You are speed. Relax.

On our first full day in Paris, I really wanted to give the kids a great impression of the city. Our oldest (T) had been there before, but this was the girls’ first trip to Europe. We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon and I was spending Thursday and Friday cooking at our friends’ apartment (for our Thanksgiving dinner on Friday evening). I suspected that Manly Guy would not push the kids hard on my cooking days to see lots of sights,so Wednesday needed to count.

My plan was to first visit Notre Dame, not far from where we were staying (in the Marais). Then we would walk along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. Okay, it’s a long walk (more than two miles in one direction), but they would get a nice overview of Paris. And the walking would be good for us after a long day of travel the day before. I hoped that we would get to Tour Eiffel in the afternoon so that we could climb the stairs and watch the sunset from the top.

Getting the crew moving that morning was challenging. Red-eye flights are tough on everyone and no one wanted to get out of bed. It was a case of “herding cats” and we did not even exit the apartment until 1 PM, much later that I had wanted. But at least we were finally walking somewhere. We were at Notre Dame within half an hour.

The twins’ reaction to Notre Dame was so funny. S (our impatient one) raced through from one end of the church to the other in a few minutes and desperately wanted to just go outside and wait. (“No, honey, you can’t go outside and wait by yourself. We are in a foreign country.”) She sat by the entrance and sulked. On the other hand, J (our artistic one) wanted to move through the place very slowly and see every little corner. Manly Guy kept her company while I moved back and forth between sulking S, T (who had been there before) and V, who was neither enthralled nor incredibly bored. We ended up spending about two hours at Notre Dame, mostly accommodating J’s desire to see it all.

By now, everyone was hungry and tired. We grabbed some food at an overpriced, highly mediocre kabob place and finally started to move in the direction of  the Eiffel Tower. The sun was setting already. “Damn! I really wanted to see the sunset from the top!” was going through my head, but I kept it all on the inside, prodding the kids with cheerful banter to keep them moving. “C’mon, let’s keep up the pace so that we can get there!” I chirped at them. The sun set and the sky was darkening as we finally stood beneath the structure. At this point, I was still pushing them all to keep up, to get through Security, we needed to get our tickets, etc.

And here is where I encounter the Security guard. I was marching in the direction of the ticket booth, trying to get the kids to keep up and he looks at me, amused. “You are speed. Relax.” Joe smiled at this, probably wanting to express this sentiment all day.

No, I didn’t relax. I still pushed us to get our tickets and get marching up the Tour Eiffel. But the comment made me chuckle.

Interestingly, J and T were so tired from all the walking that they decided to wait at the bottom. But S, who had been so bored at Notre Dame, loved climbing up all those stairs to the second platform and insisted that we get tickets to the very top. The four of us (Manly Guy, S, V and me) spend quite a while at the top, taking lots of photos. It was lovely at night, more beautiful than I had expected. When we finally were at the bottom again, 1.5 hours later, we found J and T and headed off to find some dinner. It was a wonderful first day in Paris.




Black Friday without Thanksgiving

We returned to NYC this week after a family vacation to Paris for the week of Thanksgiving. It was the first time that our girls had ever been to Europe. Manly Guy and our son, T (who is now in high school) couldn’t be gone more than a week, but the girls and I also spent five nights in Ireland in addition to the six nights in Paris. Needless to say, J, S and V loved the trip.

Of course, when you’re in a foreign country, what often strikes you as odd are the little things. Living in Paris or Dublin isn’t THAT different from living in NYC, really. But the way that a stove works, or the layout of an apartment, or needing to push a button to get out the front door- these all present small reminders that one is in a new place.

I cooked for two days in my friends’ Paris apartment preparing food for Thanksgiving, while Manly Guy took the kids out to see the sights. During much of my time in the kitchen, I listened to French radio, recognizing the occasional French word (I am not fluent at all), and enjoying pop music. Every break, there were radio ads for Black Friday, which I found very amusing. They have managed to import our biggest shopping day of the year (Black Friday) without the associated holiday (Thanksgiving). Black Friday without Thanksgiving seems so wrong!

On the other hand, it was really nice to be able to enjoy holiday lights while we were strolling through the streets of Paris, Dublin and Cork. I know that it is the Christmas spending that drives the decoration. So I shouldn’t judge them for importing Black Friday . . .

Lapsus Linguae at a Paris Dinner

My son and I got back a week ago from a hectic, two-week trip to Europe. It was a wonderful trip overall- very busy, with lots of sightseeing, particularly of historical places. Our son T (who turned 13 this spring) loves history, so visiting London, Paris and Cambridge seemed like a perfect itinerary. I am hopeful that I can do something similar with each of our kids, treating them to a special adventure during the summer after they become teenagers.

In reviewing the trip mentally, one avoidable slip-of-the-tongue stands out as a “I should have NOT made that mistake!” moment. If only I could go back and correct myself . . .

In Paris, we stayed with a dear friend whom I’ve known since my college days. Back then, she and I worked together in the cosmetics section of a now-defunct department store; a few years later we would both be living in LA, where we became closer friends. We have stayed in touch all this time, and I’m grateful for the friendship. While it is always great to meet new people, new friends simply can’t know us the way that old friends do.

When my friend found out when we would be visiting, she and her husband delayed a holiday break by two days so that they could spend some time with us. Then they allowed us to stay in their flat after they had gone away. They even arranged for T and I to attend a dinner out on Bastille Day with their friends and their friends’ friends, including two Americans visiting Paris. It seemed a perfect plan.

Earlier in the day, T and I attended the Bastille Day military parade along the Champs-Elysees. To launch the festivities, the French President rode in an open car, surrounded by troops on horseback. As we watched the President go past, I noticed that he didn’t turn to the left or to the right or wave at all, but sat stiffly in his vehicle as he went by.

The group at dinner that night (there were ten of us) was a mixture of French, Swiss and American citizens, all sitting at a long table at what turned out to be a fabulous meal. We chatted in English and French, drinking wine, laughing, talking. It was a lively group. We were having fun. And I was doing well. I had read enough news about the Eurozone crisis with Greece to have some opinions about the situation. (I knew that it was less important to agree with others than it was to be prepared to defend those views.) I had seen the occasional news article on the French President to know that he had been caught meeting a mistress, traveling to her place on a scooter.

My lapsus linguae occurred during the discussion about the morning’s parade. I observed that the President was very stiff as he went past the crowds. (What was his name? I thought to myself. “Mitterand” popped into my head.) “Mitterand looked very stiff as he rode by,” I blurted out. At that moment, I watched the man across from me and I could see his demeanor change. I knew immediately that his opinion of me worsened, it was clear (although I didn’t discover my error until the next day). I had become the Uninformed American. He continued to be polite, but I could tell that our conversation was different now.

Speaking with my old friend on the phone the next morning, I found out my mistake. “Heather, the President of France is Hollande!” she said with a touch of exasperation in her voice. Doh! I knew that at one point. Just not the night before. Time to feel like an idiot, particularly since Mitterrand ended his presidency twenty years ago. Oh, well. I guess I gave that group something to chuckle about later.