Ah, Paris. Paris at any time of year is wonderful, but Paris on the very cusp of newborn spring? Sublime. The tempestuous skies flashing alternate sun and storms, like an existential philosopher wrestling with the meaning of life, like Le Petit Prince, bursting into tears at the cruel thought that an imaginary sheep might eat a distant four-thorned rose, and bursting again into gales of ringing laughter at thought of his pilot friend falling from another planet.
Paris in March, en vacanes, avec des enfants. No, it will be a struggle to write this my native clunky and unyielding language, that blunt instrument, rather than the supple and sinuous language that springs from the very special French soil.
Thus: we just got back from a week in Paris. Here are some highlights.
Of course, no trans-Atlantic journey would be complete without Isaac falling ill just beforehand. As last year when we went to London, Isaac chose this particular week to be stricken with a bad virus. But he was in good spirits and medically cleared to fly, although he coughed all night on the plane, and surely vectored it to many around him. What do you really do in these cases? I don’t know, but I did feel bad about it on several levels. The flight, as always, was tough on everyone. Here we are at the outset, so cheery. Why, it was only 9 pm and we were going on a trip! (please note: photos, they will become large if you click upon them.)
Elias and I had a brief adventure: due to unfortunate circumstances I won’t detail, we were the very last to get off the plane, and by then the doors had been locked to the airport, and everyone we asked either ignored us or gestured vaguely “a la droit” and then others scolded us for wandering around in the loading area, and it was raining severely and it was one of those walk-down-the -stairs-onto-the-tarmac-and-walk-up-other-stairs-to-the-airport deals and I couldn’t remember any French whatsoever because of the non-sleepage of the proceeding night. None of this was anyone’s fault really. Well, the flight attendants, who had many problems of their own, and were fighting amongst themselves in French about this grossly obese American blues or possibly Zydeco musician who needed a wheel chair and had to yet walk down and up all these stairs somehow? He was a prickly character too, surly, with a lot of ink. And when we were finally let into the airport and walked through many long corridors, we found the young man with the wheelchair waiting pointlessly at the end of an undoable journey far from his non-ambulatory charge? I blame all this on Charles de Gaulle, for whom the airport is named.
But after that, and after we found our way to the cabbie, prearranged through our wonderful apartment rental agency (parisaddress.com! Use them!) and holding a little sign with my name on it!! Everything was pure loveliness. He brought us to the adorable little apartment on Ile St. Louis. (Take the 360 tour on the website there, and see how cute!) And voila! We collapsed into bed, especially me and Isaac. I had my own issues with the rigors of long distance travel, as you can imagine, and Isaac developed a fever and slept all day in a sweaty heap. Ben and Elias took to the streets and explored, as well as procuring groceries and learning about the area around us.
I don’t think I ventured out at all until the next morning, when I woke up ready for action. Now, I should add that there were some stairs involved. And when I say stairs…
The stairs created a sort of buffer or barrier into and out of the apartment. Running back when you forgot something was, for me, not an option. It made it sort of a major undertaking. You set out for the day and returned at the end, and did not pop in or out, even for sorbet.
We discovered the Batobus right away– it’s a boat with a glassed in seating area, that goes up and down the Seine between Jardins des Plantes and the Tour Eiffel. It stops at the key tourist sites you want to see, and you can buy a ticket that allows you to hop on and hop off at will. After buying a few sets of one-day tickets, it became obvious that the Batobus would play a large role in our explorations and Ben picked up five-day passes. Thus we have many pictures like this:
On the Batobus we came across this graffiti in English that amused Isaac no end. However, he didn’t get a picture of it for his class presentation on our first pass. Then on our second try, we found that in that direction the boat went on the wrong side of the island. I should add that as a family we all supported Isaac in his quest and went to some effort to help, because that’s just how we roll. Finally we managed to capture the greatness:
As you can see, some band of inscrutable French youths had gone to great effort (this was by no means in an easy place to access) to write “Bubble butt” in English, and then had misspelled it. I think for Isaac this combined some wonderful sense of pride in his own English usage capability, and in American exceptionalism in general, with his longstanding love of all things butt-related.
Also that day we discovered a lovely rhino outside the Musee D’Orsay:
Very near this rhino was also the mile-long line that daunted us all week, and ultimately prevented us entirely from entering this beautiful institution. It was a rare point of sadness for me, in a trip that otherwise went so well. I could not buy the tickets online in advance, because I had no way to print them at the apartment. I should’ve remembered this issue and printed them WAY in advance, at home, in Ohio. That would’ve worked. But I didn’t, and so we just couldn’t. Oh well, add it to the list for next time!
The only thing I really took great pains to plan in advance was the trip to the Eiffel Tower. I knew the lines would be impossible. Indeed, even just purchasing tickets for the lift in advance, even months in advance (I started looking in December as soon as out dates were set) proved to be impossible. It was booked– god, a year out!?? I don’t know! But way too far out. The idea of waiting with kids in a three-hour line while being attacked by countless hawkers and scam artists just was not an option. But nor was not going up into the Tour, when in Paris with boys ages 7 and 11. How could you not do that? However I discovered a Third Way. I booked us a table at 58 Tour Eiffel, a restaurant on the first level of the Tour. (There is another, more insanely expensive affair on the second level, but seemed kid-phobic and something like $500 a plate.) I booked and paid for this in advance, and printed the tickets and brought them with us.
This worked beautifully. I had kind of thought of it as just a crutch to get into the tower, and wasn’t expecting much from the food or the experience of dining there per se. I assumed it would be crowded and we would be seated far from the window. In fact, we got the most wonderful possible table over looking the Seine and the food was actually quite good!
Then, for reasons I never really got, we had to walk from the first level to the second. (There was apparently no elevator from the first to the second, and you would have to take one down to the ground and then back up to the second, and there were lines at every possible juncture in this process?) Anyway, this entailed 370 steps. Let’s just picture that for a moment. 370 steps, maybe in groups of ten, times 37??!? With POTS?? Granted, I was wearing my support stockings and as hydrated and plumped up on salt as possible, but still it was extremely arduous! The kids ran up like goats. Ben, a recent marathon runner in excellent health, strode up calmly. And I made it about half way stoically and then my resolve started to falter. What if …? What if this is really not possible? What if I can’t do it? I began begging those walking down for succor: how much farther? And they would smile sympathetically and say, “Oh, not to bad… maybe another ten flights?”
But I made it. And then we got lift tickets to the tippy top, where the lights of Paris spread out on a twinkling velvet carpet.
That’s a good place to end this installment of our trip recap. I’ve only gotten us to Monday! But I should go. It’s maple syrup boiling time and I must tend the process! More tomorrow.