Monday, April 20, 2009

We’re back from Paris!
Luckily, I didn’t end up needing a waffle iron or scuba gear. In fact, I barely had enough clothes. As I packed for the nine day trip, I took the advice everyone gave me very seriously. I mercilessly threw out items until I had only about half of what I thought I needed. Under strict orders, the four kids all did the same. In fact, our hostess in Paris was completely astounded when we showed up at her door with only one tiny backpack each.
« That’s what my kids would pack for a weekend! » she exclaimed.

And it’s a good thing we traveled light. Not that the train trip was an issue. That was easy. In 15 minutes by car we were at the Annemasse train station. There we hopped on to the TGV (‘Really Fast Train‘) and had a soothing five hour ride to the Gare de Lyon.
But once we got to the train station in Paris, we had to get on the Metro. If you’ve ever been on it, you know that there’s often a maze of underground passages and stairways that connect the train lines. And we had to change lines a couple of times. So, it was good not to be too laden-down.

I led the way down into the Metro, briskly trudging along up and down the endless stairs, forgetting that three of the kids had never been on a subway before, ever. Alexa (a metro habituée from her stay there when she was six)) cruised along like a real Parisienne. The older two gawked a bit, but came along gamely.
But Mallory? She stared about with wide eyes at the dingy tunnels, wrinkled her nose at the stale (and sometimes worse) air and startled at the thunderous roar of the trains. The farther we walked, the farther she lagged behind, dragging her feet miserably and generally looking like a dryad torn from her native forest glade and consigned to an eternity in Hades.
I tried to encourage her to keep up, but didn’t have time to coddle.
« Come on! Only one more train to go! Keep up!» I called back to her as I paused to struggle with my map of the Metro and figure out our next move.
She looked at me mutely and sat down right in the middle of the corridor. The Parisian commuters, having seen it all, I suppose, stepped agilely around her.
I rushed back.
« What ARE you doing?! You can’t just SIT there! » I shrieked, my cool long gone. « That floor is filthy!! » And it was. It looked like you could get cholera from just thinking about sitting down on it.
« I can’t go any more » she announced.
« OK! We won’t go on. We’ll LIVE in the Metro tunnels. But we will not SIT in them. PLEASE get UP! »
Good grief. The child survived nine years in one of the poorest countries in all of Africa and in the end she would be done in by typhoid contracted from the floor of the Nation Metro station…

She reluctantly got up and shuffled on to the next and final train.

Sad Mallory on the Metro:

Luckily, our destination was only about a block from our final stop.
We ended up here:

The house on the left is the home of our good and kind friends who graciously hosted the five of us for nine days. They are a couple that have three children, so when we were all home, we were a crowd of 10. He’s a doctor and works all the time and she’s an anthropologist who’s always behind on her writing deadlines, so it was particularly nice of them to invite us for such a long stay.
When we arrived, the children of our hosts were still all at school, P (the father) was at work and V (the mom) had to get on with her writing. So, I decided to take the kids for a walk in a nearby, very famous park called the Buttes Chaumont. I thought it might cheer up Mallory, who was still looking morose. Even getting out of the Metro hadn’t visibly cheered her. And I guess I could see why- the sidewalks above ground so far had featured a lot of dog crap and a distinct smell of vomit.

But a park would be nice, right? Spring flowers and all that.
So, we walked down to the park. And it kind of worked.

Buttes Chaumont is a huge and lovely park created by Napoleon III in 1862. It is not on the usual tourist route at all, though. It’s really just a place where Parisians go to relax on some green grass and enjoy nature. Some ‘enjoy’ it more than others, of course. In my efforts to entertain and distract Mallory, I noticed a wide clearing where a lot of pigeons were gathered. I thought she'd be revived a bit by seeing some animals, even if they were just "rats with wings".

