In 2012 we had the pleasure of visiting; The City of Lights. We were having a holiday with our good friends, Margo and Jeff, in Redhill, Surrey, near London. I had been retired about a year and one half, and it was our second trip to Europe. While pursuing London we visited the Churchill War Rooms and took in a performance of the play, Billy Elliot. So, we decided to take the Chunnel train to Paris. I had never been on such a fast train. The landscape and houses whisked by so rapidly…they were a blur. It was somewhat disconcerting, but I soon became accustomed to it. We were soon in Paris. The city is divided into 20 arrondissements. We stayed, somewhere in the upper teens. I had just watched the, Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris, and I thought about it at every turn. MJ and I had retired at the end of 2010 and we were in the mood to travel. During our 2011 Mediterranean cruise, we had stopped in Niece, France and enjoyed a lovely lunch with Margo. We knew then that we must return to Europe and were quite happy to come back in 2012 for a cruise around the United Kingdom, and a rough seas ride it was, and then to visit with our friends. One of our fondest experiences was being able to renew our nearly 50 year friendship with Jeff and Margo.
So, Paris was everything that I had dreamed that it would be…and more. On our first, of three day, stay in the land of Gertrude Stein, we visited the Eiffel Tower. Before we left for the Tower we noticed that there was very little toilet tissue in the flat. There were two rest rooms but a separate toilet…in a small closet. That is right…one toilet for five people…and my knees rested on the door. Therefore we stopped by a grocer to purchase our necessity…where a fellow american heard me speaking to Jeff and subsequently remarked that he knew that I was from Alabama… MJ volunteered to carry the tissue in her backpack, and we proceeded to the iconic structure. MJ’s backpack was checked on three separate occasions as we wormed our way through security..and each time the guards greeted what they found in the container with wide smiles and laughs!
Dinner, after the Tower, was at a quaint restaurant. The food was delicious and the waiter understood what a martini was. He was the only waiter or waitress that brought me, a dry martini, although I requested a dirty martini, at every stop. Most of the restaurants served me a type of wine…
The next morning we arose and walked to a croissant shop that was just down the street. I ordered, what I believed that our group had requested, and the baker smiled at me and gestured with her hands and uttered, ‘Voila,’ and I answered, ‘Voila!’ When MJ entered she placed several more items on our order and I remarked, that I guess it was not…Voila…and she no longer smiled. Every french man and woman greeted us with either a smile and nod or a Bonjour. I was struck with the number of elderly folks that were out and about in the pretty park that was near our flat. Some were walking with the aid of canes or walkers, and many had small dogs with them.
I remember how I felt as we visited with our friends. The warm conversations that were based on many old memories. Hearing about Jeff’s business and recalling our first meeting…so long ago…and yet it seemed like yesterday.
When we arrived back at the flat, I stood out on the little balcony, that was off the kitchen, and marveled at the brilliant lights of the Eiffel Tower. It was comforting and special…and I felt like pinching myself when I considered where I was. I then looked across from the balcony and noticed that most of the windows, that are opened by shutter, were indeed open…with the lights on. I thought of the Alfred Hitchcock movie, Rear Window, where the character played by the actor, Jimmy Stewart, plays a photographer who has a broken leg…and thus occupies his time by watching the members of the apartment complex that he resides in, with is telephoto lens. As I noticed the tableau of life playing out before my eyes..I saw a lady step out of her shower and proceed to dry off. I averted my eyes and felt that I had seen something that I was, obviously not supposed to see. When I told Jeff about it…he laughed and said that he had witnessed that the French did not suffer from the taboos regrading nudity…that we americans possess from our puritan heritage.
The next day we took a walking tour of Paris. Margo and Jeff knew the city so well…they were our guides. I remember the, what seemed like one thousand, steps up to Montmartre. This is the largest hill in Paris and it is known for its artistic history. On its summit is the Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur. ‘During the Belle Epoque, many artists lived in, had studios, or worked in or around Montmartre, including Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Suzanne Valadon, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Camille Pissarro, and Vincent van Gogh.’ Wikipedia
MJ almost purchased a painting in Montmartre, as there were painters busily at work and lining the streets of the historic hill. However she found one later that day on the left bank of the Seine…just across from the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
What I felt in Paris was an appreciation for humanity. I noticed a kinship and familial bond with all that I met.
It has been said that you never miss the water until the well runs dry. I think that statement applies to us during our 2020 pandemic. We have been accustomed to going where we want to go and staying until we want to come home. We board a jet plane as the generations that proceeded us, boarded a bus. I heard a person remark that, being human is a team sport.’ We will travel again and enjoy the company of our fellow travelers…but we will appreciate it more…