Dear Kathy, The trip has been very exciting. A few mishaps. Trouble with a pickpocket, and there are four flights of very narrow, spiraling stairs, but other than that I’m okay. Clearly my next purchase will be a motorbike and an age appropriate helmet, something in a lovely shade of mauve. I have been approached by several people asking directions or needing a photo taken. I attribute this to my pleasant demeanor and stylish scarves.
Dear Cindy , I am having a wonderful, interesting time. This street is narrow and all the doors open onto the street. When you enter it smells like a very old museum. We’re up four winding flights of stairs and then there’s the door, no landing, just a door. More steps to the bedroom and bath, which is nice, thank Heaven. Another flight of stairs to the kitchen and living room, another flight of treacherous stairs to a tiny loft with a sky light. Getting my suitcase up here was like moving a piano. I’m going to lower it out the window with a rope when it’s time to leave. There are no screens on the windows and the weather was so warm when we first arrived that everyone’s windows are open, and you can hear EVERYTHING in the apartments across the street. Surprisingly, there aren’t any bugs. I have seen one fly No kidding. It zoomed in to check out the new tenants, and then flew away again. It doesn’t quiet down around here until around three-thirty in the morning. Amazing. I go to sleep with an IPod in my ears. Ile St. Louis is completely adorable. Lots of little shops, three bakeries, two butcher shops, a tiny grocery store, and two fruit and vegetable markets. I am trying out my French, and most people are great. Some roll their eyes, but that’s okay too. Andy and Nollie come tomorrow and Pete and Betsy leave on Tuesday morning. We’re all going to the Normandy coast on Monday. So many chiefs that I have become an Indian. The kitchen is tiny, so maybe I’ll make an omelet for dinner. Who knows?\n\nPete remembers all of his high school French, his soccer coach was his teacher as wel–a Frenchman. So Pete has been speaking his own version of fractured French, very funny. It’s been interesting to observe these adult children in a neutral environment.\n\nI’m increasingly more comfortable with my surroundings and less anxious about being on my own. The wrist I broke is still stiff and sore and certainly won’t be any good in a crisis, like falling down the stairs, but the stairs are so narrow that I’ll crash into a wall before I can do any real damage.\n\nI can’t believe I’ve been here a week. Charlie says that it snowed in Utah???
October 8, Hello, I’m having a wonderful time. The kids have all behaved nicely. Andy and Nollie are arriving soon, and then we will have three chiefs and only two Indians. I did make a strategic mistake the other day. Betsy was showing me how to make my camera do tricks—honestly, zooming is over-rated—and she showed me a picture. In fairness, I wasn’t paying much attention and my glasses were smudgy, and I said, “That’s nice. Where’s that?” It was the family room at my own house in Salt Lake. Charlie took the picture when the camera was new. Oh dear. Now Betsy has license to instruct me on riding the metro, being brave, and fixing my hair, in addition to adding another oblivious mother story to her collection. Honestly, my kids don’t realize that their smartness is the result of me willingly sharing my DNA; they think my brains all leached out during pregnancy. It’s a little colder here. My rainproof cape is very stylish, but not what anyone would think of as warm. I’ve started layering. I’m sure by the end of October, I’ll be wearing three sweaters at a time. Maybe I’ll have Charlie bring my favorite fleece jacket when he comes. I hope all goes well in primary tomorrow. I’m off to see the crypts of Norte Dame.
