March 20, 2002
Sandwiches and coffee in hand, we took the train (the RER line C4, "V" train; yeah, we finally figured out the system) to the Versailles-Rive Gauche station. Twenty minutes later, we were walking up the long path that led to the Chateau de Versailles. From simple hunting lodge to the ornate, gigantic palace of the Sun King, the Chateau was home to the Apartment of the Planets, the famous Hall of Mirrors, and Marie Antoinette's Suite where she was kickin' it old style in her crib until the Revolutionary peeps got all up in her grill, rolled her up to Paris, put the smack down and replaced the iced out bling around her neck with a guillotine blade. We lingered in the garden eating our sandwiches, gazed over the vast expanse of greenery, fountains, and ponds, and dodged the clumps of tour groups clogging up the palace. Did you know that Louis XV had his own Chocolate Recipe? He did.
We returned to Paris in the afternoon and browsed around some stores. My friend Coco once told me that the Japanese are so obsessed with Louis Vuitton products (they account for an estimated one-third of LV's worldwide sales) that they willingly pay up to 50% higher than retail prices for LV handbags in Japan and that there are special rules for Japanese tourists purchasing LV goods overseas. Apparently, the Japanese stores would often run out of stock because the demand was so high and so, some entrepreneurs would go overseas, purchase the merchandise at retail, and re-sell them in Japan for a much higher price. Getting wind of this scheme, LV stores began limiting the number of goods sold to Japanese tourists and requiring them to provide passport information before any transaction could be completed so that the store could maintain a database to ensure that the goods were for personal use rather than arbitrage. Coco regaled me with a story about witnessing a scruffy-looking Parisian teen purchasing three LV handbags from the store, meeting some Japanese tourists at the corner, and delivering the goods in exchange for a little commission. The LV salesclerk suspected something like this was afoot and followed the kid outside. When he saw what was going down, he chased after the culprits, but to no avail. At first, I thought Coco was pulling my leg. But when I saw the line of Japanese tourists wrapped around the Champs-Elysees LV store and scattered throughout inside, buzzing with excitement and arms full of leather goods, I sent her a mental apology for disbelieving her. Turns out, she was right.
Lesson in sociology over, we went to the small, rickety, tucked away Musee Maillol for a cool exhibition of Toulouse-Lautrec's posters and the rough drafts that preceded the final works of art. The exhibit was only open for a limited time and I was very pleased that we got a chance to check it out. Afterwards, like all addicts, we hit Cafe de Flore again. Caught unawares by a brief burst of sunshine for what seemed to be the first time during our entire trip, we were reminded of how blue the sky could be and, with our useless umbrellas tucked away, managed to get an unobstructed view of the neighborhood's beautiful old buildings.
Walk, browse, walk, dinner, walk, and finally get to sleep before midnight in preparation for tomorrow's full-on shopping spree.