Monthly Archives: October 2018

Life in Pink, Part Deux

To read about the first days in Paris, click here.

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For our third day in Paris, we went a little further afield to Versailles.  It’s a half hour train ride and quarter mile walk to the palace, and Uncle Rick told us to get there at the opening to avoid the lines.  Luckily, they now offer timed tickets so we picked 9AM and promptly passed the 200 person line to walk right in.

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This isn’t even a quarter of the palace.  It’s staggering in size.  The early, cloudy morning hid the gleam of the gold, but not for long.

There’s a show on Netflix called “Escape to the Country” about British retirees buying modest country homes with thatched roofs.  This was Louis XIV’s escape to the country, away from his Paris palace, the Louvre; it was known as his little “chateau.”

So, same.

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There’s the glittering gold. Louis XIV called himself the Sun King. His bedroom, pictured later, is in those arched windows under the clock so the sun would rise directly on him.  What ego?

The interior is so unthinkably ornate, it’s actually difficult to grasp the grandeur.  If Les Misérables wasn’t convincing enough, one immediately understands why the French Revolution was entirely justified.

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The famous Hall of Mirrors (spot the Wo with audio guide)

This is King Louis’ bedchamber.  Yawn indeed.

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The thing about all the extravagance is it just puts you in the mood to enjoy some of your own.

Enter: high tea at Versailles.  At this point my parents were deeply, deeply craving enormous cups of coffee.  They like espresso, but they were starting to get desperate.  The kind waiter brought a porcelain carafe of French press (natch) that was clearly meant for two people, and my parents gave each other the side-eye like “…and where’s YOUR cup of coffee?”

It wasn’t twenty minutes before they ordered another.

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Her giddiness made me laugh and laugh.

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We walked the gardens, which are so expansive and myriad they offer golf carts to navigate them.  There are an astounding 300 fountains, a fraction of the original 1,500.

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King Louis XIV (and his mistress), decided they needed an escape from their Versailles escape, so they built a mini version at the other end of the property.

We all have our needs.

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There’s the “Grand Trianon” — just super mini, obviously

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Casual.

The interior is like any decent retreat center.

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During Louis XVI reign, Marie Antoinette sighed and said, “you all are too much for me.  I need peace, and quiet, and a staff of 40 to myself.”  She claimed the retreat from the retreat from the retreat: the mini-mini palace (called, inappropriately enough, the Petit Trianon).

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She really turned down the volume on the décor to rustic, austere.

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At this point Marie must have felt like the only thing missing from her life was a decent hobby.  But what?

Ah!  A tiny peasant-filled hamlet to call her own.  Finally we get our Escape to the Country thatched roofs.

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She stocked it with farm animals, gardens, a pigeon coop, a dairy, and of course, peons to work it.  She dressed in a muslin frock and walked around pretending to be one of them, without the helpful contribution of any actual work.

And her hamlet hovel was the largest, of course, with a billiard room, library, dining hall and two living rooms.  Super typical of peasant life.

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But remember!  It’s smaller than her mini-mini palace.  She was downsizing.

It was moments like this, in a place so remote and historic and singularly unique, that I would stop for a second and think of the clothes I wasn’t moving from the washer to the dryer, of the fights I wasn’t refereeing, and the naps I wasn’t managing, and I’d grin like an idiot and ask when our next snack was.

When you think about it, I owe Marie Antoinette for giving me an escape to the country.

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Typical Tuesday.

The train ride back to Paris passed us from one world into another.  It’s a bizarre journey to depart Versailles, glamour capital of the world, travel through all the unremarkable towns around it, and end up in Paris, the City of Light.

We walked to one of the most charming streets in Paris, Rue Cler, a true market street with vendors selling every desirable food, wine, produce, meat and novelty one could want.

We had the sort of dinner I’d hoped to have in Paris, where we ordered freely, talked about my parents’ memories of their younger days, shared glasses of wine and laughed as the sun went down.

With a bottle of red in hand, we walked to the Eiffel Tower and sat on the lawn with all the other dreamers, waiting for the spectacular sparkle of the tower at the top of the hour.

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We cheered and took photos as she lit up like Christmas, and laughed at the glory of it all, to be sitting outside on a cloudless night, together living a dream God had for us.

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The walk to the base was incredible as the tower grew larger and loomed brighter.  We said goodbye and hopped in an Uber home, certain to sleep in the next day after the incredible one we’d just enjoyed.

After brunch the next day, we visited the Rodin Museum…you know, The Thinker.

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Rodin is such a great place to visit because it’s housed in a mansion Rodin lived and worked in, it has fabulous gardens and grounds where some of his works are displayed, and it’s sculpture — we’d already seen many paintings, so this felt fresh.

