Seeing a stack of stuffed Eiffel Towers in unlikely pastel colors gets me thinking of Monsieur Gaultier, whose penchant for kitsch has not prevented him from being named the new designer for Hermès. I stroll over to the Gaultier flagship store in the Galerie Vivienne, one of a number of still-extant Parisian passages, those hauntingly lovely 19th-century shopping arcades Walter Benjamin wrote about so eloquently. In the Gaultier store, I fall for a pair of teddy bears, either one of which would make a quintessential Paris keepsake. One sports a striped sailor shirt, a tartan kilt, and an array of piercings, making him an ursine replica of his creator; the other, a female bear, is dressed in the pink satin cone-bra corset made infamous by Madonna.
I buy them both and then stop at Longchamp to pick up a nylon satchel for getting them home. The red Goyard shopping bag I have ordered isn't ready yet—I'm having it monogrammed, at significant additional expense, and it will be shipped to me, for still more money. When it arrives, however, it will be a souvenir I'll actually carry around with me, which is more than can be said for the bears.
I invariably leave for the airport laden with boxes, but there is one object I haven't yet bought, even though I have admired it on the Rue de Rivoli since the days when I bought my Cacharel dress: a Tour Eiffel made of gold-trimmed midnight-blue Limoges china and inset with a little clock, an object that straddles the kitsch-elegance border with enviable grace. More than once I have returned home clockless and full of regret. I'm not sure why I never break down and buy it—I always think, as I flit between Rivoli's venerable arches, that I'll just get it the next time I'm in Paris. For isn't the best souvenir of all the one that resides purely in your imagination, the one that promises you'll be back?In the meantime, there's a snowy Arc de Triomphe, a stack of old movies, and a pair of over-accessorized bears to keep me company.
LYNN YAEGER is a contributing editor for Travel + Leisure.