Now, I’ll tell you up front, other people’s travelogues can be a big ol’ drag. Back in the ’70s, we were always forced to watch my Grandma and Auntie Donna’s slide shows from their trips to Italy and “The Holy Land” and I remember gasping for air once they were over. Except for this one trip where they brought an old-fashioned 8mm movie camera with a zoom lens, and by the end of that one, they were passing out motion-sickness bags.
So I promise to keep this short and have lots of pictures. After all, I’m fairly sure 75% of my readership only ever reads the pictures anyway, so I’ll continue shouting down this well.
ten years apart – above, June 2006; below, August 1996
First off, a thanks to Jiffer, because if she hadn’t gotten married in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, we might not have escaped the terminal inertia that can plague the child-bound. In fact, it was the perfect thing to bring Lucy, as counter-intuitive as it might seem. I’ve already seen France, already been drunk in Paris, already had sex in a shower with a hitherto platonic friend (hi N.L.!), so seeing the place through the eyes of a one-year-old was innocently, bizarrely delightful.
I approached France the same way any sensitive lefty would: apologetic about our government, and vowing not to speak a word of English while I was there. Even Tessa, who is fluent in Spanish, was getting around town in French by the time we left. Verbs and nouns I hadn’t thought about in eighteen years suddenly bubbled to the surface, making it infinitely easier for the French to take us under their collective wing.
Which they did. When Lucy took a double café crème and threw it twenty-five feet all over the front end of a bistro, some quick French (and her giggle) had the waiter laughing and saying “ooh la la la la la LA…” Not to repeat myself, but every interaction with every Frenchie left us happier and more willing to spend Euros in their economy.
One woman in a restaurant – obviously from Long Island or somewhere with an accent like a table saw cutting copper pipe – was so loud, rude, embarrassing and sickeningly entitled that I apologized to the establishment once she left. They were stunned and delighted. I figure, one French person at a time. I’ll rebuild our world reputation if it takes all vacation.
And then, unbelievably, we were accosted by a French Television crew doing a story on tourists who were forsaking Starbucks and chain restaurants for the old cafés. Now I had the chance to show untold millions that not all American visitors were boorish chunderheads!
Sadly, my French got bogged down on a complicated question halfway through (and I resorted to English), which bummed me out unduly. Hopefully, a few shots of Lucy sharing water with Seth warmed les coeurs all over the mainland, and I did get off a few choice zingers.
About Lucy. Curiously, she had an explosion of English while we were in France. In the shot above, she is at our hotel in Grasse, where she picked up the phone and said, “Allo? Eh? Okay. Okay. Okay. Bye.” And then hung up. You had to pick Tessa and I up off the floor.
Later on, she introduced “banana,” “apple” and “cracker” into her vernacular, which gives her about 25-ish words she uses with some authority. The day before we left for our trip she said her first sentence: “That’s Da-da!” I was in bed, of course, but I nearly cried.
By the end of France, she learned an odd French word: “maintenant” – pronounced “meant-non” – which means “now.” She didn’t exactly know what it meant, but she used it so often that I got the impression she was trying to hurry us along.
Personally, I can’t believe how good a traveler she was. Slept six hours on the red-eye, always up for adventure, and even in the museums, she really seemed to be taking it in. At the Louvre, she would point to dogs in famous Italian Renaissance paintings and say “dog!” When she got to a Botticelli that had a man playing a lute, she said “Da-da!” (I usually play guitar for her). I know she will remember nothing of this trip, but even if there’s the faintest trace of appreciation for masterpieces in her deepest inklings, it’s worth it.
This is the first real vacation Tessa and I have ever taken. We had a few days after our wedding when we drove up to Canada, and another stolen weekend when she was eight months pregnant, but this was the first time we weren’t really on a schedule. Due to a freak of European time zones, the sun sets at 10pm in Paris, allowing ambient light to filter clear until eleven, making the evenings endless, dripping, delightful.
I have never been one for constant solace; to me a journey alone is a journey not taken. It’s not just amazing to see Paris through the eyes of a thirteen-month-old girl, but also with the eyes of my thirtysomething-year-old wife. I’ve done France as a drunk fratboy, imbibed wine out of baby bottles and sloshed fondue, paid good money to have my fortune told by real witches – but being here with her was far more spellbinding, and far more intoxicating.