We baby boomers are lucky. Lots of us anyway. We’ve reached the stage in life where we can travel like we couldn’t do when we were working and raising kids and striving for other goals. Erin O’Brien of Redondo Beach, California, is like that. And now she gives us her second installment of a lifelong dream of so many boomers: a trip to Paris.
Tartine the resident cat was nowhere in sight the morning we collected the camera, the map, and our Euros, and nibbled on a fresh baguette. No kitchen fires were set during the morning tea ceremony as I opted to use a sauce pan instead of the electric tea kettle we’d purchased the day before.
The day’s itinerary included a visit to L’Arc de Triomphe and to La Tour Eiffel, with frequent stops planned at patisseries along the way to fortify ourselves for the journey … or at least that is the excuse we came up with.
I left my husband to make his third espresso and sat on the bed to gather my postcards when I was startled by a deep growl from below. It was The Monster Under the Bed from when I was a kid. “Bonjour, Tartine,” I called to the invisible cat. It was but a brief memory of my childhood.
We set out, bus route and map in hand. Having studied French since fourth grade (which was especially enjoyable with the Mademoiselle who taught it), my husband had checked the schedules and determined our route and we were on our way.
As I gazed out of the bus window I observed, despite being blackened with years of coal soot, the old buildings were masterpieces with intricate friezes and sculptures. An audible gasp escaped my lips with my first glimpse of the Arc du Triomphe. A French woman seated in front of me turned and smiled and said, “That’s just the side view.” As our driver made the turn, our eyes widened as the monument appeared even more massive. I imagined the Allies marching underneath on the Liberation of Paris, flanked by cheering Parisians on the Champs Elysees.
The Arc du Triomphe towered above us. The traffic, in endless concentric circles with right-of-rule laws the opposite of what we’re used to, moved in sync in a great dance. We still had farther to go before we were actually underneath the great arch.
As I surveyed my new surroundings, a young woman approached me, and her clipboard looked very familiar. It was the same woman who had approached me the previous day on our way to Notre Dame. She must have planned her own itinerary in a similar way to which we planned ours: “Hmm, at which iconic site will I see the most tourists today?” and grabbing her clipboard, hopped on a Paris bus. Once again, I stared blankly as she stepped closer and asked if I spoke English and if I’d sign something. “Go away,” I said, expressionless. This was getting easier.
I photographed The Arc du Triomphe from every angle, the French flag below, billowing in the breeze. After a climb up a narrow winding staircase to the top, the panorama offered a view of the twelve streets which fanned out like a star— thus the name of the circle around it, “‘l’etoile,” meaning, the star — from the great arch at the center.
Onward we marched from the Arc du Triomphe to a cab, for a short ride to the Eiffel Tower.
What is it that makes a monument like Eiffel’s graceful tower romantic? Is it the lacy ironwork? The history? The Audrey Hepburn films? The Eiffel Tower was a great giant, abuzz with lovers and photographers below. The artists and intellectuals who called it a monstrosity and clamored to have it torn down two years after it was erected were wrong!
We took the elevator to the second floor to take in the view which included the Arc du Triomphe, looking like a child’s building block. The wind whipped through the arches as the sun began its descent and the tower took on a golden glow. Even before nightfall, the City of Light sparkled. I felt like a kid, all over again.