Gliding on the Seine, just below the sparkling Eiffel Tower, happily woozy on Champagne and tender, subtly cinnamon-flavored duck, was already more than I imagined. But to finish the night, below deck, sipping Moroccan tea and listening to hypnotic Indian fusion music… just confirmed that the best experiences are often unexpected.
Each day in Paris, I was so intensely focused on soaking in the city and people who once walked the rues and ponts – standing in front of Ernest Hemingway’s first apartment in Paris, sitting at a café in Place de la Contrescarpe where he sat and drank at the long gone Café des Amateurs, walking his usual route to Gertrude Stein’s apartment at 27 Rue de Fleurus, through the Luxembourg gardens, where he was so hungry he plucked rhubarb and the occasional pigeon to eat – that I didn’t think ahead to the evening my mom and Bill had planned for us… something about a dinner cruise, was all I knew.
It would be our last real night in Paris, the dinner cruise. While I say I had no expectations, I think I expected one of those white, modern boats I’d seen along the Seine – not much different than one I got too drunk and sick on a San Francisco booze cruise back in the ’80s. Touristy, but fine for sipping a cocktail and watching the view.
After getting off the Metro at the Louvre-Rivoli stop, we (my family and I) walked on a bridge, headed toward our dinner cruise boat on the Seine. When I spotted the boat we'd be boarding for dinner: Le Calife, I was happily surprised. Warm wooded, lanterns hanging on the outside, red-clothed tables… like something from another era.
We ordered dinner and drinks, as the sun went from late-afternoon golden, to pink and purple, then black. The historic architecture slid by, then glowed in warm light, as Le Calife glided down the Seine.
We finished our dinner - the best meal I had in Paris: tender duck on mashed potatoes glazed with a sweet and savory cinnamon-scented sauce. A waitress brought desserts to my sister Denise and her husband Mick, topped with sparklers, as the entire boat wished them happy birthdays (both born this month, August). What a birthday celebration! It couldn't be better. I thought.
Then, the golden-lit Eiffel Tower grew as we neared it, and the iconic structure began to sparkle, as it does every hour in the evening. We glided nearer and nearer. The boat reached just below the tower’s legs. As if staged, the moon peeked from the center of the Eiffel Tower. Incredible.
Afterward, mom’s friend, the woman in charge of the dinner cruise recipes and ex-wife of the captain, introduced us to the Captain and Le Calife owner: Nicolas Gailledrat. My husband Ian, a musician/recording console designer, was surprised to see Nicolas has a recording studio on the boat (below deck). Nicolas began to tell Ian how he once ran a jazz club on Le Calife, and recorded many artists; one of the musicians was John McLaughlin and his Indian-American fusion band Shakti.
Next thing I know, we’re seated below deck on Le Calife, sipping Moroccan spearmint tea, watching and listening to a video of Shakti's exotic music - rhythmic, hypnotic, sitar-style guitar and thumping tablas. So mesmerized, I said “That tabla player ( Zakir Hussain) is like the Jimmy Page of Tabla.”
No, it was not what I expected when mom said, “We’re going on a dinner cruise.” Screw expectations. Some experiences are heightened when they're unexpected. For me, life needs more mystery.