Oh, hey there. I bet you’re wondering if I stayed in Paris.
I’ve been trying to write about my trip, but I couldn’t. Couldn’t find the right words or make it make sense in my head. I was still processing. It still seemed surreal to me that it actually happened. People would ask about it and of course I’d say it was fantastic, because it was. But that doesn’t really do it justice. And I could just recount all the things we did day by day, but that’s not right, either. It was so much more than that.
We did all the things I wrote about before I left. We visited Père Lachaise Cemetery, led accidentally by the quirky Rafael. I enjoyed many delicious Aperol Spritzes and champagne at sidewalk cafes. We spent some hours wandering the Vanves flea market, collecting a few little treasures. We walked, oh how we walked. Made good use of the fabulous Metro system, which is like magic – you go in one door and pop out another. Ate some delicious food and some average food. Took advantage of the kindness of strangers, who invited us into their home based only on the recommendation of a mutual friend. We saw many old things and precious art in museums, took a boat tour in the evening light on the Seine. I bought shoes speaking only French.
All these things we did and places we saw were amazing, of course. It’s Paris, for god’s sake. But they weren’t my favorite part of the trip.
I have two stories I tell people when they ask. The first happened when Fred and I took the Eurostar to London for the day. We were following the most excellent map plotted for us by Madame Professor, and found ourselves wandering through Parliament Square. We’d stopped next to a bus map next to the Parliament building, trying to find a pub. I hear a voice behind me asking if we need directions. I turn to find an elderly lady wearing a turquoise suit, thick black stockings and what I believe they call “trainers” there – big white tennis shoes. She’s carrying a ratty black nylon briefcase and a cane. I tell her we are looking for this pub and she says in a very British accent that she doesn’t know where THAT pub is but if we continue on the road we’ll come to others. Then she turns to leave.
Suddenly she turns back to us and asks if we’d “like a private tour of the House of Lords”. Now, really, I have no idea what that is, except it’s in the rather imposing looking building next to us. Fred, I find out later, didn’t hear her say this and is rather befuddled when I agree and turn to follow her. He’s thinking it’s a racket, kind of like Rafael in the cemetery and she will demand money from us at some point. I’m thinking either she’s a bit mental and this is her daily gig, messing with unsuspecting tourists, OR she’s some sort of retired secretary who used to work there. Either way, I figure we’ll find out soon enough since that building is guarded up the wazoo.
We approach security at the entry, the first test. I nearly fall over when we get through. Once inside, more guards greet our mysterious guide, they take our photos, put our bags through x-ray, and give us visitor badges! I shit you not!
So, it appears she’s legit, whoever she is. By now we are following her through a very old, posh building and I am TERRIFIED I will trip over her cane and kill her. We have to go up a flight of stairs! She says there’s no vote today but we can go in the room where they vote, full of big red leather chairs and hanging microphones. We go into a big library, where a distinguished-looking man says hello to her and she tells us that she used to mentor him. Hmm. Out we go, through a door marked Peers Only, and a security guard says “G’day, milady” and bells start to go off in my head. Hello, Downton Abbey! You don’t call just anyone milady, or go through a Peers Only door. I ask what her name is and she says “Lady Sharples” (though, funnily, she told Fred her name was Pamela). Seriously! She wouldn’t let me take her photo, sadly. And on the way out, I saw the label above her coat hook – “Baroness Sharples”! We hightailed it to a pub to be amazed at ourselves and google Lady Sharples – turns out she is quite a lady, married to a former governor of Bermuda who was assassinated, friends with the Queen Mum, beat up bike riders with her handbag…Lady Sharples, if you ever happen to see this, please know that you made our day trip to London quite fabulous. We won’t soon forget it.
Fred and I were on a high from that tour for a good long time – you just can’t make stuff like that up. THAT is the kind of thing that sticks with a person – not so much the museums or other tourist must-do’s. Sure, those things are great, but everyone can do that. What sticks with me about Paris especially is all the little bits. The way the light is, the architecture and age that is everywhere you look, the style and class of the people. Little moments in time, riding the Metro without having to look at a map, finding my way from the airport to the apartment, ordering in French, walking through our neighborhood like a local – all those little things I can gather up into a little ball of Paris. Feeling the rhythm of a place that is foreign but feels like home.
Ah, yes, the second story. You may recall we were going to Disneyland Paris. (By the way, unless you have small children and have no hope of ever seeing the REAL Disneyland, do not do this. You will be sorely disappointed.) Fred and I were waiting on a bench, watching the people stream by. Eventually, a small boy, perhaps 3 or 4, wearing glasses and a red baseball hat, walks past. He’s holding his dad’s hand and randomly touching things, the way little kids do. He touches Fred’s shoe as his leg is crossed. He passes me by, inches away. Then when he’s maybe 2 feet from me, he turns back to face me, looking directly at me, and very slowly and deliberately, flips me off. Then he calmly turns and walks off. We looked for that kid the rest of that day – I wanted his photo so bad.
You can’t make THAT stuff up either. Vive la France.