Trip Journal: Paris Update #12

Paris Update #12
Monday, May 9, 2011 2:23 AM

Dear Family and Friends,

How I’ve been putting this off! Almost as if not sending out this last email about our trip would make it last longer…but we have so many memories, and photos to go with them – so here goes.

This was to be our last full day on our vacation with our new French family. It was Good Friday, so Dom was able to start a four-day weekend off of work. He’d been working all week while everyone else was playing and seeing the sights, so we were very happy to have him with us.

The decision was made to take a boat trip on the Seine for a couple of hours, and then drive back to Yerres for the American BBQ that I was cooking. There would be nine of us for dinner, with the addition of Isa and Dom’s good friends, Christian and Elise, and their two sons, Nathan (17) and Martin (15).

So Dom was our chauffeur for the day, and we all hopped into the Renault Scenic (or the BIG car, as they called it!) and once again headed off to the heart of Paris. We chatted along the drive, but for me there was an underlying current of dread, for lack of a better word, that our time in France was quickly coming to an end.

I still can’t believe how fast the trip had gone! I was trying to put my finger on exactly what was so hard in thinking about leaving –- and all I could come up with was: Some cities you love, and some you “fall in love with.” I had fallen in love with Paris and with London. I felt I could stay here for months and not see everything I wanted to see. My French was just now starting to become somewhat comfortable, and Robert and I both thought that if we stayed longer, we could learn the language very quickly. We also now felt that we could get lost in Paris, and still find our way back to Yerres with a minimum of difficulty –- something I’d never felt in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco after such a short time.

Without infusing it with too much drama –- it felt as if it could be home, actually. As if it would be possible to live here. And leaving it made us start thinking about when we could come back...

Dom parked the car near Notre Dame, as we were to catch a flyboat from Pont Neuf on the Île de la Cité, and began our short walk along the Seine towards our destination. As we walked, all of our hearts seemed to get lighter as we realized that the universe had saved the best day for last -- as if to say, “Remember this day.” The sun was out and it was a perfect temperature with a light little breeze. There were people out walking and sunning themselves along the embankment, and all the vendors and shops and cafes were open. It was a picture perfect postcard day!

Having seen a lot of the city from the roadside, it was great to get the view from the river, which is truly the heart of Paris. There are still many boats that cargo items into Paris on barges. There are houseboats, tourist boats, recreational boats, and people out walking along the river enjoying the view. Views of the Eiffel Tower are amazing, and all the bridges that span the river cannot truly be appreciated any other way. We all had a great time on the boat, and later, we found out that Dom and Guillaume had never done a cruise on the Seine!

One of the things we realized when Isa’s family visited us last year, was that we hadn’t looked at the Pacific Northwest through “tourist eyes.” We’d actually never been to Glacier National Park, until we went with them! Showing off what makes your home special is a part of the joy of having people visit -– and we saw that in Isa, Dom and Guillaume.

There is a magic to Paris that can’t be described, but it can be seen in the eyes of people who feel it. Robert and I definitely felt it.

After the boat ride, we stopped for ice cream, and I got a lemon sorbet that I’d been craving on this warm day. We took a leisurely walk to the car, and drove back to Yerre for the American BBQ that our lovely French friends were so looking forward to!

When we got home, Isa and I once again went shopping, first to the Intermarche market, and then to the butcher’s shop, or “Boucherie,” to get the meat. What a great little butcher shop! Isa had me pick out the meats, and she told the butcher that I was her American friend cooking BBQ tonight.

The butcher seemed impressed with that and tried to chat with me in French, but I couldn't keep up so Isa did most of the talking. We bought a lot of meat -- much more than I thought we were going to need -- but as it turned out, Isa, as always, knew exactly what she was doing. Yerres reminds me a lot of Coeur d’Alene in a lot of ways. On the way home Isa told me that the butcher hand selects the animals he wants the meat from and that all the farmers he buys from are organic.

My French phrase of the day: “La Magnifique Boucherie” – or “the splendid butcher”!

