Posts tagged ‘paris’

The Last Day of Paris

I get Ben to choke down some Tylenol — he’s feverish and sore-throated, but he doesn’t want to rest in the apartment any more than I do. We forge ahead to L’Orangerie to visit Monet’s enormous water lily paintings, hung in their own two oval rooms. Oval skylights, covered with a linen shade to diffuse the sun, light the room; the effect is watery and beautiful.

Walking through the Tuileries gardens after we leave the museum makes La Villette make more sense — the huge scale, the geometry — La Villette’s designers were clearly referencing this space. Even though La Villette has grass, the Tuileries’ stone buildings and dusty pebbled paths feel warmer and more accomodating than all of La Villette’s concrete and sharp edges. I may not like it any better now, but I’m happy to understand it better.

the boys with Henry Moore

a view of tall things

There’s a carousel, so we buy the boys a ride, and then as we continue down the path we notice — hurray! — a small pond with a man renting sailboats. It’s wonderful serendipity to make up for the lack of sailboats at the Jardin du Luxembourg earlier in the week. Plus, these boats are gorgeous, true works of art with hand-quilted sails, all different colors and textures of fabric. We rent boats for each of the boys, and then the man drops a third in to the water — “Just for fun” he comments — and then a fourth, and then he gives us a third stick to push them all around.

Then, another lucky break: an easy time at the Louvre. We sail right in via the Porte de Lions entrance, walk down the long (long) hallway to the Mona Lisa, pay our respects and leave. Eli has no particular interest in the museum, but he’s delighted to do a naked baby scavenger hunt: naked babies with wings! naked babies with arrows! He’s never seen so many cherubs in his life.

And then our happy luck runs out. We’re close to Angelina’s, famous for its hot chocolate, and decide to get the kids a treat. Except we’re not really close enough (they’re exhausted by the time we walk there); it’s too hot for hot chocolate; we really just need lunch. There’s nothing on the menu the boys want, and I don’t want to risk spending 20 euros on a meal they won’t eat, anyway. We should really just cut our losses and leave, but we’ve come all this way… So, we order ice creams for the kids and a salad and omelette for Tony and me to share. The food takes ages to come and we’ve left the boys’ coloring materials at home so they’re cranky and bored. We couldn’t be luckier, sitting in a beautiful cafe, surrounded by gorgeous food, but nobody’s happy. We eat quickly and head back to the apartment.

While the boys get their downtime, I get one last outing, visiting a friend who lives in the Belleville neighborhood. We walk in a park that reminds me of San Francisco’s Buena Vista park — a beautiful, overgrown hill rising out of a transitional, arty neighborhood.

It’s good to see another side of Paris — less touristy, less polished. Last year we stayed in Paris’ Union Square, this year we’re in Paris’ Noe Valley; maybe another time we’ll stay here.

One Perfect Day

Our friends’ son slept over the night before our trip to Giverny, and I wake to the sound of the three boys, still in their beds, chatting about their stuffies’ eating habits. It’s a pleasant way to start the day. Eventually we rise and eat and make our way to the train station, meet up with our friends, and set off for Giverny.

This stop has been on Ben’s to-do list since last fall, when he first started to learn about Monet and the Impressionists. He painted many pictures of the Japanese footbridge in Monet’s garden:

Meanwhile, we’d been visiting Monet paintings wherever we could find them in San Francisco.

Giverny is fabulous. The gardens are in full flower — roses, sweet peas, cornflower, daisies, and a whole red field of poppies. The boys can run in the big field or amble along the paths; we give Eli the camera and he shoots and shoots like he’s on a photo safari. “Do you like this flower, Mama?” he asks; “I’ll picture it for you!”

The house is rambling and beautiful, every room painted a different bright Easter egg color. I wish I could have photographed the kitchen, which has walls of robin’s egg blue, blue and white tile, and is hung with a series of copper pots.

We head home and meet up with another family — friends from San Francisco — and linger in the courtyard of our rental apartment with glasses of wine and salty snacks while the boys toss a frisbee. A boy who lives in the building comes into the courtyard with a ball, and after kicking it toward us a few times, we get the hint and start up a bit of a soccer game with him. Eventually, people need dinner and we go to the bistro next door, filling it. There’s not much on the menu that Ben and Eli are interested in eating, but they sit and color and nibble on some sweet potato fries (of all things) before ordering big bowls of chocolate ice cream for dessert and then heading back home to bed.

