Divine Daytripper Freelance Travel Writer

Haley -- Flower Girl
Haley -- Flower Girl

Merit Award Winner 2009
North American Travel Journalists Association
"Best Travel Article Written for Internet"

Paris, France

“Bring me a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, y’know, the ‘cheesiest’ the kind I like.  Also, some Cliff bars, sour gummy worms and beef jerky.”  These are instructions from my 18-year-old daughter who is studying abroad for a semester in France.  I am on my way for a one-week visit with her in Paris.

The sight of my little Butterscotch at the airport holding a bouquet of yellow and purple daisies in her sweet girl hands chokes me up.  She looks so French.  She is wearing a fashionable black pea coat, tights and knee-high boots.  She’s thrown on a lavender crocheted scarf as an accent piece and it works.  Offsetting this ensemble is her long golden locks.  “Mommy, in one day alone, four separate people asked me for directions,” she said. “I’ve learned how to say: De sole. Jen ne pa parle Francais. Sorry. I don’t speak French.”

She takes my hand and we head into the subterranean byzantine empire I call the Paris subway system.  This world-famous Metro zips us along to our destination.  As we transfer from each train, I am delighted to see and hear music. The endless parade of musicians include an eight-piece orchestra; and individual artists playing flute, saxophone, and guitar. Two brothers squeeze the bellows of their accordions and sing a robust, lively French tune aboard the train.  I offer them two euros in gratitude for the experience and they accept.  Like moles, we don’t see the light of day until we break sunlight. We arrive at her apartment/hotel in the 13th arrondissements – in Paris proper, but not the place to be seen.  Who cares?  In the words of my daughter, “we’re in freakin’ Paris.”

Musicians -- Paris Subway
 Musicians -- Paris Subway

There are three things to discover about Paris: history, food and culture.  We were about to explore all three.   Our day began on top of a double-decker bus.  I like to get the lay of the land.  A three-hour narrated tour of this cosmopolitan city seemed like the best way to get the compass to point north.  Other than the discomfort of rain, wind, and guffaws at being geeky tourists, our lofty perch on top of the bus, offered an unparalleled vantage point.   At every turn a landmark: Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, Champs-Elysees, and the Eiffel Tower.  Paris has a rich history that stretches over 2,000 years.  These times are ancient, medieval, Renaissance, Napoleonic, post war and are all represented in the city’s architecture: a feast for the eyes and a balm for the longevity of the enduring esprit de corps – the common spirit.

Venus de Milo
Venus de Milo

Hand-in-hand, then arm-in-arm, we walk through the charming Rue Mouffetard, a lively Parisian street that humbles the epicurean in me. The origins of this thoroughfare are ancient, dating back to Neolithic times.  At one time, it was a Roman road running south to Italy.  Spilling out into the cobblestone walkway are cheese shops with rounds of milky, handmade delights.  Butcher shops display their fresh meats.  Bakeries advertise their deserts with the gentlest, fragrant scent of finely granulated sugar wafting through the afternoon air.  To me, Rue Mouffetard represents in an authentic manner, the honesty of Paris.  I laugh when I read the Charles de Gaulle quote, How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese? I buy a wedge of triple cream brief, a baguette and an expensive bottle of red wine. We head straight back to Haley’s apartment.

Even by European standards her room is tiny: two twin beds, a kitchen and bathroom.  Still.  It is her first home away from mine.  “I’m cooking for you tonight,” she proclaims.  This, coming from the girl who just one month ago asked me how to boil an egg, comes as both a surprise and a secret redemption. I am a mother who never quite got around to teaching her child to cook.  I retire to a lavender-infused bathtub with a glass of 2001 Chateau Malmaison Bordeaux to the sounds of my daughter happily making her way in the kitchen.  Upon my reentry into the makeshift dining room, I am greeted by a dish of beef tortellini with a tomato marinara sauce combined with kernels of corn.  We offer a silent prayer of gratitude for an abundant life and begin our dinner.