Robert did “American BBQ” proud. He had painstakingly packed our “Sweet Baby Ray” barbecue sauce, and the Yoshidas in our suitcases. We thought that Homeland Security might have something to say about it, but there was no problem – and under Robert’s perfect sauce, the massive amounts of food disappeared. Christian and Elise’s son, Martin, didn’t say much, but he had fourths on the barbecue!

They all appreciated the dinner so much, and we, in turn, were given the gift of spending an evening in a real French home with delightful people who are good friends. Much of the French language flew by us, but the joy of people spending time together over a good meal is universal. I found myself sitting back, sipping my wine, and listening to the laughter, with the feeling that, no matter where we live, we’re really not very different at all.

The next day, we awoke, packed, and drove to catch our plane.

We had stayed up late and partied into the night holding back the reality that was today. It was great to give it all that we had the day before -- and being exhausted while flying 10 hours to get home means that you have the potential to sleep your way through most of it!
Then it was time to say goodbye. We all did the best we could, but as Susan and I went up the escalator and our new French family faded out of view, we both broke down into tears. They were hard to hold back. I can only imagine that Isa, Dom and Guillaume felt the same.

For me it was not so much for the sadness of leaving but for the profound realization of the gift that they had bestowed upon us, and the memories that will go with us through the rest of our lives. As good as all the pictures are, and as much as we could describe in these letters to all of you, it doesn’t even come close to the actual experience of being there. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, warmth, language, lights, laughter and love that we felt there was, for lack of a better word, amazing.

Our French phrase for this day is: “Au revoir et à bientôt!” “Goodbye, and see you soon!”

So, thank you all for taking this journey with us!

And especially we send “beaucoup d'amour et merci,” much love, and thank you, to, as Robert said, “our French family” -– Isa, Dom and Guillaume. We’ve already planned that they will visit us in San Francisco next year, and in 2013, we’ll go back to Paris to see what we missed: The chateaux of the Loire Valley, the Alps, Montmarte, Sacre Coeur, the Musee d’Orsay, and some more much-needed days at La Louvre...not to mention another side-trip to England to see some of the North, and if possible, Scotland.

In the next week, I'll send out an invitation for our photo album in Shutterfly. Please feel free to wander through it if you’re interested – and download any photos you'd like... We took a few! :-)

Avec l'amour,
Susan and Robert


Trip Journal: Paris Update #11

Paris Update #11
Sunday, May 1, 2011 7:42 PM

Dear Friends and Family,

Ah, the Louvre...

When I first thought of coming to Paris, I thought of the Louvre...I had visions of spending a full day wandering through it and seeing it all -- which I now know is a ridiculous proposition!

Isa had made it clear, once we started talking about it, that we would need to choose only a couple of things we wanted to see. We settled on Da Vinci and the Dutch painters. Once we got there, we realized that even that was impossible!

Isa’s son, Guillaume, came with us, as there was a book he needed for school, and they knew they could find it in Paris. We love Guillaume, or Guigui, as Isa calls him -- he’s bright, funny and has been much quicker to learn English than we've been to learn French!

On the way to the Louvre, Isa took us to the Rue du Banquier, which figured prominently in the MI-5 story I wrote, and which I’d only seen on Google Street Views. I’d walked these streets extensively on the computer, but to walk them in real life was amazing. The primary character lived at #2, and there was the green door with black wrought iron that I had described in great detail. I stood in front of it, and felt I’d stepped into my own story!

You enter The Louvre through the glass pyramid in the center of the Plaza. We'd been there a few days before on our walking tour, but today, all of the fountains were on, making for great photo opportunities. There were many people sitting, eating lunch, and lying on the cement walls, enjoying the cooling water displays. It happened that it was one of the hottest days of the year in Paris.

As you enter the glass pyramid, you go down under the Plaza and see the entrance to the museum. Isa had told us how big it was, but we couldn't believe our eyes. The Louvre is at least six stories, with three underground, and three above, in a massive u-shaped building. There was no way we were even going to get to see a tenth of it!

How to describe the Louvre? I’ll just say that as we were going down the escalator, I heard a Southern American accent right behind me. I turned and said, you’re from America? She said, yes, from South Carolina. Then she said, “How many days have you spent here?” I told her we’d been in Paris and London for nearly two weeks. She smiled, and said, “No, I meant how many days have you spent at the Louvre?”

