Seeing Paris' Sights

toon: flying blue rhino

There are many 'sights' in Paris. Some readers somehow
see the odder ones.

Like the Flying Rhino

Email from Charles Fremont. Sent via the Internet: Friday, 8. June 2001:-

Bonjour Ric,

Summer has come to Paris at last. I wish I could see it, but at least I can remember it. Here is one such memory, a rather unusual one really.

It's not every day that you see a flying rhino. Few people, in fact, even know they exist and I doubted it myself until I saw one.

I was sitting in the airport outside Paris when it was announced, first in French, then in English, that our flight had been canceled. I kind of figured out the French because several people stood up right away with disgusted looks on their faces.

Jerry and I were not quite so disgusted. All during our shoot in Belgium we had joked about staying over in Paris. Jerry was the cameraman, and I was the director of a Case-Poclain film shoot outside Brussels. The shoot had gone well and we had been homeward bound, but now we would be stuck in Paris! Unbeknownst to us the city was also host at that moment to one of the world's rare winged rhinos.

Our ride from the airport was courtesy of TWA. The airline had also given us several hundred francs each towards accommodations and food, and we hadphoto: boules in luxembourg withdrawn additional funds at an airport currency exchange. All our production baggage was checked and we had only our carry-ons to contend with. What a feeling of freedom!

Boules being played in the Luxembourg gardens are not odd at all.

At my suggestion, the van driver let us out at the Place Saint-André-des-Arts, and from there we trudged westward along a narrow, twisting medieval street, looking for a hotel and eventually finding comfortable rooms at the Grand Hotel d'Univers, an ancient frame-and-timber refuge just off the Rue de Buci, leaving plenty of francs for food and entertainment.

My view of rooftops was not particularly remarkable or charming, but little did I know that in a shady park within walking distance to the south, a winged rhino was taking its afternoon nap.

From the Rue de Buci crossroads Jerry and I strolled the two blocks north, to be confronted suddenly by the sweep of the Seine with its bridges and quays and all that Parisian architecture that does not blot out the sky. We walked for miles. Up past Notre Dame, along the Rue de Rivoli, and up the whole length of Avenue de l'Opéra.

We took a métro back to the left bank where we ate in a little bistro in our own neighborhood and then strolled over to the Café de Flore to end the day. There Jerry announced that he would be sleeping in and not to bother him in the morning.

I slept well, woke up early, and was out on the street at the time when the café and shop workers are still cleaning the pavements. I crossed the Boulevard Saint-Germain and continued to head south, finally coming to the locked gates of the Luxembourg Gardens.

I was trying to decipher the hour the park would open when a man came out of the back of a parked van, down a ramp, and over to the gate, pushing a load of crates on a hand truck.

As he unlocked the gate and swung it wide open he glanced at me, prompting a hesitant "Bonjour" from me, to which he answered "Bonjour, monsieur," as he resumed pushing his load into the garden and around out of sight.

I walked through the gate and into the garden, thinking, well, it's open now. I walked past empty chairs, locked pedal cars, a shuttered refreshment kiosk, boules courts, formal and informal gardens, until, approaching a long Renaissance-style building with arched windows, I became aware that some noises I had been hearing all through my walk were coming from this building.

It sounded like a large animal was rampaging in there, crashing against the walls. There was the sound of men yelling - in French of course - so I had no idea what they were saying.

I crossed a gravel field to get closer and suddenly I saw the shadow of a beast fly - yes! It was definitely flying - past the windows, high up, from left to right - and the voices of the men, though raised with excitement at that moment, did not drown out the unmistakable noise of huge flapping wings.

My heart was thumping in my breast. The sounds recalled for me the scene in 'The Black Stallion' when some rough men, using whips and ropes, were trying to subdue the frenzied Arabian horse and get him onto the ship or into a shipboard cabin. But this was no horsephoto: cafe place st suplice that I heard here in the Luxembourg Gardens. This creature flew.

An open doorway further down at the end of the building beckoned. I walked quickly down there while the sounds continued inside.

Passing the time at the Place Saint-Sulpice is not odd either.

I looked into the dark interior and made out a group of men with ropes and nets surrounding the creature, whose back was towards me. It lunged forward and twisted, revealing a sharply pointed horn, exactly like that of a rhinoceros!

