Bowler Hats and Walking Canes

We all need an angel or two.  My guess is that they sometimes nudge us in the right direction; other times, they throw up their hands, or wings as the case may be, and simply step in.

I met two of mine when my friend Ann and I arrived in Paris.  Over my morning coffee and her morning tea morning, we looked at each other and agreed we both needed some time alone.  It comes with living with yourself for too many years.

We headed off in different adventures.  I wanted to go antiquing.  It didn’t matter that it was August and most shops closed with everyone on holiday.  I would find what I could find.

I strolled down past the Notre Dame, following the Seine and a guidebook and walked miles to find a small, tucked away little antique area.  I found the area right where it should have been and it was a delightful as I’d hoped, even with the majority of shops closed for the month.  Narrow streets meandered through the antique district and small shops with window boxes overflowing with vibrant pink geraniums decorated the walkways.  Most of the window displays had been emptied for the August vacation, but a few remained, showcasing the shop’s wares.  I walked around, enjoyed the scenery, wandered in and out of a shop or two that were open and then headed back to meet Ann.

About halfway back to the hotel, I realized I was the only pedestrian on the street.  But, it was Paris, a lovely day, and any intuitive thoughts that started to darken my adventure were pushed aside. That worked a while until I realized that across the street was a young man, looking all the bit a petty thief.  He tried to engage me in conversation.  I ignored him.

That didn’t work, as the young man became more animated and more agitated. Actually, he was hassling me although I pretended not to understand which was quite easy, because I really didn’t understand him despite his animated gestures. My French had not improved during the trip. He wanted something, probably money, but because I did not speak French, I was at a loss to reply.  His tone, however, made it obvious that this was not a friendly conversation. As there weren’t many options, I continued to walk back towards the center of Paris.

I knew a lot about not playing the victim role, so I walked with conviction, trying to look like I was not going to put up with any nonsense even though by now my feet were killing me.  It didn’t work, and the young man started across the street towards me.

Then, out of thBowler hate blue, two older very distinguished, very tall and very gay British men, dressed in three piece dark suits complete with bowler hats and walking canes, appeared out of nowhere.  The flamboyant duo swooped in, each taking one of my arms and loudly announcing to me and anyone else in the immediate vicinity, 

Darling, where have you been?  We have been searching all over for you. It’s far past time for tea. Shall we go?

The young man immediately disappeared into a side street.

And, with that, my two angels escorted me back to civilization, chatting the entire time and even insisting that we stop for afternoon tea, which after the long, long walk was even more appreciated.

Old Copper Pots

It was a long awaited trip to France and exceeding all my expectations. I had met my good friend Ann, who was living in Brussels, and together we had driven through Belgium into Normandy, spent a night at an old chateau, climbed Mont San Michel’s well-worn steps to the very top and then stopped in Villedieu-les-Poêles, an old medieval village famous for its copper, on our way to Paris.

I wanted to purchase a set of old copper pots, ones that looked like they had been well used and loved for a hundred years or more. Give me France and the romance of almost any subject just takes over.

copper We walked into one centuries old shop after another, overwhelmed by brilliant copper pots and pans that lined the walls. The juxtaposition of the ancient buildings and brand new copper was jarring. The new copper was so shiny it was blinding.

These were not the copper pots I wanted.

I speak very poor high school French, nothing more.  I had switched my major four different times in college so that I could avoid having to face another foreign language class before realizing that I couldn’t beat the system and struggled through two more semesters of French without learning any more than I had in high school.  Like musical instruments and singing, I have no ear for foreign languages.

That did not stop me from trying to communicate with local residents, much to Ann’s chagrin. She had been attending language classes, becoming proficient in French although not in copper-speak. Ann was initially amused with my efforts, but then began to cringe at my attempts. Admittedly, I was pretty pathetic.

We continued my old copper search. No luck. Finally, tucked into a corner of the town square was a small shop where a harried, middle aged sales clerk offered to help. She spoke very poor high school English, a perfect match for my very poor high school French. Between her English, my French and Ann’s translating, the clerk finally understood what I wanted and looked horrified.

Mais, non!!  she exclaimed.  She went on to explain, the best she could given the language challenges, that one does not purchase, and copper shops especially in world-famous Villedieu-les-Poêles would never sell, the tarnished, well-patina-ed copper pots I sought.

I must have looked terribly disappointed because the clerk stepped back, probably taking pity on me, a nice but very ignorant American tourist who had tried her best to converse in French. She shook her head and motioned us through an old doorway into a dank, darkened anteroom. The three of us proceeded very gingerly down an old wooden staircase with creaky steps to the depths of the shop’s cellar.  Now Ann looked horrified.

The clerk pointed to a pile of well-tarnished sets of copper pots in the corner of the cellar. I lit up like a Christmas tree.

IMG_2438Mais, oui!!  I exclaimed. There they were, the set of antique copper pots I wanted.

She cringed and explained, in very broken English and very simple French, that these were seconds and not worthy of being sold. The tarnish and patina I so loved was from never having been polished, not age nor use.

It didn’t matter. Those were the pots I wanted.

Before she let me pay a meager amount for the set, I had to promise I would never, ever divulge the name of the shop that would sell such inferior items to an American tourist. Their reputation would be ruined for all eternity.

So, if you travel to France, and find yourself seeking well tarnished, faux antique copper pots in the tiny village of Villedieu-les-Poêles, you’re on your own, except now you’ll know to ask to see the copper pots in the cellar.

Puis-je s’il vous plaît voir les pots en cuivre dans la cave?