Photographs of the Past and Present (Paris)

Preface: This is a short story that I wrote many years ago while I was living in Europe. My time living abroad was incredible with many adventures… but they all started with time spent in Paris with a close girlfriend of mine. Enjoy…


I felt a drop in my stomach as the plane fought with the wind. The turbulence had everyone grabbing onto their seats and loved ones. VROOM… another smooth landing; I was only in doubt temporarily. Landing in Philadelphia I was only one flight away from Paris. Now all I had to do was find Lisa who had flown to Philadelphia from Los Angeles. Lisa is a good friend who had vacation time and loved to travel. I had left Los Angeles a month before heading to my parents’ house to pack and relax before the voyage to France where I would be an “au pair” (mother’s helper).

Frantically searching the arrivals screen I saw that Lisa’s flight was about to land. Gliding past others on the horizontal escalator I made my way to her gate. I began jumping up and down when I saw her. After a quick hug we decided to pass the layover time in a restaurant. Sitting at the bar we began drinking beer and eating hot dogs going over our carefully planned itinerary. We had spent hours on the phone and computer checking various train schedules to use with our Europass; we thought we knew it all. I rambled on about how excited I was to return to Paris after being away for a year. I was so excited to show her my favorite European city.

Taking off an hour later we toasted once again with free booze and spent time in our guidebooks, people watching and talking. The realization that we were in Paris finally hit us as our plane landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Clearing customs we headed to the RER, the suburban high-speed rapid transit (subway), that runs through Paris. This was the beginning of my struggle with my bags. Attempting to reach our hotel in the cheapest manner possible we opted not to take a taxi or shuttle bus; subways were the only way to go. Besides I was experienced taking this route – why not do it again?

Looking around us I saw that I was the only one struggling with too much stuff. Attached to my body were two suitcases, a backpack, and a shoulder bag. Almost tumbling down the escalator a stranger offered to help me. I said no about three times before he took my two suitcases, not taking “no” for an answer. Talking on the way to the city we discovered our new friend’s name was Gilbert and that he lived in the outskirts of Paris. Going out of his way he escorted us to our stop and helped me up the escalator to the bustling Boulevard Port Royal above.

The walk to the hotel was hell on earth. Having been in this very spot, just a year ago I knew the way with my eyes closed, but one thing was different on this trip versus the previous one. On the last trip I did not have half of my life neatly packed into four bags. Imagine this scene, dripping with sweat, attempting to lug bags from almost every limb, limping down the street. That was me! To complicate matters I discovered moments after departing the subway that the wheel of my suitcase had broken; we were not even half way to the hotel! A dark black streak from the wheel was left on the sidewalk to mark our path.

As we walked down the street a woman stopped me and pointed at the sidewalk. Knowing what she was going to say I shook my head in agreement that there were indeed markings on the sidewalk from my suitcase, but there was nothing I could do to fix it short of stopping and walking to the hotel by lifting the suitcase for half a mile. I apologized and we continued on. You can not imagine how happy I was the day I threw that suitcase out for a shiny red Parisian one!! Eventually we arrived to our street and hotel. Shelter is just what we needed after our long journey to Paris from the States.

Opening the door to the hotel we were greeted by the scent of fresh baked bread. The hotel’s restaurant was calling us to sit down and eat, but there was no time for that now! We had plans to meet our new friend Gilbert that evening. Storming up five flights of stairs our pace slowed down. By flight three I wanted to be carried the rest of the way. I settled for moving everything to the room in two trips.

After a short break we headed out again and hopped on the metro towards the Champs de Mars. As the Eiffel Tower came into view my eyes welled up with tears. I was very happy to see my beacon of hope. A smile crossed my face as I took a moment to let it sink in that I was really here. I glanced at Lisa and she smiled. Crossing from the Trocadéro walking down a set of stairs and past the fountains we made our way to the base of the Eiffel Tower. I watched people buying ice cream and crepes while others followed tourists attempting to sell them everything from gold plated Eiffel Tower key chains to purses. Lisa spotted Gilbert as he walked towards us with a bag. Inside was a bottle of wine that he brought for us to enjoy at the top of the monument.

Following his lead we went towards the West Pillar, which had the shortest line. Making our way up the first set of elevators we took in a great view of the city below. While they talked I zoned out and daydreamed about my future. Next we made our way to a second elevator that took us to the top. Exiting the elevator Paris was at our feet. The city lights glistened and I could feel the magic. We toasted to friendship as the wind ripped around us. Walking around we skipped and laughed like school children enjoying the moment. After arriving to the bottom we walked to the nearby metro. We said our goodbyes and made plans to see each other the next morning.

Glancing around the metro’s entrance we saw no one. The ticket window was closed. We did not have return tickets and the automatic ticket machine was broken. Taking the first of many chances during our European adventure we crawled under the turn-style and hoped the video cameras were not on us. Thirty minutes later we arrived safely to our station. We stopped for snacks and beer and continued the short walk back to our hotel. After the long voyage sleep was first the first thing on our agenda now.

I woke up to car horns on the busy street below. Looking around I remembered that I was no longer home. I was in Paris. I began thinking of what a busy day we had planned. Gilbert and I wanted to give Lisa a taste of the city and had planned on showing her some of our favorite highlights around town: including the Champs-Elysees and the ever so famous Arc de Triomphe. I have always enjoyed visiting this landmark, and this visit was going to be extra special.

Back during World War II (sometime between 1943-1945) Lisa’s grandfather had spent time in Paris. Spending holidays with her family I had loved sitting at her grandparents’ kitchen table hearing him tell stories about riding a bike with a baguette in tow around the French streets of a small village not speaking a word of French, yet having everyone smile and give a friendly wave to him. At Gabriel and Mary Ellen’s house there was a black and white photograph in the hallway with him and two friends in front of the Arc de Triomphe after the war. Every time I had viewed that picture I was mesmerized thinking about what Paris must have been like back then.

