For those of you who follow my blog, you know how little I knew about France before I began this journey. As we prepare to leave I can honestly say that we pulled off this trip with only the bare minimum of setbacks and the most spectacular time of our lives. I would never have thought I would be standing outside the palace of Versailles just a few years ago. It was very humbling to walk where Kings have walked. In the United States we do not have this opportunity. Our history only goes back so far. Yet here, in Paris, the people are much more accustomed to being around history that reaches back to so many different centuries.
For a brief time, the people of Paris allowed us to feel as if we actually lived here. Instead of living out of a hotel, we lived among the local Parisians, shopping with them at the grocery store, and passing by them on the streets and in the stairway every day. We know that we were really outsiders, but it did not always feel that way. The French are a very kind people, and they are pleasant and easy to interact with. During the American war of Independence, it was the French who came to our assistance. I can understand this. They seem so willing to help. So willing to accept strangers into their midst. There were a few times when this was not so: we had a few waiters who could be labeled as surly. There were a few times when French tourists were not easy to get along with. But if you've ever taken a vacation in New York City or Chicago, you know that this can happen. And it happened far less than if we had been in those cities. We have recently vacationed in both of those cities and I know of what I speak.
Just at the far end of the Tuilleries Gardens, by the Place de la Concorde, there is a small candybar/drink stand with public toilettes that cost .50 euros to use. I bought a Coke Zero and told the pony-tailed attendant--a funny guy who joked around with Jennifer--that I wanted to pay for the toilettes. He charged me, made change from the cash I handed him, and then as Jennifer tried to get in line, he told her no, she needed to pay. He did not realize I was paying for her. When we finally cleared this up, he was so embarrassed that he had given her a hard time, he put one arm around her and apologized, then allowed her to use the reserved handicapped toilette. He made a silly face by way of apologizing to me, and I told him not to worry, he was now her hero. He shook his head, with an exaggerated frown and lift of his shoulders. Shortly after that, the manager of a cafe had to apologize to Jennifer that it was taking so long to get her the coffee she had ordered. He was short-handed, he explained, some of the help had not come in. He made the coffee himself, with an exaggerated frown and slump to his bearing. He had obviously been having a bad day. Jennifer cheered him up with her encouragements in French.
There is no denying that Paris has some of the most beautiful landmarks and works of art in all the world. But I have to say that of everything I have seen, I was most impressed with the people who make Paris their home. I could not miss the fact that everywhere we went, whether it was on the Champ de Mars, the Luxembourg Gardens, or at the Saint-Sulpice fountains, the people of Paris were always out enjoying their city. As the couple in the photo to the left made their way through the Luxembourg Gardens, I could not help but watch them. They were out for a simple Saturday morning stroll, in one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. How many times had they done that? Did they mind that I-- a tourist-- was invading their garden, taking pictures from a camera hanging from my neck? (I only ever took pictures of people with my zoom lens from a distance, where it would only look as if I were snapping shots of the scenery, so as not to bother them. However, as you can see in this shot, the old man looks like he is on to me.)
It is a hard thing to say goodbye to this city. We do not know if we will be back. We can only hope. But we will forever remember the warmth and welcome that we found here. And we would encourage anyone who has the chance to come and see Paris. It is more than the Eiffel Tower. It is more than Notre Dame. It is more than the City of Light. It is a city you will never forget.