I am in Paris with Haley at the midway point of her three-month semester abroad.  She has a long list of favorite places to show me: Angelina’s: a café that serves the best hot chocolate in the world; the Musee Orsay; Eiffel Tower at night; a boat ride on the Seine; and of course the over-the-top Palace of Versaille, an hour-long train ride from our basecamp.  One week in this enchanting city is not long enough to take in the breadth and width of all the activities available.  “I’m not done with Paris yet,” I proclaim. “We have to visit the Jaquemart-Andre Museum.” Haley agrees to forgo Versaille and off we go to the crown jewel of boutique museums.

I confess to a love of intimacy.  Large crowds are an assault to my intellectual curiosity.  I am numb and oftentimes, my eyes glaze over at the sheer magnitude of the masses.  I suppose it has something to do with losing my individuality and good Lord, ever to try to find a clean bathroom when you are part of the huddled masses?  Notre Dame Cathedral and the Louvre are both magnets for humanity – and for good reason, they are large-scale magnificent icons built for greatness.  I prefer small-scale tributes to the arts.  In Washington D.C. it’s the Corcoran.  In my hometown of Sacramento, it is the Crocker.  In Paris, it is now the Jacquemart-Andre. 

This charming museum was the home of a well-to-do Parisian couple: Edouard Andre and his wife Nelie Jacquemart in the 1870’s.  They spent their lives collecting unique pieces of art.  Each room in this opulent mansion features exquisite artistry such as paintings, sculptures, tapestries and antiquities.  Among the rare pieces are Rembrandts, Botticellis, and Bellinis.  The sense of being part of the Paris aristocracy of this post Napoleonic period is inescapable.  The architecture of the mansion felt timeless.  As though we were taking a model home tour in suburbia, while at the same time visiting our very rich Parisian aunt and uncle.

The intelligent, yet relatable interpretation of the museum through a handheld telephone device allowed us to tour the home at our leisure.  We learned about the mansion’s soirees that one thousand people attended; the year-long trips all over Europe to collect art; and the devotion Neile gave to her husband who preceded her in death by almost twenty years. In 1913 it became an Institut de France museum and open for public viewing.  I was so charmed with this tribute to the love of art, that I gave Haley and I new names.  She is now Hallee tres Jolie Jacquemart, and I of course am Mademoiselle Jaquemart. 

The last night I spent in Paris was in a hotel overlooking the Eiffel Tower, which twinkles for ten minutes at the top of every hour.  The desk clerk upgraded us because they did not have two twin beds in a non-smoking room.  We become the Jacquemarts of privilege.  Would you expect anything less from two art connoisseurs? On our king-sized bed we dine on rich, flavorful brie, melt-in-your-mouth ham, fresh bread, olives, two kinds of nuts: pistachio and hazel, dried fruit, tangerines, apples and a milk chocolate bar.  

The Jacquemarts
 The Jacquemarts

At the end of a great adventure there is always a sense of loss – the good kind that requires risk and as a result, a newfound perspective.  I may come here again, but it will never hold the same innocence as the time spent here with my precious child.  I wonder how I can hold onto the savoir faire in my life at home – the culture, art and philosophy.  Will this passion for life as an artist and explorer be held at bay while I go back to my ordinary life? I want to believe it will be different – that the hold will take, but at the same time, I understand that we always go back to what we know, our place of comfort. 

My hope is that when Haley returns, she will become more of who she is right now – a citizen of the world.  I hope that her expanding horizons will allow her to remain open to new experiences and more tolerant of others’ opinions and perspectives.  Lofty are my goals for how she should forge ahead.  I spoke to her on the phone and she is homesick.  She's almost at the end of her journey abroad and is ready to come home.  To make her feel better I told her, "aw...you're not missin' nothin' here in Sacramento – just urban sprawl with too many cars and crappy lawns."  She said, "that's what I like!"  I laugh.  The grass is always greener on the other side – even if the other side is freakin' Paris.