In May of 2006, right after I retired, I treated myself to a month-long stay in Europe. It was my fourth and longest trip, and I meant to make it count. My son was living in Paris and knew every nook and cranny of every arondissement! He was also the one who got me hooked on Croissants aux Amandes (almond croissants). I remember becoming nearly faint with longing, the first time we visited a real French patisserie. It felt like coming home, almost a spiritual experience. But then, I’m such a creature of my passions, and French cuisine has always been one of them. Now I had weeks of delicious French food ahead of me. I’ve heard it said that anticipation is 14% of the pleasure, but I think they’re underestimating here.
One of the best things I had learned from my earlier trips was that as long as I did a lot of walking, I could eat whatever I wanted and always arrive back home exactly one pound lighter than when I left. And walk we did. Paris has a most excellent transportation system, but when the destinations were reasonably close, and sometimes even when they were not, we walked. I found that even when we’d need to take three different lines to get where we were going, we could still put in a lot of miles simply walking from one train line to another.
Believe it or not, the signs are all in French, and many of the people you encounter will not have even one word of English, no matter how loudly and distinctly you phrase your questions. My son speaks the French of Paris, which he had studied for years, so he can read the signs and make his needs known. I am lazy, my French vocabulary is roughly equivalent to that of an 18-month-old French infant and my sense of direction is, as it were, too small to be seen by the naked eye. Suffice it to say that I rarely go out alone.
I do, however, remember the first time I ventured out on my own. My son had been to the Monoprix (a grocery chain) but had forgotten to buy something. I volunteered to run the errand. It was only about six blocks and I wanted to stop by an ATM near the store and get some Euros. He patted me on the head and pointed me in the right direction. I enjoyed my solitary stroll and my uneventful trip. I went to the ATM and turned to enter the store, and there was my son, who said he had remembered something else he’d forgotten and decided to go get it. I finally got him to admit that he’d shadowed me all the way, to make sure I was all right. We had a good laugh, on him, and went home for our evening aperitif.