Similar to the way the world was all talking about New York City after the September 11 attacks, we are now all speaking of Paris. I watch the news reports and cannot help but think back on the trip to Paris Dad and I took five years ago. I looked at it as Dad’s gift to me after leaving me behind while he traveled for so many years. It is now a bitter-sweet memory.
Before we left, I did a lot of research. Where should we stay, what should we see, and what should we wear? The advice on the Internet warning against wearing jeans and sneakers was ridiculous. The fashion police would have had a difficult time enforcing that suggestion. Despite Paris being the center of fashion, casual attire was everywhere.
I began brushing up on some of my high school and college French after hearing repeatedly that the French were much nicer to foreigners who at least made an attempt to speak their language. Was that really unreasonable? After all, if someone from France showed up at one of our local restaurants, would they really expect us to speak their language? Wouldn’t we be happier if they at least attempted to communicate with us in English even if they knew only a few words? (But they would know English. So many people around the world do. What’s wrong with us?)
So I practiced how to ask the cab driver to take us to our hotel and I am happy to report that my five years of French got us there (“Nous voulons aller à l’hôtel Hilton Arc de Triomphe, s’il vous plait.”). Despite being exhausted, we fought the urge to go to sleep so that we could acclimate to the new time zone quickly. With no itinerary in mind, we strolled down the Champs Élysée and drank in all the sites along that famous boulevard.
We met no rude French citizens. All were quite welcoming to us. The only discomfort was with the bands of women in long gowns who came up to us while we were at the Eiffel Tower and asked us if we spoke English. We felt uncomfortable so we played dumb, and they left. And Dad had his pocket picked on the Metro, but as a former New Yorker, he had nothing of value to be stolen but his hotel key.
April in Paris was not a romantic time weather-wise. We saw much rain and little color except for the scarves wrapped around the necks of nearly everyone but Dad and me. It was like being in the Wizard of Oz before Dorothy opened the door of her house in Munchkinland. (I should not have ignored Mary’s advice to pack lots of colorful scarves!)
The architecture was magnificent, but all in shades of gray, white, and beige. I was surprised to see a statue of Ben Franklin. Did I learn that in school?
The only change I would make if I ever return would be to train better for the trip—train as if I were preparing to run a marathon. Despite the great transportation throughout the city, we still walked far more than I anticipated. In fact, I was unable to climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe because I just could not walk anymore.
I loved the abundance of cafes and only wished we could have sat outside more than we did. And who cannot like a country where a glass of wine at lunch (which everyone drinks) costs less than a glass of soda? So I watch the news and am filled with sadness and confusion. I think that these horrible people were once innocent children and wonder what happened to them?