This one started inauspiciously on July 21 when a broken luggage-loading conveyor belt forced our Norwegian Air flight, already stuck in a back corner of Boston’s Logan Airport, to leave for Paris nearly four hours late. We were relieved to just get off the ground.
Then things got hot — really hot — as Paris set its all-time record at 107.8 degrees Fahrenheit on our fourth and final day there. Oh, and did I mention that our rental apartment did not have air conditioning?
Great trip you say? Actually, it has been. That’s not because we gritted our teeth and ground our way through all the usual tourist spots, but because — in Paris anyway — we didn’t.
Our little apartment at 13 Rue Rollin was in the Latin Quarter, a neighborhood we barely knew. We learned right away that it’s around the corner from Place de la Contrescarpe, one of the liveliest squares in the city. Really good street musicians play there nightly, no matter what the temperature. There was the accordionist in his Panama hat and glistening suit when Tuesday’s high pushed 100. The Aussie, or at least I’d guess, who showed up with his didgeridoo. A cool jazz trio of sax, guitar and bass. And as the mercury kept rising, the crowds kept coming, drinking, laughing and talking in the cafes, almost in defiance of the heat.
On Monday night, our first in the city, I posted a picture of the saxophonist on Instagram. This time, anyway, social media was NOT a waste of time.
“You’re in Paris! Simon and Hanika are coming tomorrow,” wrote one of my best and oldest friend’s daughter-in-law, referring to her husband and daughter. Two nights later we were eating dinner with them, catching up, more than 3,000 miles from each of our homes. We learned of Simon’s plans to sail from the U.S. to Europe in a 40-foot sailboat next June when his son graduates from Brown and planned a sailing trip when his dad visits from Mexico (he’s in the Peace Corps) in September. It turned out Simon and Hanika were in Paris to help a 93-year-old cousin, a Jew who had hidden in the shadow of the Nazis during World War II, sort through artwork and other family heirlooms. (Yes, this is one remarkable extended family.)
As s the heat forced us to move at a snail’s pace, Paris taught us too. For decades, for example, we have looked down from the towers of the now-scarred and gutted Notre Dame Cathedral on Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookstore. This time we visited and walked out with six books. What a marvel, with its sections on science, philosophy, writing, history and much more.
In the Luxembourg Gardens we sat for a few hours under misting machines, watching all the people sitting there watching us. Paris knows how to stay cool. And as we sought a place to breathe, we wandered through the crypts of the massive Pantheon, where we also discovered a remarkable exhibit on the history of sign language in France that drew the largest and liveliest collection of deaf people to one place that I’d ever seen.
The heat broke the morning we rented a car and headed to Beaune, but not before investing an extra $180 in an air-conditioned room our last night in a lovely hotel directly across from the Sorbonne, Paris’ vaunted university.
Beaune was supposed to be just a night’s stop on the drive from Paris to Chamonix. Instead we stumbled one of the largest and liveliest Saturday markets we’ve seen anywhere in the country, with all varieties of fruits, vegetables, cheese and meat; art and sculpture; leather goods; knives; clothing and more.
And in Chamonix our Homeaway rental seemed to walk right off the stage of the Sound Of Music, with flowered window boxes, cowbells in the living room and a patio view of the nearly 13,000-foot Aiguille du Midi directly above. Oh my.
Tomorrow is the midpoint of this three-week trip. Odds are we’ll have a few more bumps. I’ll start the day, before heading to Lake Annecy, at the doctor to get something to knock down the asthma I’ve developed. It’ll be another good chance to practice my French.
Meanwhile, our grand-daughter Devon continues to be an inspiration, allowing Kathy and me to share places we love and to see them through the eyes of an 11-year-old. When we met two Swiss sisters here for dinner whom I’ve known since I turned a toddler in Elmhurst, Queens, Devon wandered off with Egon, the husband of one, to jog around Chamonix. Fitness, she promised, will be her new kick. Or one of them anyway.
When I was 12, about a half year older than she is today, my brother and I traveled with our parents through France and other European countries, rating the places we stayed in five categories — view, comfort, food, friendliness and something else (bathrooms maybe?). It kept us from getting bored. Devon? She isn’t bored either but she’s not going to spend time rating our apartments. Nope. Once we park in Annecy, we’ll be on the lookout for cute teenage boys.
I figure it’s harmless enough for her to rate ‘hotties’ — as long as she doesn’t date them. Consider it part of the adventure.