In Paris, the Kindness of Strangers is Everywhere

IMG_6443When Devon got stuck in a subway turnstile this morning, the next passenger in line, an older woman, inserted her ticket and whisked Devon through in front of her.  On the train, a young woman gave Devon her seat.  Last night, the owner of a convenience store was so charmed by her efforts to address him in French that he came around the counter and squatted down in front of her.

But nothing was more embracing than our encounter this morning with Evelyne when we went to Saint Sulpice to buy tickets for tonight’s performance to the Mozart Requiem. She immediately took Devon under her wing, giving her a poster of the concert as a souvenir. She asked her name so she could write to her from time to time.  And she told her, “Remember, you have to follow your passion.”

It turned out that 50 years ago, Evelyne had lived for a year in Santa Paula, Calif., a  farming village north of Los Angeles with a population of 30,000.  It also happens to be where Kathy’s parents lived for about a decade. Mind-boggling.  Evelyne, now in her late 60s, also traveled around the United States on that visit with the American Field Service and visited the White House. When Devon told her that she planned to study in France, our new friend was thrilled.

We talked for perhaps 15 minutes after buying the tickets to the concert from her.

“That blew me away,” Kathy said. “First of all, she was so nice. And this is slow lane travel. You talk, you engage and then it’s amazing what you find out.”

It’s also amazing how warm and embracing Parisians have proven to be throughout this trip. The stereotype of the rude Parisian simply is not deserved. Try speaking a few words of French. Try slowing down. And if that doesn’t work, bring a friendly kid along. The French love children.


IMG_6458The renovation of France’s National Picasso Museum in Paris was supposed to be two years in the making. Instead, it took five. Still, for all the time and cost, I’d have to say the new museum is a distinctly mixed bag. I’m admittedly a sucker for text and story line. But to me, the old museum put the life of the prolific artist into perspective, moving through his different periods of art as the visitor went from room to room.  The renovated museum has more space and displays many more the artist’s magnificent sculptures.  It has a rooftop cafeteria and a cool spiral staircase.

But it also has a sort of antiseptic feel with white shades covering some of the windows. IMG_6469 The museum’s organization is unclear and the murals of text that once explained the  artist’s life have been replaced by audio guides which are rented beyond the 11-euro admission fee.

All of which, along with Devon’s really mature behavior, convinced us to be just a tad selfish tomorrow and go the Musee d’Orsay for our final day. It’s where many of the great Impressionist paintings are housed and the big clock, terrace looking out at the Seine and cafeteria all should make the visit more palatable to Devon.


Coming back from City Hall, we changed trains at Chatelet and, in the corridors heard the IMG_6481sweet sound of Vivaldi’s “Summer” from the Four Seasons.  An orchestra of 13 musicians was set up and played beautifully. Paris subways often attract some excellent musicians because of their warm acoustics.  I can’t imagine a small orchestra set up in any subway in the United States.


Picasso and Mozart are a pretty heavy lift for a 7-year-old in one day. But we tried our best. We threw in two gaufres (sugar-covered waffles),  two lemon sorbets, a pony ride and a playground.  OK, and we left the concert a bit early.

But Devon is a champ.  The girl is a born traveler. Her new French word is arret, or stop, which she dramatizes by raising a hand to slowIMG_6487 approaching cars and bikes.

Today we taught her some sayings, shared by my friend Heather. Not all, of course, were appropriate. Or maybe for a 7-year-old they were.  Devon loved #7, which I expect I’ll hear a lot of in the future. It goes like this:  “The French don’t tell you that ‘you’re grumpy’ …they tell you that “you’re farting sideways.”

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