Friday, October 10, 2003
Celebrating a 60th wedding anniversary in Paris
We had the memorable experience of celebrating our 60th wedding anniversary this June in Paris. Our daughter, who lives in Canada with her French husband, said they wanted to visit their two grown children living in Paris. She suggested that we meet them there, rent a car, and see the sights together. We could not think of a better way to celebrate this milestone in our lives.
During the night flight, we read, watched a few excellent short TV programs on our own small screen, and I walked the aisles several times to keep limber. Sleep did not come. As we neared France my husband observed that he could see the moon from his window seat, then looking across the aisle to windows on the opposite side of the plane we could see the sun rise; blue above, then green, yellow orange , red, analogous to a rainbow. As it got light we were intrigued by the three vapor trails which diminished with time. A passing flight attendant said those trails indicated planes were about 20 minutes ahead of us.
Our married grandson met us at the DeGaulle airport. We were in commuter traffic, of course, as we arrived in the early morning. On the slow-going trip to his apartment and our small hotel across the street from him, I asked for his thoughts on living in Paris. He feels safe in the city as it maintains good security. High taxes in France go for free higher education and security, not for massive defense as in the U.S. We learned later that our granddaughter, who is studying at the Sorbonne after two years in Togo with the Peace Corps, attends this prestigious college paying only her room and board, and personal expenses.
We checked in at our small hotel before our room was ready. Sitting in the lobby it was interesting to see small children playing quietly on the floor while mother worked at the desk. Later in the day we observed infants and toddlers napping in baskets or strollers at one end of the lobby. It is a family-run hotel. Women work during the day, the men serve in the bar and the garden restaurant. The small elevator which took us to our room had room for only two people.
We were not on a main street, but a busy side street, with interesting shops, ethnic restaurants, and fruit markets on ground level and apartments above the shops. On our first trip out for lunch we looked up and across the street to the second floor balcony and saw our other 27-year-old grandson waving to us. Several days later as we walked from an Asian restaurant not far away, our grandson came to meet us, after his workday, when he thought we might be lost in the crowded street. It's nice to be missed.
Observations from an outdoor café
We went out each morning to a nearby outdoor café for café-au-lait and croissants, and to make plans for later in the day to be with our daughter and her husband. It was good to be living independently, giving them their freedom too, and then planning for a few hours of activity or sight-seeing in the afternoon.
Food served on the outdoor tables along the street was not only well prepared , but served in smaller quantities than in American restaurants. It was easy to understand how Parisian women maintain trim figures. The amount served suited our senior appetites very well. There is more emphasis on serving food attractively, than on serving huge quantities.
When the narrow sidewalk became crowded, people walked in the street. When slow-moving cars or motorcycles approached, there was no sound of a horn blowing. People sensed an oncoming vehicle, moved to one side, and the vehicle moved ahead slowly and quietly. Eating on near-sidewalk tables gave us the opportunity to people-watch and admire the erect posture, walking or standing, of women in well-fitted, stylish clothes.
On a Sunday afternoon we visited the Notre Dame Cathedral and heard a fine organ concert as we sat admiring the massive architecture and carvings of biblical figures, made by hand with primitive tools, and raised to fit in place without mortar.
A visit to Versailles
Our visit to Versailles, the sumptuous estate of Louis XIV, was impressive. From 1682 to 1789 Versailles was the seat and later the symbol of absolute monarchy, modeled after the king's wishes and reflecting his perception of power. It has about 40 miles of roads, many enclosing walls, a palace with over 200 windows, 700 rooms, and 67 staircases. Its beautiful formal gardens and abundant statues make it the largest open-air sculpture museum in the world, as well as a magnificent palace. Louis XIV used the taxpayers' money to portray his power, and the glory of France. We saw a few of the ancient galleries and sculpture; the Royal Chapel of massive columns and decorative ceiling portraying Bible stories and characters; exotic drawing rooms portraying Louis XIV victories in war; the Hall of Mirrors completed in 1686 for grand celebrations and having many large hanging chandeliers, furnishings of solid silver, and great marble staircases. The gardens, fountains amidst interesting rock work, and waterfalls were enhanced by numerous sculptures.
From our hotel we walked to Montparnasse Tower, the tallest office building in the city. As we sipped tea served with small cakes in the rooftop restaurant, we could see the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides (Napoleon's tomb), Montmartre, and the Louvre. The tower is octagonal and mirrored walls give the impression of being more expansive than it is.
One afternoon at the Louvre was inadequate to appreciate all of its magnificence. It is one of the largest museums in the world, built 800 years ago as a fortress, and then becoming the palace of the kings of France. It is now devoted to works of art, and it includes paintings, sculpture, rich fabrics, and magnificent chandeliers characteristic of the period of 1861-1867.
Culture shock back home
Our ten-day trip was over all too soon. We left the quiet, orderly DeGaulle airport and experienced culture shock when we arrived at the Philadelphia airport about 5 p.m. on a Friday. It was extremely crowded and impatient Americans were pushing and shoving. An airline employee at one gate had to yell "Stand back and move over or no-one will go through." Men and women employees driving carts or patrolling the area seemed stressed out as they tried to cope with unruly passengers. One young man I observed as we waited for our baggage to appear shouted a profanity and walked away. What an impression of America foreign travelers must get when they come to this country. We enjoyed being among the quiet, polite French people throughout our visit in Paris.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito