclaims, "Oh no, Mom, it is another line!"  Noooooo!

See, the first line was just to get in the door.  The next line was to get scanned for clearance.

Finally, we are through both lines, going on about an hour and a half.  We quickly descend one of the most beautiful staircases in the world, the glass pyramid above our heads, almost giddy, into the Louvre.  But, then we see it.  You've got to be kidding me.  Five different ticket booths with five different lines.  Another Noooooo!

Okay, a bit of background.  Maggie, being an art librarian, has this uber-nerd card that allows her free access to most museums in the world--rather sweet. So, as Ruby and I stand in line to get our tickets, Maggie goes and scopes out the situation.  She comes back.  "The woman said that I get myself and Ruby (our daughter) in for free, as she is under 18 years of age."  Great, so we are standing in line for me.  Forty-five minutes go by.

I get up to the ticket person and, because i may be an idiot but not a fool, I ask her.  "Excusez-moi madame. Ma femme a un pass musées. Combien de personnes peuvent entrer avec sa carte?" (Excuse me madam.  My wife has a museum pass.  How many people can get in with her card?)

She looks a the card.  "All of you get in for free."
"(que) What?"
"(oui) Yes!"

So, I just stood in line for 45 minutes to find out I did not have to be in line.  Great!  I take a deep breath and proceed.  But, guess where we are going?  You got it.  To another line.  This time it is the line that takes you to the particular part of the Louvre we want to see.  Finally, we get to yet another ticket checker person.  Maggie shows the woman her card.  The woman responds.  "Excuse me Madam, but that card only gets you in for free, and your daughter, who is under 18 years of age.  Your husband needs a ticket!"  WHAT?????????

My wife, who, up to this point, has been a bastion of calm, looses it. "No!" she says, "That is not going to work.  We just stood in line for 45 minutes.... bla bla bla" The women is just looking at her.  "I am sorry Madam..." "No.  You do not understand.  We are not standing in that line again.  You see that guy right there?"  (My wife is pointing to the line we were just in)  "You need to talk with him." And what does the woman do?  She takes us over to the guy.  They go on,.. bla, bla, bla in French, back and forth.  Finally, the woman let's us in.

Funny thing.  As the woman takes us back to, what we hope, is our last line--it isn't, by the way, as there is another line to see the Mona Lisa (see me above looking at the paining)--I notice an absurd number of ATM machines, a good ten of them, against the wall, with small lines of maybe two or three people.  I say to the woman, "Excuse me, but why so many ATM machines?"  "Oh no, sir, those are not ATM machines, they are museum ticket machines, you can just go over to them and get a ticket and go right in!"

WHAT?  Why didn't somebody tell us that in the first place?  

By the way, the Louvre melted my mind and heart.

The Pompidou

Now, I know what some of you are thinking.  "Brian, you are an idiot.  Why don't you just buy tickets online; or go later when the crowds die down?"  Okay, all good points.  But, you evidently have never been in Paris, as that is only wishful thinking.  Being punished to see objects of beauty, which you have traveled several thousand miles to experience, is all part of being in France.

Don't believe me?  Let me provide another example.  The next place we have on our list is the Pompidou--one of the great museums of modern art.  Given our last "line experience," we decide to but our tickets online. But, being that all the computers in Paris are French, they say to our request: "No, perhaps not today. Come back tomorrow and the system might work.  Okay, if you want a ticket for Christmas 2014, we can give you that. Oui?"


So, we leave for the Pompidou, this time even earlier.  And what do we find?  Remember my rant about splitting lines?  That is what we find: two lines.  Yes, two lines.  But guess what?  They both go to the same door?  You have got to be kidding me.  We pick one, hoping we made a good decision. We did not.  An hour later, just as the doors open, we find ourselves in the express, pre-purchased tickets line, which also, by the way, Maggie is allowed in, because of her nerd-card.

Now, given no choice, we have to go to the back of a line that we could have been first in.  Finally, with Maggie and Ruby waiting inside for us, we get in.  Now to the tickets. This time, however, we will not be fooled.  We see the ATM machines and purchase our museum tickets.  Oh, we think to our arrogant selves, those poor tourists standing in line. In fact, we are so giddy we even take a break for all of us to use the rest rooms.

So, altogether again, we proceed up the escalator..

"Wait, wait, Monsieur; but where are you and your petite family going?"

"To see the museum, duh!"

"Oh, no, Monsieur, I am so sorry, you have to go over there and wait in that line."

I look up to the second floor. God, how could i have not seen it? Another line, stretching for miles. What? Yes.  And what is the line for?  It is a very long, forty minute line just to get to the stairs and elevators....

Okay, we can do this.  We all take a deep breath and proceed to stand in line. However, remember my earlier point about the French liking to create lines, only to not use them?  Well, check out this one.

So, I am patiently standing there in our line, talking with Maggie and doing the typical line thing: looking around.  Looking to my left and right, nobody.  A minute or so later, I again look to my left.  This time, however, there is a French woman standing there giving me a dirty look.  I look away, turning to my right.  There, suddenly is a French couple.  I give myself a few second and look left again.  Now the woman is gone.  Where did she go? She is standing in front of us.  What?  I turn to my right.  The French couple is now also gone.  In fact, as I keep looking for them, I run right into them not realizing they are now standing in front of me.  They also give me a dirty look and ask me to back up.

I think to myself, "I need an espresso."

Finally, through some act of a god, we are let free.  I revel in the taste of my new-found freedom. Again, we are ignorantly giddy. Why?  Because another line is awaiting us.

As I stand there, though, I have this sudden realization, as everything around me goes dark.  In the dark, I realize I am in a 1950s theatre house in Paris.  On stage, the actors are performing Beckett's Waiting for Godot.  That is when it hits me.  Beckett was an Irish ex-patriot, who lived most of his life in Paris.  Godot is a joke, a very funy French joke about lines.  Remember, when I began this post, I said that such a joke had to exist.  Well, there it was, staring me in the face.

Gogo: "Bonjour mon ami Didi; do you know what you find at the end of a French line?"
Didi: "Je ne sais pas, ce qui?"
Gogo: "Another line."

But, now I know what the next line of the joke is. 

Didi says to Gogo, "Well then, we might as well eat, laugh, drink wine, sing songs, exchange hats, sleep, love and enjoy our family, friends, and life!"

This joke has become Paris to me.

By the way, the art at the Pompidou melted my mind and heart.