Memories of Paris:
In 1989, on my first trip to Paris with my mother and sister, I sat across from a schoolgirl from Burgundy on an overnight train car, and I kicked her in my sleep all the way from Madrid through the Pyrenees to Paris. She was delighted to see me go in Paris, and she presumably slept, kick-free, for the rest of her trip back to Burgundy.
Originally, we were booked in a coach car on this train, but when we opened the door, we saw that the other travelers had chickens with them. Uncaged chickens. Certain we couldn’t cope with such fowl traveling companions, and we did our best to convey to the ticket collector that we needed to upgrade to first class tickets right away. We kept putting francs, pesetas, and dollars into his hand, and no matter what he said to us (we didn’t understand him anyway), we kept saying “oui,” “si,” and “yes,” to him until he led us to the chicken-free train car with the unfortunate schoolgirl from Burgundy.
Very little was open when we arrived in Paris early the next morning, but we walked along and window shopped until we found one little place whose door was open because the shopkeeper was sweeping. We went inside. She did her best to tell us that she wasn’t open yet. We explained that we would shop while she swept and would buy our things when she officially opened. She hated us because we were stereotypical, boorish American tourists. I don’t blame her. We bought some wonderful souvenirs from her when she officially opened seven minutes later.
After walking the Champs Elysees, we were starving, and where better for hungry Americans to eat while in Paris than McDonalds? We got in a cab and tried to mime to the cab driver that we wanted to eat at “the golden arches.” He was deeply offended, as you can well imagine given what the “golden arches” looks like when mimed, and he pulled off to the side of the road, said, “I’m feeneeshed,” and kicked us out.
Luckily, we saw a Burger King and decided to get our fast-food fix there. There was only one free table and we took it. French children sitting near us dashed to their mothers, who hugged them protectively. We didn’t notice until after they started to sing that we had sat down in the middle of a child’s birthday party.
We went to the Louvre and rushed around trying to find a painting, but we were lost in the hall of sculptures and never actually saw a painting (on this trip). We rushed because clearly there was something exciting about to happen on the main street outside and we wanted to know what was going on. We found a spot on the sidewalk just in time to see President Mitterrand in a motorcade with Mikhail Gorbachev. Raisa Gorbachev waved to us (and 10,000 other people). It was very exciting, but we’d have to return years later, which we did, to see the paintings hanging in the Louvre.
We also saw the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, but I can’t describe them to you, because it was the first time I saw them both, and the experience was too magical for words. You have to go see them for the first time yourself to understand.
When we arrived back at the train station to head back to Madrid, we were hot and droopy in the searing July heat, and were we ever dirty. Oh, the dust on our legs from walking all over the city. But guess what? The train station had private showers, and for a few francs, we could cool and clean off right there in the station before getting on the train.
The shower attendant lady tried to explain to me that there was no hot water, and I think that maybe the showers were even closed because of the lack of hot water, but we had already proven that we didn’t understand “closed” and my sister and I enjoyed the iciest, most wonderful showers we’d ever had while my mom watched our bags.
When we got back to her, we told her she had to go in and cool off. She demurred, but we insisted, and we all agree that it is one of our happiest memories of Paris: cooling off in a private, urban waterfall in the heat of the day.
Paris was so civilized all those years ago. So sweet, and patient with us, and exciting, and beautiful. It still is. Please, please, World, we must do everything we can to keep it that way.
Vive la France. 11/13/2015