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.