This, and it can be done in an hour.

Our bigger goal that day was to visit the artsiest and most bohemian neighborhood in Paris, and also it’s highest, perched atop a hill: Monmarte.  We began by touring the Sacre Coeur cathedral at the tippity-top of Monmarte, and then the 900-year-old church next to it (!).

Off we trotted, me reading aloud from Uncle Rick as we navigated his walk through the highlights of the eclectic streets.

We had lunch in the town square, a plaza buzzing with artists called the Place du Tetre.

“HERE they are,” remarked my mom.  She had asked me half a dozen times where Paris was hiding all of her street artists.

We munched on crusty bread, ate hearty lunches, and watched as the fifty easels around us filled with cityscapes, portraits, still lifes, and abstract works of art.  We mourned not having any way of bringing a piece home, given our puritanical carry-on luggage situation.

Monmarte is its own enclave, bursting with personality and rich with the impressions left by Dali, Renoir, Van Gough and Picasso.

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Oldest remaining boulangerie of the 1900s art community

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The bistro from the famous Maurice Utrillo painting, frequented by Picasso, Utrillo and Gertrude Stein.

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High behind that tree is one of two remaining wooden windmills of the 30 that used to dot the hill of Monmarte.  They were originally used to press monks’ grapes (1200s), grind grain (1600s), and crush gypsum rocks into plaster (1700s).  Around 1850, once the windmills were no longer in use, this windmill (moulin, in French) became the centerpiece of an outdoor dance hall (the same used in Renoir’s most famous painting, Bal du Moulin de la Galette).

The restaurant above, with the original windmill, is named for the painting and the galettes (crepes) people enjoyed at the dance hall.

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I could live here.  It’s like Sesame Street moved to Paris.

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Van Gough lived here for two years, in that exact unit with the open window, where he left a life of making drab drawings of peasants to the wild Impressionist works that made him famous.  Thank you, Monmarte.

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The white bus tells us all we need to know — the moulin rouge (red windmill) cancan is touristy and lame.

We ended the afternoon with a walk down a classic Parisian market street, Rue de Martyrs, lined with traditional cheese mongers, butchers, bakers…didn’t see a candlestick maker.

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America has settled on a paleo/keto life of carb-denial, but France doesn’t give a flying fig tarte.

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After showers and a glass of wine on the balcony, we walked to dinner at Ile St Louis for our last night.

It was hard to say goodbye to such beauty.

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Going all in on the French cuisine felt like a no-brainer, so we did timeless French onion soup, duck confit and crème brulee.

Though it felt like tossing a penny into a marble fountain my parents had built, I treated my parents to dinner for our last night.  It would be impossible to thank them sufficiently, not only for their generosity toward their middle daughter, but for giving me my childhood dream of being an only child, just for a week.  Of course I adore my sisters, but we middles yearn to bask in the coziness of singular attention.  My parents know it’s a trip I’ll treasure the rest of my days.

The next morning I boarded the plane with a happy heart.  People balked when I told them I was only traveling from Saturday to Thursday, but it was plenty of time.  Two of those were travel days, so we got four full days to explore.  Even with the time adjustment, we slept really well each night.  If anything, this trip sparked dreams for future trips with Mike, that maybe we can pop over to Europe without needing two weeks to do it.

I expected to dread the return, but instead I felt full, like God had refilled a cup I hadn’t drank from in years, and I was satisfied.

Mike did a fantastic job, twice having to get the kids to preschool at the eye-watering hour of 7:50AM, and even vacuuming the house from top to bottom.  Like any dad I’ve ever encountered, he called his sister and mine to pinch-hit dinner a couple of nights, and his mama took them all in for the weekend, but I am really proud of how well he did.  He even took them all to the dentist.  I mean, really.

Perhaps the sweetest gesture he gave me was what he didn’t do: he didn’t pee on the gift.  This is a thing in our marriage that means if one of us takes on the entirety of home life so the other can do something great, we act graciously (even if we’re gritting our teeth behind the scenes).  He never called to say, “I’m dying over here.  I hope you’re enjoying living the life.  WHEN are you coming HOME?”  Instead he said, “We’re great!  Live it up!  Love you, Momma!”

As the plane landed in Seattle from Manchester, I looked over to the woman across the aisle from me, who was journaling furiously.  We’d already spoken, so I knew she was British, but then I glanced down at her journal and saw in all caps, “I AM IN AMERICA!!!!” and then “THE TREES!!!” with little sketches of our evergreens filling the margins.  It warmed my soul that my unexotic return was her thrilling adventure.

After all, I’d already had my own.

