In June 2007, just a few months before the birth of our first grandchild, Kathy and I returned from a five-month sabbatical in France. We loaded a few thousand photographs onto my computer, picked a few hundred to develop, and then chose a dozen or so to blow up, frame and mount on our living room wall. One captured the Eiffel Tower, its lights sparkling against the black backdrop of night.
For Devon, the granddaughter born that August, the picture has always held a certain magic. When she was a baby, I’d stand holding her in front of it, whispering that some day we would go to the top of the Tower together. It was a promise, repeated often, that over the years took on a life of its own.
On our living room floor, she and I would build our own Eiffel Towers, first with hollow boxes that she could stack as a toddler, then as she got older with more complex LEGO constructions that sometimes stretched into a surrounding city.
Sometimes, when we looked at that picture, Devon would ask, “When Ada?” using her invented name for me.
Now, I have an answer: This coming Monday, July 20, at 3 p.m.
Devon is ready. As we pack, she’s been drawing in and studying an Eiffel Tower kid’s activity book, which Kathy printed from the Eiffel Tower web site. She’s been trying out her French, when we read Eloise in Paris and after a visit with our friends, Jen and Bernard, and Bernard’s mother, who is visiting from France. (“How are you mes amis?” she asked us the next morning.)
This will be a very different experience in Paris for Kathy and me. We won’t be going to the Musée d’Orsay, our favorite art museum in the city. But we will be going to a magic museum that Kathy found in one of three books she’s read about traveling in Paris with kids. No three-hour meals in French restaurants (but I promise, no McDonald’s either). We’ll take two boat rides on the Seine, one by day before we climb the Eiffel Tower, one afterwards at night. (The boats, of course, pass directly beside and beneath the Eiffel Tower.) There will be puppet shows in the Luxembourg Gardens, just a few blocks from the apartment we’ve rented, and perhaps a ride on la grande roue, the ferris wheel in the Tuileries, near the Louvre, which we’ll leave to the endless lines of summer tourists. There are other musts: Italian ices and peach melbas, for example, And maybe we’ll take a trip to the zoo at Le Jardin des Plantes, which we haven’t visited since we went with our kids nearly two decades ago.
“We’ll always have Paris,” Humphrey Bogart tells Ingrid Bergman as they part during Casablanca’s dramatic ending.
Bogie and Ingrid, we’re not. But we will celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary on our arrival. As for Devon, I hope our trip together in Paris is a memory she’ll always hold close — and that she returns to the city often.
Paris is no ordinary vacation spot for Kathy and me. This is something like our 12th or 13th visit to Paris, our favorite city in the world. And Devon is surely not just another grandchild. She’s stayed with us significant chunks of her life. I’m fond of telling her that she’s my best friend.
Whatever happens on our Paris adventure, one thing you can count on. There will be a few more 11- by 14-inch photos on the walls of the Lanson living room come August. Surely one will show Devon, an ear-to-ear smile, atop the Eiffel Tower.