Little known fact about Euro travel in a wheelchair- most places don’t have an accessible entrance, so to get into the building you go through some of the hidden guts of the establishment. When this is a restaurant, it’s not so exciting. We made reservations to see a flamenco show in Barcelona and the show had advertised online that it was wheelchair friendly. A common misunderstanding in Europe is what it means for a building to be accessible; in our experience, that has been a phrase up to the interpretation of the establishment. “Yes, you can come in with your wheelchair. We just have stairs to every room except the dorm rooms and you can’t use the bathrooms” (Bruges, Belgium). In Barcelona, “wheelchair friendly” meant I was escorted through a service elevator, lifted in my wheelchair up and down stairs and then finally taken to the audience seating, which was elevated except right beside the back hallway entrance. So, yes, wheelchair friendly indeed.
This isn’t as frustrating now as it first was when we arrived. We thought a term like “accessible” was universal and the same standards for what was acceptable for wheelchairs would be the same as it is the states. I know there are a lot of problems with the politics of Social Security and such in our government, but I greatly appreciate that the US has federal standards for accessibility now that I’ve traveled in countries that don’t.
But, like I had started out explaining, sometimes this accessibility misunderstanding ends up in some really cool experiences. We spent Valentine’s Day weekend in Paris this past February and seeing a show at the Moulin Rouge was something we were really looking forward to. We’re too broke kids, so we didn’t try to do dinner and a show but had dressed in accordance with the dress code and hoped they’d let us in. When we got there, the line to enter was already around the block and tourists had flocked the entrance to take their selfies with the infamous Moulin Rouge sign and windmill. We approached the line and I saw that, despite the reassurance of accessibility I had read about, there was a step leading into the show and I could see people walking down steps just inside the door. There was a large, French Bigfoot in a tuxedo bouncing people away from the doors until opening times and we cautiously approached him about the stairs. “Ah yes, ve, ah, do not have ey vey, ah, for you to enter“, he replied and then got on his very cool wrist walkie talkie to ask for us. Moments later a second Sasquatch came out and Bigfoot resumed frightening the tourists away from the lines. “Vou have the tee-kits?” Sasquatch asked. We nodded fervently. “Den you vill come wif me, pleese“.
He pulled us away from the line and down the sidewalk to a dark, forgotten door. There was a third gorilla guarding this hole and when Sasquatch approached, the gorilla stepped aside. “Des way, please“, he motioned to us as he opened the door. We stepped into the lit hallway.
We were backstage of the Moulin Rouge.
In the thin, crowded hallway, half-dressed and half-painted dancers were entering and exiting dressing rooms while smoking cigarettes and chattering in French. Few noticed us and those that did were too preoccupied with their wigs and stockings (the male dancers) or their lipstick (again, the male dancers) to care. “Hurry, please“, Sasquatch said to us in a bored tone but I did my best to push myself as slowly as I could so we could see more. There were costumes littering tables and chairs thrown throughout the hallway and ceramic coffee cups and saucers.
Like all good things, the elevator was behind the next door and our view of the backstage preshow came to the end. We were escorted to our seats (again, lifted in my wheelchair to get down steps) and given a bottle of champagne. The show was incredible; simply calling it a cabaret does not do it justice. The forms and moves these dancers could shape themselves into doing was astounding; it was Cirque de Soleil with partial nudity.
To leave, we met up with Sasquatch and were once again led through backstage. Even though it was 15 minutes after the show had ended, we couldn’t recognize a single makeup-free, normally dressed person back there. They asked us if we liked the show and we answered enthusiastically, but all the while glancing between doors to catch a glimpse of the dancers. We shook hands with the normal looking people in the hallway and told them we’d come back to Paris just to see the show again. And just as Sasquatch opened the door, men with bouquets of flowers entered to the embrace of the normal looking people behind us and, with our jaws dropped with realization, praised them for a wonderful show.