Lisa was determined to take a photo with two people in front of that very monument one day. When she had first mentioned it to me I saw no difficulty in doing just that, even though we needed to seek out a third individual to join us. Having met Gilbert the day before we knew he would be glad to join us for this ever so important photo.

To say the least the highlight of the afternoon was taking that photo in the same spot that her grandfather had stood in so many decades before. Lisa had realized a dream and would have that picture to share with her grandparents. That day I enjoyed showing her many of the famous landmarks around Paris – but we had time to stop along the Champs-Elysee too for an ice cream. There is always time to relax and people watch. We spent the rest of the afternoon unwinding in the Jardin du Luxembourg and exploring the neighborhood stores before having a home cooked meal at another friend’s apartment.

The next day we awoke knowing it was time to pack up and continue on. Our time in Paris was short, but nice. We would return a month later and see more of the city so we were not sad to go. I would also continue to stay in Paris after Lisa’s departure until I had a work assignment as an “au pair” somewhere in Europe. In less than two days we had accomplished so much. We met a new friend, visited with an old one, and saw a few of Paris’ famous landmarks. I learned that the Eiffel Tower still brought tears to my eyes, and that the Arc de Triomphe’s history continues to live on in photos linking the past with the present.

(day 363)

Watching the Sunset

Yesterday was a busy day…………

volleyball time

We were at the beach.

volleyball time 2

We were at the pool and ended up playing a little football and volleyball (again). We are slowly becoming a volleyball family- which is great – although I will continue to play tennis too.

restaurant time

We stopped at a restaurant for some pasta to go.

sunset

As we approached the beach on our way home I noticed that the sun was setting. It looked like it would be 5 minutes until it was down so I asked the kids if they wanted to stop to watch. They said yes – so we just pulled on the side of the road to watch it quickly disappear.

beach-car-kids

The kids decided to sit on the car.

view towards the mountains

one last sunset photo

We could not stay to watch all the beautiful colors that follow once the sun goes to sleep, but what we saw was beautiful. I looked at my watch and took a mental note of the time. I would love to return tonight for a repeat, this time with Max and the kids.

(day 293)

La Vita Semplice (The Simple Life)

The park

I wrote this short piece after visiting Italy for the first time with Max. I don’t consider myself a writer, but had to put this together to remember the moment; I am glad that I did.
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Our trip to Italy was drawing to a close. I had visited a few times before, but this was my first time with my husband Max visiting his family and friends seeing where he is from. We had traveled from the West Coast to New York City for the weekend before continuing on to his hometown of Bologna, Italy which is located in the region of Emilia-Romagna . Bologna is known for its wonderful cuisine, universities, and churches.

During our trip to Max’s country we had spent a weekend in the suburbs of Firenze (Florence), located in the region of Toscana, visiting with his aunt and uncle before continuing on to the city (Firenze) staying with his cousin and his girlfriend. Firenze is a charming tourist city known as the home to Michelangelo’s famous statue, David, and the Ponte Vecchio, known for its jewelry stores that line the pedestrian bridge. Actually both of us love this city and we consider moving here some day.

The second week we traveled to Venezia, which is located in the region of Veneto. We were lucky on that day trip because we just missed another planned train strike! Italy is famous for having airline, train and bus strikes. Reaching the popular tourist attention of Piazza San Marco tears streamed down my cheeks. I am a very emotional person, and easily express my feelings. I was so overjoyed at having reached the square that is essential Venezia once again, this time with Max. While exploring the town I took many photos of the canals, gondolas and locals.

Now we were on our last full day in Bologna and were headed by bus to the park behind Max’s old house where he had spent a lot of his childhood playing. Arriving to the open green space we exchanged hellos and conversation with the owners of the gelato stand. I had met the family a few days before and enjoyed their genuineness, which was a breath of fresh air compared to the scene in Los Angeles.

After talking with them we took a walk by the stream, skipped rocks, and enjoyed the silence. Looking at the even larger public park across the river all I could see were hills. We held hands, took in the fresh air, and relaxed. Our walk lead us on a path that ended near a rusty old basketball hoop. Max told me that it had stood in that spot as long as he could remember and as a kid he had spent many days playing basketball in the very spot we now stood. I could easily imagine him here playing during his youth.

Taking a seat at a picnic table we ran into a friend who Max had not seen in five years. It amazed me that he could run into someone so many years later like this. Call it a small town? Call it coincidence… or as I began to see on our last day the beauty and charm of Italy, its simplicity. The country continues to develop, but its roots of valuing family and living life not just for riches are still there.

Soon we were joined by another friend of Max’s and moved to the picnic area. While I had a beer Max had an Orange Fanta as we sunbathed, smoked, and talked. I couldn’t speak Italian well, but I enjoyed adding to conversation when I could and became even more vocal when conversation was in English.

The day passed with other close friends arriving to say their goodbyes to us. Eventually we had a nice stroll on the grounds with one friend’s dog, and threw the ball around with another friend’s young child. It was so nice to be without all the modern conveniences that pollute our lives and to enjoy people in the outdoors where nature controls the world. I loved this day.

Eight hours later, which seemed like only one hour, we headed back to Bologna where his grandma, mom and sister live. Spending this day in Casalecchio di Reno reminded me of what life is about. We often get so caught up with our daily schedules of going out and bringing in the money to make our lives comfortable, versus taking time to enjoy family, friends, and to just relax. On this day I was once again reminded which path makes me and so many Italians the happiest, and I was happy to experience this day with my husband.

(day 106)