‘The Child and The Dude at loose in the City of Light’
I have some pretty nice memories of Paris I’ve been saving up. And I’m thinking this week is perfect for sharing, even though it’s fall, and not a rainy spring like when this story took place.
It was about 15 years ago. The Child was nine at the time, and a school break was coming up. The previous year I’d been to Paris for ten fabulous all-expense-paid days, shooting a batch of skincare commercials. (You can read about that, plus some other pretty memorable and/or exotic location-based adventures in ‘Around the World in 80 Shoots’.)
Did I have a good time on the aforesaid trip? Well. Let me just say that I was itching to get back there, so I was pitching Paris big-time as a Family Vacation.
Dude: ‘Paris? But I’ve been to Paris.’
Me: ‘Really? Just when did you go to Paris?’
Dude: ‘Oh, you know. When I was on that backpacking trip in college.’
Me: ‘Oh? And how much time did you spend in Paris?’
Dude: ‘A day, I think.’
We went to Paris.
Of course, going on our own dime was a tad different from going as part of an Agency Team. There was the matter of accommodation, for one. The Agency had stayed at the Raphael, which is kind of like the Ritz in London. Or the Ritz anywhere, for that matter. Ritzy.
So I did some research (this was before the internet, or the widespread use thereof by Regular Folks Like Me) and after much searching of guidebooks and faxing of details, found us a pretty swell-looking-yet-reasonably-affordable hotel called the Relais St. Germain. Which I am pleased to report still looked pretty darned fine when I checked it out on the internet just now (though I was afraid to check the prices):
I’m also pleased to report that the room, and the hotel that held it, and the people who ran it too, turned out to be pretty cool. We were just ‘steps from the Luxembourg Gardens‘. And even better — very near one of those fabulous open-air markets where every day we scored incredible cheeses, fruit, and baguettes like that one The Child’s clutching in the picture at the top of this post. Whitmores, you see, take the term ‘daily bread’ very seriously indeed. A day without bread just isn’t worth getting out of bed for, Louvre or no Louvre. As I recall, that loaf in the photo was considered a ‘single serving’, and was not shared, no way.
Oh, you may have heard it said that children are adept at picking up languages. I’m proud to report that, just hours after setting foot on French soil, The Child could not only ask for bread like a natural-born Parisienne, but she could negotiate for ‘un crepe avec sucre, s’il nous plait’ like nobody’s business.
So. Our week in Paris. Not only did we indulge in beaucoup de baguettes, we went crazy with art. The Louvre, the Rodin Museum, the Musee d’Orsay. We even spent hours in the workshop/museum of one Gustave Moreau, who, as you can see if you click here, had a rather, um, fantastic imagination and distinctively florid style. Alas, since these were the days pre-ubiquitous cellphones, I don’t really have much photographic evidence of our art crawl to share here. But maybe that’s a good thing. It meant we were looking, not snapping or staring into screens.
We covered a lot of ground, mostly on foot. And in the rain. But did we care that our feet got tired and we got a little wet? No way. We were in Paris, goldarnit.
Oh yes. We also went to many monuments, like the Eiffel Tower. But we didn’t just go there, my family demanded we go up in it. (We also climbed to the top of the Arche de Triomphe. I hate heights almost as much as I love Paris. You can catch me cringing at the top of the Duomo in Florence in ‘Here’s your Trouble’.)
At least the Eiffel Tower had an elevator. It was remarkably foggy that day, which meant that I could handle the trip up with relatively little cowering and whimpering, and, better yet, that we could score seats in the usually-supercrowded restaurant that’s up there. Which leads me to the title of this post.
See, while I took French in high school as my Foreign Language, The Dude took Spanish. And whenever he finds himself in a Foreign Land, his Foreign Language kicks in. It doesn’t matter which Foreign Land. When we were in Spain on our honeymoon, he spoke Spanish. And he kept speaking Spanish even after we crossed over into Portugal.
So here we are in the restaurant at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Which, last time I looked, is in Paris, where people speak French. The Dude orders something ‘por favor’, and when it comes, says ‘gracias’. You can imagine how this could be a tad confusing to Mr. Garcon, especially since The Dude looks nothing like a Spaniard.
Oh, one more funny thing that happened, and then I’ll let you go. It was about our hotel. Lovely though it was, every night we would be awakened by the sound of feet — many many feet — thundering through the walls. This thundering would go on for five minutes or so, and recur every couple of hours. We would wake, reach for the phone to call down to the lobby, then it would stop. My high-school French being somewhat limited, and not wanting to rely on The Dude’s all-purpose-Spanish, we just tried to ignore it.
Well, the day we checked out, we discovered what it was. Remember I mentioned that our hotel was billed as ‘steps from the Luxembourg Gardens’? Well, it was also ‘steps from the Odeon’, which was a movie theater right next door. The thundering was the sound of movie patrons exiting by the staircase — which was behind the wall, just inches from our sleepy heads.
Even the thundering feet were charming Parisian thundering feet, so I’d like to end this tale by channeling The Dude and saying, ‘Gracias’ for the memories, Paris. To which I’d like to add my own most heartfelt ‘a bientot’.
New York City. November 2015