Lost in Paradise...
Yesterday, Ted and I took our car, Evie, so named because of her license plate, which shall remain with her for the duration. It can never be changed on a whim, as plates are in Los Angeles. There is no such thing as a personalized plate for your car here in France, and the plate carries the number of the Department in which you live. There's no way to fudge the distance you travel from home during this Covid-19 confinement. But Ted and I thought it might be nice to drive to the top of the hill above Montmartre to visit the Basilica Sacre Coeur.
When we were much younger, walking the many stairs from any direction in the vicinity of this grandest of tourist sites that sits above the colorful town just below was a cinch.The quarter’s had a square filled with portrait artists and tourists, memories of Dali, Modigliani and Picasso, a real joy. Taking in the view from this point was almost as near to the supernatural as one could get.
But even closer was the divine sound of a capella Vespers sung by the nuns at six-pm each evening.
I was so impressed with this scene, from the colorful artsy spaces to the glory of the basilica that I bought the oil painting above, rendered by Ted’s Uncle Shlomo, on our first trip to Israel and Paris.We were looking forward to returning to this magical locale after many years’ absence and were confident that we’d make it up to the back side of the basilica by car with the assistance of our GPS. We were sure that we weren’t to far off, as we'd been steadily climbing, street by one-way narrow street, when all of a sudden the car in front of us seemed to be trying to turn around, met with red signs with white lines through the center; Signs of no entry everywhere!
Somehow that poor lost soul managed to turn onto a street heading downhill, allowing us to advance. But as we followed the instructions of our female British GPS bot’s voice, we found ourselves on a one way street behind several other vehicles. From the sight of all the open car doors, we knew there were others tending to the road block. I wanted to call the Police when we were told that there was a truck at the corner, parked in the middle of the road, with no driver in sight.
“Won’t they just tow it away if we call the Police?”
Ted’s response was a definite “No, don’t!”
He didn’t want me to make trouble.
After a while, the drivers ahead of us returned to their cars, and it seemed that those behind us thought we'd best back up and get out of this endless ‘bouchon’ (French for bottleneck). As I began to drive backward on the narrow rue, with a small construction sight on my right and a large truck on my left, I realized that those behind me were backing into the street perpendicular to the one we’d been traveling on. They were clearly continuing off the hill by going the wrong way on the one-way street. This may sound crazy, but since none of the other streets could be entered either, there was no choice but to cross our fingers, hold our breath, and pray that we would make it to the bottom and the main drag that allowed for two-way traffic.
Finally, we did!
Being stuck in this maze filled with small one way streets, unable to silence the frantic repetitions and re-adjustments in the itinerary of Ms. GPS, might have been unbearably aggravating if it hadn’t reminded me of the car rallies in which I’d participated when I was a teenager. My boyfriend at the time not only drove his Edsel on these crazy wild goose chases in the San Fernando Valley, North of L.A., but he also designed many of these four-wheel treasure hunts. Such car rallies took place in residential areas, made popular in many a Hollywood film, and where more than a few of the streets bore the same names, but with a small twist in designation.
Complications abounded for participants navigating the hilly neighborhoods below the renowned Mulholland Drive, where there was, for example, a Libbett Street, Libbett Avenue, Libbette Road, Libbett Drive, Libbett Way, Libbett Lane, Libbett Terrace and Libbett Circle.
Each driver was given a list of instructions at the starting point. Followed to the letter, the instructions would lead the driver to a check-point, where they would be signed-off and given the next list of instructions. As an example, the instructions might direct the driver to "Turn right on Libbett.”
What would follow was often a hilarious slap-stick scene, with drivers frenetically crossing paths with one another in the hills, all searching for the correct ‘Libbett,’ the one that led to the 'first opportunity' to turn onto the next prescribed roadway. One by one, drivers would hit a dead end with their particular choice of “Libbett” and would have to turn around and head back to discover the proper route.
There were aways cash prizes for the first three drivers or teams of drivers to arrive at
the last check-point, having crossed every other check-point in the right order. All drivers who entered the rally received a dash-plaque, like the one on the left.
Some cars had dashboards decorated with so many of these plaques that they looked like general's medals adorning a dress uniform. Sadly, we had missed our check-point altogether and didn’t even have a plaque to show for our efforts.
Returning home, hungry and mildly disappointed after our missed adventure, I looked up the number and exact address of the back entrance for The Basilica, and on our next try, we will enter it into the GPS!