This is our final evening in Paris, and what a trip it’s been. Devon, our 7-year-old grand-daughter, has reminded us that the best way to stay young is to travel with a kid. And the best way to see the world is through the excitement in a child’s eyes, whether feeding ducks in the Luxembourg Gardens or searching for a painting in a special Picasso Museum book for kids.
She’s also reminded me of the trips of my childhood. Our apartment is on the third floor (second in French parlance since the ground floor doesn’t count). And each time we come in and out I have to race up or down the stairs to beat Devon while she takes the same trip alone in the tiny two-person elevator. I remember similar races with my parents when I visited Paris as a child, only then I was the one in the ancient elevator in a place called the Hotel Brittanique.
Devon has reminded us, too, that not just a picture, but also a broad smile is worth a thousand words. She has won over the people of Paris wherever we’ve gone. I’ve already shared several of these encounters. Another took place at the Picasso Museum yesterday, where the young man behind the coat and bag check went into a mime routine that had Devon cackling her contagious laugh. Then last night at dinner we returned to the cafe in the trees of the Luxembourg Gardens, where we had the same waiter as the first night. He never let on that he recognized us until Devon ordered a second gaufre (waffle).
“What, no sorbet citron?” he asked her with a twinkle. She had that, too.
And then today, returning from the Musee d’Orsay two women let us into the Metro with their passes when for some reason none of our tickets were working as the train arrived in the station.
This morning, we took our time before heading to the magnificent d’Orsay, with its sparkling gold clock, its views of the Seine and Sacre-Couer, and its Claude Monet paintings of the cathedral in Rouen, which Devon liked because my former graduate student whom we’d met for lunch grew up in that city.
We didn’t leave our apartment until 11 a.m. But then, we needed time for Kathy to demonstrate the can-can in order to prepare Devon for the paintings of Henri Toulouse-Latrec. This in turn inspired Devon to re-open the $6 children’s book we bought to help her appreciate the Picasso Museum.
“I love this book,” Devon told Kathy. “It has so many of his paintings and tells the way he thinks.”
When we arrived at the d’Orsay, our first stop was the book store where we bought a sticker book and a kid’s biography of 13 of the Impressionists. The books, and a slow lunch, enabled us to stay four full hours, a long time for a 7-year-old. But we’ve learned that when museums become treasure hunts, matching paintings to pictures in books, they hold Devon’s interest for quite awhile.
After a lifetime of teaching, Kathy also is a master of the engaging question.
“Why do you think (Edgar) Degas liked dancers and race horses?” she asked. “Is there anything similar about them?”
“What do you think is in the mother’s hand?” she asked Devon as they looked at Berthe Morisot’s “Butterfly Hunt?”
Devon knew the answer, a butterfly net, which made the question all the more fun. She also loved Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “L’enfant au chat,” because the cat in the painting of Julie Manet, daughter of the artist Edouard Manet, reminded her of her own cat, Puddles.
At lunch Devon again was reading, this time about Mary Cassatt, the American Impressionist who befriended some of her French contemporaries and lived many years in Paris. And so, we learned, even young children can engage in serious museums if the visit is prepped (can-cans are not required), focused and interactive. The Impressionists, like Picasso, captured Devon’s imagination.
Now our journey is almost over.
We’ll return home tomorrow without one suitcase and its belongings, stolen minutes after our arrival in Paris. But we’ll return with ticket stubs and toys, magic wands and wonderful memories that can be unpacked whenever we have the will to do so. My greatest treasure will be the memory of sharing this beautiful city with my grand-daughter in what I hope for her will be the first of many international travel adventures, here and elsewhere.
This I know: She is a bonafide traveler, one who has the curiosity and warmth to turn just about any corner of the world into her own neighborhood. This week that corner was Paris. I’m awfully glad I got to tag along.