On the morning of my second full day in Paris in the purple velvet head-boarded bed on the second floor of the three-floor flat at the top of the 60 wooden spiral steps behind the red door on the Rue Le Regrattier, I opened my eyes.
“Am I really in Paris?” I asked myself. “Oui, oui,” I answered, which reminded me I needed to go to the bathroom.
Unlike the previous morning in which we ate our way through breakfast to lunch in one sitting, we needed to be in Montmartre by 9 a.m. By planning ahead the previous night, we were able to wait until the very last minute and barely make it.
Our teacher, Elena, met us at the Anvers station and took us to the carousel near the Basilica de Sacre-Couer. We forgot to bring a camera for the grandchild, so we took turns attending to the child, marveling at PIGEONS!, and paying attention to Elena in between shouts of “Feather!” “Bird!” “Roly-poly!” “Ant!” “Guess what?!”
For my sake, Elena went over the basics of shutter speed, aperture, focal length, and perspective. My brother and daughter know all about that: he has some of his photos hanging on the walls of a multinational corporation in Houston; she took photography classes in high school. Like any good Texan, I was bred to shoot and ask questions later, so I needed to practice asking questions before shooting.
Probably the most important camera technique I learned was how to hold a ladybug in one hand and take pictures with the other. (Someone had to hold the bug while the child had a chocolate gelato.)
We spent the morning trekking through Montmartre admiring the works of outdoor artists at the Place du Tertre, the cobblestone streets with their colorful shops, and the Moulin de la Galette (a windmill converted into a restaurant) on Rue Lepic, the street on which Van Gogh once lived. If you are in Paris and have a van, go. You won’t rue it.
(If you are a new reader, I’m sorry; I get my word thrills anyway I can. If you are not a new reader, try not to rue so.)
After the photo shoot, we took the metro back to Ile Saint Louis, stopping at the local boulangerie for bread, croissants, and macarons. In that imaginative way we all had, we made sandwiches on good bread, sliced tomatoes with mozzarella and basil drizzled with olive oil, and then a little oil and balsamic dipping sauce for the batard. (Note: no letters were harmed or eliminated in any word of that last sentence.) Just as some people can’t get enough of a certain song and end up playing it over and over until their brains explode, we could not get enough of the various breads and ate them over and over until our thighs and derrieres exploded.
After lunch. the beds kindly offered naps, so we each took one.
We spent the evening leisurely exploring the island, walking over to Notre Dame to watch the street performers, and sitting along the Seine for several minutes at a time until the ducks or swans moved, in which case we needed to relocate to get as close as possible. When you are five years old, this is de rigueur (French for “hard to do when you are sixty years old”).
Two years ago I visited Paris with my brother and we spent every moment visiting sites and seeing as much of the city as we could. I loved it. This time, we visited less and lived more. I think I loved that even more. More than all the glitter and shine of Versailles, I will remember waving to the passengers on a boat gliding down the Seine on a soft summer night and seeing the delight in my grandchild’s smile as they waved back; and watching the wink of lights on the water as the sky darkened, and the lights along the river brightened.