By Pepper Edmiston
Special to the Palisades News
Recently I read an article about an exhibit at the Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris, France: The Shchukin Collection. Sergei Shchukin was a wealthy Russian businessman who lived in Moscow. In 1897, he visited Paris and began collecting works of upcoming artists, including Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse and Lautrec.
Eventually, the walls of Sergei Shchukin’s Trubetskoi Palace were covered with more than 250 of these amazing paintings. Then came the Revolution of 1917, when Shchukin and his ilk were tossed out of the country and his collection was seized by the State. Zealots wanted to burn the paintings, but a bureaucrat’s wife convinced the lunatics to store them in a basement, where they remained for decades.
Years went by. Finally, Russia allowed the Shchukin Collection to come to Paris from October 2016 to February 2017. I really, really wanted to see those paintings. My vitality destroyed by the 2016 election, I thought it would be an uplifting experience to view the art and visit Paris. I really, really wanted to go. Then I thought, “Of course I can go! I’m an heiress!”
Most heiresses keep that information to themselves, but mine is more of a nickname. Several years ago, I had a large sandbox installed in our front yard for my grandson, Gabriel. It was filled with purified, organic, natural white sand and covered with a tarp, which the installer said would keep out the elements and the animals.
One day, when the tarp was off, I noticed hardy plants growing out of the sand. On further investigation, I saw that every form of dropping was buried in our sandbox, which was why it looked like a rainforest. I took a little orange plastic shovel and began removing the scat. There were so many shapes, colors and consistencies I could have held a nature class. No doubt gophers, raccoons, squirrels, skunks, coyotes and the like used our sandbox as their upscale litter box.
My son, Charlie, noticed me while I was removing the feces. He stuck around, as he’d never seen this particular activity before. I was getting more and more agitated, finally yelling at him, “I’m an heiress. I shouldn’t be shoveling doo-doo out of a sandbox!” As Charlie fled, he shouted, “Neither am I, but I’m sure as hell not doing it either, Heiress.” The nickname stuck.
But, I digress. After days of searching the hundreds of available apartments in Paris, through TripAdvisor, Joe and I found an idyllic place: a “flat to dream” on the Ile de Saint Louis, owned by a charming man named Laurent Q. We booked it for 17 days. Why 17? Because, our vacation was geared around our flight, courtesy of Mileage Plus. Probably using miles makes me a fake “heiress.”
When it was nearing time to leave, I somehow tore the cartilage in my knee. I was sure I’d improve, but didn’t. And we didn’t have trip insurance! So, I wrote to Laurent, whining away in simple English, begging him to allow us to come when I was better and closing with “First Trump. Now this.”
Laurent wrote back the kindest note, saying, “But, of course, Madame. Come when you are healed. Do not forget: health first. About Trump, I can’t do nothing!” I was so moved by Laurent’s compassion that as a “thank you,” I invited him to come stay at our house by the sea for no cost.
Then I thought, well, we have this flat in Paris . . . I called my daughter, Susan, who was in Denver in 30-below weather celebrating her husband Keith’s 40th birthday. They went there for a football game, causing me to again wonder where I went wrong in raising Susan. They and their daughter were traveling on to Boston to stay with Keith’s parents for the holidays and would then return to L.A. I said to Susan, “In Boston, you’ll be halfway to Paris. Why don’t you go and celebrate Keith’s birthday there?”
Susan was worried about taking vacation days, but her office mate, Pat, gave Susan eight days of her vacation time. What a generous gift! Susan was so moved that she invited Pat and her daughter to come to Paris to stay in the second bedroom. Pat was de- lighted, offering to babysit Caroline. Susan also invited Charlie and his girlfriend. Charlie turned down the offer, saying “No can do. Will talk to mom about a better date.”
Susan checked the listing, which said “Children OK.” I emailed Laurent, letting him know the apartment would be used for eight days. He called, telling me the flat didn’t accept children, there was a misprint, but, luckily, his friend owned a beautiful kid-friendly place, and, if I immediately sent him another 7,000 euro, the apartment would be Susan’s. I was about to do it when my savvy daughter called, saying, “Don’t be a sucker, Mom. He already has a ton of your money. We’ll leave baby Caroline with the Boston grandparents.” It was settled!
But, what about the other nine days? I postponed our Paris tickets to a month later, but what if there was no improvement with the knee? And, how long would Laurent allow us to drag out our reservation? I asked son Ben if he and his girlfriend wanted to go to Paris. “If we go to Paris, everybody will think I’m going to propose.” They declined but asked for a rain check.
I queried son Jon about traveling to Paris. “Oh, we’d love to go,” said his wife Shannon, “next year when I’m finished nursing. Thank you so, so much!” My husband Joe and I now owed three couples nine days gratis in Paris. We might as well treat the whole crew, as Matt and Will were bound to ask, “Porquoi non moi?”
Susan changed the three Paris tickets to two and confirmed her travel dates with Laurent. All was going well, although Susan was a little suspicious about the extra 7000 euro and the child no/child switch. But Laurent was so darling in the emails and on the phone! His final communication to Susan was “See you in front of Notre Dame.”
Susan and Keith were scheduled to leave on January 4. On January 2, we were notified by TripAdvisor that the flat was no longer available because Laurent said we cancelled our entire reservation. THE FLAT WAS NO LONGER AVAILABLE? Were those French words? What did that mean? Further, TripAdvisor released all of our funds to Laurent. OMG! Laurent was a common criminal, but with a delectable French accent. We’d been scammed, like dumb Americans everywhere! Quelle surprise!
Imagine my response, or don’t. I forwarded the information to Susan, who got hysterical laughing. She and I spent the entire day emailing TripAdvisor. Our favorite thing about responding to the notification, which asked for a reply, was that for each email we sent, an auto-response stated, “We are unable to find an open customer support case for your account. Please do not reply to this email as this address is not monitored by our support team.”
I began sending emails over and over and over again with FRAUD HAPPENING RIGHT NOW! as the subject line. Finally, a human called, listened and told us what to do. Susan and I needed to send TripAdvisor all emails supporting our position, which stated: “We was robbed!” I hope TripAdvisor will reimburse me; it was a lot of dough, even for an heiress.
Susan changed the two United tickets to Paris back to three tickets to L.A. Out of all of the possible Edmiston/Abrams/Ouellette family members who could travel in January, guess who got to go? Susan’s friend Pat and her daughter, who stayed a week at the Marriott using my mom’s points and enjoying our tickets to the Shchukin Exhibit at the Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris, France. If it ever comes to L.A., maybe we can see it.