In the shadow of the Pantheon in Paris resides Simon. Simon Parapluies, that is, seller of fine umbrellas.
In New York, I'm usually the "$5 special" purchaser, the one who finds the umbrella street vendors who sprout up from the rain - the heavier the rain, the more vendors to be found. How long those umbrellas last is a mathematical equation I know well from years of experience; they last until the first to occur of (i) the next heavy rain/wind combo, when I'm likely going to have to plant it in a corner trash bin with its other upturned and maimed brethren, or (ii) forgetting it in the subway, bus or some other location around town.
But in New York, generally, rain can be accurately predicted and is not a daily event. Until I spent so much consistent time in Paris, I wouldn't have understood this difference in weather patterns. Here, it might rain in the morning, improve at noon, and fall apart again at dusk. Or the other way around, or any number of other combinations. And looking up at the sky is no hint. A sunny morning can lead to rain later; a very cloudy sky all day can lead to nothing but continued clouds.
After being caught twice, with nothing more than a light wool sweater and a heavy bag of books to walk home with, I happened to walk past Simon.
I was curious and wet, and so I stepped in to watch the two animated sales people behind the counter spend the longest time I've ever witnessed focused on the ins and outs, benefits and disadvantages of a given umbrella with a customer. I also saw a customer breeze in and step directly up to the gentleman of the shop to thrust at him her umbrella, which was in desperate need of repair.
Apparently, umbrella ownership is a long term investment to these people. I was hooked. I decided that what I needed was something very light and very small, so that I could sock it away in the depths of my handbag and have it with me at all times (and therefore hope to avoid eventuality number (ii) above). So, when it was my turn with the saleswoman, she presented the options within their offerings with great seriousness and flair, including the how-tos of opening and closing, having me hold the open umbrellas in front of the full-length wall mirror one at a time in order to see how they "look on me" and then, finally making a choice.
I've never spent so much time on a 30 euro purchase. I've also never before spent 30 euros on an umbrella. (Of course, one can get really hooked, as described in a recent article in the New York Times. I appreciated the sentiments expressed by the writer in his piece about the layers of experiences one can encounter when in Paris over and over again in a lifetime. I have felt that way, too. I wonder, is it Paris, or can any place have that effect?)
Later that evening, when I got caught yet again, I had the chic new umbrella with me, et voilà, the pleasure of my stroll was saved and I wasn't soaked at dinner.