After a flight that was fine, but on which we didn’t sleep much, we landed, got our passports stamped, immediately sat down for coffee and croissants in an airport cafe, then headed down to the city on the RER. These are definitely not the nicest trains I have ever seen … I was quite surprised, since John told me his dad commuted on this every day for 4 years. Not at all the pleasant commuter train I was expecting, but that’s OK. A nice busker played the accordion in our car, the suburbs flew by the window, and we were soon in the city.
I tried to take a discreet photo of the accordion-player; here he is, over John’s shoulder.
After two transfers onto the Metro and a short walk across the street, we arrived at our hotel, Les Jardins du Marais, checked in, freshened up a little, and headed out to try to stay awake and enjoy the afternoon a little.
Stepping out of the hotel was tremendously exciting for me – it was the real beginning of our vacation – and I imagine it must have been for John, also. He lived in Paris for the four years he was in high school, and it really was a deep-seated, heartfelt Home for him. By the time he left, he’d lived there 22.5% of his life (approximately) and during a formative time, so it was more than just a cool place to visit-live, or an interesting story to tell later, or a place to experience things he couldn’t in the US – it was home. I think his heart became even more rooted since he hadn’t really lived in once place for very long before, either; his family moved several times before they went to France, so 4 years didn’t feel as short as it might for someone who grew up living in only one house. Their Paris apartment was the home that he lived in the 2nd longest while growing up.
(And I appreciate the feeling. My family moved away from my childhood home on my 18th birthday, when I was a freshman in college, and it was clear that I should not consider the new house my personal home; living the transient and unstable life of a student, and without a concrete home to revisit, it’s easy to feel like you have no place in the world any more. It’s hard to regain that feeling, although I could still find it at friends’ homes and at my high school, and in Michigan, and other places where I’d spent a lot of time. Paris was that sort of place for John, except he could only dream of going. Hopefully now that we have purchased our own home, it will become that spot for both of us….)
At any rate: John has wanted to go back to Paris essentially from the moment he left, and has been talking about it since we met, but for various reasons this was his first return visit. It’s been especially painful since many people we know have been able to go, and we’ve waited and waited and waited. It’s mostly because we were in grad school for so long – and for 6 years our entire travel budget, proportionally large at 15% of our gross income but small in absolute value, was devoted to visiting family and friends. The only trips we have taken alone together in our almost 7 years of marriage have been: a 5 day honeymoon; a 2 day 5th anniversary trip to San Antonio; and a separate no-particular-reason 2 day trip to San Antonio. Each quite enjoyable, and we realize and appreciate what we’ve gained by our life choices, but it has been with some small (or large) amount of envy and desire and lamentations about the unfairness of life that we have seen others repeatedly travel to the place we have so keenly wanted to go.
So there we were, stepping out into his home turf, into a place he hadn’t revisited in almost 11 years, finally, finally. Our hotel was at the edge of the Marais district, an area John used to enjoy coming to visit, and our afternoon plan was to visit the Place des Vosges. This is a large square with a nice fenced park, surrounded by old residential buildings with restaurants and art galleries; it’s also home to a Victor Hugo museum, in a building in which he once rented an apartment. (This was a definitely necessary stop, since we have both been reading/rereading Hunchback in the past couple of months in preparation for viewing Parisian architecture.)
When we walked out to the Boulevard Beaumarchais on the way to the square, the first sight we saw was ……….
a Harley Davidson store.
With a giant TV in the window…
playing footage of people touring Milwaukee’s Harley Davidson Museum, with which several of our family members are quite familiar. (We’ve been there with everyone except for Rob, Carol, Robert, and Jamie.)
I found this very amusing. It’s not quite what I thought we’d travelled all the way to Paris to see.
It turns out that the street we were on is sort of a motorcycle-purchasing center, though, with other brands lining the street for several blocks, so although the sign was startling and seemingly anomalous at first sight, it made more sense after we proceeded a little further down the street.
…and I think this post is getting a little long, so I will leave you in suspense over our stroll through the motorcycle supermarket. I will return soon with our afternoon at the Place des Vosges!