Mallory's days back in Africa started every morning at six am with her rushing out the back door to feed the goats and check if her chicken had laid an egg for her. Then she'd spend most of the rest of the day outside, all year long. And even in France now we have our cats, a degu and a whole forest full of deer, wild boars, hawks and whatnot right outside our back door.

So, I directed us along a path to the left that would take us right past the chubby birds intent on their meal. Just beyond the them, I noticed a couple sitting near the trees, having a picnic. I thought. (In my defense, let me state here that I was wearing my old glasses- my new ones having gotten broken just before we left home) As we got closer, it became apparent that their movements, which I had thought indicated that they were unpacking a picnic in a particularly energetic way, were completely non-picnic related. In fact, the couple, though mostly clothed, had opened certain key bits and were having sex, right in the middle of this very busy park.

Mallory said « What are they….? »
Tya said "Aren't they...?"
Alexa's jaw dropped.
Severin, getting right to the point, announced « Laundry alert! », which is the family code for sexy scenes in movies. When the kids were younger, actors removing their garments for romantic fun purposes would prompt me to say brightly « Guess they’re getting ready to wash their clothes! » and then hit the remote.)

We all laughed (what else can you do?) and positively ran back up the path, right past a man who’d been peacefully taking in the sun just down the hill from the couple, with his back to them. When we'd started giggling, he’d turned around and noticed the free show going on behind him . He sat there staring and the happy couple carried on, completely oblivious to all.

Welcome to Paris.

Somewhat traumatized by our first afternoon in the big city, we headed back to our friends' house.

And that was day one of our Paris adventure… much more adventurous than a person wanted, really.


oreneta said...

Good LORD! In the PARK!?!?!?

I thought they only did that in Italy. I have to admit, I cannot believe she just sat down in the tunnel. Was she getting sick? Did she get sick????

Sounds like a lively beginning anyway.

babzee said...

YOU'RE traumatized?? *I'M* traumatized; I wasn't even there, and my children are all over 21!!

Bon dieu, woman, your adventures overflow your pages. What sort of searchers and surfers will be drawn to read your blog after this?

It's like your name, in a way. Your mother didn't christen you Elizabeth, nor Bethany, because she knew in your future all those in your wake would be shaking their heads, and saying in amazement:

"Only Beth. ONLY Beth..."

Kelly said...

Oh, that would have made me very uncomfortable...

Glad you had a nice visit--show and all.

Beth said...

Rocky- I guess Mal's years in Africa built up her resistance to any germs they have here in France. She suffered no real ill effects from sitting on the icky Metro tile...only her mom getting pretty cross with her.

Babs- I remain continually surprised at the weirdness I constantly encounter. In fact, I would argue that 'Beth' is a very tame, even ladylike name and should NOT attact odd and/or distasteful events to its wearer.

Kelly- When I run into situations like that, I just tell myself "I'm French. My kids are all French. We are sophisticated and worldly. We can deal with this." because my Nebraska self can NOT deal as well. Uncomfortable, indeed...

Joy said...

LOL! I love Paris, but I will make sure to have my husband check out the 'view' before we go tromping through the parks this fall... He can see farther than I. ;)

And the Metro with luggage is just not fun. Add children to that equation, and I would be the one sitting on the Metro floor...

Pardon My French said...

You can always count on the educational value of a trip to Paris! And that was only day 1 -- can't wait to hear about the rest, then.

Beth said...

Yeah- it's just too bad that it's SEX education! I was going more for the art and high culture aspects, you know?

Ellen Baird said...

Aaahh, Paris! Prettiness and perverts!

I love the Metro part! Poor Mallory! I know EXACTLY how she feels, I too often want to just sit down in the middle of a train platform in protest.
It reminded me of Mallory and Alexa asking Mary Lynne and me in Africa if we had "drivers" back in NYC. We said that no we didn't because we took the subway. They asked "what's a subway?" and when we explained that it was a train that runs in tubes underground they gave us this look like, "Yeah, right! Tell us another fairy tale!" Now they know the horrible truth.