ahhh, Paris

See, I really was there!

Yes, it’s August and I apologize for the entry hiatus, but there’s a great reason.

I just returned from three weeks in Paris and was ensconced in preparations for a couple weeks before that. Before you start taking out the hankies and violins and throwing them at me, however, I just want you to know how and why it transpired. 

For the past eight or nine years, three college friends and I have gotten together for a much-needed three to four days of unadulterated girl-time. Thus far, we’ve managed a different location each time, dictated by houses we or our families own.

Last year it was Memphis, TN, where L. lives. Before that it was Cape Charles, VA where my parents are now retired.  Also on the list: Nashville (where A. lives), Fredericksburg and DC (where C. and her in-laws live), Manhattan, NY (where C.’s father-in-law rented a sweet little apartment), Minneapolis (me), and Destin, FL (L. owns a condo there). 

Several times over the course of those years, C. has brought up the Paris apartment her in-laws own as a destination, but none of us really saw it as feasible, either from a financial- or time-commitment perspective, or both.

But last year something in us snapped. None of us won the lottery. Our schedules, commitments and child-taxiing weren’t suddenly less frenzied.  But during one of our many marathon conversations about everything from which jeans fit best to whether or not the universe is just, we all realized we knew at least one peer – if not more – within one degree of separation, who had died of cancer or some other disease we associate with growing old. 

In that moment, we decided that Paris was our next trip.  And when C. generously offered to let any of us use the apartment after our week together was up – for as long as we wanted, mind you — I leapt at the chance to bring my family over for another two weeks.

For me, it was like two different trips, both wonderful in their own ways and revelatory about a number of things. Or maybe just a hyper-intense reminder of things I already knew.

But let me back up.

C. and I both spent our junior year in Paris on the Sweet Briar Junior Year in France program: a month in Tours (in the Loire Valley) and then the entire school year at any Parisian university or universities of our choice.  I went to the Sorbonne for literature, the Sciences Po (top-shelf political science university) and studied painting at a well-known artist’s studio (atelier), for example.   In both Tours and Paris I lived with families, but surprisingly it was the family in Tours with whom I have maintained contact all these years. 

Their older son, my French bro JP, was working in Paris while we were studying there so I got to know him even better. He and his friends affectionately called me Moll-Alcolique, but I wouldn’t for one minute want you to think that it was because I drank lots of cheap red wine. No, no. I only drank lots of moderately inexpensive red wine.  And for some reason when I did, my French improved ten-fold.  So really, it was an investment in serious language study.

 Anyway, after college, I didn’t have a clue what to do with my life (surprise, surprise), so I signed on for a year of teaching English in France. I ended up in Marseilles and became friends with a host of British university students who were doing the same thing as a requirement for their language major.

So, when I was arranging this latest trip to Paris, I wanted to maximize the European friends I could see in one go. 

This is how I imagined it and, for the most part, how it all played out:

Week one: College girlfriends, mostly shopping and eating, some sightseeing.
Week two:  Family sightseeing in Paris; a side-trip to Normandy to see Mont-St.-Michel and husband’s uncle’s grave near the beaches.
Week three: Visits with JP and famille, several days touring with British friends and 3 kids culminating in a trans-cultural, multi-lingual party complete with 8 children and 7 adults.

C’etait magnifique.

And here are my take-aways from this trip about me, my life, the French and France, themes which I may or may not expand upon on in upcoming entries. Please keep in mind that some of these are GROSS generalizations and are not meant to define France or the French in any meaningful way– they are merely flippant observations:

  1. French women are not fat because they smoke, eat smaller portions and less processed food, and walk more than we do.  Food is far more expensive and more of a hassle to come by, but well worth it if you go to the right boulangeries, patisseries, epiceries, boucheries, etc.
  2. French women are beautiful because they have a confident, placid, calm face while they are out in the world (at least on the Metro) as if nothing and no one else exists and nothing can touch them. We used to call this “Metro face” when I was a student.  It is impossible to achieve when touring with children.
  3. French men are still, for the most part, not my cup of tea. Never understood that whole “world’s greatest lovers” thing, since on the whole — with a few exceptions –they are short, beaky and lacking in muscle tone. But I am generalizing and I apologize.
  4. I will never ever eat another Costco croissant again. They are a crime against nature.
  5. My comprehension of French is still pretty awesome. Speaking it on the other hand….
  6. Staying in an apartment in Paris is the ONLY way to do it.
  7. Having grown-up money in Paris is the ONLY way to do it. I LOVED not being intimidated by the chi-chi little boutiques I used to pass sheepishly without a second glance as a pauvre student, being able to casually ask for a card after being told the innocuous little ring I was trying on was about $2,000 in Euros.
  8. I am not over the hill — or “formerly hot” as a new book I read about in the NYT suggests about women over 35 (My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches From Just the Other Side of Young by Stephanie Dolgoff). At least not in France.  Maybe it’s true that the French appreciate “older women” or maybe I can achieve “Metro Face” without my kids, but I swear, while with my three college friends that first week, I actually caught some appreciative glances.  Now I get why my mom loved it when construction guys used to whistle at her when I only found it gross and demeaning…sigh…
  9. Old friends are friends forever if you give them the correct care and feeding. They are your institutional memory and the ones who see you the way you feel before you look in the mirror in the morning: young.  Old friends are forgiving of your flaws and don’t care if you’ve become a communist  or a Wiccan in your old age. They know the real you underneath it all.
  10. Children may moan about being dragged to churches and museums, but later you’ll hear them talking to a friend or another adult about the “coolness” of the Willy Ronis exhibit at the Palais de Monnaie or how “amazing and fun” Mont-St-Michel was.  I may never hear anything about the Catacombes or going to the Musee D’Orsay, but memories were surely made and those are irreplaceable.
  11. Kids don’t need a common language to have a good time. Ranging in ages from seven to 15, the eight French, British and American kids in our little Paris apartment had an uproarious time playing the card game Spoons, running around the little gated hamlet in which the apartment was located and simply trying to communicate with one-another.
  12. Paris has been photographed a million times in a million different ways. Relax on the “beauty shots” and take pictures of the people with you and those you encounter on the street.  Easier for me to say than do, but towards the end, I got better at it.
  13. Living in a big city is exhausting. Duh.
  14. American cities are clean.
  15. The French are amazing, considerate, consistent drivers.  They are extremely aware of other drivers and understand the rules, both official and unofficial, of the road. Brought to crystal-clarity coming back to drivers in the Twin Cities, some of the least considerate, most inefficient, clueless and passive aggressive drivers IN THE WORLD. Wonder why I’m riding your bumper while you putz along at 50-mph in the fast lane????????ARRGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  16. Never, never, and I mean NEVER pass up on an available toilet in Paris. The Parisiens are not as attuned to human needs as they could be and clean public restrooms are few and far between. Do this before getting in line to go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, especially with children.
  17. I will never dress like a schlump again. I got a necessary shot in the fashion arm while there and I now vow to wear all my clothes, and wear them well, even when heading to Target.  And I will not apologize for it. I really liked looking my best every day, damn it.
  18. My house is huge.
  19. My life is easy.
  20. The French really know how to do dairy, fashion, chocolate, pastries and wine. We all know this, but to experience it firsthand every day is…wow.