The 6:45 to Paris was packed, but Joyce was still pretty excited because on the trans-Atlantic flight, she was going to get a meal and well, “I love plane food.” Just another little fun fact I learned from the 24x7x7 and change of togetherness… The anticipation built as 6:45 approached and the last of over-stuffed over-head bags were crammed into compartments by unusually pleasant flight attendants. Hey, they were headed to Paris too. As we felt the little tug of the 757 backing away from the gate, I noticed there was only one empty seat on the plane. It was 23A, the window seat right next to Joyce. That good fortune foreshadowed the whole trip, but I didn’t realize it because it was, well, foreshadowing… Shortly after dinner, she curled up horizontally and when consciousness reengaged, we were in Paris. It was a cool flight.
We did the Paris shuffle following signs for “RER,” the commuter rail serving the city and suburbs. For about 12 Euro each (near $20), we railed it from Charles De Gaulle airport to “Le Halle,” rolled luggage through a long tunnel and grabbed the #4 Metro to “Saint Sulpice,” emerging to our neighborhood set for the opening scenes of vacation.
Strolling along oceanside cobblestones was tranquil, and we walked les rues, avenues et boulevards of Paris as much as possible. We walked everywhere and didn’t care that 6 of 10 Metro passes went unused. There’s much less to see in the subway, but even the back in time tunnel had its (albeit blurry…) moments.
On Monday we set sail for the Seine and picked Rue de Seine to get us there, although it was hardly a direct route given all the shops and sidewalk vendors along the way… We navigated the maze and reached a decision intersection. The browning limestone of a church was visible above buildings a couple blocks away. It felt like the right way. We passed two shops that we had in our neighborhood and I commented about their similar customer demographics… As we got closer, the church got larger… and more familiar. “Hey, that looks just like…” By this time Joyce was laughing and then our circular route dawned on me. Welcome to Eglise Saint-Sulpice!
We eventually made it to the watery vein of life splitting the city and walked it toward Notre Dame. After visiting the great cathedral we headed back down the banks, browsing open-air used booksellers along the way. While Joyce negotiated the purchase of a couple French novels for her brother, I sat on a park bench and looked around. There she was. I wish I had a better picture, but this is what I first saw…
Our Citroen diesel was a cool (actually it was pretty dorky) fuel sipper with “Picasso” adorning its side. It only took 10 kilometers or so to see how the French sustain their culinary customs of fresh meats, cheeses and vegetables. The rolling countryside is full of cows and green fields, except for that little house in Giverny with its colorful back yard and pond. An artist could find some cool subject matter there…
“Map Girl” was a beautiful navigator and even played stewardess serving fresh fruits and fine chocolate. Our four hour plus trip from Saint Malo back to Paris seemed shorter until that last toll booth. A car full of young hoods (no, really, they were wearing hoods) paid the toll-taker, but the gate did not rise to allow their passage. We waited next in line for the five minutes it took for the public servant to finally leave the booth and manually lift the gate. In the interim, the menacing driver got out twice to approach the booth and say some stuff in French. I think Joyce and I had visions of Sonny Corleone’s demise at a toll booth, but this time with French subtitles. Once through that mess, we drove about one kilometer to discover THE FOUR LANE ROAD TO PARIS WAS CLOSED! Map girl was going to earn her dinner now, and she even found time to create some impressionism of her own…
As she navigated us through “La Defense,” we marveled at the amount of real estate devoted to the French military establishment. I’ve since learned it’s just a business district named after a statue dedicated to soldiers who defended the city during the Franco-Prussian war. Suddenly I was launched into the multiple lane, without actual lanes, car carousel circling the Arc de Triomphe. My mission, and I had no choice but to accept it, was to find which of the 12 spoked avenues was l’avenue Kléber. As we whirled the giant roundabout, I got aggressive (hell, the Parisian drivers are crazy, but nearly void of Bostonians attitude behind the wheel) and when Map Girl exclaimed (It was a controlled “exclaim.” Let’s not get carried away.), “It’s right there,” I veered across 3 lanes of the potential derby de demolition and safely toward the luxurious Hotel Baltimore.
The next day was our last in Paris, so we strolled the broad Avenue des Champs-Elysees, mostly window shopping except for the Swoosh store and a French Futbol shop for boy gifts. The next morning while Joyce explored Avenue Victor-Hugo for last minute gifts, I arranged for a bellhop and taxi. A taxi was estimated at 40 to 50 Euro compared to the 24 for the train-Metro in, but as it turned out, totally worth it. Going home was bittersweet, and I didn’t want it to include dragging bags through the subway. We walked out onto the sunny sidewalk. The smiling bellman was holding open the door to a shiny new Mercedes sedan taxi. Perfect.
By now you know the plane drill, and the Westward leg had a few unsold seats, including 23A again. Shortly after takeoff Joyce assumed the position and said softly, “Don’t let me sleep through the meal.” I may have dozed a little, but not much. When Joyce hit the recline button for the third time, she looked up at me with a little smile. I said, “I know. You’re just going to rest your eyes.”
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