One of the men noticed me standing there at the doorway. He waved his arms and shouted at me and ran over and shut the door abruptly in my face, muffling the sounds coming from inside.

I stood stunned. Now I could hear the crunch, crunch, crunch of approaching footsteps on the gravel. A pair of tough-looking gendarmes was heading my way, a man and a woman.

Instead of walking away from them, which might make me look guilty, I impulsively turned in their direction, saying as casual a "Bonjour" as I could manage as I passed by them, my heart continuing to thump wildly. One regarded me curiously but they just nodded, continuing a conversation as they passed by.

Walking on, I came to a huge formal courtyard and pool, and eventually heard the voices of children. The park was open - I was free to roam now, and considered returning to the building, but I was terribly thirsty so I headed out the gate.

Reaching the Place Saint-Sulpice, I stopped at a little café where I ordered an orange pressé and a grand crème. Drinking the refreshing juice and the hot, sweet coffee, I realized I hadn't had anything to eat or drink since I left the hotel. It was good to sit down and simply relax. Jerry would be all right; there was no need to rush.

I ordered a croissant and ate it very slowly. The little square was gradually coming alive. People were arriving from all directions.

A man was putting new posters up on the walls of a booth in the square. The old posters, being covered up, were those of a circus. Clowns, aerial performers, gymnasts, a ringmaster, and a variety of animals were shown, and featured in the center was a - flying rhinoceros!

I stood straight up in astonishment, my mouth gaping, and my eyes staring wide.

One circus poster remained, and the man was about to cover it up. I walked straight across to him for a last glimpse.

Up close, the rhino in the picture seemed gloriously triumphant, not at all like the struggling apparition in the park, but soaring with an effortless grace. Then in a moment the image was gone, covered up by a picture of a nude string quartet in a red velvet salon.

I returned to my table, finished my coffee, paid my bill, and walked north. Paris was different now. Every wall, every kiosk, every surface now held the possibility of displaying a picture of a winged rhinoceros, the rhino I had actually seen in the Luxembourg Gardens. I imagined someone riding the beast, a dashing young circus performer in a pink sequined costume, one hand in the air, the other grasping a harness around the beast's head, the crowd screaming in amazement.

There had to be other posters, somewhere, maybe up on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, where I could show one to Jerry. I practically rehearsed my story for him as I walked. This rhino was not a fake. The wings weren't just stuck on for the sideshow crowd. This rhino flew.

Approaching the Rue de Buci crossing, I recognized Jerry's face in the crowd on the terrace of the Buci Café, smiling at me. I imagined him saying something like "You look like you've just seen a flying rhino," but of course he said nothing of the sort - just "Hello, Chas."

"You look well rested," I said. I didn't want to jump into my story right away, and he did look relaxed.

"I've just been enjoying the view," he said. "You wouldn't believe the things you see in this town."

"What kind of things?" I asked, as I sat down in the chair next to his, and in doing so noticed on a pillarphoto: cafe flore, st germain across the street the very same circus poster that I had seen in the Place Saint-Sulpice, with its winged rhino smack in the center, surrounded by other big top attractions.

The Café de Flore is not odd at all, without flying rhinos around.

"There was a young woman just went by," he said, "Walking two dogs, and she had a leather pack on her back, and sitting on the pack there was this big black and white cat! Just riding along like he did it every day!"

"Really? I love this town."

"Well, they certainly make good beer," vouched Jerry, sipping his. "I might sit here all day." That sounded fine to me, and I told him so.

Of course I was excited about telling him about the flying rhino, but I didn't want to just blurt it out right on top of his cat story. I wanted to lead up to it, order my own beer, maybe a croque monsieur.

The poster across the way was not going anywhere. It almost seemed to glow there, ensconced in the cool shade of a green awning at the edge of a colorful flower market. I enjoyed gazing across at it and having my little secret. There was no hurry. This was Paris. The wicker chair was comfortable. The sun felt warm on my face.

Charles Fremont

Charles Fremont © 2001

What Can I Say?

Bonjour Charles -

Sunday, 10. June 2001:- What can I say?
signature, regards, ric

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