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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Before Paris (Part One)

   I was not always the type to be prepared.  I was never a Boy Scout.  I've been told I run on sensory reaction.  The big joke in our family is that I'm the Labrador Retriever type--look over!  Squirrel!  It's a fair assessment.  My attention span has always been lacking.  I don't mind the joke.  Besides, I love Labs, and think they are the only creature worthy of the moniker man's best friend.
   But as I've grown older (and let's face it, when you are just a year away from being eligible for grandparenthood it is safe to say I've grown older), I have learned to be prepared.  This might have come with age.  It might have come with raising 5 children.  At any rate, I have become more proficient at preparing for a great many things.  The most consuming preparations of the recent past have been centered around our imminent trip to Paris.  There are bigger things coming just weeks after this trip, but I'm not too involved in those planning sessions.  As I understand it, I will mainly be showing up to look distinguished or something close to it during said occasions.  I'll do my best.  But for now, I've been focusing on Paris.
This photo hung on our diningroom
wall for many years.  An early
inspiration for our trip to Paris.
   For those of you who do not know why I have chosen to take my wife to Paris, I offer a quick explanation.  My wife and I are writers.  We are huge fans of the Impressionist painters as well as many classical artists, and just about anything Paris is our idea of culture and beauty.  We are fortunate to live near the Paris of the States.  New Orleans is like home to us now, and we both love it a great deal.  But there is only one Paris, and we have both wanted to visit her at least once in our lives.
   I began planning this trip several years ago, as a bit of a surprise for my lovely bride.  She had heard me often tell her I planned to take her to the City of Lights, but I don't think she ever really thought it would happen.  Or maybe she thought it would happen when we were retired.  At any rate, she would always smile and say it was a nice thing to offer.  Sort of a 'humor the husband with the crazy scheme' kind of smile.  'Okay, that's sweet.  Now go play.'
   So the first real obstacle I had to overcome was figuring out just how one goes about traveling to Paris.  Sure, I knew it was airplanes now and not ocean steamers.  I'm a little old fashioned but I have heard about modern travel methods.  But what I wasn't sure of was where you stayed, what you did, what would happen when a plain old guy on the street like me took his not so plain wonderful wife to Paris.  I knew as much about Paris as the next guy who'd read Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and A Tale of Two Cities.  Well, maybe more, since I'd see that Jason Bourne movie half a dozen times as well.
   To be honest, telling someone that I was going to Paris was just about like telling them I was going to Mars.  It can be done.  But how?  Well, the simple thing to do is just ask NASA how; let them make all the arrangements.  Only in this case, NASA would not be your first choice.  You would want to ask a travel agent to set you on your course.
   If you know me at all you know I don't always do what looks like the logical thing.
   What seemed more logical to me was to teach myself how to get there.  And the best place to start was in choosing a place to stay.
The living area of our apartment
on the Left Bank in Paris. 
   And since a hotel was a logical choice, I ditched that idea pretty quickly and decided on renting an apartment.  That just sounded great.  What little I knew of Paris was enough to know I wanted to wake up, open the french doors (which I think they actually have--french doors aren't like french fries, which the French don't really have, from what I'm told), sit in the fresh air, and drink coffee as the city comes to life.  And since we were going for two weeks (this time frame was important, since it would be a trip of a lifetime, I didn't want to be rushed--more on that later) I also wanted to try and create just the slightest feeling that we were living there, no matter that it would only be for a matter of days, not years.
   Checking out a few magazine ads and online travel tips, I found an apartment broker who was more than happy to help out.  For those of you keeping score and looking for tips on how to get to Paris, I'll add that I arranged the apartment through  Now, I needn't add a disclaimer saying I cannot ethically promote this company because I have not yet seen the apartment since you know I haven't seen the apartment yet and you are smart enough to realize that I cannot know if it was worth the price or if the service was reliable.  These are things I will be able to report after the trip.  But like I said, you understand that, so we'll go on.  So I felt pretty sure this was the way to go.  After researching the company and checking out their reputation, I felt it was a good idea.  Jennifer, a little skeptical, once I surprised her with the news of Paris, asked friends who live in France or visit there regularly if an apartment in the neighborhood I chose was a good idea.  I was relieved to hear overwhelmingly positive comments from those who are familiar with Paris.
   Not a bad start.  We had a place.
   I had rejected the idea of taking an established tour.  I wasn't about to spend our days with a group of strangers being led around by a pushy tour guide who did not care that I wanted to stay a little longer in the Louvre because I didn't think two minutes was enough time to glimpse the Mona Lisa.  But without that tour itenerary, I knew I was going to have to work pretty hard to make sure we did not waste what little time we had.
   I would have to become our own tour guide.
   (continued in the next post)

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