what i did this summer…

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.

………hugmamma.

(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.)

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welcome news…from across the “pond”

The Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph), at the ...

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Sometime in the 80’s my husband and I toured Paris. It amazes me to think back to how I called long distance, 2 or 3 times, and spoke with the hotel clerk, reserving a room for a couple of nights. There was no Expedia or Travelocity to compare rates and accomodation details, or even Trip Advisor to guide me through the myriad of pros and cons about an establishment. Chock it up to youth. I didn’t know better, so I plunged ahead, uncaring if the woman at the other end of the phone was rolling her eyes at my obvious lack of sophistication or inability to speak French.

Thank goodness the next time we venture back to the City of Light, the internet will pave the way. This time there’ll be 3 adults whose needs will have to be met, including one 25-year-old who’ll want to do as Cyndi Lauper wails in her song,”Girls just want to have fu-un!”

I’ll have to enlist my French blogging buddy, My English Thoughts, for some help there. Maybe she’ll drag my daughter along to some of Paris’ hot spots, after her elderly parents totter off to bed long before midnight.

I’m hoping when our family does make it back to France’s capital of haute couture and irrepressible charm, the Parisians will be as amenable to us as they were to the author of the following article. I’ve come to love Joe Queenan‘s irreverent sense of humor, which always seems to be “on point.” He publicly admits to things about which most of us probably “bite our tongues.” I guess he’s allowed to get away with it since he writes a column for the formidable Wall Street Journal.

Needless to say when I was in Paris decades ago, the French were as reserved as I’d heard they would be. They weren’t rude, but they weren’t falling all over themselves to be nice either. Being raised to be invisible, an Asian thing, my husband and I had no trouble blending into the background wherever we went . So we were most accommodating of the Parisians then-disdain for American tourists. Hopefully this time my old-age crankiness won’t get me, and the locals, into a battle of the wills, the ill-wills, that is. They’ll have no issues with my always-calm spouse and sweet-tempered off-spring. I’m both, unless I see an injustice about to happen. Then…get out of my way! This 5’2 senior will make you rue the day God gave you 2 ears to hear what spews forth like venom from a cobra!

Okay, well…now according to Queenan, I’ll have no need for any of that. I’ll just have a wonderful, heady touristy time in “gay Paree!”

French Twist: Meet Monsieur Nice Guy

 If you’re a seasoned inhospitality buff like me, the very worst has happened: The French have stopped being mean and surly.

I started to notice this two years ago when I spent two weeks in Paris, and an equally unexpected aura of congeniality was certainly evident when I visited southern France last fall. But now the restraining walls of condescension and nastiness have utterly collapsed and a wave of warmth and courtesy have flooded in. Sacre bleu.

Plaque rue mouffetard

Image via Wikipedia

During my four-day stay in Paris last month, waiters,Paris Cafe, Paris, France concierges, museum guards and even cabdrivers all treated me with jaw-dropping affability. The ticket-taker at the Pantheon did not scream at me when I asked where Emile Zola was buried. The woman in the chocolate shop did not sneer when I asked for directions to the Rue Mouffetard (it was directly around the corner.)

The garcon in the posh restaurant did not treat me like the prototypical Ugly American when I asked what a “cocotte” was. The clerk at my two-star hotel asked if I would like to use her computer to print out my boarding pass, and went out of her way to get the broken elevator fixed so that I wouldn’t have to climb three flights of stairs on my gimpy legs.

The Eiffel tower at sunrise, taken from the Pl...

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Wherever I went–the Louvre and Orangerie, the Comedie Francaise, Honore de Balzac’s house, even the Eiffel Tower–everyone went our of their way to be charming and helpful. For a minute there I thought I was at Epcot.

What happened? What triggered this explosion of courtesy and warmth? Well, for starters, the recession, which would motivate even the most chauvinistic French to tone it down a notch when dealing with tourists. But France has had recessions before, and that never took the edge off those legendary brusque, haughty people.

No, my suspicion is that much of the coarseness and incivility toward foreigners–and particularly toward Americans–stemmed from embarrassment about having collaborated with the Nazis. Anti-americanism was practically an official state policy under Charles de Gaulle, but now the war is no longer an issue. Most of the World War II generation has died out and been replaced by young people who do not have a chip on their shoulder.

