Lionel and Sophie are the greatest. Jules, 11, and his little brother Achilles (ah-SHE-lay), 8, are my pals. Who needs French when you’ve got Pokemon? Darling Adele, 5, gave up her room for me! Wild kids, super parents, hospitality to write home about (so I’m writing home about it!).
At their insistence, I stayed three nights. Learned a lot from them, about French, the train system, maps, wine (it must be “interesting”), more.
First morning I took the train to Paris. What a miserable day I had! I had three simple errands to do: change money and wire some home for Ellie to deposit in my account; find a replacement for my lost hat and tent footprint; and get my British cell phone working. I stomped around in the slush for hours and achieved nothing. Damn clerks rolled their eyes at my French, then sent me on wild goose chases, dead ends all. I couldn’t bring myself to spend $19 on a sandwich, so I didn’t eat. I handed out a euro to the first ten beggars then stopped. They all had dogs; by the end of the day I started saying, “Eat the damn dog!” Hustlers tried new hustles on me. I felt like an idiot surrounded by pickpockets eyeing me and jet setters carrying Chanel and Armani purchases to their swank hotels. Had to pay to piss. I think I saw Notre Dame–some big church with a crowd of Japanese tourists at the door. Missed my train stop and didn’t get back until late. That was my first day in Gay Paree.
An evening with the kids cheered me up. Next day I took the same train to Paris, like a commuter. Forgetting my errands, I walked this time through the various neighborhoods and came at last to the city center. Notre Dame Cathedral was worth the crowd. I went to the Louvre for a quick look and spent six hours there, enough time to see a small portion. I have still not quite recovered. I didn’t use the maps or guides but wandered aimlessly, mostly in the French and Italian sculptures and paintings. Yes, I saw the Mona Lisa, with my friends the Japanese tourists. I spent a long, long time transfixed by a giant painting of a feast by some Dutchman. The more I looked, the more I saw, until finally I felt that I myself had been to the feast and now I knew these drunken revelers. I got choked up and had to come back later, so glad to see my pals again. If I had had that experience at age 20, I would have devoted my life to art. That, and more, was my second day in Paris.
On the way back “home” to Lionel and Sophie’s, I bought a baguette and some fruit, and passed the evening delightfully with my hosts. Sophie seemed to effortlessly keep a beautiful home, cook wonderful food, even bake for the kids’ school event. When it looks that easy, you know it isn’t. Lionel efficiently found me the information I needed about routes, Warm Showers hosts, cheap hostels and hotels, and trains. I’m thinking about taking a train to the coast before this upcoming blizzard predicted in a few days. There it will be rain, which is easier to deal with.
Next day I took the same train to Paris, this time with my loaded bike. I rode around with some familiarity now, and saw the sights from the saddle. Dig these buzzwords: I had a fellow in a beret make me a crepe by the Seine at the Pont Neuf overlooking the Hall of Justice on my way to see the Arc de Triumph on the Champs Élysées. My first crepe. Made a wish. Hasn’t come true yet. I cycled out of town in the evening thinking about that painting. Thus concluded my three days in Paris.