American Girls in Paris

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Oscar Wilde once said that “When good Americans die, they go to Paris” and while I’m certainly not ready to test his premise, I certainly hope that it’s true.

My wife and I spent a week in Paris in late September and we may never get over it.

We’ve been home several weeks now and when someone asks how our trip was, we both still crumble like a flaky croissant and swoon.

People almost always ask the same question, “What was your favorite part?” My wife has the best reply – “All of it.”

I know we’re hardly unique. People have been falling in love with Paris for centuries for all of the same reasons we did – the art, the history, the architecture, the food, the wine, the baguettes…Okay, you get the picture.

We followed The Gospel According to Rick Steves for our trip as did every other tourist in Paris. I was sitting on the Metro one morning beside a beautiful Asian woman who was pouring over our exact Rick Steves’ Paris guidebook – only hers was in Mandarin.

The Book of Rick

The Book of Rick

On the platform waiting for the train to Versailles, a Midwestern woman traveling with her husband and two grown sons struck up a conversation with us and announced with great fervor, “We’re following Rick Steves.” We felt compelled to bow in reverence and say, “And also with you.”

Throughout the week we overheard folks prefacing comments with, “Well, Rick Steves says…” Make no doubt, when Rick Steves speaks, tourists listen.

Funny how an average looking Joe in a camp shirt and Mom jeans became the Travel Messiah for the free world.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer after following his recommendations saved us from standing in line in so many places.

One thing is for sure – you won’t see any Mom jeans in Paris – even on moms. Parisians are an intimidating lot when it comes to fashion. My dear friend Jeff and his partner Michael were in Paris a week before us and had prepared us to feel not worthy. Jeff posted from Paris on Facebook, “I feel like I just climbed out of a Salvation Army donation box.”

Granted, the French have an advantage over us because they are all beautiful. No, I’m not kidding. There are no ugly Parisians or they must keep them in a remote arrondissement far away from high traffic areas.

So you start with beautiful and then add a minimum of two artfully draped scarves and you have your “average” looking Parisian. I really do think part of their secret is in the scarves. They are all Houdinis when it comes to tying one. Even the children! I swear French children learn to tie a scarf before they tie their shoes. And everyone looks so natural in them – not pretentious like us. (Granted, that didn’t stop me from wearing mine to try to assimilate.)

Oh, and while we’re talking about children – Parisian children all look like they just skipped out of either Madeline or Le Petit Prince. They are well-behaved and charming and we adored hearing them speak in their tiny French voices.

We want one.

We want one.

We really didn’t do any shopping because we were on an Amazing Race pace to see everything that Rick Steves told us to see but we joked about nabbing a French child as a souvenir.

If I had to pick one favorite thing about Paris I think it would have to be the iconic cafes. I loved sitting outside at lunch every day with a glass or deux of rosé just Parisian watching. I learned a lot, especially about French women.

First, the term “gluten-free” does not exist in the French language. You never overhear people saying things like “Can I get that dressing on the side” or “No, thank you, we don’t care for any bread.” In short, Paris is where low-carb diets go to die.

The cafe life

The café life

I could devote an entire post to French baguettes. They are, in a word, perfect – light and airy with a thin crust. And they are an accessory in Paris. You see people throughout the day carrying them under their arms. It was especially fun to see young mothers with small children buying baguettes in the evening for that night’s dinner.

My wife had done all the homework for our trip and trust me, the Invasion of Normandy was not as detailed as her itinerary. My task was making some dinner reservations. Which reminds me, how did people travel before the internet? I perused TripAdvisor and used thefork, the European version of OpenTable, and made some fairly educated selections which all worked out deliciously well.

Say cheese.

Say cheese.

I made most of our reservations for 7 or 7:30 knowing that we would be hungry and tired after a frenetic day of sightseeing. Who knew that a 7:00 PM reservation in Paris is the equivalent of the Early Bird Special? We were amazed to see folks coming into a restaurant after 9 – even on week nights. Damn the French – we had chic envy.

The art. Sacre bleu! Where do I begin? You could spend a year in the Louvre alone but we took St. Rick’s advice and made a bee line for our “priority” items first. For me, that was Venus de Milo.

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Venus is out of this world.

Growing up, my beloved Aunt Phyllis had a small replica of this statue in her living room and I thought it was the most exotic thing I had ever seen. My uncle was an Air Force officer and he and my aunt lived abroad for several years and collected some beautiful mementos.

I would be mesmerized by my aunt’s tales of travels all over Europe. She knew I loved her Venus statue and as she began to downsize in her later years, she gave it to me. I treasure it and to see the real thing in person at the Louvre took my breath away and I felt as if Aunt Phyl had her arm on my shoulder.

My wife’s moment came at the Musee d’Orsay when she saw Monet’s Field of Poppies. I saw her tear up and asked what that was about. She told me that her high school English teacher (not her favorite) had a poster of the painting in his classroom and that she would zone out and escape into the beautiful fields during class. To see the original exceeded even her high school imagination.

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It’s not your English teacher’s Monet.

And perhaps that’s the true elixir of travel, particularly to lands foreign to us. Travel makes our world view so much larger. As Saint Augustine noted, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

I’m only a few pages in on my book but I can’t even pretend to be blasé about Paris. And I think the author Paula McLain perfectly articulated my magnifique obsession in The Paris Wife when she wrote, “Though I often looked for one, I finally had to admit that there could be no cure for Paris.”

I can live with that.

C’est si bon!

Happy, happy, joie, joie!

Happy, happy, joie, joie!

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We’ll always have Paris or maybe it’s really Paris will always have us.

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