Living as she does in beautiful Redondo Beach, California, BoomerCafé contributor Erin O’Brien has little reason to go anywhere else. But she and her husband did just go to Europe, and she writes of her visit as An American Boomer in Paris.
We’d finally arrived. After a harrowing Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in a taxi from Charles de Gaulle Airport, passing the glowing red Moulin Rouge in the darkness, we were deposited on the street corner in front of an old seven-story building, as our host came downstairs to greet us.
Although it was 11:00 PM in Paris, our friend showed us in to the kitchen where the table was set for dinner. All my fatigue vanished as he took his homemade dish out of the oven and opened a bottle of wine.
When his lovely wife entered the room, we presented our hostess gifts: California wine, See’s Candies, and an American cookbook. They paled in comparison to his gifts upon his visit to the States: a bottle of champagne for my husband, a bottle of Chanel for me. We also met Tartine, the resident cat, who didn’t seem to mind my English. I wished I’d remembered a present for the cat.
In the morning we awakened to the sound of the city below. Throughout our stay during our breakfasts, I enjoyed gazing down at the crossing guard, as he ushered parents and children in tow, while motorcycles and bicycles wove through the traffic in an elaborate dance.
Our friend had given my husband a demonstration of how to use the espresso machine, while I discovered an electric tea kettle on the counter and set to work filling it with water. After a couple of attempts, my husband was still experimenting with the machine, as I placed the kettle on the stove and turned on a burner.
Note: never leave jet-lagged foreigners in your kitchen unattended. I quickly discovered my error, but not before ever-growing flames were consuming the electrical wires and pieces of melting black plastic were smoldering on the stove.
“Chris!” I said, trying to get his attention, but he had just mastered the espresso machine, his back to me. “Chris!” (a little louder). When he turned around the tea kettle was ablaze on the stove. Hurriedly, he grabbed it and ran to the sink, melted pieces falling as he held the fiery torch at arm’s length.
But instead of asking us to pack our bags, our host merely slipped out and returned a few moments later with a fresh baguette and an assortment of pastries from the patisserie a couple of doors down. It would be the first of many patisseries that I would discover.
As we prepared for our day, I was careful to avoid Tartine, the resident cat, more terrifying than Notre Dame’s gargoyles, which had taken up residency in the middle of the bed, and growled if we cast a shadow on her.
Our first expedition was to the Latin Quarter and Notre Dame Cathedral, a half-hour walk away. Equipped with maps and camera, we set out, but my husband had decided to decipher the bus schedule. As I waited, soaking in my new surroundings, a young woman carrying a clipboard approached me and asked if I’d sign something. Our friends had warned us about this. I stared blankly as she stepped closer and asked if I spoke English. “No,” I said without expression. That was relatively easy.
The towers of the great Gothic edifice rose up to the heavens as we approached, the site of Napoleon’s and Josephine’s coronation ceremony, the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to Henry II’s son Francis, and where Quasimodo fell in love with Irish gypsy Maureen O’Hara (“Sanctuary!”).
The Rose Window, a breathtaking array of stained glass, was the centerpiece. The colored light filtered through the ages and illuminated an ancient stone wall. As I stared into the faces of the stone saints and angels, and gazed at the glowing candles, with organ pipes rising to the ceiling, I thought of the births and deaths and marriages that had been celebrated here throughout each generation.
One could feel small and insignificant beside the immense pillars and beneath the vaulted ceiling. I lit a candle, for peace, as someone else also must have, a lifetime ago.