It was our last day in Paris. April 2005. We sat at an outdoor cafe, people-watching, in the late afternoon, and talked about our dinner options.
We’d depended upon recommendations and the Michelin Guide for most of our evening meals while on this trip, so we decided to wing it on our final night. We paid our cafe bill and wandered along the streets nearby, poking our heads into shops and restaurants that looked like they might be interesting.
As I perused the menu by the hostess booth at one restaurant, my husband disappeared. He’s known for walking off when he sees something curious, so I figured he’d be back as soon as his curiosity was satisfied. But, when I was ready to leave, I still couldn’t find him.
He was up against a far wall, silently trying to get my attention.
“What’re you doing?” I said loudly as I walked toward him. He shushed me, finger in front of his mouth, eyes annoyed and pleading at the same time.
“What?” I stage-whispered.
He pointed to a door, which was hidden in the wall. I never would have noticed it if he hadn’t pointed it out to me. He put his finger in front of his lips again, motioned to me to follow him, turned the doorknob, and disappeared again. I followed him down a long flight of stairs after shutting the door upon his non-verbal order. It was dark so our eyes had to adjust. At the bottom of the stairs was a bar and several tables. It looked a bit like the bar from Casablanca, except no piano, no people, and much smaller. Still, I kept thinking “Casablanca.” Casablanca as a ghost town.
“You coming tonight?”
The male voice with the Southern drawl startled us. We turned toward him, speechless. At least I was.
“What time?” my husband asked as if he were in on something that I knew he wasn’t in on.
The man paused, looked at my husband.
“You’ve never been before,” the man said. He was probably a few years younger than we were and way cooler. You could tell by the way he was dressed and his swagger and his confident tone of voice.
He then checked us out more carefully, nodded, and either gave us a ticket or an invitation or a code word, I can’t recall which but it was something secretive, which suggested that what was happening tonight was something mysterious and exclusive. I could feel the adrenaline rushing through me, but certain I’d say something that would get us uninvited, I stayed quiet. He told us not to show until after midnight then gave us tickets to the Moulin Rouge that would get out pretty late.
“Take the tickets. See the show. I’ve been a million times. Then come here. You are going to be amazed. Just give the (ticket, invitation, code word) to the host, who will be standing by this door,” he said and pointed toward another door that I hadn’t noticed until he directed our attention there. And then he said he’d see us later and left.
We stood like statues until he’d clearly exited and then we both broke out in huge smiles. Our final night in Paris was going to be exciting, even though we weren’t exactly sure how.
We returned to our hotel, packed for our 6 am departure, dressed for the night out, and grabbed a bite to eat before the Moulin Rouge. The show was awesome, but we were anxious to get on to the next thing. We hailed a cab and headed toward the restaurant with the secret staircase. Since it wasn’t quite midnight, we sat in the main restaurant and listened to live jazz music and had a drink. We didn’t see anybody go through the hidden door, so we waited some more. Finally, we saw a French couple slip past the door. After a few minutes, we paid our bill and did our own nonchalant slip past the door.
The host at the bottom of the stairs took our (ticket, invitation, code word) and opened the thick wooden door to what only could be called a grotto. It was a small cavelike room that seemed like it should be full of oak wine barrels, fermenting. Instead, there was a very long, heavy table that pushed up against a stage, with chairs on either side of the table . There were also a few cafe tables on either side of the room.
Since there weren’t many people there, we sat at one of the cafe tables. Pretty soon after we arrived, the room started to fill up (maybe 35 in all came that night, all French except us and the Texan and his companion) and our attention was directed to the stage, where a few performers came out for a song and dance number followed by a juggler followed by another high end talent show type act. We quickly moved to some free seats at the long table, as the view was better.
For the next several hours, we drank and watched performance after performance, some on stage, some on the table where we sat, some on the floor around us. The crowd alternated from rowdy to silent to rowdy again. The performers interacted with us at times and the show became more and more risqué as the night became morning. We left after a belly dancer jingled and gyrated on the table before us. She was fabulous, like nothing we’d ever seen before, but it was 4 am and we had to leave if we were going to make it to the airport on time to catch our flight.
I suppose one would call what we experienced a cabaret mixed with some burlesque, but whatever it was, one thing is certain: it was truly one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had. Made better by the fact that we stumbled upon it, thanks to my husband’s profound need to look behind every closed door.
While I have a pretty healthy curiosity about things I don’t know, I’m not like my husband. I let psychological roadblocks stop me from opening every door I find. Either I am afraid to break some rule or the law, or I fear that what I will find behind the door will somehow hurt me (perhaps left over from the Nazi under the bed nightmares of my youth.) And these childhood fears extend to metaphorical doors as well.
For example, several times over the past few years, I’ve wanted to build up my freelance writing business. At one time, I was fairly busy with writing projects, primarily marketing communications and pr stuff, but then I started doing some creative writing and tending more to my children and and and. . . In recent times, when I’ve wanted to start up again, I’ve found myself able to reach out to a few people but stop reaching out as soon as I found a project, even if the project was only a short-term thing. There is no doubt in my mind that my fear of being laughed off the stage, so to speak, is what keeps me from mining my resources.
I am afraid but the fear is unwarranted. I’ve certainly been rejected for legitimate reasons, but nobody has ever laughed at me when I’ve discussed my desire to do freelance work for them or somebody they know. Most people have been helpful. And as soon as I force myself to reach out, I stumble upon opportunities that hadn’t been expected or known about beforehand. Yet, I still put off reaching out.
Because I’m afraid.
I don’t want to be. I want to let go of that fear and do what I want to do. I psych myself up for it but then put it off until I’ve forgotten about it, until a month later, when I am still the “before” picture and want to be the “after” one.
The new school year gives me hope. And time. I’m determined to break out of this fear of opening doors for myself. I’m going to just do it, in spite of myself. That’s my current thinking. Hopefully my friends and family will help to keep me on track, not let me stand down when I feel anxious or afraid. Because I know that I can do this.
Fear of the unknown plagues so many people, and that plague prevents us from going after what we want and from discovering things we love, which we’ve never even imagined before.
Will you join me in this battle against the invisible demons that keep us from experiencing all that the world has to offer?
I’m hoping for many doors that open to grottoes that house cabarets. Figuratively speaking. Although, I would love to stumble upon another place like the one we came upon in Paris in 2005.
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