I’m sure there was some whining somewhere along the line, there was some stress about the train tickets and the boys didn’t much like the picnic lunch we brought to Giverny (ignore the guidebooks that say you cannot picnic there; you are only forbidden from picnicking within the garden, but that leaves an entire field plus paths dotted with plenty of benches), but that all fades pretty quickly and what remains are the remembered scent of all the flowers and the image of one happy boy, grinning on the Japanese footbridge.

Middle Days: Up and Down

Nobody is sleeping well, the adrenaline excitement which had powered us through the early jetlag days now having worn off. Ben and I both have sore throats, and he also complains of a stomach ache. He’s draggy, not his usual self. But we’re in Paris! We want to see things! So these are days of old and new, up and down.

First, we aim to return to places we enjoyed last year. We start here:

The appeal for the boys is the funicular train ride up the hill. Last year, we didn’t even go inside, but this year I want them to understand it’s a church. We walk a lap around the nave; there’s a service in progress, and we pause to listen a moment before heading, blinking, back out into the sun.

We make sure not to miss a ride here:

Then we take the metro to the Luxembourg Gardens, where we’d had so much fun last year. But this year, the carousel is closed and the man renting sailboats is nowhere to be seen. The zipline, which wasn’t even so easy last year, is crowded with kids jostling roughly for their turns. We go to the playground together:

Before getting back on the metro to meet our friends at a park, by which point the boys are ready to just hang out like this:

And like this:

It’s a lovely park, with a fun-looking playground, and we’ll explore it more another time, I hope. Soon enough, we head back to the apartment, cook a little pasta, toss together a salad, and call it a day.

The next day we head off to La Villette, which sounds amazing: a hands-on science museum, a music museum, a submarine, and a variety of different, themed playgrounds, including one with a giant dragon slide. We don’t have reservations for the science museum, though, so we can’t go in; we have a good time at the submarine, but when we are about to leave, a guard shouts at me for trying to take Eli to the bathroom via the exit door, rather than the entry. The dragon slide is closed as are all the playgrounds; we walk past them, past what feels like miles of chain link fencing. It’s like a museum of playgrounds, all carefully guarded by security. Maybe if the playgrounds were open and full of children, the whole place would warm up for me, but it feels cold; every angle is too sharp, the precise green lawn too strangled by the miles of concrete. Later, I read that the park is on the site of the former Paris slaughterhouses, and was designed in consultation with Jacques Derrida. Maybe that’s why I don’t like it. The whole place makes me cranky about Paris and all its arbitrary rules. We don’t take any pictures.

So it doesn’t make any sense, after that, to sign up for a metro ride clear across town to stand on line for the Eiffel Tower, but we do, and it is perfect. Last year, we spent a long time planning our ascent; this time we just go for it and this works, too.

We ride up, we snap pictures (especially Eli, whose interest in a place can always be rekindled by looking at it through a camera), we eat ice cream, and at the bottom, for good measure, ride the carousel.

Paris Day Two: Father’s Day

It’s the last day of the Paris Air Show, so although it seems a little wrong to go shopping with a friend while your husbands take the kids to look at airplanes (including Ben and Eli’s Favorite Airplane Ever, the Airbus A380), the plan makes everybody happy. Plus, in the Marais neighborhood, my friend leads me to falafel so good I am still (two weeks later) thinking about mine.

Later, we meet up outside the Pompidou, which has so much going on outside, I feel no need to take the kids inside to see the art. We stay in the plaza and watch the fountains squirt.

Finally, we explore the (hip, arty) Canal District — lots of young people hanging out on the banks, drinking and smoking, but also lots of families pushing strollers. The kids are delighted to see a barge come through the lock, the roadway spinning on a turntable to accommodate it. At 6 PM the cafe we choose for a drink and snack is not yet serving food; so we have a drink, then head back to our friends’ apartment for dinner before taking the boys home to bed.

How to visit Paris with kids (not a guide)

Day one.

Plan to meet friends at the playground, an enormous one familiar from last year’s visit. Hope to recreate the fun of the zip line, the train play structure, the bouncing bridge. Know that you’re borrowing trouble; you shouldn’t expect to recreate anything. Eye the clouds as you leave your apartment and wish for an umbrella. Get on the metro.

Exit the train twenty minutes later and stand in the station watching the rain pour down the gutter next to the stairs while your kids say, “Come on! Let’s go to the playground!” Spend twenty minutes trying to come up with Plan B with your husband, texting friends about the change in plans, and managing the kids’ disappointment. Watch them sit on the grimy station floor, rummaging through the backpack and eating a days’ worth of snacks.