If you're a fan of the book or the movie “The Da Vinci Code” as I am, you can imagine how fun it is to see the Mona Lisa, the upside-down glass pyramid above the smaller stone pyramid, and the glass Plaza that the Rose Line runs through. If you're not a fan, or have not seen the movie or read the book, just know that for me, it was really cool to be right there where a lot of the action takes place.

Thirty years ago, when I was at the Louvre as a student on a three-week tour of France, I can only remember seeing the Mona Lisa and the parquet flooring. This time I was amazed by all of the other paintings, glassware, furniture, tapestries, sculptures and antique watch displays that we saw. On this trip, I felt lost in the immensity of the museum several times, and have put it on my list for our return trip to Paris someday.

We stuck to our plan and went straight to the Mona Lisa. She wasn’t hard to find, but she was very hard to see. Smaller than I ever imagined, she hung under glass at the far side of a room that was literally packed with people. I can see the Mona Lisa in complete detail just with a quick search on the internet -– but what fascinated me were the people! Taking photos, standing reverently, from every country in the world, speaking every language –- I wondered, did Da Vinci have any idea, as he painted her, how she would capture the imagination of so many?

The announcement was made that the Museum was closing, and we decided to leave and head to the shopping center where Isa could get the book for Guillaume. We stopped at another café called “Au Chien Qui Fume,” which translated strangely into "The Dog Who Smokes." Guillaume ordered his favorite carbonated lemonade in a bottle -- its name comes from the sound the fizz makes when it's opened, but written on the bottle is "PscHitt!" We'll leave you to pronounce that for yourselves...:-)

We headed underground to an mall where Isa said there was a very big FNAC store. This is a book store that also has every electronic item that you can imagine, and every video game, movie or software product you could ever want. I, of course, wanted to look at every part of this mall -- but I knew that our group was getting tired, as was I, so I'll have to experience it again someday!

My French phrase? All I can say about this day is “Mon Dieu!” or “Wow!” What a day!

The FNAC bookshop was amazing! As a lover of bookshops anyway, it was almost as overwhelming as the Louvre, and as impossible to see in its entirety. So, I headed for the language section, looking for a French/English phrasebook. I found one that was perfect for me, but I was unaware of the entertainment value it would hold later in the evening as we leafed through it with Dom, Isa and Guillaume!

You see, it has not only the English and French, but also a phonetic translation. If you want to say...
"What's the admission charge?" that translates into...
"Quel est le prix d'admission?" All well and good, but the phonetic translation is...
"kel ay ler pree dad-mee-syon" :-)

For some reason, this sent our lovely French friends into gales of laughter as they read through them, at the same time they acknowledged that it was absolutely ingenious!

Who needs expensive entertainment? That book and a bottle of French wine took care of the night! :-))

And on that note, here is some French to learn...

1. par-lay-voo ong-glay?
2. voo za-bee-tay ee-see?
3. sa voo play ee-see?
4. sa mer play bo-koo ee-see.
(translations below...no peeking till you've read these!)

Much love...
Susan and Robert

1. parlez-vous anglais? (Do you speak English?)
2. vous habitez ici? (Do you live here?)
3. ça vous plait ici? (Do you like it here?)
4. ça me plait beaucoup ici. (I love it here)

Yes, we do...:-))

Trip Journal: Paris Update #10

Paris Update #10
Sunday, May 1, 2011 4:59 PM

Dear Friends and Family,

Two more updates after this one, and you'll have the full story...Hard to believe we've already been home for a week. We're trying very hard to keep it all from fading...

What a whirlwind the trip has been so far! Most days we’ve gotten up and out quickly, and then walked all day, because there was so much to see and so little time to do it. But as Robert, Isa, and I traveled back on the Eurostar from London to Paris, we had a couple of hours to reflect on how amazing it had been to finally have seen so many online friends in person.

Right to bed, exhausted, and the promise of a day with our feet up, catching up with emails, and for me, getting some updates out and some photos organized. But of course, we couldn’t take the ENTIRE day off! We planned to head out to the Musee d’Orsay for a casual afternoon.

