By Mike Faricy
In January of this year Teresa and I took off for a long weekend adventure to Paris, France. We departed Dublin on Thursday, returning Monday via Ryan Air. Ryan Air is a highly profitable discount carrier bringing the two of us round trip from Dublin to Beauvais airport outside Paris for just under $60. That’s two tickets round trip Dublin to Paris for less than a cheeseburger and beer outing with our four adult children. Of course Beauvais airport isn’t quite like flying into Charles de Gaul, more like landing in St. Cloud distance-wise and then busing into Minneapolis-St. Paul. Ryan Air sells the bus ride into central Paris. We would still be on the Champs-Elysees for under $80 if things worked like they were supposed to, but then again it was us traveling.
The heavy winds ripping across Northern Europe that day wrought destruction on a scale not seen since 1944. Our flight, diverted north 200 miles to town of Lille, was slammed across the runway by gale force winds before lurching to a stop just off the tarmac much to the dismay of the previous night’s celebratory, pasty faced, college student across the aisle from me. “Arghhh!” she groaned, head deep inside a paper McDonald’s bag, Ryan, being a discount airline, charges for everything including airsick bags.
We deplaned and made our way into Lille’s train station. Once the tracks were clear of debris from a collapsed chimney we rocketed into Paris on a high speed train. The enjoyable journey made more memorable because we were assisted with tickets and seating by a French student of Arab descent who translated announcements for us, made sure we were seated and secure, then chatted with us during the hour long journey practicing his English. Teresa travels on an Irish/EU passport and he must have assumed I did the same.
He proceeded to tell us how he learned on the internet that the scenes of planes flying into the towers on 9/11 were falsified, a special effects government plot. It is notable that this young man was educated, spoke, read, and wrote French and Arabic fluently. He told us he was working in Ireland to learn English, his third language, so he could obtain a job in the UK or possibly the United States. He was not anti-American, he was not an extremist of any stripe and he seemed to honestly believe what he was telling us.
Onward into Paris where it turns out our hotel, just off Rue La Fayette, was only a four minute cab ride from the train station. Within ten minutes we tossed the suitcase on the bed and set off to explore. For those with a geographic sense of the city we were just two blocks from the Follies Bergere.
We wandered aimlessly through the city of lights, the city of romance, the city that never learned the meaning of the word perpendicular. We sampled wines, window shopped and finally settled on a tiny restaurant with a capacity for no more than sixteen to twenty. Seated next to us as we ate was an elderly woman who began each course with a fresh cigarette lit from the smoldering butt of her previous endeavor. Between cigarettes she cut small pieces of food and delicately holding the food between thumb and forefinger offered it to the mangy little dog regarding me suspiciously from her lap. He might sniff it, perhaps lick, occasionally nibble a bit before returning to stare at me, her cue to insert the remaining morsel into her mouth. Teresa couldn’t stop laughing; I noticed their table location was better than ours.
We languished over a great meal, received fantastic service and paid a full third less than what it would have cost in Dublin. On the two block stroll home we walked along a cobbled street decorated the entire length with twinkling Christmas lights. The atmosphere was storybook romantic and as we approached our tiny hotel Teresa mentioned a reluctance to turn in just yet. As luck would have it there was a small neighborhood bar not twenty feet from our hotel door and she suggested we give it a try.
The owner, sixty year old Vieran, stood 6’4″, maybe 6’7″ if you measured from the top of the gray hair standing on end giving him a sort of ‘light socket’ effect. He greeted us at the door, more or less ignored me, ran his eyes up and down Teresa and led us to a booth alongside the bar, one of four in the place. There was stuff piled everywhere, the walls covered with what my Grandfather might have called ‘French postcards’, black and white shots of naked women usually with some semblance of artistic lighting. What didn’t incorporate feminine anatomy had Jim Morrison and The Doors as a theme. Vieran brought us a drink, then tossed a few sentences in English our way before leaving so we might continue our wide-eyed perusal of his walls. I discovered on the wall a few feet behind us a dozen wooden pegs presumably meant at one time for coats but now each peg sported a different size and color of woman’s thong underwear.
“Oh my God!” Teresa squealed, “you’ve got to get my photo in front of that.” She pulled a chair up in front of the pegs and posed just as Vieran thundered over.
“Madame, no, no, no!” he boomed.
Teresa, looking shocked, leapt out of the chair. Vieran immediately sat down and slapped his knee, indicating exactly where she should sit—he only wanted to be in the picture. We had a good laugh, he sent over a free round of drinks and I found myself liking his style of French hospitality.
We were maybe halfway through our free round when Vieran returned with an attractive young woman maybe in her early thirties. Standing at the booth, two or three feet opposite us, he proceeded to show her one of a stack of photo albums which I noticed was filled with 10 x 12 black and white shots of women. Nude women. It finally dawned on me, Vieran was the photographer, the creator of all the nude images covering the walls of this tiny place. He continued his discussion with the young woman, to my off-the-mark way of thinking most likely describing aspects of lighting possibly the technical elements of shadow technique.
We continued sipping and chatting, Teresa wondering what the dog in the restaurant had ordered for dessert, planning our attack of the city for the next day when I happened to glance over at Vieran and his companion, they were close enough that I could tap him on the shoulder. My first absent thought was something along the lines of “Gee, wasn’t that woman wearing a sweater when she walked back here?” It took a couple of ticks on the clock before I realized we were sipping drinks in the middle of one of Vieran’s nude photo shoots. “Teresa,” I attempted to say calmly after a couple of healthy swallows, “turn around and look what’s going on.” She turned and stared for a very long moment. “Oh my God!” she screamed, apparently not interrupting neither Vieran’s artistic concentration nor the relish his willing model was putting into her individual effort. She, Teresa, red in the face drained her entire drink, “My God! I’m completely gob smacked, and you, quit your staring, ya pervert!”
“Why am I in trouble? You picked this place!” You get the thrust of the rest of the conversation. We continued to sit and sip, practicing a ‘When in Paris’ sort of thing. Of course, we returned there every night for a night cap but nothing ever as eventful as our first night occurred. On returning home, I looked up Vieran on the Internet, just on the off chance. It turns out he was involved with Jim Morrison’s last apartment and final days, has bathroom tiles from the place, most likely stored under his photo albums, along with pictures of Jim, clothed. He is an actual destination for Door’s fans and we just happened to stumble across him. Who knew? On our way out the door that first night he handed me three of his ‘post card’ photos. I was thinking maybe a Christmas card?