Paris: The photography class makes me shutter



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.



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Next installment: As the French say (or should): A whale of a good time always has a fin

Where is our vacation?


The Blue Danube in Budapest, Hungary

Planning and Packing


You can never plan a vacation too far in advance. My brother made the airplane reservations to Europe for my daughter, five-year-old grandchild, and me five months in advance. Inspired by his foresight and planning, I waited until one and a half days before we left to pack. I needed to be sure that I would include the requisite amount of unnecessary clothing and forget the items I would truly need.

Day One and a Half


We left on a Sunday late in the afternoon. My husband and my daughter’s ITTASBYNK (I-think-they-are-serious-but-you-never-know) person of interest took us to the airport. Giddy with excitement, my daughter and I had our intimate moments with our sweethearts and headed toward the TSA officers to get intimate with them. The grandchild, however, burst into tears at the thought of leaving the two men behind.


Before we left, we repeatedly checked the weather reports in Chicago and discovered they were having weather: the wet, noisy kind, with the strobe lights. No delays were announced for our United Express plane leaving northeast Wisconsin, so we grabbed our suitcases along with our nonchalance and headed for the gate.


At the gate, we admired the few planes out on the tarmac, played time machine between the chairs, and gave Choco-chan the teddy bear rides on the rolling luggage. At boarding time, the United attendant announced a delay due to weather. Fifteen minutes after that, he announced another delay. After the weather cleared up, he said the plane arriving from Chicago had mechanical problems. If it didn’t arrive, we couldn’t leave.


When it became clear that we would miss our connecting flight to Frankfurt, I lost the non in my nonchalance and asked in a rather chalant way if we could book on a different connecting flight. The agent looked at his computer, clicked through screen after screen, squinted, sighed, and finally said there was nothing available, so we should check in Chicago. “Do they have different computers there?” I asked. He assumed I was asking this sincerely, tried to hide his surprise at my ignorance, and kindly answered, “No.”


In desperation, I called the United help desk (motto: We help desks, people not so much). The helpful deskperson also checked and rechecked, put me on hold, made me listen to terrible music, and said no flights were available, but I could try in Chicago, where all of United’s help is stored for safekeeping.


Soon after that, the plane from Chicago arrived problem-free, its mechanical problems solved mid-air. Apparently, every plane in Chicago had mechanical problems caused by the magnetic force field of Air Force One (motto: All your air space are belong to us). Our President, AKA O’Ba(t)ma(n), flew into Chicago for the NATO conference and disabled all other flights until his presidential Batmobile lifted off. I made a note to check his itinerary the next time I planned a trip.

Secret Service and Air Force One: Freeing air space one flight at a time.


At O’Hare airport, my grandchild and I stood in a long line of delayed passengers hoping to speak with a United representative and catch a glimpse of their magical computers and mythical help. My daughter, less prone to fantasy, went to talk to a Lufthansa agent because United had booked our flight to Frankfurt with them.


For months I had been telling the grandchild about our vacation in Europe, just a short flight from Wisconsin to Chicago, then the longer one from Chicago to Frankfurt, followed by another short flight to Budapest, each seamlessly connected with little layover time. As we stood in the terminal’s interminable line, my grandchild looked up, clinging to Choco-chan the bear but slowly losing faith in Grandma and her stories, and asked, “Is this vacation?”


My daughter stood in a shorter line and soon spoke to a Lufthansa agent. She used her nursing skills (“When you roll over, we are going to insert this. Just relax and it will be over soon. It will only hurt a little.”) and persuaded the agent to supply us with three tickets. We caught the last flight to Frankfurt, only four hours later than our original one.


In Frankfurt we went to the United desk, still believing that the airline that booked the flights could and would help us. We spent over an hour at the desk while the agent called on the phone, squinted at the computer, and talked to other agents. Finally, he looked at us and said in that United way they all have, “Why don’t you go over to Lufthansa and see what they can do.”


I took the grandchild and Choco-chan to an airport café while the nurse dealt with the displeased Lufthansa agent. Why, he asked, didn’t you go to the gate for the next Budapest flight and try to get standby again? You just missed a flight, he said, and there were available seats. After cursing United in German, he told her in English that he hated United and sent us to a gate to try standby again.


The grandchild held up remarkably well, but as we waited, now twenty hours since we had left the house, crawled into my lap and asked, “Where is our vacation?” I had to admit I didn’t know.

United we stand, Lufthansa we fly


Thirty minutes before the flight to Budapest was scheduled to leave, the agent arrived. My nurse daughter went up to the desk, smiled, completed her procedure, and returned with three seats confirmed on the flight.


We got to my brother’s apartment close to midnight, took showers, and collapsed.


We find our vacation


The next morning, my brother went in to work. Soon after, the three of us uncollapsed, ate breakfast, and unpacked. From the apartment balcony we could see the Danube River, so I put on Johann Strauss’ The Blue Danube and we waltzed around the living room. We gave the five-year-old a point-and-shoot camera to use and headed out to take some pictures.


I have been to Budapest before, but it was the first time for my daughter. While we stood by the Danube admiring the buildings and bridges and snapping pictures, my grandchild squealed, “Pigeons!” and proceeded to take five or six thousand pictures of them.


That’s my grandchild in the upper left-hand corner of each picture.


When it started raining, we returned to the apartment and got umbrellas. Then we headed outside again. After twenty minutes, one of us was hungry, one of us was cold, and one of us needed to use the bathroom. Our vacation had begun.


For dinner, we took a subway to a different part of the city. Before getting off at Opera station, the grandchild looked at us and asked, “Is this real life?” We all laughed and said yes.


Budapest subway station.


As we walked up the steps to street level, the little one then asked me, “Are we in Paris now?”


“Not yet,” I said, “we leave for Paris tomorrow.”


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Next installment: Paris