I don’t tell her stories here, but this one is more my story — and I am naïve enough to think that putting this here for her to find some day is a good idea.
She did better in the car than I did. I bet HER phone isn’t full of pictures of herself blowing bubbles, pouting out of the window, and shots from above trying to get all three of us in without taking off her seat belt. In short, she dealt with her car boredom in a much more civilized fashion than me.
We chose the route back through Paris. It’s the most direct, though we avoided it on the way fearing traffic. “But how bad could it be on a Saturday?” we figured wrongly.
We saw the Eiffel Tower in a, “Look kids, Big Ben!” kind of way, and sat. And sat. And I started to get inspired by the repetitive (billboard) scenery.
“If she was two years older, I’d be angling for us to stop at EuroDisney right now and go home tomorrow.”
Third times the charm, kid. I’ve been on the EuroDisney shuttle (part of the Great Journey of MomCon ‘11) now I’ve driven past it — and on account of her good behavior, next time we’re going in.
A whole day strapped in her car seat, and she came home, worked on her new tricks (downward-facing dog, mostly) and went to bed at almost normal time, no meltdowns. Not to mention, this was after days of being escorted from monument to ceremony, away from her kitty, introduced to the pool for the first time, and on and on. It was a lot. And she did SO well.
And while I scoped out the bored teenagers at every stop and know that I’m probably in for a lot of that in the future, for this trip?
This trip I’ll trade her a EuroDisney.
And the Hill 112 Memorial • D-Day, 2013
We went to see Albert’s tank today. It was right where he’d described it, on a roll in the topography almost too gentle to call a hill — and yet this vantage point afforded a view of 360 degrees of countryside. 7,000 men died in a struggle from July 10 to the middle of August, 1944, to claim the hill where Albert’s tank now sits.
You can find photos of that July, and a place to help with the next part of his plan on his Hill 112 website.
(The end of this story is my favorite. I could listen to it over and over. Maybe it’s the accent, because in news of small worlds and odd coincidences — he also just happens to be from a town or two over from where my dad was born. You really never know who you’re going to meet.)
This is why.
This morning in Vierville sur Mer, it was quiet. The wind buffeted the long grass on the bluffs, and the sun couldn’t compete. The waves rolled in upon Omaha Beach, and as soon as one would crash, the next would follow suit. In the eerie blank light of 69 years hence, you couldn’t help but stop and stare.
And imagine what was.
We, and all others who believe in freedom as deeply as we do, would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.
It’s almost impossible in this time of nano-processed attention, to think of an example of something that is celebrated and revered with full-throated and unabashed enthusiasm 69 minutes later, let alone 69 years.
But here in this tiny coastal town, with sturdy bisque-colored stone houses, now neatly in rows, it is. This day is.
Flags of all of the Allied countries whip in the wind and everywhere is a clatter of time-worn medals, awash in poppy-studded lapels, and ahush in remembrance.
In the past 24 hours, I’ve met a 93 year old who called the experience the “best in his life,” a man who traveled from Omaha Beach on D-Day +1, through Europe, to bring supplies to a liberated concentration camp, a group of school kids who’d practiced hours to make sure their performance of appreciative song and dance was perfect for the dwindling but hardy row of veterans, and a kid who was gathering veterans’ autographs on a glossy photo, starstruck like you’d expect to see a kid his age at an NBA game.
This. Because there is still reverence in this disposable world. Though may we never again experience that which inspired it, it is up to us all to save it.
To be good stewards of the stories. And each other.
Outside the first house liberated in all of France. It’s next to the Pegasus Bridge in Bénouville, and it’s where I met this man.
All four years of high school, two years of college, and my only viewing of the movie Back to the Future in it, and my French didn’t tumble as fluently all weekend as it did at the airport coming home.
My suitcase was securitized, thanks to a 1.5 litre bottle of Perrier I had put inside because I like to make my life challenging, and all of a sudden I had paragraphs. “I forgot, I’m so sorry, that’s the only liquid I promise.”
