Daily Prompt: Mad Libs
Turn to your co-workers, kids, Facebook friends, family — anyone who’s accessible — and ask them to suggest an article, an adjective, and a noun. There’s your post title! Now write.
For all of my life, I have dreamed about Paris. Paris, the City of Light. Paris, where poets and artists have spirited conversation over baguettes and demitasses; where style is both accidental and vehement; and where lovers drown in each others’ eyes. Paris, where the men look like Johnny Depp and the women — well, the women look like models. I hoped and prayed that some day I would get there.
Five years ago, I had the opportunity to go when my son’s teacher and her husband, also a teacher, chaperoned a school trip to Paris for a week, with a day at the beaches of Normandy. The four of us — both boys, Mr. and myself — decided to go. I brushed up on my high school French (“Quelle heure est-il? – What time is it?”), bought some new luggage, read some Paris guides, and counted the days.
After a long flight, we were met with a charter bus and a tour guide, Franc. Franc was very good at herding 14 middle-schoolers and their parents around Paris. At a brisk pace. So brisk, in fact, that I took to calling him our personal trainer. Our first trek, on the first night, was Notre Dame de Paris.
The grand lady is a wondrous sight, with her iconic flying buttresses and intricate carvings. I was excited to see her. We were allowed to tour while a Mass was performed, and I stood on the worn stone and drank in the cathedral. I turned to my sons and told them that here was where Napoleon crowned himself emperor in 1804. To think we were walking in the footsteps of kings and popes was thrilling to me.
We also visited Montmarte, the artists’ quarter, that sits behind the Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur; Sacre-Coeur is the lovely church at the top of the hill. The artists and their easels are packed in close, and you can have your portrait drawn if you stand still long enough. I enjoyed meandering through the cobblestone streets, admiring the paintings.
We spent way too little time at the Louvre; we had to find some lunch, see what we wanted to see, and be back in less than two hours. If you’ve been there, you know that is an impossible task if you want to see anything. The Louvre is enormous, and spectacular, and overwhelming. Strangely enough, I had wandered right up next to the Venus de Milo without even realizing it.
When I did, I was amazed. She stood tall in the middle of the hall, without a velvet rope or barricade; I could have touched her, but I wouldn’t have dared. Wow.
We made our way through wings with paintings as large as my living room or bigger, through incredible artifacts, until finally we came to the line to see the grandest lady of all, the Mona Lisa.
She was smaller than I expected, behind glass, behind a rope, and protected by two guards; we had to file past her, only pausing long enough to get a quick photo. But now I could say I had seen her, face to face.
We rode the Seine in a riverboat with many other passengers; I loved how each of the historical bridges has interesting carvings and decoration. After the boat ride, off to La Tour Eiffel. I truly enjoyed visiting the Eiffel Tower and riding to the top. You take two elevator rides to ascend; one takes you up to the first and second levels of the structure, and the second elevator takes you to the top, for an extra fee. The elevators go up at the same angle as the legs; it’s pretty cool. You have the opportunity to get off the first lift and not continue up the rest of the way if you change your mind. There are also stairs up to the second level, but you can only reach the top by elevator. It was night when we were there, and the view from the tower was incredible: all of Paris spread before us.
We descended by elevator, where I got to push the button; the kids took the stairs. At the bottom was a contingent of soldiers canvassing the area. I felt pretty safe, actually, but I wish the soldiers had saved us from the aggressive vendors. As we drove away, we saw the tower light up in a dazzling array of strobing LEDs. It does this for ten minutes every hour. What a show!
The day we spent driving up to the beaches at Normandy was drizzly and gray, like most of our trip had been. It also happened to be our wedding anniversary. I had looked forward to this part of the trip the most; my father was a WWII veteran who came across the English Channel, and I wanted to see what he saw here.
The bus trip through the countryside was filled with old farmhouses and rolling meadows. I closed my eyes and imagined tanks and trucks and infantry on these roads. It wasn’t so hard to imagine — many of the buildings looked exactly as they did so many years ago.
When we arrived at Colleville-sur-mer, my heart was in my throat. The rain had stopped, but the gloom hung in the air. We walked a long road toward the Normandy American Cemetery, passing a reflecting pool and carefully manicured hedges. The memorial is a semicircle of columns with a loggia, or open gallery, at each end containing maps of the landings; there is a bronze statue in the middle.
When you turn and look out over the nearly ten thousand markers, you can’t help but be moved. Most of the men here died on D-Day. There are another 1500 names on the Wall of the Missing. The numbers are staggering. It is truly humbling to be surrounded by acres and acres, row upon row, of gleaming marble headstones.
And past the cemetery, the sea still pushes to shore and retreats over the smooth sand.
We stood on the beach at St. Laurent-sur-mer, where you could still see the bunkers in the hillsides. I tried to imagine what the men felt when they saw what they were up against. The climb was steep for our Allied soldiers, if they made it that far. My heart hurt; I could feel the pain in this place.
I reached down, selected some smooth stones and scooped a little sand to bring back home to my siblings. Dad was here.
There is more to tell, but I will get to that later. My visit to Paris meant so much to me in so many ways. To be able to do it at all was huge. I would love to go back and spend more time exploring the museums and cafes and historical places. Even if I never do, I still have the most wonderful memories of Paris, the Beautiful.