Remember when you were in primary school and your teacher made you write the annual “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” essay? Old habits die hard. So here’s my report to my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Charlie DelGrande, may she rest in peace. My wife Lani had been wanting to go to Paris for many years. We went 40 years ago on our honeymoon but had not been back. The terrorism news had not made me anxious to go this summer until Lani pointed out to me that we were both getting old, had done a lot and if the terrorists got to us in Paris it would be no great loss due to our age. Not having an answer to this line of reasoning, we went to Paris. The U.S. State Department issued a warning to travelers to France to stay out of public places that would draw crowds. Following that advice would limit travelers to staying in their hotel room with a blanket pulled over one’s head. Stubbornly or stupidly unafraid, we went forth into Paris itself daily.
On the plane, we got the standard safety talk about using the seats as a flotation device in the event of a water landing. I had always wondered if you could still use the seats as a flotation device if you lost your arms in the event of a water landing. Fortunately we didn’t have to test that theory.
I expected that at the Charles DeGaulle airport they would be selling large magnetized sterilized tweezers suitable for removing ball bearings and shrapnel in the event of ISIS. They didn’t. They did have soldiers walking around with Uzis. When I first saw the soldiers it was a bit startling but ultimately became reassuring. American tourists are pretty scarce in Paris according to our experience . This is really a pity as Paris is one of the most beautiful cities on Earth.
The people of Paris are cultured and very smart. I was surprised that even small children there were speaking a foreign language — French. Even the dogs understand French. It’s remarkable. Prior to realizing everyone took Visa, we traded in some American money at a money exchange. The exchange is where tourists go to get fleeced by money changers charging fees and abusive exchange rates that would make Tony Soprano proud. We did a lot of the tourist stuff — getting hustled by pickpockets trying to get us to sign a petition for the children, riding in an open-topped bus and having wine for supper every night. The Parisian weather cooperated with us, it was clear and in the 70s the entire time we were there.
We went on a quest for the perfect bowl of French Onion Soup. There are many bowls of French Onion soup in Paris and we tried to eat every one of them. Each bowl was better than the one before. We ate most meals sitting outside at the numerous open-air cafes. I have seen some movies about France that taught that when you are sitting outside in café society you are supposed to talk about love, death, the meaning of life, communism versus capitalism and art. Mostly, we talked about where we would get our next bowl of French Onion soup and our dog Molly.
French people are smokers. Big smokers. You can count on sitting between smokers at the cafes. Smoke happens. French people are not fat. My wife figured out it is because they have not given up smoking like most Americans. Apparently, the French have traded lung cancer for the obesity-related diseases that Americans prefer.
Paris has the Museum of Hunting and Nature, which is one of the weirder taxidermy museums I have ever had the pleasure to visit. It is more or less a put on of big game hunting but with Gallic humor — you can’t be sure. I was able to stand on a step ladder and put my head into the body of a life-sized plastic giraffe. That alone was worth the cost of the entire trip. Until you have been inside a fake giraffe, you cannot truly say that you have lived. On one wall of big game trophies proudly stands the south end of a north bound lion.
French people sound much more intelligent than most Americans because I can’t understand French. One of the few times that I sat next to some Americans, they spent 10 excruciating minutes discussing how to make Chai tea. If that discussion had been in French, it would have sounded much more intellectual as I wouldn’t have been able to follow any of it.
Next column — our close encounter with possible terrorism on the metro.