I speak the French of apologies.
I remember my last trip, finding the Tower, buying tulips for 45 francs, going inside the Notre Dame — but I missed a lot. I know a whole song about the Champs-Élysées, but I’d never walked down it until last weekend.
The song is fairly accurate. Especially the parts that go, “hmm, hmm, de hm-huh uh, LE CHAMPS ELYSEES.”
I only ended up with one souvenir.
A footie-sleeper onesie deal with tiny baby birds on it. It’s a cute story someday I suppose. “Yes, you’ve been to Paris sort of, and you used to fit into this Petit Bateau jammie romper from the fancy street.”
We both shopped. But Ryan shopped for crepes.
I did not climb nearly as many stairs in 1995, either. To the second level of the Tower, and up to the Sacre Coeur from the 18th arrondissement.
And not doing Paris by tour bus, you get to see all the neighborhoods. We had breakfast one morning in the 7th, and I managed to order off guard and sans menu. Apologies and bread, covered.
There’s a deliberateness, an intentionality, and an appreciation for presentation that makes everything seem special.
Flowers for sale, arranged as if the sidewalk were the finest parlor.
And fruit displayed like a still life in the Louvre.
That is Paris to me. Making the every day, an event.
(And yes, he ate them. When in Rome that isn’t Rome. He had to listen to my retelling of the escargot scene from Pretty Woman though.)
The very best thing about visiting a city, is window watching. Sure, you can people watch — wonder about the old man walking home with his baguette and his chien, or the woman on the Metro about your age with her conservative hosiery and list of tasks from work, and muse what their lives might be like-
But windows let you muse what your life would be like. A window, especially if you can’t see inside, could belong to anyone. It could belong to you.
What would your life be like if you lived on that fourth floor above a bustling Sunday market, or behind that window box around the corner from the Eiffel Tower, or beyond one of those identical squares in a grid of homes the train rushes by, again, and again.
It’s not about the real estate, the apartment is just a canvas. It’s about the possibility.
It’s about who you would be if that window was yours.
What’s it called when you can navigate like a champ with no ability to judge distance? Whatever it is, I have that.
Once, the Bro came to visit me in D.C. I probably inadvertently tricked him into walking 17 miles with the simple and unwavering answer to “How far is it from here?” “Mmm. Two blocks?” Just because you can see the Capitol from the Lincoln Memorial doesn’t mean it isn’t three miles.
And just because the Notre Dame looks like it’s just around the river bend from the Eiffel Tower, doesn’t mean precisely the same thing. By the time we finally got there, my tour consisted of “LOOK. BUTTRESSES. Can we get dinner now?”
(I also tried to break the internet by taking Instagrams of macarons in Paris. Did it work?)
The two best things spotted today:
A man having a birthday, getting sung to, two tables over at lunch. The little girl at the table in between decided he needed a gift, turned around, leaned over the back of the banquette, and presented him with a frite from her plate. He ate it.
And a very soignée woman, silver hair wrapped like a cloud, in a turquoise suit, sitting at an outdoor table smoking an absolutely enormous cigar.
Honorable mention, Ryan’s face after tasting crème brûlée. “Can you make this?” “It requires a blow torch.” “Perfect. I have one in the garage.”
Does France change? According to the news, oui. But according to this 1995 guide book that I somehow own without knowing how, maybe less? That was the last time I spent more than a couple of afternoons (and three buses including the EuroDisney shuttle) in Paris.
I’m going back next week. A long weekend, taking Ryan who’s never been, and seeing if 1995’s greatest hits are still there — the Tour l’Eiffel and le whatnots? Maybe the little restaurant where I ordered my first glass of wine, half my life ago?
That seems like a million years from here — but on the map it’s only an hour flight. The proximity is now, and not taking advantage of that? Je ne regrette rien, and all. Plus, I’m packing all my verbs AND conjugations.
Hrm. The Hangover 2.
Something seems a tiny bit bad tripped in translation…