Almost two weeks and legions of unwholesome inhalations later, I am still in Paris. My wife is much better at sticking with our originally made plans so she is en route back to tropical, deodorant friendly Miami for an assortment of reasons including, and yes you heard this right, because it is much cooler there. The combination of exactly why the US was foolish to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the native disinterest in good hygiene, almost four weeks of Lilliputian-styled elevators and having to beg the waiters to refill our water finally got the best of her. Rehasing bad Caracas memories do not help either (more on that later)
But the main reason, thankfully unspoken is that she was likely tired of having to keep traveling with me. I’d like to think that I am the traveling equivalent of a comfortable sweatshirt but I am likely more the equivalent of that suitcase on wheels which is never on track and rarely allows anyone to lift the handle to the desired height.
I do accept that Paris is an acquired taste and while I am not quite ready to make myself an expat, I wouldn’t mind if my sojourn here lasted another two months, or years. These few extra days in “La Belle Cite” has done my intellect a ton of good since traveling with children in a cultural mecca is a blast, but needs to say, a trade off.
Much like going to NY and just hanging out at Times Square, children have different priorities, mainly spending as much time as possible anywhere which sells cotton candy or offers unlimited rides on bumper cars. This pretty much eliminates any chance of doing something really cultural such as going to the Louvre, Le Sacre Coeur or well being any place that is more than 30 years old. Note to curators of famous museums – have a small bumper car ride and sell cotton candy.
In truth, my museum stamina has waned anyway. During my “adult” days this week, I set aside three hours to see each of the prized ones, and after about an hour of trying to negotiate my way through hordes of “art lovers” taking pictures of pictures, I feel as if I have had my fill. I push myself for another half hour, trying to discern what exactly an art aficionado should do other than simply admire the beauty and intricacy of each work.
But back to Paris. Paris is huge. The fact that there are 20 “arrondisements” and each one at least 3 times the size of the town in which I grew up is enough to show how much time one needs to really see the city. As in about two years.
Just to describe two of these arrondissements, I’ll start with the 18th where my trio sought safe haven after the bombing of Dresden-like heat wave in Paris last week. From the second we got there, my wife could sense that something was let’s just say her Pavlovian reaction to having grown up in Caracas.
Within two minutes of getting out of the men’s locker room after a football game, I mean Metro, she told me to keep all my possessions tightly pressed against my body which given the 110 degree heat, threw me off my balance even more.
My wife and I are rather different in this regard. She’s the lawyer-type who sniffs potential trouble from a mile away. I am the poet type who rarely senses potential doom and if I do, I simply prefer to convert it into verse. Thus I told her she was overreacting.
Me: “Baby. It’s just a carnival atmosphere and likely none of these people own an air conditioner so if they are going to swelter, they figured they might as well be outside.”
Wife: “Baby you are just so naive. I am not sure why you had two Lasik surgeries because you seem blind. Do you see how they travel in packs of three or more. That’s for tag team stealing. ( I added the tag team part)
Me: Love we are not in Venezuela ( I immediately wanted to retract that statement as it can go in several ways)
Wife: Oh how little you know. This is Venezuela. And you are not exactly a good body guard ( Testosterone depletion statement)
Me: Baby, you are being paranoid. And subconsciously a little bit of a snob. We don’t have anything they want
Wife: Long unpleasant glance in my direction. ” Well if you don’t consider me, Adrian and our baby-to-be something of value then I guess you’re right.
Me: Long pause. More testosterone depletion.
Wife: “No response love?”
Me: Sorry. I was just scanning the premises to see if anyone looks like Osama Bin Laden.
Wife: “Love. Aside from the fact it is 4000 degrees out here, lets get in the museum and when we are done, out of here as fast as humanly possible. I don’t like the feeling I get here.
Me: Baby. It’s just the weather. Particularly since you are pregnant. The AC in there will make us feel great
Three hours later the scenario my wife was describing came to fruition. One of the many “harmless” carnival seekers tried to steal my wife’s diaper bag but I was too busy looking for large slides to see her nearly make off with Adrian’s tablet, our lifesaving water and four changes of baby clothes. My wife who was in full downtown Caracas on weekends mode caught and nabbed the lady in the act. I naively assumed that the klepto just got confused. Despite being at one of the largest kids parks in all of France when the weather finally sank below 100, we were on the metro within ten minutes.
The following day we returned to the scene of the crime, albeit several hours earlier and with electronic sensors on our possessions. My wife had me in full FBI mode as we made a mad dash from the metro to the museum. For those who visit Paris with kids, I highly recommend the Museum of Science and Industry. European kids museums are more advanced in general but this one takes the cake as it appears to have been conceived by Leonardo Da Vinci and underwritten by a combination of National Geographic and the U.S. Olympic Team with its performance testing for kids. In fact at one point my son said “Mami and Dada, you can just leave me here and go home so I can really have fun”.
For another slice of greater Paris, on Friday, after much prodding on my part, we went to Giverny. Giverny sounds like a patented French vineyard, the kind of place that evokes images of blazing gold cornfields and bustling vines of burgundy grapes and well it should have.
But the town itself is a dump, as it looks like a miniature Reno, Nevada dump. The only place worth seeing are the Claude Monet House and Gardens about three miles from the town center. And so given that it is the only attraction really worth the trek, one would have thought the train station would have been overflowing with transportation there.
The road to Emmaus was fraught with obstacles though I will spare you the extent of the details. But let’s say we waited for a cab or similar form of transport to the gardens for so long that we made the executive decision to bag it and grab the next train home. This was one of those painful ” I told you so” moments with my wife so I immediately bought first class tickets even though no one checks the tickets on the train so you can sit anywhere you want. Finding a taxi cab, despite calling ten cab companies and flashing a 20 Euro bill was similar to finding good Ethiopian food in Hialeah.
As we were ten minutes from hopping on the train back to Paris, a Magic Kingdom-like mini train magically appeared. From there magic was the operative word. Everything one needs to know about France and the greater Paris region in general came to life.
Every prize has its price and the French make good on every pound of flesh they exact. Want to see the Eiffel Tower? Bear the hour long lines.. Ditto for the Louvre and Arch de Triomphe.
Want to enjoy the convenience and scope of the Metro system? Plug your nose and watch your back. Want to test your French speaking skills? “Please speak in English”.
And to get out to see the reason why Monet defined impressionism and its dazzling array of sensual effects, bring your running shoes or take the West Point like bike ride up the hill. But trust me it is worth every seeming inconvenience. Just revisiting the images of the lush garden is enough to delight the senses.
Getting home was equally a mission. We thought we could get a taxi from the gardens and a direct train home from Gare St. Lazare but neither was close to the truth. Mais “C’est La France”. Much like having a wife, it is definitely possible to keep them quite happy. It’s just going to take a lot of patience, holding on tightly, and well, likely many other unexpected roadblocks too.