But when we got to the museum, there was a special exhibition and a long line of cocktail-partygoers waiting to get in. Fortunately, in Paris, another fantastic museum is never far away! We chose the Rodin.

I decided that I had more shopping to do, so I declined on the museum and basically did just that, went shopping. Isa and Susan dropped me off, in essence, at the mall in Montparnasse -- and they went off to the Rodin Museum. Isa had given me her son’s cell phone in case something happened, and we picked a meeting spot before they left.

So off I went! It was really great to be out and about in Paris on my own, knowing I had to speak the language as best I could. I walked through the mall and most of a city block. I stopped in a Starbucks and ordered one of my favorites in French... a "frappucino caramel" -- and the counterperson said that the words I knew in French were very good, "very French," which gave me a boost of confidence in my speaking ability.

I headed back to the mall and found a jacket that I liked. As the time was quickly approaching for meeting Susan and Isa, I wrapped up my shopping -- wishing I had more time to just be Parisian!

After meeting with Robert, we had a quintessentially Parisian café experience -- Isa took us to La Coupole, right in the middle of the artistic enclave of Montparnasse, which is legendary for its connection to the some of the most creative minds of the early 20th century. I had an Irish Coffee -- sipping its deliciousness and feeling the lovely warmth of the whiskey as I watched Paris life walk by us -- that's something I won't forget as long as I live.

And by the way -- I may have said this before, but it's charming how most of the chairs in Paris cafés are faced out, toward the streets and sidewalks. The Parisians are unapologetic about their love of people-watching!

Then? The Eiffel Tower. And just a reminder -- this trip really began with me saying to Isa that I wanted to stand atop the Tower and share a kiss with Robert at sunset. We'd planned that for the evening of this day, and it was one of our last chances.

But the sign over the ticket office said, “Upper Observation Deck Closed Due to Congestion.” What was amazing was that we felt no disappointment, no regret, no sense of lost opportunities. Robert and I just looked at each other and smiled, and said, “That’s okay!” and we truly meant it. We happened to be UNDER the Eiffel Tower, and he kissed me there! We had already seen so much, and been blessed with so many unforgettable memories, it seemed impossible for us to ask for more.

My French word of the day? “Bénédictions,” which means blessings. We couldn’t go to the top of the Tower, so instead, we walked to the far side of the bridge after getting luscious crêpes filled with chocolate, bananas and Chantilly cream from a sidewalk vendor. We watched as the lights slowly came on, making the Tower glow. We listened to the life that swirled around us, watched boats on the Seine, and then, at 9 o’clock, the Tower sparkled again, right above us, as we had seen it do many days ago from far away. Magnifique!

We caught a bus from Montparnasse to the Tower, and just riding the bus is very Parisian experience. Not many tourists do that, so you see real life happening.

We were at the far back of one of those long double-car buses with the rubber connector in the middle. A very elderly man pushed the button to signal the driver to stop, but the driver didn't hear him. As the bus started to pull away, the man said, “La porte!”, meaning "the door!"...but the bus was still pulling away. He got more agitated, and tried to say louder, “La porte, monsieur, s'il vous plait! MONSIEUR! LA PORTE!” Then, suddenly, the call went forward, "la porte!" from person to person in the bus, until it reached the driver, and he stopped. The old gentleman got off, having traveled not too much further down the line from his original stop. People working together is the same in any language!

As we got closer to our destination, the Eiffel Tower came into view above the tops of the houses. It was now evening time and the sun was starting to set as we stepped off the bus. We quickly realized that we weren't going to be able to get to the top as everyone had come out on this beautiful day to do just the same thing!

It didn't matter. Both Susan and I were in awe, and the light of the setting sun was incredible, so I took as many pictures as I could. I kissed my wife under the Eiffel Tower with both of us vowing that on our next trip we would make it to the top.

We couldn't be denied a crepe at this point so we ordered one... and let me tell you, they were heaven under the Eiffel Tower, lit up like a Christmas tree. You be the judge by the pictures. What a day in Paris!

My French phrase of the day? “Je voudrais un crepe avec chocolate et banan et chantilly, si vous plait!”


With much love,
Robert and Susan