Before leaving for France one of our in-laws kindly loaned us their camcorder so we could record our trip. This was to be a thorn in my husband’s side; he hated the thing. Even thought it was documenting such a monumental trip, my first time in Europe – Paris for that matter, the most romantic city in the world! Still, he hated it. In fact, I’m not sure which he disliked more – being filmed by me or lugging it around his neck. Granted this was a 90’s camcorder, a much bulkier, heavier cousin to the ones today. Still, I blame a lot of his attitude on male training. Men are trained their whole lives to be hands-free, carrying all their necessities in their back pocket or inside of their jacket. While we women are taught as toddlers to carry some sort of purse or bag that starts out small when we’re teens, but gets bigger and bigger as we get older. I was only in my twenties and already my bag was the size of a pillowcase.
Once in a while I would carry the camera in my bag, but the rope-like straps dug mercilessly into my shoulder leaving painful red marks. As I looked around at the Parisian women – nary a bag among them, I began to grow jealous of their freedom of movement and carefree attitudes. One word of advice to new travelers: Don’t carry a bag while touristing. You’ll end up picking up a bag here or there while shopping on the Champs Elysees, a Boulangerie-Patisserie or farmers market. That said, by end of day my honey was carrying the camera and several other bags.
This was only our second day in Paris and he accidentally “forgot” the camcorder, so I took a ton of black and white pictures instead. After we finished our first ever street-side petit déjeuner, we walked to the Metro station, figured out how to buy tickets then hopped on the train. What a thrill! The Metro is amazing. It’s so fun, fast and easy (once you get it down) and it’s incredibly dense – there’s a station on every block it seems. Now, I can’t remember if the metro lines were numbered 1-14 in the 90’s like they are today, which makes the system easy to use. We seem to remember they were colored lines (red line, blue line, etc.) that were named after the very last stop the train would make. So, if you wanted to go ten blocks to the Latin Quarter you would take the purple line, Porte d’Orleans. Or if you wanted to see the Eiffel Tower via the Trocadéro like we wanted, you take the green line, Charles de Gaulle – Étoile. It makes sense now but at that time we were newbies. Plus, I was so in awe of everything I saw that I wasn’t paying much attention to where we were going, or how lost we were getting.
As we walked in and out of a dozen stations, Tony was trying to solve the mysteries of le Metro, while I was struck by how old the city was. America is such a baby! You really feel that when you visit European cities for yourself. It still shocks me how American is such a world leader when it’s only 234 years old and France is ~1,000!
After we walked through the Luxembourg Gardens and my husband named each sculpture we encountered (so romantic and funny), he decided he had finally figured out how to get to the Eiffel Tower via the Trocadero, so we hopped back on the Metro. This time we stayed on for about twenty minutes. As the train dipped in and out of tunnels we got a chance to sit and observe Parisians and many of Paris’ Arrondissements (districts/neighborhoods). Silently we rode along, occasionally squeezing each other’s hand, trying to fit in as much as possible. I’d rather die than be viewed as another annoying American in Paris! Besides, it was wonderful just watching everything.
When we finally arrived at our supposed destination, we had to pay to get out of the station. This was curious since our tickets should have been good all over the city. There was a lovely flower stand outside of the station, with beautifully simple arrangements, and a smoke shop across the street surrounded by middle-school kids all in uniforms. The boys, who were dressed in wool navy blue vests, crisp white collard shirts tucked into navy pants, were bustling in and out of the shop. The girls were wearing wool navy cardigan sweaters with beautiful white pique blouses, and wool navy and green plaid, pleated skirts – some long, some short. I noticed the boys were all wearing sensible black leather shoes, while the girls wore black or navy opaque tights and black leather ballet flats. As we descended the sidewalk towards these children, I saw that many of them were talking intensely to each other, smoking casually, or reading by themselves. Who are these kids, I wondered? They seemed like miniature adults to me, their demeanor was so mature and confident and casual. I was dumbfounded, and staring. My husband had to pull me away from the scene and we walked up the hill.
Then we saw the school, which was the shape and style of a miniature castle. It was made of old brick and stone and looked straight out of medieval times. To top it off, a dry mote with two drawbridges surrounded it. I gasped at its beauty. Now I was beginning to wonder where we were. As we read street signs and tried to find them on our Paris map, we were at a loss. Actually, we were lost completely, and loving it. This quaint, hilly town was made complete with cobblestone walls, brick houses with slate roofs, and friendly French people.
Nows the time to differentiate French people from Parisians: Parisians are the people who live in Paris, while the rest of the people who live in provinces, are French. This may sound funny, but they really are two different types of people. Just as people from New York City are very different from people in say, Montauk. I am not suggesting Parisians are unfriendly because we encountered very kind souls in Paris. When we left Paris however, we did find people were a lot more relaxed and amiable.
As we walked about the town, discussing ways in which we can retire there, we bumped into a young man on a skateboard and I asked, “Pardonne-moi, where are we on this map?” He smiled at us and apologized for not knowing any English. My husband gave it a try. This time he got the gist, took our map and pointed off to an imaginary spot. OH! We thanked him, laughing at our idiocy. We were no longer in Paris, but some town on the outskirts. Still laughing, we boarded the Metro again and made it to the Champs-Élysées where I had my first French crêpe, which, like the croissant is near impossible to imitate in the States. The French crepe ties for first place with the pains aux raisins as my most favorite edible in Paris, but we’ll save this experience for next time.
I will say one last thing. To this day, my sweet husband and I don’t know the name of that town. If it sounds familiar to anyone, please enlighten me. Blast! If we had our camcorder we may have some idea…kidding.