Thanks to the calendar, with some help from the Earth rotating around the sun, summer comes every year. This phenomenon leads to my unrequested, rarely read and inevitable column about summer vacation. Mrs. DelGrande, my fourth-grade teacher, began this process for me. Old habits are hard to break. To quote a time-honored adage, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. When it comes to enjoying foolish consistencies and cranial hobgoblins, count me in.
This summer, we went to Paris to renew our acquaintance with cafe au lait and Monet. The trip began on a spooky note. Our seats on the plane were in the last row, which meant they would not recline, resulting in an up-close-and-personal olfactory relationship with the toilet. We were on the interior row of three seats. No window access.
As a bonus, a lady with a 2-year-old was our row companion. Four humans in three seats. What could go wrong? The little darling would sit on her lap for the next eight hours. Small children typically enjoy being confined in a small space for prolonged periods. We were really looking forward to being joined at the hip with our new roomies for the next 4,000 miles. Fortunately, a very kind stewardess took pity on us and moved us to another location.
We went on the red-eye flight, arriving at 7 a.m. Paris is six hours ahead of North Carolina. This results in sleep deprivation on arrival. Lesson one: do not attempt to negotiate the Paris Metro with a head full of lack-o-sleep. We had a bit of a fun meltdown in a vain attempt ride the metro.
Undaunted, we tried the Paris Uber Survivor Challenge, which is not for the faint of heart. You plug in where you want to go. Then the Uber Fuehrer starts you on a 5-minute race to meet your driver at an unknown location several blocks away in an unfamiliar city. The stakes are high – find the Uber, get a ride; don’t find the Uber on time, and you are penalized six Euros and remain a pedestrian. Until you have had a phone conversation with a non-English speaking Uber driver who keeps repeating the number 21, you cannot truly say you have experienced Paris.
On Sunday, we went to the Gregorian Mass at Notre Dame, which was solemn, ancient and impressive. We left the spiritual world to re-enter the temporal plain when we left Notre Dame. We emerged to the frenzied preparations for the completion of the Tour de France that afternoon on the Champs Elysees. These preparations involved setting up food stands and a large presence of heavily armed soldiers and gendarmes in case of bad guys. The sight of French soldiers with Uzis is surprisingly reassuring.
At the Pompidou modern art museum, we tested the resilience of our somewhat worn museum feet for hours while viewing the finest in nouveau art. One exhibit stood out particularly strongly – a plain wooden chair sitting on a slab of plexiglass. The exhibit was labeled “Chair.” You could not sit in it. You were just to contemplate the chairness of it in relation to the cosmos and the dilemma of man and Mr. Death. It dramatically demonstrated that Andy Warhol was right when he said, “Art is what I can get away with.”
We subsequently passed a sanity test when we went upstairs to the rooftop cafe at the Pompidou to get lunch. After sitting down and studying the menu, we
saw it offered a $36 hamburger. We got up and left without eating there. The cafe obviously subscribed to Warhol’s theory that “Burger prices are what we can
get away with.”
My wife Lani ate snails at a sidewalk cafe. I discovered that there are few better ways to contemplate the meaning of life than sitting in a clean, well-lit place at
the end of a Paris day nursing a cup of cafe au lait and a Cognac. It doesn’t get any more Parisian than that. La vie est belle.