We walked into the front room of Musee Carnavalat, the Paris history museum, the Gallery of Signs, where old wrought iron signs advertising shop wares for a partially illiterate population by depicting what was for sale, hung from the ceiling and walls. The museum is free, and no tickets are needed, which isn’t true of all the free museums in Paris. At the Musee de la Vie Romantique, we’d walked in the front door and were met by a ticket taker, who sent us back to the office to get our free tickets. Which were then torn along the narrow perforated edge and handed back to us. The tickets to the Museums of the City of Paris all have images on the back — a pot of tea by a stack of books with writing papers, a view of a columned building, a photograph of a woman from what looks like the 40’s, sitting facing backwards in a chair, her elbow leaning on the chair back with her chin on her hand, flouncy blouse sleeves billowing around her shoulders. Perhaps the point of the tickets is the images.
At the Musee Carnavalet, we were told no tickets were needed, but there was a long line of people at the front of the gallery. I heard a couple talking in the line, clearly from the U.S., and asked them, “Do you know what this line is for?” We started talking and figured out it was a line for the audio guide. As we were getting ready to start into the museum, the woman asked, “Where are you from?”, we answered, and ended up in a 20 minute conversation that concluded with an invitation to have dinner, their treat, with the couple. “We’re staying at the Crillon,” the man said. “Meet us at 8:00.” David had been looking the Hotel Crillon online a few nights before, researching the names of people he’d seen on stones by the Place de Concorde, and we’d been laughing at what it would be like to stay at a hotel where room prices start at 450 Euros and a suite can cost up to 1,000.
The couple was friendly, generous, and clearly delighted to have us join them. “Thank you so much for inviting us,” we said as we all sat down to dinner in the elegant dining room, wait staff buzzing around us. “It’s our pleasure,” they said. “We have no social life.” They laughed. They live in the U.S., have apartments in London (he works a good bit in the UK), Bermuda and Florida (“but they’re all very small,” she said), and were in Paris for the weekend. We believed them, that it was a treat to have another couple to talk with at dinner, and though there was a pretty vast difference in economic situations, and some clear political differences between us, we had a lively conversation, along with excellent food and two bottles of a 1988 red wine, which neither David or I came remember the name of, but recognized as outstanding.
On the list of things to do in Paris that I’d made earlier in the week was having a drink at the Hotel Meurice, a suggestion from a friend for a way to experience the opulence of a top end hotel in Paris. So after our unexpected dinner at the Crillon, we stopped at the Meurice, just up the street from the Crillon, on our way back to the apartment. We ordered drinks and soaked up the extravagantly decorative surroundings, as the soft tones of the piano and bass jazz being played filled the room. David drank his Abelour and I drank my mint tea, and we thought about how lucky we are.