One bitter cold night in Paris, in a Montmartre café over soupe aux oignons and steaming cups of hot wine, I mentioned to Vitali and Wilhem that I wanted to see the Monument to Alexandre Dumas created by Gustave Doré, particularly his sculpture of D’Artagnon from The Three Musketeers.
Vitali, obviously having just come from a successful showing at Paris Fashion Week, said, “Let’s do it!”
We didn’t know the location of the monument so Vitali used Google maps and we discovered it was in Place du Général-Catroux in the 17th arrondissement, supposedly only a short 39 minute walk from where we were.
With newfound purpose and determination, we left the warmth of Chez Ma Cousine, and set off into the cold Parisian night.
First through Montmartre, past Sacré-Cœur…
And then down the long staircases, with a stop to visit Le Chat du Montmartre.
We did fine for a while, on track and on target…we passed from Montmartre into Pigalle, where an enthusiastic Vitali posed before the Moulin Rouge.
From there something happened…I don’t know what. Vitali doesn’t know. Wilhem doesn’t know. We assume Google maps led us astray. We walked. And we walked. No monument. We walked. We walked. We couldn’t check the map as we did not have wifi. “This is the right way, I sure of it,” Vitali insisted, and still we walked, and the hour grew late. We stopped people walking their dogs and Wilhem asked if they knew where the Monument to Alexandre Dumas might be found. They had never heard of it. And so we walked.
I saw that my shoes were starting to behave the way shoes should not – that is, they began to break apart (see previous post: Paris: A Tale of Two Oxfords. I said we should give up. “No,” Vitali insisted, “we can’t give up – not after we’ve come so far.” I began to feel like one of those noble explorers fallen by the jungle trail, urging my companions to, “Go on without me! Save yourselves!”
Urging, poking, prodding, and then – and then – voilà! The monument, looming out of the darkness.
It had a fence around it to keep out trespassers, but did that stop me? It did not. I climbed over the fence, trespassed with abandon, figured a way through the planted garden, and found myself face to shoe with the great D’Artagnon himself.
And so now I’ve done it.
I’ve seen it.
I trespassed, risking imprisonment in the Bastille and, possibly, the guillotine.
I need not go there again.
I wore a pair of black Oxford dress shoes for many years, but like a very old person whose time has come and whose bodily functions all give out at the same time, my shoes began to suddenly fall apart in Paris. Cracks appeared. Seams began to come loose. I caught glimpses of my light blue socks through the tiny holes like stars in a black sky.
This was not a tragedy (if you’re going to fall apart, you might as well do it in Paris.)
I could have tossed them in the trash, but they had put in long years of service and I thought they deserved a more noble end than could likely be found in a Parisian trashcan. As I passed the Paris Opera House, I thought, “Well, there. That’s a fine place for a final resting place.”
And so I left them.
And there, presumably, they remained…for a while. Au revoir à mes vieilles chaussures. Bonne chance, mes amis!
….I wonder where they are now.
I was prepared to declare my least favorite place in Oahu to be the one I most looked forward to seeing – Pearl Harbor.
It’s not Pearl Harbor’s fault. I grow queasy at the sight of tour buses and tour groups, and Pearl has both in abudance. In the parking lot, at the early morning opening (yet already nearly full), signs alert visitors to the fact that the parking lots are “High Theft Areas” and warn against leaving valuables in the car. Good idea. I slung my backpack over my shoulder, headed toward the main gate, but grew increasingly puzzled by a steady stream of unhappy visitors returning to the parking lot, all scowls and low muttering under their breath. “Don’t tell me it’s closed,” thought I, but no – I saw lots of activity beyond.the gates. Maybe they’d already visited all the sites and were making their way unhappily back toward less meaningful parts of Honolulu.
But no again. The answer came in the form of a sign informing us that, in spite of the warnings to take all valuables with us, there would be absolutely no purses, backpacks, satchels or – in other words – valuables allowed inside. Back to the car I trudged, scowling as had so many who had gone before. (One grizzled old veteran passed by muttering, “It didn’t used to be this way.”)
Once in, I got my free ticket to board the launch out to the Arizona memorial, which I believed (and still do) would be the centerpiece of any visit to Pearl. When I bought a guided audio tour, the woman behind the counter looked at my ticket and said, “Wow – you have a bit of a wait.” She pointed at the number 11:30 on the back of the ticket.