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Life in Pink

Everything good that Paris could have been, it was.

Before we left my mom was like, “Oh, man, you have a two hour layover?  Ugh, that’s awful.”

False.

One must only lament a layover if one is laid-over with children. That layover is like a hangover.  Layovers solo are like a precious amulet of alone time, presented with a book and beverage.

Despite LAX having precisely zero signs signaling the way to the international terminal, I said to myself, “This is the no-complaint trip.  I shall have zero complaints.”  How could I?  So I walked around the soon-found international terminal grinning like an idiot and basking in the quiet of walking without talking.  It’s an odd and welcome pleasure.

Speaking of pleasure — a nine hour flight with nothing to do but eat, drink, watch movies, read, and nap is a vacation unto itself.  Every mother of toddlers reading this is thinking, “I’d pay the airfare just for the alone time.  You could circle my city at 30,000 feet and bring me straight back.”

I was only able to sleep a short nap on the way over, but deplaned saying, who cares? I’m in PARIS!  ONWARD.

The surprise to Erin and Joey of my coming on the trip wasn’t able to come off like we’d hoped, because my parents and I couldn’t find each other after customs.  Turns out concourse E has two floors.  Who knew?  And again, who cares?  To Paris!

We Uber’d into the city and paid to drop our bags at a hotel down the road from our apartment, since it was several hours prior to check-in.

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We had a quick espresso at a café to perk up after the flight, said goodbye to the honeymooners and off we walked the short distance across the Seine to:

Notre Dame herself.

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I whipped out my Rick Steves and started our self-guided tour.  For those unfamiliar, Rick is the European travel guru of our time, with dozens of books, a PBS show, and a brick-and-mortar store here in Edmonds, WA.  I don’t travel without him.  He’s like Uncle Rick to our family.  It helps that his son (also now traveling for a living) is friends with my dear friend Maggie.  They’ve all gone boating together.  It makes it less creepy that I go hear him speak and get photos with him.

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Not our first meeting, though his riveted expression tells us it’s definitely the only one he recalls.

I digress.

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Notre Dame sits on an island in the middle of Paris called the Ile de la Cite.  It was settled by a tribe called the Parisii in 250 BC.  Clearly the plat du jour is a heaping pile of history, served rare.

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Since it was Sunday, they were holding mass.  It was incredible to see so many worshippers in spite of the tourists milling around the periphery.

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After Notre Dame we walked through the Deportation Memorial, which honors the French lost in the Holocaust.  We stopped for lunch at a café along the Seine, which was lousy, but we didn’t have time to find something better since we needed to check into our apartment.

When Mike and I stayed in Paris in 2011, we were budget-conscious; we chose a modest hotel that had a view of the Eiffel Tower, but you could basically touch all four walls of the space at once.  I think the shower stall and toilet were hard to distinguish.

My mom and dad are conservative, but they’re over that way of traveling.  I stood only to benefit.

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Living Room

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Don’t these leaded glass windows beg to be flung open to call ‘bonjour’ to happy passerby below?

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My bedroom – excusez-moi, boudoir!

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Massive balcony overlooking courtyard and the street

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Making ourselves riiiiight at home…in our clothes from the plane. (Peep my mom’s slippers)

We walked to Sainte-Chappelle, which I’d never been to, and were utterly struck dumb when we walked inside.  There’s an old joke when you travel through Europe that it’s ABC: Another Bloody Cathedral.  This isn’t to deride them, it’s meant to imply that you get grandeur-fatigue, like your brain goes blank after the seventh soaring ceiling and flying buttress.

Sainte-Chappelle laughs at the idea of visual boredom; the cacophony of color in the stained glass is more spectacular than in any cathedral I’ve ever seen.  It’s criminal that these photos don’t capture the effect of feeling like you could collapse from the kaleidoscope of stunning ancient light.

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When I first considered coming to Paris, one of my concerns was the nine hour time difference, and not being able to talk to the kids very often because of it.  However, once we arrived, I realized how totally freeing it was to know they were asleep when I was awake and vice versa.  I couldn’t be tempted to micro-manage, check-in, or worry because for most of my day they were unconscious.

So, worry I did not.  We hopped on a cruise of the Seine, wine in hand, and this was the moment when our collective dam burst: we are HERE.  NOW.  TOGETHER.  IN PARIS.  LOOK!

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It was so exciting to go from lots of walking and careful navigating to: sitting back, sipping a Bordeaux and sailing down the river with the highlights of the city rising before us.  We were absolutely giddy.

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Is the French flag too much?  Never.

We ended the day with dinner on a magical avenue in the St Germain neighborhood.  We stumbled upon it, only to later learn from Uncle Rick that this street is the heart of the Left Bank.  This really showed me that I don’t need his books anymore; he sends me places subliminally.

