Wednesday, August 25, 2010

So How Was Paris?

Glad you asked.

A quarter century ago, Father Anonymous -- then known to his friends as Secular Humanist Anonymous -- first set foot on French soil. His budget was tight, so he lived on croissants and Orangina for days on end, supplemented by the occasional crepe au sucre et citron. He slept in the very cheapest hotels, or by preference on trains. One night, he slept in an underground tunnel at the train station in Nice.

It was utterly and completely captivating, and Paris was by no means the least of it. What could be better than city full of the things your humble correspondent loved best -- medieval and Renaissance art; great mass transit; comically pompous intellectuals? We fully intended to return soon and often, and have never quite comes terms with the fact that we did not.

So here we come, a chubby and graying paterfamilias, toddler in tow, for a few quick days of sightseeing. How was it, you ask?

Hot, mostly. There is a reason that Parisians take off the month of August, leaving their city in the hands of the tourist mobs. Who else, after all, would be willing to stand baking on a quarter-mile queue to enter Notre-Dame? Tourists, that's who. (And we did, and we don't regret it).

The perfusion of tourists wasn't really a bad thing, as long as you could imagine the city returned to normal a few weeks later. In fact, the remaining Parisians were quite decent about it, especially the beautiful young waitress who had just come back from her own vacation in New York. We only met one person who really disliked foreigners, and he was Irish. Speaking of which, did you know that "!@#$%^& Americans rule the world"? Yup. Apparently, "you can't even take a !@#$% dump anymore without some American interrupting you." Or so we were told, repeatedly and loudly, by our homeless Hibernian, who gave every evidence of being drunken and/or mentally ill.

In some ways, the city has changed. English seemed to be more widely spoken, and with much less evidence of resentment. Bad French was tolerated more readily. There are a few new buildings. But the things that mattered were still there. The art was beautiful, especially the religious art; the Metro is still an exceptionally good ride; and as for the intellectuals, well, every newsstand was offering a special edition of the magazine Philosophie devoted to Tintin. Hardbound.

On this trip, though, there were a couple of other things that mattered. A year living abroad meant that we cared less about the new things than the old and familiar ones we had been missing. Astonishingly, they were there to be had: American comic books, Thai food, smokeless restaurants (well, compared to Romania). Above all, though, the thing we valued most was the company of friends.

Yes, as it happened, about half the Egg's readership was in Paris with us, so fresh off the plane that they smelled of bagels. Although traveling without children, they were willing to indulge us in our needs, and so for two days we roamed the streets together, sweating profusely as we popped into this church or that one, admiring an especially nice touch here, or wondering about the wisdom of an odd one there. (We were all quite taken by a 19th-c. stained glass window in St. Severin, depicting this blog's patroness during her entirely unBiblical apostolate in Provence. Far from the Pre-Raphaelite harlot, she managed to look demure, but also quietly stylish.) They even sat patiently while Toddler Anonymous splashed at length in a fountain at the Place des Vosges, screaming "I am completely soaking wet," which was actually an understatement.

You don't always get to share those moments. So, yes, the museums and churches and Eiffel Tower were all nice. But what we really enjoyed were the friends. Oh, and those sugar-and-lemon crepes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Greatly enjoyed our time together. Haven't traveled overseas in 30 years and am surprised at how lingeringly jet-lagged I am. web