“Wait, wait, wait – you mean I can’t board the launch until 11:30?”
“But it’s only…” – glance at watch – “7:45.”
“There’s a line.”
I spent one of the hours in the nearby museum, dutifully studying each artifact and reading all the informative displays, and here is where my annoyance gave way to the purpose of my visit and why Pearl Harbor is by far the most popular destination of visitors to Oahu.
December 7, 1941
On a bright morning in what must have been a true paradise in the days before mass travel and chain hotels, the sailors and airmen attached to the Pacific Fleet surely gazed in stupefied wonder at the mass of buzzing fighter planes appearing over the hills – and how long did it take for the reality to sink in?
Those aren’t ours.
I always believed the attack centered on Pearl Harbor alone, but that is not the case. Several airfields across Oahu were targeted and in the first wave of attack all were heavily damaged (in order to prevent sabotage from Japanese infiltrators, the brass ordered all the American fighter planes gathered together in the center of the airfield, thereby presenting an irresistible and easy target.)
Bombs fell, torpedoes thought to be impossible to launch in shallow water were launched (after having been modified by the Japanese). They destroyed the Arizona, capsized the Oklahoma. Bombs slammed into the Nevada, crippling her – and then the second wave of zeroes screamed out of the air.
A surprise to me was the number of Japanese tourists at Pearl. My Japanese friends tend to lay low on December 7th and with every passing year voice a longing that, since it was so long ago, it should be forgotten.
But no. It should not be forgotten, not by the United States, and not by Japan. Forgetting or dismissing history is a dangerous game and I was gratified to see the busloads of Japanese visiting the site. When I entitled this post “In Praise of Pearl Harbor,” I meant of course the heroic response, the dedication and the sacrifice of the sailors and airmen lost that day. Many below decks never knew what hit them. Some – over ninety in all – remain entombed within the rusting hull of Arizona.
But Japan, Japan, Japan – it was unquestionably a tragic error, a fatal error, one of the the worst decisions in history, but there is no denying the goals were achieved in the most brilliant way possible.
Most Americans grow silent at the thought, even angry, and December 7 will forever stand for treachery and foul play. But looking at it objectively and dispassionately, one cannot help but conclude the attack was a stunning succss. The coordination, planning and executiion were flawless. True, a massive amount of luck was involved, but when is that not ever the case? There was also a bit of bad luck too that day (for Japan) in that the aircraft carriers were at sea and were spared. Even so, I marvel at the skill of Japan and send sincere thanks heavenward that we are not at war with them today. They were a profoundly formidable enemy – far more deadly, skilled, and dedicated than the terrorists we face today whose most enduring accomplishment is ensuring we can’t take backpacks into historic sites.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the brains behind the attack, had gone to school at Harvard and spent time in Washington. While others in the Japanese High Command believed the Americans would become dispirited after the loss of the Pacific Fleet and lose the will to fight, Yamamoto knew better. The movie Tora! Tora! Tora! (the signal meaning the attack was a success) ends with his famous words: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
Hundreds of thousands visit Pearl Harbor to pay their respects and if that means the lines are long, so be it. They come to remember: the Americans to remember their honored dead, and the Japanese – some of them – to remember that deep within the successful hours and exuberance of a sparkling December morning lay hidden the seeds of unimaginable tragedy.
Some travelers dislike Honolulu and Waikiki – too touristy, they say. Too commercial, they say; nowhere near as beautiful as Maui or the big island. Those things may be true, but if this is the worst Hawaii has to offer, I say “bring it on!”
I find Hawaii irresistible – it makes me think of words I rarely use about a place, or anything else for that matter: captivating, entrancing, bewitching – all words that indicate there may be some powerful magic lurking under these islands to cloud the travelers minds and make him or her fall in love with hula music.
The enchantment lingers, even when watching guests snorkel in a hotel pool, possibly on a quest to find some of that elusive “coral” they’ve heard so much about back home in Kansas.
So put on your grass skirt, fire up the luau, put on the YouTube victrola and while away a splendid hour conjuring images of sunsets and pineapple ice cream.