When Did the Arc de Triomphe Start Leaning?

In this lifetime, my relationship with Paris evolved and improved quite significantly.  I first spent a summer there as a student after my sophomore year of college.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Dickens does not mention anything about lack of funds and lousy boyfriends, but that was an overriding influence of my Parisian summer.  Because 19 year old girls are inherently stupid in love (don’t argue, I know this!), spending three months with a total wastrel seemed somehow preferable to spending them without him, albeit in the City of Lights.  If I could travel back in time to slap the silliness out of the 19 year old me, I would absolutely do it—and the Butterfly Effect be damned. 

Another reason Paris was less fabulous the first time around was because I was poor.  New York, Rome, Paris, they are incredible cities under the worst of circumstances, but the best of circumstances are better.  And so, living in a boarding house with a shared bathroom in the Latin Quarter and not being able to afford even an occasional restaurant meal is a slight bit of a bummer.  I am a Right Bank girl at heart.  On all my subsequent trips to Paris, I made a point to only cross the Seine for sightseeing purposes.  C’est la vie.

Still, it was an amazing summer, because studying French language and cinema at the source of it all, at 19, with a group of new friends (some of whom are now old friends) was an experience of a lifetime. 

There have been several trips since that glorious, sunlit summer, and in various configurations (BFF and I; mom, grandma and I; spouse and I; spouse, younger son, BFF and her daughter and I, etc.)  In March of 2018, my mom and I made the pilgrimage.  It was our Second Annual Girls Trip. I had a purpose; she tagged along.  It was also my Big Birthday Year—we started celebrating months in advance.

It had to be March because Salvatore Adamo was giving a concert at the Olympia.  Salvatore Adamo at the Olympia, let that sink in!  It would be my second time seeing him live.  The first was several years earlier, at the Bataclan—we actually sat in those chairs that I would later see on TV and photo images, scattered on the ground after the horrific terrorist attack…  And now, Adamo, one of the fondest musical memories of my childhood, the iconic venue, my now beloved Paris, and my fiftieth year—the perfect combination if ever there was one.  I knew there was only one PIC* worthy of this type of shenanigan—my mom!

The topic of “MY MOM” can (and might) take up volumes.  But not today.  Today I will only say that she is a woman always ready for an adventure, which is a marvelous quality to possess when one is a parental unit of #oldladytraveling. She has the motive, method, and opportunity—in other words, the desire to travel (especially with her only child), the means to afford it, and a seemingly limitless supply of vacation days despite still being employed on a full-time basis. Eh voila, I offered, she accepted, we went.

I am a recovering Obsessive Overplanner. As of this writing, I do not have a single vacation planned for next year, and it’s already June.  The Paris trip, however, pretty much planned itself.  I bought the concert tickets, and proceeded to work in concentric circles from the epicenter that was Olympia.  The hotel had to be close to both the Olympia and the Opera, where the airport bus would drop us off, the Olympia and the Opera are already close to each other, and the Fragonard Museum of Perfume was determined to also be nearby.  And the rest, as they say, would be gravy.

Because this is decidedly not a travelogue, and because I leave scrapbooking to my mom, I will only mention the *firsts* that happened on this trip:

  1. The first time I actually bought perfume in Paris:  Yes, yes, I know, France is the motherland of perfume, and I do love and wear it (occasionally to excess), but I have never actually bought it there.  I mean, these days everything is available everywhere, and dollars are cheaper than euros.  Except Fragonard—it is not being exported to the US.  So we went to the Fragonard Museum of Perfume, learned a lot about the history and the process (all facts which I promptly forgot and cannot now recall a single one), and bought several bottles of scents with tremendous joy and glee.  This is truly an experience that can only be shared with another girl!
  2. The first time I rode in a cab in Paris: I mean, not to/from an airport, but just because.  And the “because” of it was that we were overserved champagne at some café on the Champs-Élysées—what better reason could there be?  On our first day, we walked along looking for food, were beckoned in by a friendly waiter named Pierre, and proceeded to have a raucous repast consisting primarily of various bubbly beverages and cheese. I am a ridiculous human being who will always walk when she can, take public transportation when she cannot, and only resort to cabs when there is literally no other option.  My mom felt there was no other option. She might not have been wrong.  I have to report that taxis in Paris are really no different than taxis the world over.  Enough said.

3. The first time I visited the Musée des Arts et Métiers:  Paris is full of museums, and every time I delude myself into thinking I have visited them all, or at least all the major ones, a new one springs up like a mushroom right in front of me!  My mom and I were wandering around, looking for covered shopping passages, feeling very hip and urban and deservedly European when we stopped for another obligatory kir and pâté at a café right across from this heretofore undiscovered gem.  Thus fortified, we entered and enjoyed many scientific curiosities, tools that mom recalled from her engineering training, music boxes, and other fun stuff.  Highly recommended!

4. The first time I visited Opéra Garnier:  As centrally located as it is, and as much of a Right Bank girl as I am, I have never been inside until that trip.  I decided that time has finally come to visit the Phantom’s old stomping grounds.  They do tours in English, and we signed up for an evening one, during which you not only explore the opulent stairwells and halls, but get to sit in *his* box.  It is exactly as I imagined—a gorgeous, luxurious, sparkling, and absolutely quintessentially French palace.  The Phantom was right in demanding only the highest standard of quality for the prima donnas to grace this magnificent stage, and if he had to smash chandeliers to achieve it, more power to him!

5. The first time I attended Theatre in Paris:  No, not theatre in Paris, but Theatre in Paris.  During our exploring of the area near Olympia, mom and I wandered into quaint little enclosed square with an imposing equestrian figure of what I, in a moment of unexpected lucidity, perceived to be an English king (well, it is just a parlor trick, isn’t it—his appearance was of a era significantly later than the end of French monarchy). It was, indeed, the visage of Edward II, the “most Parisian of all Kings”, and there was a theatre in the square as well–Théâtre Édouard VII**. My mom, who speaks not a word of French beyond what the general populace does (that is to say, a word of greeting, thanks, and farewell, if that), became immediately excited and said that she wants to see a play just for the experience, the understanding of the dialogue being a bonus she had no right to expect.  I dimly recalled some new-ish initiative of subtitling French plays for the English-speaking audience.  Thank you, the gods of Internet!  Not only did I confirm this, but we ordered tickets to a show, which provides an English language program and makes sure your seats have a good visibility of the subtitles scrolling at the top of the stage.  What a great deal!  The play we saw was “Somewhere in the Life”, adapted from “Park Your Car in Harvard Yard” by Israel Horovitz.  It was quite wonderful, one of those talky, relationship plays with two actors.  Maybe because it was a translation and an adaptation from English, I felt that I could understand about 60-70% without subtitles. Or maybe my French is that awesome.  Yes, definitely the latter.

6. Honorable mention goes to the first time I ate caviar in Paris—because wherever my mom is, there it is.  You can take a woman out of Russia, but…

And this was our Parisian adventure and Second Annual Mother and Daughter trip.  If you are mildly curious about the First, as well as subsequent, annual trips—stay tuned!

*PIC – [in this context] Partner in Crime

**“In the early to mid 1900s,under the direction of Sacha Guitry, the theatre became a symbol of anglo-franco friendship, and where French people could discover and enjoy Anglo Saxon works”.  (courtesy of Wikipedia)

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