Or perhaps it was the kids and their boats on the Luxembourg Gardens pond. Or Devon’s first glance, from a distance, of the top of the Eiffel Tower, a glance that elicited an audible gasp. Or the spirited youth band that ended its two-hour performance in the gardens with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
You see, our grand plan to bring 7-year-old Devon to France, landing on our 44th anniversary, couldn’t have started much worse. No more than 30 minutes off the plane, after 12 hours of travel with a stop in Iceland, I was struggling with the automatic ticket machine at DeGaulle Airport to buy three tickets for the RER to Paris, when a woman said, “That man walked off with your bag.”
He was gone, and Devon’s little blue suitcase was gone with him. I never saw him. Kathy never saw him. Devon did, but he smiled and took his hand off her bag and when she looked away, he moved fast. Very fast. I felt like a fool for having tried to use the automatic machines and missing the whole thing. Devon felt simply awful, and angry. Her first minutes in Paris.
She and Kathy had shared the bag for carry-on in case our checked bags went astray. It had Devon’s new backpack in it, her Barbies, her My Little Ponies, all of Kathy’s jewelry for the trip, both of their bathing suits, both of their nightgowns, our electrical adapters (tomorrow’s shopping expedition). And with the bag, at least until we struggled to our apartment and managed a few hours of sleep, we lost something much worse. Our spirit. Our excitement that has sustained us all our planning and reading a few months.
But this is Paris and Devon is Devon. When she said “merci beaucoup” and “bonne journee” to the woman who sold us a replica Eiffel Tower and a teddy bear book (in French) at a newsstand, the vendor complimented her accent (she only knows about 10 words of French!). When she charmed the waiter at dinner, he took her into the bar to hand her a lollipop. And when we bought her une gaufre — a waffle sprinkled with powdered sugar — at an outdoor cafe during the park concert, her mood lifted — several thousand feet of lift, in fact. She loved it.
“My idea,” Kathy said with a twinkle. “I have good ideas.” It was nice to see them both smiling again, too. Kathy had worked hard to get Devon out of her funk. (I’m biased but she’s an amazing grandmother.)
Unitl today, we’ve been very lucky over the years. When a man stole Kathy’s purse from beside her feet at a Hungarian Restaurant near Columbia University nearly 40 years ago, she noticed in time for me to pursue him out the front door, confront him, when he turned, and ask, “where’s the purse?” He pulled it from beneath his winter coat and handed it to me, to the wild cheers of restaurant patrons. When our apartment was broken into in Aix-en-Provence in 2007, the robbers took exactly nothing. They ignored such valuables as a leather coat and computer in the closet to search from keys to our landlady’s big house. So to be robbed in broad daylight inches beneath my nose came as a real shock. It was humiliating, too.
“Forgive yourselves,” our good friend Jen wrote. It was an insightful comment. And we already have.
Things can be replaced. Special people and journeys to remarkable places can’t be.
We’re lucky to be here with Devon. And besides, this gives both her and Kathy permission to buy cool things in Paris. Me? I’ll just have to be patient.