Street market in nearby Rue Mouffetard

Image via Wikipedia

Friendly young people. Helpful young people. I know this will come as a shock to those who have not visited France for a while, but the French are now friendlier than the Italians, than the Irish, than the girls who greet you at Hooters. This unanticipated onslaught of goodwill totally floored me.

As a globe-trotting malingerer, I have always enjoyed returning from a jaunt abroad with fresh support for popular American stereotypes about foreigners. Yes, Belgium really is boring. Yes, the Swedes really are laconic. Yes, the Scots really do like a dram or two.

But now these stereotypes are collapsing like wisps of straw. Though most Americans still associate England with bad food–fish and chips, bangers and mash–the truth is that dining out in London is now an absolute joy, with top-flight restaurants everywhere. You can get a good meal even in the provinces, which was certainly not the case before Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair dragged the U.K. into the modern world. So there goes another beloved, hoary stereotype.

As a world-class spoilsport and curmudgeon, I now have less and less anecdotal material to fall back on when I want to blast another society. Luckily, when last I checked, the Germans were still arrogant, the Italians were still incompetent, and the Canadians were still reliably unexciting.

Still, if I go to Berlin this fall and find out that the Germans are no longer bossy and overbearing, I’m going to throw in the towel and turn into an American who doesn’t overeat, overspend or take the first five minutes of every conversation trying to figure out how much everybody else in the room paid for their house. I’m warning you frogs, you Teutons, you Russkies: Two can play this game. Columnist's name

the guy makes me laugh…even though much of what he says is not meant to be funny…hugmamma.

“my english thoughts,” interview…part 2

Happily, My English Thoughts is back blogging. As I mentioned, she’s a busy young woman doing what she should be doing…living, making memories about which to write when she’s my age. I’m taking my own advice, to be sure, just at a whole different level of energy. But I’m delighted to bring you her answers to the questions that remained of our interview. I’m certain you’ll still find her captivating, a native of France, blogging in English.

What do you like to do to relax, or have fun?

That’s a good question actually, I love to listen music and going to some concert but since I’m working in a concert hall, I do listen a lot of music !One thing that I really like is watching TV Show ! I’m kind of addicted to TV Show ! My favourite ones are Criminal Minds, Lie To Me, Grey’s Anatomy, House Md and How I Met Your Mother. I do always watch them in Original version of course ! I think this is such a shame to watch them in French because we miss something, the voice is not same but mainly we’re loosing the accents, the expressions and translations are sometimes different too !

I love to go to the cinema with my friends or even alone ! I’ve been working in this industry as Assistant Camera / focus puller for almost 7 years, so watching a movie in a cinema is for me the best way to really enjoy them, best sound, best image on a big screen…


And of course, I do love to see my friends, having a coffee with them, talking about everything or even nothing, just sharing a good moment with them or if not, at least to can help them if they need to !

I like blogging too but I think there is a good balance to get between my real life and virtual one (blogging world). I need both of it of course but there is some time I will have more need to see my friends than blogging and vice versa ! 🙂

What are your favourite childhood memories?

When I was a child my parents had a sailboat, a small one but it was still great ! I loved when we used to sail in la mer méditerranée and to drop anchor along the smalls rocky beaches ! That was so fun to plunge head first into the sea from the boat ! I could dive and to watch the fish. I loved chase them !! Of course they were always winning !! ( they still are 😉 )

I loved too when we went to the Alps ! During the summer, we used to go in the Alps for hiking. I loved to breath this particular mountain fresh air, watching ground dog and other animals. We set up a big tents and enjoying to hiking during the day. I would love to go to hike now, but most of my friend are not like it… and it’s really not safe to go hiking alone… 

What’s one thing you wish you could do if it were possible?

Eiffel Tower, seen from the champ de Mars, Par...

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That’s a tough question ! There is so many things that I wish I could do but mostly I can do it… it’s more a question about money or time ! Like travelling all around the world… I need time and money to do that ! 🙂

I use to write down a to do list and as soon as I can, to realise one of this wish on my list ! Sometimes I write down little things like visiting Eiffel Tower, but it also can be about travelling / cooking / try a new sport…. So I think I do not have one thing that I wish to do but so many !…

Thank you so much for this interview !! I really enjoyed it. I’m checking your blog as much as I can ! 🙂 I love to keep in touch with you, this is one of the thing that I like about blogging, to could “meet” people like you all over the world !

Take care 🙂
Isa

…thank you very much…hugmamma.