Love conquers all, even us cheap-hearted souls.
Frenchman Nicholas Garreau thinks he has me outfoxed in the romance department.
This week alone, I've received three emails from the Parisian entrepreneur of romance, each one slightly more urgent than the last, wondering breathlessly if I'm eager to interview a 35-year-old man named Sebastian who plans to be the first person to propose to his girlfriend in space on Valentine's Day.
Garreau, France's self-described "Romance Expert," owns a special events company appropriately based near Disneyland Paris called ApoteoSurprise, specializing in custom events "to help men, in Paris for a romantic getaway, to amaze their loved ones in both a unique and memorable way."
According to his website, the agency offers 30 all-inclusive proposal packages, including a Cinderella's carriage appearing at Moulin Rouge with a magical shoe, an airplane displaying the proposal message on its wings while flying over Notre Dame, "and even a shower of 1000 red roses fully covering a yacht during a VIP dinner cruise on the Seine River."
Prices range from 490 euros for a limousine tour with a personalized message appearing on a giant LED screen at the Eiffel Tower to 15,900 euros for a private aerial patrol drawing a white smoke heart in the skies over the City of Love.
If I understand his latest dispatch correctly, this chap Sebastian has shelled out 4,990 euros for a "giant helium-filled balloon created "by professionals operating in the space exploration area" that will carry a photograph of the couple and the message "Vanessa, will you marry me?" to an altitude of 30 kilometers above the Earth, equipped with a video camera that will record the message and surrounding scenery as the balloon ascends. If all goes as planned, which love rarely does, the balloon will explode and a parachute will open, bringing the camera safely back to Earth with footage of the romantic proposal framed "against the blue Earth."
Sounds pretty exciting, I suppose, but in comparison a mere romantic bagatelle next to what happened when my girlfriend Wendy and I were in Paris for a romantic getaway a dozen years ago. I decided on the spur of the moment to surprise her with a proposal and engagement ring at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Talk about pure romantic excitement. Forget the LED. We created a brief public panic in the name of love.
To briefly review, there we stood, two giddy and breathless middle-aged Americans on the windy top observation deck after huffing up the 300 first steps to the tower's first level, followed by 300 more to the second, and finally taking the elevator to the upper observation deck of France's second tallest structure.
"Wendy Ann Buynak," I declared, taking her hand. "I have something important to ask you. Will you marry me?"
"Holy cow," she said, genuinely surprised as I presented her the ring.
A sudden gust of wind came up and blew the ring right out of my fingers, sending it sailing merrily over the City of Lights.
"Holy cow," I said, looking down at a couple of hundred people waiting 800 feet below, give or take a French meter.
"Oh, my gosh!" declared my shocked almost-fiancee.
"Mon dieu!" hooted an alarmed if elegantly dressed Frenchwoman who witnessed the dramatic moment.
"You bloody imbecile!" bellowed her companion, a natty Englishman wearing an ascot.
Diamond in the Rough
In retrospect, it was rather touching to see how concerned the folks around us on the platform became. A few craned out dangerously to see if they could somehow spot where the tiny ring went. Someone else began trying to summon the tower security on their cellphone. One didn't need a giant LED screen to know we were creating quite a public stir at 800 feet above the Seine, give or take a noble Gallic nose.
"Maybe we should go down and try to find it," suggested my ever-practical ringless fiancee.
"Good idea," I agreed, never one for dizzying heights.
As we descended in the elevator, my future wife - regaining her color - turned and asked me how I could possibly remain so calm in the face of such an unexpected loss.
"C'est la vie," I said insouciantly. "It's not really the end of the world. We can just buy another ring from the guy down there."
"The guy from Africa with the cool dreadlocks. The one selling knock-off Rolexes."
"You bought a ring from him?"
"Yep. While you were in the loo. A genuine Nike ring."
"That's right. The official Nike diamond engagement ring - except it isn't a real diamond. I'm not sure it's even a real Nike. That's probably why it only cost 20 francs."
She was so relieved we walked hand-in-hand straight to Fauchon, the famous epicurean food store in the Place de Madeleine, and dropped 1,700 francs on gourmet pates, mustards, and other overpriced foods of love.
Call me an old romantic, cheri, but didn't Napoleon point out the quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach? Or maybe that was Julia Child. I sometimes get the two mixed up.
In any case, back at our cozy hotel, shortly before we set off for a fine supper in Montmartre, I gave her my late mom's wedding ring as the official engagement ring. She smiled, cried a little, and never mentioned that lost Nike ring again.
I defy you, Monsieur Garreau, to top that with your cheesy fairy tale carriage and cheap Cinderella shoe delivery service to the Moulin Rouge!