Slow-lane travel demands neither backwoods destinations nor dirt roads. You can even carve slow-lane space in crowded cities and within yards of tourist throngs.
That’s because slow-lane travel is about pace and state-of-mind, not place. We were reminded of this once again today after Kathy, our grand-daughter Devon and I climbed the steep staircases from the Abbesses Metro stop toward the grand church Sacre-Couer, in Montmartre. The neighborhood is known for its Moulin Rouge and bawdy history, and, today, for its artists and caricaturists, who sketch many of the tens of thousands who flock here from across the globe. We were among them, stopping for Devon to pose for her first portrait with a caricature artist. She loved it.
But then what? We joined the throngs winding through the century-old church and squeezed our way through the multitudes selling Eiffel Tower trinkets to reach the railing in front of the church for a view of Paris stretched out below. Three more sheep in the tourism fast lane.
Alongside the church, an exuberant trio of musicians calling themselves Les Presteej, had set up on the steps. One played the guitar, one anchored the rhythm on what looked like a hollow wooden box he used as a sort of bongo drum. A third played a kind of upside-down metal wash tub that contributed to the percussion. All three had beautiful voices, and they engaged the crowd in song and response as they played. We stayed, and kept staying for perhaps a half hour. But then, we had no timetable. Before we left, we’d bought their CD for $11, Devon had posed for a photo with their lead singer, and the group had thoroughly lifted our spirits.
Next stop was the small park below the church, perched atop the hills looking down on the city. Devon took off her shoes and played in the sandbox, which, along with a small slide and a couple of bouncy horses on springs made up the entire playground. Before long, another little girl, probably 5 or 6, arrived.
Devon slipped her shoes back on and ran over to us.
“How do I tell her I can’t speak French?” she asked.
Soon they’d exchanged names (hers was Delphina, though I’m not sure of the spelling) and, with a little prompting and translation from Devon’s new friend’s parents and us, the two girls set about to construct and bake une gateau, a cake — made of the finest sand, of course. It was a sweet moment and one Devon is likely to remember. (I still hold the memory of a soccer game 57 years ago in Rome, when, as a 9-year-old, I tried to communicate with a couple of distant Italian cousins though I didn’t speak a word of their language.)
After awhile, we headed for a late afternoon snack and then, at 6 p.m., home to our apartment. Tomorrow, after all, is the big day: We go up the Eiffel Tower. (I promised Devon she could dictate that blog to me.)
But the day had one more sweet surprise in store. At the Rennes Metro stop, a lovely woman helped us figure out how to buy two books of 10 subway tickets each, one for Kathy and me, and one, at half-price, for Devon. When we finished our transaction, Devon gave her usual winning smile and said, “Merci beaucoup.”
The woman responded by blowing her a kiss.
Somehow I can’t imagine an MBTA employee in Boston responding the same way.