October 11, To Kathy, Kathy, and Cindy
More excitement from Paris. A little kid slammed the door of Marie Antoinette’s cell, and we were locked in for twenty minutes until they could find the key. Iron and six inches long. It looked like either a very good Disneyland version or the real thing. Plus, Pete got into a dust-up with the cleaning lady yesterday morning. Oh dear. We left early—six am—to go to the metro, to go to the train, to rent a car, to be at the Jour J (D Day) museum in Caen at nine o’clock. Pete stayed home because that’s not how he wanted to spend his last day in France and because Pete does not do “early.” So about an hour into the museum, I get a frantic text from Pete. Pete: “Who is this grouchy lady that just came into the appt and cannot speak English?” (A little frowsy and seventy plus. I met her the day I arrived.) Me: “She’s the cleaning lady. I thought she was coming tomorrow. This is very bad. Can you pick up all our junk?” (We left in a bit of a rush. Pete: “She’s yelling at me in French.”Me: “Smile and pick up our junk so she can clean. This is so bad.”Twenty minutes lapse while I’m looking at pictures of the fighters in the French Resistance of which I’m sure the cleaning lady was a member. Pete texts me again: I helped her clean up. No speak anglais!!! She is not yelling now but just says ne comprend pas. LOL! Ask le Betsy where is the Liszt concert sil vous plais?” Me: “It’s at San Chapelle. I’m so sorry about all this. Does she look upset?” Pete: “She’s fine. It was kinda hilarious actually.”\n\nBut actually not so hilarious. She only left two clean towels and no clean sheets. The resistance was not so passive. However, the mental picture of Pete and the cleaning lady trying to talk to each other is priceless. The trip to Normandy was wonderful. I sat in the back seat just like the Queen Mum. Betsy, Nollie, and the lady on the GPS were all giving Andy opposite directions while he zoomed around the country lanes like he was driving in the Grand Prix. When we got home, Pete met us for dinner at a restaurant that’s been a restaurant for 340 years. I’m quite sure I saw Dumas’ ghost sitting in the corner. The food was amazing. Pete and Betsy left this morning. His parting remark was a suggestion that I get a can of mace for while I’m here alone. I’ve been worried about falling down the stairs, (five treacherous flights to reach the kitchen. I feel like I signed up for a month climbing in the Alps.) or losing my keys, (which I’ve done once. I sat on the steps and ate a chocolate éclair while I pondered my options.) but I haven’t really been worried about assault—until now. I’ve made friends with the grocer. I wonder if he would come if I screamed? Clearly, the cleaning lady is not available.
October 15, To Kathy, Cindy, Kathy, and Clytee
The last contingent of children leaves in the morning. Andy and Nollie have had a wonderful time and there has been much hand-holding. I have trudged along behind in my black raincoat, a Grand’Mere —until I decided that this just wouldn’t do—and so I started to tail them at a discrete distance. Think CIA agent disguised as savvy sixty-year-old, wearing a scarf. Because you have to wear scarves. I think they’re just handing them out when they stamp passports, because people’s scarves don’t’ seem to match—not an issue. Of course, the instruction would be that you must wear them around your neck and not covering your hair. I am very glad that I don’t wear my religious garb on my head. There would be no way to tie those legs to make them look chic. Anyway, everyone wears scarves, men, women, BABIES! But not the Germans, they wear wind breakers and sturdy backpacks, no scarves on those necks. The Asians look like their scarves have just been ironed. And of course, Americans are so adaptable—bring on the scarves—wrinkled, matching, plaids, solids, prints, whatever works, it’s all good. Golden Retrievers should be our national breed.\n\nOur weather is cold but beautiful. My legs and feet are finally adjusting to all this standing and walking. After we noticed a scruffy young man standing outside our door, and someone rang our door bell at one in the morning, I googled crime in Paris. It’s so funny, every single thing has happened to us. A woman—certainly a gypsy—approached Pete with a gold ring she said he’d dropped. Someone came up to Andy with the string ploy. Pete had a friendly young man approach him about a ride in from the airport, which Pete accepted. We’re lucky he wasn’t murdered. (I guess tourists coming in from the airports with cash, cameras, and credit cards are a juicy target) We’ve been approached with petitions from deaf girls. The works. And it was right there in Google. These criminals need to get on line and change their approach. However, nothing I read talked about break-ins. Too much work. No violent crime. I’d need to stay home for that. I was very relieved. I’m going to church in the morning. I cased it out. I can get there without a map in my hand. I’ve also contacted an old student from Logan High. He’s an artist living here. He was great. He offered to loan me a phone (mine has mysteriously quit working. I blame the gypsies.) and he invited me to dinner. Look at his website. Paul Ferney. So, I don’t feel isolated. Charlie arrives on Saturday, and if he survives the trip from the airport, I’ll be delighted to see him.
October 16, Dear Kathy, Kathy, Cindy, Cathy, and Clytee,
I went to church today. At least I’m pretty sure that’s where I went. I was so worried about not forgetting my keys, my phone, and my emergency numbers for the American embassy, that I forgot my glasses. It was a Monet morning, very blurry. The Sunday school classes were in French, English and Chinese, but I went to Primary and stood in the back of the room with tears running down my face listening to those little French children singing the very same songs that our children sing. I don’t know why it hit me that hard, but I looked pretty silly with a wad of blue toilet paper mopping up my face. My grandfather came here on a mission in 1911. He was called three times before he actually went. He didn’t want to be the only one of George Q. Cannon’s sons who didn’t go. He ended up loving it, spoke French like a native, and wore a beret for the rest of his life. I think of him walking these streets. Anyway, going on a mission felt a little more comfortable this morning, like maybe it’s an adventure that shouldn’t be missed. Who knows how I’ll feel tomorrow. I met my cousin’s daughter at church. I knew she was here. She’s going to come tomorrow and spend the day while her husband travels. She’s a great kid, and we’ll have fun. The cleaning lady also comes again tomorrow. I’m going to try and not be here when she arrives. I’m on my way to my old student’s house for dinner. It was sort of last minute and I have to take the RER which will require bravery. He lives under the Eiffel Tower on De La Bourbonnais, so I could probably get a cab without breaking the bank. Maybe on the way home.