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It’s like this couple forgot I wasn’t their family and wouldn’t be giving them this picture.

I ordered beef bourguignon, because it felt right; it was delicious.  Dad ordered duck confit because it’s a French classic; it was delectable.  Mom ordered scallop risotto for reasons no one understands; it was disenchanting.

The next morning we took the metro to the Musee de l’Orangerie, because Monet is my mother’s favorite artist.  The space was designed specifically for the enormous canvases which were his final works before his death.

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My mother was underwhelmed.

“These are a little dull.  His earlier works had more interest.”

Apparently French field trip kid agrees.

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Dad and I thought they were amazing, particularly because what appeared simple from the center of the room was a myriad of colors when approached.

Here’s the same tree trunk seen above, up close.

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After enjoying the artists’ work downstairs (Renoir, Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso, you know, the lesser-knowns), we all felt like a Parisian patisserie was the ideal mid-morning break.  Naturally, I turned to Uncle Rick, who led us to Laduree Paris on des Champs Elysees.  My parents said one metro ride was enough, so we grabbed an Uber.

It was a patisserie worthy of being on the most glamorous avenue in the world.

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It was extravagant; dark carved wood, elaborately painted ceilings, crown moldings two feet deep, and gleaming serviceware.  The pastries, tea and coffee were exquisite, and we sat in the light-filled sunroom in perfect contentment.

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The upper floor was more opulent than the first, boasting a ladies room that looked like a toilette from a doll house.

And their claim to fame: the pastries.  Heart-stopping.

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We ran into Joey and Erin at the Arc de Triumph, which was actually pretty crazy considering the size of the city.

We were on a special mission in that neighborhood; mere days before we left, my grandfather casually told me that he’d worked in a hotel in Paris after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in WWII.  I gasped and wrote down the name, determined to find it.

We found it.

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While we rested in the lobby for a minute, a concierge approached, asking if he could help in any way.  I explained about my grandfather working there during the war, and in classic French style, he said, “No, he did not.”

We all looked at each other, until he said, “Follow me.”

He led us outside and explained that The Majestic Hotel was located directly across the street during WWII, but is now a different hotel altogether.  So while we’d found the one, we couldn’t visit it as it was while he was there.  My mom and I nudged each other, because many employees wouldn’t know or care about the history of their hotel 70 years ago, and the one who did just happened to approach us with this priceless information.  God shows off like this all the time, and I love him for it.

Here’s Paris in a nutshell: we headed to Le Café de Flor, a favorite of Pablo Picasso, right across the street from Hemingway’s favorite café, on a busy street dotted with other hundreds-year-old cafes, including the very first café in the entire Western world (1686).  This is why Paris makes people swoon.

The place was bustling and jovial and totally alive with Parisians leaning over tiny tables to be heard above the din.  A gentleman with a delicately creased face and a casual day suit sat next to us reading his newspaper and slowly enjoying his omelette and espresso.

I lifted my phone to take a picture of my parents and stupidly told my mom to reach for her wine glass, which led to:

2018-09-17 15.47.06 Joke’s on me.  It’s the no-complaint trip, and I mean business.

The waiter brought me a giant gray canister of seltzer which was adorable, and useless.

We walked to the magnificent Luxombourg Gardens, which are exactly what you’d hope to find if you opened a calendar of Parisian scenes and watched them come to life: the elderly gentlemen in dress pants and sweaters playing chess under the bougainvillea, the children pushing rented sailboats across the pond, the leathery ladies and gentlemen brazenly sunning themselves across green park chairs, shirts and tank straps removed.

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It is meticulously manicured gardens under a cloudless sky, set against the matchless backdrop of the Luxombourg palace.

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We walked on to the Pantheon, but midway decided after all that walking we’d earned happy hour, so we stopped for a glass of wine.

We approached the Pantheon the moment it closed.  Oops.

After resting on the apartment balcony awhile, we changed for dinner and walked across the bridge to the Ile St Louis, recommended to me by my friend Maija (who lives in Paris with her husband and three kids, having moved there from Seattle two years ago).

Just the walk is a delight unto itself.

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The menu and everyone around us were entirely French, which is always the sign of a fabulous restaurant, but also the sign that we are about to embarrass ourselves.  Here is my father systematically typing in menu items for translation, in a Vacation Dad move so bold I laughed until I was shaking.

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We had a fabulous meal once the waiter basically ordered for us and treated us like old friends.

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Tomorrow it’s on to Versailles — if you want to feel simultaneously awestruck and full of disgust toward Marie Antoinette, meet me here.

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