"And for your big Christmas present we're taking the family to Paris this summer!" we said with excitement in our voice. The two boys expressed reserved enthusiasm. They smiled. A trip was good. Paris you say?
As the vacation neared we did our best to get them excited, but clearly the parents were more excited than the kids. With 48 hours to go before leaving the US State Department took the unusual step of declaring a global travel advisory in combination with shutting numerous American embassies as a result of intercepted terror traffic. So, why were we risking our lives to go Paris exactly they wanted to know?
While the teenage enthusiasm may have been underwhelming, everyone was excited to get away on vacation. Arriving at Paris after an 11 hour flight we leapt off the plane only to be halted as stepped off the jet way. A machine gun wielding soldier blocked all access to the passport control line essentially blocking our access into France. We were later told it was a bomb scare. Not a great way to start off our vacation.
But soon the vacation was on. We rented a two bedroom house in the Saint Germain district. It was an excellent alternative to a hotel and if it wasn't for two bars situated below our fourth story window I would say the house was perfect. As I touched foot on French soil my high school French vocabulary immediately returned to me. My amazing command of 100 or so French words was certainly enough to get by but for some weird reason every time I spoke French people answered me in English. Didn't they hear my perfect accent from the year I lived in France at the age of 5?
We settled into a life as tourists for a week rediscovering a city Eve and I have visited many times in the past. But this was a trip to introduce the wonders of the city to Kevin and Scott. As the week wore on the boys began to increasingly embrace the city and were soon able to answer the question, "why did they pick Paris." Scott, the linguist, was quickly speaking a random selection of French words because he liked the way it rolled off his tongue. Kevin mastered the maps, the Metro and even the Père Lachaise cemetery and acted as navigator.
Much has changed since my first visit to Paris in the 70s:
The ponts (bridges) are covered with locks. Lovers attach a padlock to the fence on a bridge. They write their name or initials on the lock and then throw away the key in the Seine to signify the permanence of their love. Nice tradition, but they are running out of space so I imagine some bureaucrat will cut off all those locks at some point in the future. Will we see a spike in divorces at the same time?
The American Express office near the Paris Opera was a central point for many of us when I first visited Paris. Today I couldn't think of any reason to visit the American Express office.
Maybe it's my memory but so many of the Louvre paintings are dull and brownish in desperate need (I assume) of a cleaning or at least a turn of the Photoshop saturation dial! By contrast the Musee D'Orsey's impressionists are as bright and colorful as ever.
Is it my imagination or are baguettes shorter than they used to be? Sure seemed so.
Lots more photographers amongst the throngs of tourists. The digital camera has really changed the quantity of shots taken on vacations. I'm confident, however, that the quality of those shots has dropped in the process. I had to laugh at all the people trying to take a picture of the Mona Lisa. There was no good angle, and no way to take her picture without a serious reflection and yet every camera was firing away. I was annoyed by the people who weren't happy with just a picture and needed to have their picture taken standing in front of Mona. I was even more annoyed by anyone using an iPad to take a picture because they singlehandedly blocked everyone's view.
Some other observations:
Global homogination. Even France has lost some of what makes it unique when an old French man is wearing velcro tennis shoes there as well.
The line for the woman's toilet was very long (estimated at 30 minutes) while men were able to breeze in and out. Many of the braver women boldly marched into the men's room like they owned the place, but Eve was unwilling to invest that much time (we could walk home in 25). So we left but we left out the passage that led to the adjacent shopping mall. We saw a sign for the bathroom but it was a pay bathroom. The bad news is she paid $2 to relieve herself. The good news is that they gave her her choice fo 7 different colored toilet papers to match her mood that day.
I know Diet Coke and Coke Light is no Diet Coke.
We insisted the boys see Paris at night. That meant venturing out after 10am to get the full effect. Eve wanted them to see the view of the Arc de Triumph from the Louvre. So we walked across the gravel pathway to make ourselves to the main path when 30-40 rats crossed our path. Were those squirrels Eve wanted to know? Absolutely was the answer.
Our first night we were offered bottled water which we accepted. When we saw that we were charged 7 euros (almost $10) for each of our two bottles we decided that from now on we were ordering tap water. I was a little embarrassed initially but ultimately wore my cheap ass tendencies with pride.
I think I saw only 3 open parking spaces anywhere the entire week we were there.
We rented bikes in Versailles to tootle around the garden. I didn't have to sign one legal form or release of liability!
Bring your own headphones on the tours so you don't have to hold that goofy thing up to your ears.
It's tradition to use the bathroom at McDonalds on the Champs Elysee. We walked a block down the street and used the Marriott's lobby restrooms and were thoroughly pleased with ourselves.
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© Greg Harris, 2013
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