Premier Jour a Paris – First Day in Paris
Happy Birthday to Me
Sunday, September 5, 2010
We linked up with my Dad and his wife, Kathe, at the Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris. Our flights had landed simultaneously, ours from Miami, theirs from Atlanta. We saw them at baggage claim, trudging forward with a cart stacked high with luggage (hmmm... they're obviously not traveling for a year, are they? Too much stuff...) A taxi driver with a full-sized van eagerly whisked us away, 40 minutes to the city center, charging about $130 for the journey. Bienvenue a Paris, tout le monde (Welcome to Paris, everyone). It was a precursor of prices to come: C'est tres, tres cher (it's very, very expensive). [and for you sticklers, no, I can't figure out how to produce the accent for French vowels on my netbook :)]
Even after a night locked in a metal tube with Finley The Merciless, I was excited to be in the City of Light. "Are we going to La Tour Eiffel?" asked Fiona. "Yes," I answered (and yes, she said, "La Tour Eiffel..."). We are. We drove past centuries-old gray cement buildings, countless sidewalk cafes, and even caught a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. "Look, kids, that's it," I said. Fiona asked for the 56th time if we were going there.
The apartment we're renting (okay, Dad's renting; I simply found the place online) sits in the tres elegant 6th arrondisement (section). The Unofficial Guide to Paris describes the area of Saint-Germain-des-Pres: "Chic shopping meets the best of Parisian literary and artistic elements...There are scores of excellent and charming hotels and restaurants there, but be prepared to pay for quality and style." More about the wallet prep in later stories, first...
The manager showing the flat helped us lug bags up 3 flights of stairs. "Wow, are we gonna get a workout..." I thought. Just another excuse to indulge in petit pain au chocolate (chocolate croissant). The kids set to work tearing through the renovated 17th century flat named Isadora, dropping shoes from our location on the 4th floor (no elevator, naturellement), navigating the maze, inspecting the 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms (one of which doesn't have a toilet inside, but instead, the toilette sits just off the kitchen). Finley asked me to open the (ancient) windows, which I did. "Hey you guy-ii-'ssss......" he screamed at the top of his lungs. "Finn," I snapped. "Stop it! Other people live in this building, too." I'm guessing they're wealthy French folk who don't appreciate the screams of impish American children. Heck, I don't like their screams, and they're my kids...
"There's free entry to the Louvre today," said Kathe. "It's the first Sunday of the month." Sounds great, except my head was still fuzzy from the flight, and I didn't want to stare at 4 Mona Lisas for the price of none. Once we learned how to work the flat-screen TV using 3 remotes, the kids zombied and passed out on the couch, the soles of their black feet touching its white leather. Our nanny and friend, Chelsea, had arrived the day before and had called Dad's new European cell phone. "I think I have a message," he said. "I'm still not exactly sure how to work this thing." Minutes later, Chelsea showed up at the door of our security coded building.
Fiona, anticipating an immediate visit to the Eiffel Tour, had changed into her ballet recital pink-sequined bodice with black tutu. She was disappointed to learn we were going to lunch in the neighborhood, instead. Dad wasn't pleased with the frou frou attire. "Fiona, that looks weird. Can you put on normal clothes, please?" "No," said Fiona. "I want to wear this." I told her it was fine. My philosophy is 6-year-olds have few fashion "don'ts," and since I paid $80 for the ballet costume, darn it, we were going to get some mileage (or kilometers) out of it.
We marched down the stairs and along the narrow sidewalk in search of late lunch. En route, Fiona received smiles and more than a few comments: "Belle, si belle..." ("beautiful, so beautiful"). Just a block from Isadora, we found many sidewalk cafes, most with menus translated into English. I ordered Fiona and Finley chicken and fries, which turned out to be an enormous plate of nuggets with heaps of golden fries. My salad was also giant (and we thought French portions were tiny?) Finley took several bites before falling asleep in his chair. He eventually slumped over, resting his head on the table. The meal was pleasant and quiet with our crazy one comatose. "Il a fete trop hier soir?" jokingly inquired the server ("He partied too much last night?")
Chelsea immediately won my heart when, after lunch and a long nap, she suggested feeding the kids at the apartment while Dad, Kathe and I enjoyed a grown-up dinner for my (gulp, 40th) birthday. Kathe had marked several restaurants in her guidebook, and we walked 5 minutes to a place called Le Comptoir (The Counter). Even on a Sunday night, a line stretched out the door. The maitre 'd happened to be searching for a party of 3 in a queue of couples: "Deux, deux, non... il y a trois?" ("Two, two, no...is there 3?") "Oui, on est troi," I said ("Yes, we're three"). The Madam lead us past the line, directly to a table of 3 inside the tiny restaurant. Such luck. On my birthday. Sated by salmon and red wine, I stepped onto on the Boulevard Saint Germain, watching beautiful people, listening to French chatter. And while I don't have my husband, I do have this moment. In Paris. Happy birthday, indeed.