Go to a museum instead, the nearby Musee d’Orsay (purchasing a cheap umbrella on the way) and join a long line. Close up the umbrella; the rain has stopped. Leave line-standing to husband and chase kids around the open plaza. Find short posts for them to climb on. Enjoy twenty minutes of happiness.

Rejoin line – and patient husband – at the museum entrance. Enter. Nearly trip over 4 year-old son who has sat directly on the floor and announced, “This doesn’t interest me at ALL.”

Pull him along after enthusiastic seven year-old (whose first grade curriculum included the Impressionists) and enter the galleries. Challenge him to a scavenger hunt: bowls of fruit. Thank heaven for Cezanne, and all his lovely apples and pears. Next, hold son up to look closely at the Degas ballerinas. Ignore his insistence that he doesn’t like ballet and ballerinas. Point out the shadowy figures in the background and challenge him to count them up. Twenty minutes pass. Watch 7 year-old at the opposite end of the gallery, grinning and bouncy at seeing so many familiar paintings.

Leave the museum after an hour, eye the grey sky, notice the Batobus stop across the street. Board the boat, which is partially covered (and not at all crowded). Challenge the boys to be the first to spot the Eiffel Tower. They spot a playground first; exit the boat. Weave your way down a path studded with colorful sculptures.

Begin to wonder if the kids were optimistically hallucinating a playground. They weren’t. It’s little (one slide, two teeter-totters) but it has enough. Play.

Watch the skies clear, the sun come out, and make a dinner plan with friends.

Mama at the Movies: The Red Balloon

I’m way behind on my “movie minutes” posts, and will update soon, since I’ve seen lots of good (Frozen River) and bad (The Women) lately. But in the meantime, it was nice to get back to writing my column this month with a reminiscence of our trip to Paris this summer. Here’s an excerpt:

When the chance came to spend a week in Paris this summer, my mind filled with visions of Nutella crepes, red wine at sidewalk bistros, and sunset walks along the Seine.

“What Paris, Mama?” three-year-old Eli asked, bringing me back down to earth and replacing my romantic thoughts with more prosaic concerns: getting two kids through a 10-hour flight; finding vegetarian food in the land of steak frites; navigating the Metro. We needed to prepare.

You can read the rest of my column, plus Stephanie Hunt’s gorgeous column, Core Matters, a swan song from 12-Step Mama, and lots of terrific fiction and creative nonfiction, over at Literary Mama.

Mission: Eiffel Tower

The first time we’d tried to visit the Eiffel Tower, we traveled via the batobus, which offers a scenic ride down the Seine.

Too scenic, as it turned out.

We arrived at 7pm and faced lines that snaked from the entrance back and forth all the way across the plaza. We were without sufficient food or line distractions to survive the wait, so we risked – and faced – the boys’ loud and bitter disappointment by turning back and regrouping.

The next day was stormy and windy and Eli didn’t nap. We debated: on the one hand, the weather might be keeping the crowds down; maybe a tired boy would be a docile and patient line stander…. But probably not, on both counts. We stayed home and cooked dinner.

Finally, we planned our ascent of the Eiffel Tower like mountaineers plan for Everest. In this case, Tony and I were the Tibetan sherpas, and the boys were Sandy Hill Pittman, who show up and have every desire met, needing only to put their bodies where they’re told and not use up too much oxygen. I was grateful they didn’t want cappuccino (although come to think of it, at the base of the Eiffel Tower, that would be easy to provide).

We’d been advised that the lines are shorter in the late afternoon, so we waited until after Eli’s nap, hoping that the boys would be well-rested, the lines a little easier, and that we’d get up to the top and out before it was way too late for dinner (or even bed). We brought Eli’s view master and discs, Ben’s journal, 2 cameras (since Ben’s a big photographer now), and windbreakers in case it was cold at the top. More importantly, I spent Eli’s naptime packing up food:

carrot sticks, water bottles, baby bell cheeses, 2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, 2 nutella sandwiches (never underestimate the motivating power of chocolate), 2 Z bars, and a ziploc bag of almonds and raisins. We set off at 4, arriving at the base at 5pm. Tony grabbed a bench with the boys while I staked out our place on line.

We didn’t make it out without any tears (from Eli, when I started walking down a flight of stairs holding his hand rather than letting him hold the banister):

But, we made it up, we made it down, and we made it back home, our backpacks empty, four and a half hours later.

cross-posted at Learning to Eat