Chapeau, Saskia!

photo: lady with hatbox
One of the people walking down the avenue
is Saskia with a hatbox.

Successful Hat Hunting in Paris

Paris:- Thursday, 26. November 1998:- I am going to meet the lady who wants to buy a 'lid' in Paris today. With the 'Euro!' transport strike on Monday, and the France-only transport strike set to start this evening, this is the only chance.

As it turns out, my local train station is closed for some reason, and I only have enough change to buy a ticket for part of the trip Other passengers are not so lucky, and ride without tickets. If the strike has already started, there will be no ticket controllers.

The whole thing is held up by one ticket being purchased with plastic - the card's verification takes about five minutes. In an extra operation, it also takes about a minute to punch a ticket with the vending machine. A line of ticketless passengers grows.

To make the connection to the métro at La Défense, I have to jump the barrier because the ticket isn't valid. I go to the SNCF ticket window to alert them that my local station is closed; and most passengers coming from there will be without tickets - so they should open the barriers. The guy doesn't 'get it.' I hit the métro - before remembering I need to buy a new carnet of SNCF tickets.

Saskia, which is her name, has called and we have set up a rendez-vous at the métro closest to the hat shops; in the nearest café. Never schedule a meeting for a street corner in winter - you never know what might happen.

In fact, every meeting should have a fall-backphoto: trying on lid number two option - because the first café might be closed or for any other of a thousand reasons, including a national mutiny.

This is an email 'date.' Saskia wrote in mid-October, to ask if I know where to find a particular kind of hat she wants to have. I replied that I know one area where there are shops that may have these hats. This set the ball rolling.

After the café, it's try-on the 'Gendarmerie Nationale' hat time.

At Argentine, the weather is grey and damp, but enough above freezing to almost feel like a minor heat-wave. Five minutes early, I have time to photo a kiosk poster of 'Danny the Red,' and capture this week's Morris-column shot.

What are the recognition signs? Not the 'Pravda' newspaper; what other paper has a red star on it? Germany's 'Stern' magazine is too expensive; so is the pink or salmon-colored 'Financial Times.' Red hair. It was red hair!

From the news kiosk to the café it is about ten metres. There are not many people about and inside the café there is no red hair. Outside, a lady I've already seen is over by the crosswalk - is she going to cross? It is exactly 11:00, the R-V time.

She doesn't cross. She turns. Red hair! Saskia from San Francisco; in Paris, to get a new hat. We have connection! Another completed rendez-vous in this 12 million-soul conglomeration.

So, into the café we go for a café booster-shot and the prelim chit-chat. Saskia is cool, she's been in Paris before and lived in Brussels. She's cased all the local hat shops already. Calls it 'heaven.'

Cafés are paid and we decide to hit the hat shop next door to the café. On the way, I suddenly remember to buy the city edition of Le Parisien, but the guy can't change the note. Going away, putting the note in a pocket I touch paper and find a smaller note, and this he can change.

In the shop, no hats and no Saskia. Downstairs maybe. Yes, half the downstairs is hats and Saskia is onto them. This is the place with the ones the Gendarmerie Nationale uses. Saskia takes the smallest size and there are none available in it. All are in black. The Gendarmerie Nationale ones are white, but the shop has none this color.

Saskia tries a bigger one on. She has to do it in front of a mirror, because the bottom-face part has a tricky latch. She likes the width of side-vision. She looks like the bad guy with the tin voice in 'Star Wars' when all the gizmos are in place and locked up.

The tricky-latch is even harder to unlatch and the hat will not lift off without opening it. Getting used to it is not considered a big problem by Saskia.

The shop guy has already been on the phone, pushing to make sure the distributor can get a right-sized lid for Saturday. Says it's an okay for 13:00. In Paris, 'just-on-time' delivery is not an everyday promise; but I believe this guy. Some - a lot of - people here do what they say they're going to do.

Without leaving a firm order, we cross the avenue to the other side of motorcycle city - two blocks from the Etoile. Saskiaphoto: hein gericke hat shop knows all the bikes; says there are many scooters never seen in the United States. The 'DOT' doesn't like them. For the motos, she can tell model names on sight.

The first hat shop; right next to the café.

I learn about motorcycles. Saskia has a 'city' bike and a 'road' bike; and no car. The 'city' one is built higher, to jump curbs, and has boiler-plate under the crankcase. She says parking in San Francisco is just as chaotic as in Paris - motorcycles always have to be jumping up curbs. And surviving potholes.

My motorcycle stories are mostly about fear so I keep them to myself. We go into the big dealer's. She doesn't see their new, super-big, super-zoomy, latest model - but runs a catalogue commentary on what they have. I tell her about the wonders of the Fiat Seicento, a four-seater four-wheeler which costs about the same as some of these two-seater two-wheelers.

This place has its hat shop downstairs too. The first thing Saskia sees is the hat she is looking for. It is the model before the 'latest' model, and it is on its way out.

The color selection is limited, but two are metallic red. She pulls out a photo print of her 'city' bike and it is the same red. Size? Feature this: the distributor has no more of these lids in stock and this shop has this one red one in Saskia's exact size! A friend of Saskia's looked all over London for one and came up empty.

There's a bit of tape-glue on the top, but careful application of chemicals reduces this to invisibility. How to clean and treat the visor are discussed; although Saskia knows this already - visors are always getting hit with road grime, mud and small rocks.

This new lid - gone out of production, is ticketed with 500 francs off the regular price. The guy says, on account of the tape-glue, a bit more comes off - another 200-franc saving. I kid him about the 200 francs worth of work he did it on it.

This is fine for Saskia. She already has exactly the same lid at home, but as a serious motorcyclist, likes to change lids and have spares.

He tosses in the brand-name soft-sack for carrying. Finds an XYZ box to put it in; for going as carry-on baggage. Hat box size 54/56. Then he carefully explains the paperwork necessary for recovering the European value-added tax, and fills it out and rubber-stamps it.

All Saskia has to do is get a customs agent to rubber-stamp one of the papers at the airport, and mail the paper back to the shop. The shop will then have this amount deducted from the plastic-card charge. About another 300 franc saving.

As we leave, the shop guy gives Saskia a 'cadeau,' an official brand-name leather key holder. I bet, even if you spend this much, the perfume people don't do this. Saskia is glowing.

Upstairs in the showroom, we look at more painted metal and chrome and steel and rubber and continuephoto: hatman and saskia out to the street doing this; and then everything has to be photographed. Other motorcycle people get mixed up in this, and it is all pretty good-humor time.

Happy vendor, happier customer! Unhappy cameraman who forgot to turn on the flash. Darn.

A thing I like about high-end motorcycles is they don't look like they've been stamped out of tinplate and their people don't come out of cookie-cutters either.

Saskia and I walk up the avenue and over to past the Etoile, to the Champs-Elysées. On Saturday, she says she wants to hit the big stores and I tell her to go early, because the weekend afternoon shoppers will be armies. She comes with me while I do my regular snoop-the-Drugstore and the Paris Tourist Office routine.

Out on the avenue, November, cold, damp; Saskia with the red hair, walks jauntily away down the Champs-Elysées, cheerfully carrying her hatbox in her right hand.

I buy my hats in Paris too. My 'Gatsby' from Chapeaux Motsch is taking this weather fine. The shop is just around the corner, in the Avenue George V. I am pretty sure the 'Gatsby' never goes out of production, although it went out of style in 1929.

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