Remember those essays we had to write the first day back to school?
How I spent my summer vacation.
I probably wrote that I played with friends and helped my mom around the house. Apart from that I went to an occasional movie with my best friend, gratis her awesome dad who’d pay the price of my admission…a quarter. Yep. A quarter. Back then…the 50’s and early 60’s…we could see a news reel, a cartoon, and a feature film for twenty-five pennies. On Maui, at least. Not sure what mainland theaters were charging.
Our family wasn’t rolling in dough so there were no trips to California, New York, or Europe. Those places weren’t even on my radar. The most I could hope for was a short trip to nearby Honolulu on a propeller plane. That’s if my older sister paid for my round trip ticket, inviting me to visit for the summer.
It shouldn’t be difficult to figure out that my world view was pretty narrow…that of an island girl out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Fortunately, that all changed when I got married.
My husband’s first job was with Pan American World Airways, so we honeymooned in Tahiti. His second job was with American Express, with whom he got a promotion which moved us to New York. A short couple of years later he joined Norwegian American Cruises…and the rest is travel history.
Our first trip to Europe was in the 80’s. This time it was on me, since I was working with TWA in New York. It included a quick 2-day glimpse of Paris. Years later when our daughter was a teen, I dreamed of returning to that glamorous city with her in tow. I knew she’d never be able to afford it on her dancer’s salary.
This summer my dream trip to Paris came true. Except that my daughter had to work. No whisking her off to Europe. So instead it became…a second honeymoon for hubby and me.
While not the romantic scenario acted out in movies by the likes of Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, hubby and I managed just fine for a middle-aged couple. We held hands. We looked lovingly into one another’s eyes. We teased and bantered, sharing intimate jokes at which only the two of us could smile and chuckle.
And yes, there were moments of frustration. When we got on each other’s last nerve.
Like when we went in search of Rodin’s Museum and Napoleon’s Tomb, and instead found ourselves wandering the streets in an isolated industrial neighborhood, while my poor aching feet screamed…”Get off of me! You’re killing me!” And when we had to go in search of the nearest “toilette,” so I could pee for the hundredth time.
Dead tired from scouring every corner of Paris we would fall into bed early. No evening soirees for us. No moonlit boat rides on the Seine . No gazing into each others’ eyes while dining on squab and chocolate souffles. We were content with a simple meal, an I Love Lucy video we’d brought from home, and finally snuggling side by side, snoring contentedly beneath a fluffy, white duvet…the nearby Eiffel Tower keeping watch over all, and lighting the skies above.
Funny what rocks your world when you’re old.
My favorite tour was wandering amidst miles and miles of tombstones at the Pere La Chaise Cemetery.
(Photo courtesy of…ohbythewayblog.blogspot.com)
Morbid? Just the opposite! It was other-worldly. Seeing row upon row of oft-times centuries-old graves. It was as though, those poor, deceased souls were sneaking glimpses of us…as we were having a peek in on them. With my cell phone I snapped photos of such notables’ tombs as Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt, Chopin, and Gertrude Stein. Even Jim Morrison of the rock group, The Doors, was interned there. I was especially delighted to see the simple graves of actors Yves Montand and wife Simone Signoret. They had been larger than life on the big screen. Now they lay like common folk beneath the hard earth.
Especially sobering were the graves of those who had suffered under Hitler’s demonic regime. I could still feel their wretched agony, pulsating beneath the stone.
(Photo courtesy of…cemetery explorers. blogspot.com)
I could hear my mom lecturing from her grave…”Don’t be taking pictures of the dead. They’ll haunt you. Wait and see.” Dismissing such thoughts, as best I could, I’d remark to myself…and yet loud enough so the dead could hear…”You’re a good person. I’m just honoring you, your memory.” Of course I didn’t wait for a response as I quickened my pace.
One particular tombstone stopped me dead…pardon the pun…in my tracks.
The image of a young man from the Victorian era…captured in bronze, dressed as though he’d been out and about, leather gloves and all…lay full length across his grave. He looked to be 6 feet tall. I kept staring in disbelief at the gorgeous hunk of cast stone. My eyes scoured every inch of him, hesitating where his crotch bulged…the only part not green from oxidation. Curious…
(Photo courtesy of…canvasoflight.com)
I was certain mine weren’t the only eyes bewildered by what lay before me. I’d had to wait my turn while a couple of men gazed down at what seemed a very unexpected and highly unusual tombstone. I admit I was afraid of taking a photo of the dead man’s likeness. Looking at him through the lens, I thought he’d wink…or frown…or sit up and smack me. I admit, I was a tiny bit scared. Calming my fears, I turned to the inscription and quickly snapped a shot.
That night in the comfort of our rented apartment, I looked through the photos I’d taken. I paused at the image of the young man made of bronze. He continued to fascinate me. When I moved on to the snapshot of the inscription, I held my breath. Were my eyes playing tricks on me? How could the inscription be upside down? I was positive I’d not turned my cell phone around to take the picture. That would’ve been awkward. There must have been a good explanation, although neither my husband nor I could come up with one.
I was spooked. I could not look at the picture of the inscription again, without feeling as though a ghostly urchin was having fun at my expense. I almost believed my mom’s scolding that I would pay for disrespecting the dead. Almost. I finally convinced myself that whoever had commissioned the sculpture deliberately requested that the inscription…in French…be written upside down. After all, it seemed in keeping with the provocative tomb. Perhaps it was done so the deceased could read what it said without too much effort on his part. He could just…sit up.
Aaahhh, Paris…all of its sights and smells, large and small, grandiose and humble…captures the essence of European culture. Refined and earthy all at once. Grounded in centuries of history, yet comfortable in its modernity..
I left with a deep respect for people different from me. Folks at ease in their daily lives. In fact, I marveled at how easily Parisians worked and relaxed throughout the day. They don’t seem to subscribe to our American need to work 60-hour weeks, playing only on weekends, if even that. As we toured the city, we saw, and heard, many a Parisian bicycling, and lunching, along the Seine. They sat at nearby cafe tables, sipping wine and conversing as tour buses and motorcycles whizzed by.
Yet I was glad to be home, settling back into our normal life…resuming our normal routines…comforted by our cozy, familiar surroundings.
We’re no different from Dorothy, who preferred Kansas to Oz…
…there really is…no place like home.
(Note: I will post my own photos of Paris…as soon as I figure out how to upload them from my cell phone. I couldn’t wait until then to write about it. Something I already know how to do.)