Before we get going with this little river-non-voyage tale, I want to say a few things, in our defense.
Steve and I are not “ugly Americans.” At least, I don’t think so. I mean, look at that picture, up there. We’re adorable. And also, we took seriously the reputation that Americans have in Paris, of being loud, of being demanding. We’ve traveled a fair bit, and we’ve seen this reputation in action. So here, we took extra care to “do as the natives do.” We said “bonjour” or “bonsoir” at every establishment we entered. I conversed in French every opportunity that I could, because I’d been told that the French appreciate that. And if I couldn’t, I’d resort to “Parlez-vous l’anglais?” and earnest hand gestures, always with plenty of “s’il vous plaits” and “mercis.” In other words, we tried really hard. And everyone, without exception, has been extremely pleasant.
Until last night.
So, my dad (my dad features prominently in this blog — maybe I should get some help for that) had recommended that we do a Seine dinner cruise. Steve and I sort of chuckled at that. How touristy can you get? But, it sounded kind of cheesily romantic and we didn’t have anything planned for our anniversary dinner, so sûr. Steve did some research and found a place that people liked, called the Calife. We called from the U.S. and gave our deposit to a friendly sounding woman with a British accent. (She features prominently later.)
We had our meal of a lifetime the night before, at L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, so maybe this voyage was just doomed from the start. Everything would pale in comparison. But we got ready and made our way down to the Seine at 8:00. The Calife was cute, and looked very quaint, in a good way.
We were seated promptly, and given a drink menu. Then we sat. And sat. By 8:30, Le Calife still wasn’t moving and gradually, over this period, I began to feel quite dizzy and queasy. I’ve been on plenty of boats, so this was weird. I went to the W.C. and walked around a bit to try and feel better. I sat and took deep breaths, fixed my gaze on the large, unmoving wall by the Seine and did self talk: “You will NOT get sick on your anniversary dinner. You will NOT ruin this dinner by being dizzy. Come on, damn it. Don’t do this now.”
At some point, we got our dinner menus and I tried to figure out what I might want to eat while feeling dizzy and queasy. When the waitress came over, finally, at 8:35, with our water, we asked her when the boat might leave. Steve was sure that just sitting there, listing back and forth, was making us both a little ill. “9:00,” she replied, which was much later than the website promised.
I stumbled outside to get some air, and Steve followed. “We should go,” he said. I was reluctant, hoping we could salvage our anniversary dinner. But he didn’t see how things would improve, given that the boat wasn’t due to leave until 9. So he went inside to inquire about our deposit of 50 euros, and was told no refunds. I didn’t want to forfeit 50 euros, so we stood on the bank, by the boat, and tried to decide what to do.
That’s when a gentleman who looked like he was involved in boat operations came up to speak with us. He was wearing an inflatable vest like they promise to give you on airplanes, and his was not yet inflated. He told us that if I were sick, I shouldn’t go, essentially. That if I were to get sick during the voyage, they’d have to turn the boat around. “But we’ve paid a deposit of 50 euros,” Steve repeated. “Oh. I will go talk to the person responsible,” and off he went.
We stood on the riverbank for about 10 minutes, waiting for the person responsible. It turned out we saw her, many times, but she didn’t come down the walkway and speak to us. It was a woman, carrying a cell phone, and I thought she was just another dinner guest. I told my husband that no one was likely coming, and went to wait up on the bridge, where I could sit on a step and hopefully right my still-spinning head.
Apparently, this is where things got ugly. I wasn’t there, but the woman with the cell phone and Steve talked calmly for perhaps 2 minutes before things took a turn. And they took a turn because the person responsible said “It’s not my problem” about my being too ill to go on the boat. She also said that the man we spoke to was “a simple mechanic” without the proper authority to OK the refund.
My husband is the most mild-mannered person I know, not prone to anger or shouting. But that made him angry. So they argued. She told him that she was booked every night for three months, and so Steve wondered why she couldn’t refund a 50 euro deposit and ensure a happy customer. She said no. She also said: “I don’t care if you go on the boat, but if you get sick, we’ll have to turn around.”
And then Steve went there. He told her I was a writer, and that I was going to write about this. He claims he wasn’t using that as a way to get a refund, and I believe him. But, still, he shouldn’t have invoked my profession, such that it is. There’s probably a code somewhere about that, but I didn’t go to journalism school. Still, I am touched that my husband feels that journalism still has some power to sway, and that I’m somehow part of that.
Anyhoo, the person responsible got really mad at that point. She accused Steve of threatening her (I’m envisioning “Beavis and Butthead” at this point — “Are you threatening me?”) and then told him that she had real issues to deal with. As in, her boat pilot had crashed his scooter and was in the hospital. So ain’t no one going on no Seine cruise tonight, although no one on the boat seemed to realize this yet.
Long story long: We found a super friendly crepe stand, where the gentleman behind the counter suggested a good beer pairing (“No, this one is too strong. Try this one.”). We went back to the apartment and dejectedly ate our crepes. I tried to cheer us both up by watching funny YouTube videos, but all we really found was Honey Badger.
Nothing was likely to match up to the previous night’s dinner. Il est impossible. But not only did this NOT match up, it was a spectacular failure. On our anniversary.