October 19, Dear friends,
Well, there I was thinking I’m on sabbatical from all things normal, and I’m invited to dinner at an old student’s house. Getting there was not simple, a train ride away. I had one arm full of a flowering plant and was putting the ticket through the little machine, but the bar wouldn’t move. I tried it five or six times, until I remembered the definition for insanity. So I stood in line for another ticket hoping I had enough change. The billet machines hate my credit card. I finally remembered I had a couple of new tickets in my purse. (I had just realized using used tickets doesn’t work.)\n\nI finally arrived and was ushered in to their very small apartment full of delicious smells. Paul and his wife had invited another nice young couple and a girl named Gabrielle, who is very late, but she can get away with it because she’s getting an MBA at an exclusive school at Fontainebleau, and when she finally arrives, this girl is put together, no kidding. Studied perfection. Perfect clothes, hair, high heeled boots, eyebrows (sculptured eyebrows are big around here), the works. Her husband flies over every month to stay with her in her little chateau. How lovely. So in the course of the conversation, it turns out that she grew up in Cache Valley. Gabrielle? Not only did she grow up in Cache Valley, her uncle was my plan B boyfriend in high school, and in college I worked with her father. The world was suddenly too small. I tried not to stare, but it was all I could do not to ask where the window was because I needed to jump out. No kidding, I felt like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker in the trash compactor. Encountering a new generation of my past was too weird.\n\nI had another altercation with la lady du clean. She arrived and I was as charming as I could be and did lots of Merci’s and Bon Jour’s, and I left as soon as she came because I was meeting my cousin’s daughter, in front of Norte Dame. Maren wanted to leave her bag here and use le toilette, so back we came. The cleaning lady met us at the bedroom door, tapped her watch, and proceeded to scold me in French. She absolutely would not let us use the bathroom. It was hilarious. She even poufted at me—only the second time that’s happened in two weeks. She uses a single crutch, but I don’t think she’s disabled; it’s just a ploy to fight off the infidels.\n\nFortunately, I’ve had mostly wonderful experiences with native Parisians. I had a five minute conversation with a man who (long story short) told me he didn’t know Paris was beautiful until he saw it through the eyes of an American friend. He didn’t speak a word of English, but I understood him perfectly. He was completely charming. I also met a street artist who was also very nice. Zamir Mati. He has a website. He does whimsical street scenes in water color.\n\nI’m staying home today; the first day since I’ve been here. Maren and I were caught in a down pour yesterday on our way to Victor Hugo’s house, and I thought I’d give myself a day to dry out and put my feet up. It’s getting cold, but I’m not going to risk anything else electrical. The microwave spit sparks at me when I tried to heat up a legume quiche.\n\nCharlie arrives in three days, that’s the equivalent of six chocolate éclairs.
October 22, Dear Friends,
Well, Charlie arrived this morning. That is the longest time that we’ve been separated in the nearly forty years we’ve been married. When I met him at the metro, I had a rose in my teeth just in case he didn’t recognize me. It was a bit dicey as he got off on the wrong stop, but thanks to smart phones, and in spite of dumb humans, we found each other. Now just five hours later, he is in charge of the map. What can I say?\n\nIt is cold. Freezing last night. I don’t know what was going on, but a very rowdy crew of young people were singing the Marsallies near midnight. I just hope their team won. I finally braved the heaters, and now I’m down to wearing one sweater at a time. An improvement. I had three quilts on my bed last night and my ears still froze. But the skies are sunny and beautiful this afternoon, people were out and about, and Charlie and I were sitting together eating chocolate éclairs in the Luxemburg Gardens. It doesn’t get much better than that. We visited the Rodin Gardens and I have to say that the Burghers of Calais remind me of mothers in the foyer after the Mother’s Day sacrament meeting. Something about their tragic faces. Well, I hope all goes well in Primary tomorrow. Seems crazy that I only have a week left. I am so glad that I came.
October 23, Dear Children,
We’re having a wonderful time. Charlie has an app on his phone which speaks French phrases. Very funny. Of course, by the time he tells his phone what he wants it to say, it’s too late. He’s currently pronouncing all the items in the fridge in French. It is cold. Oh my goodness. Your dad brought my fifteen year old fleece jacket and I nearly bawled when I saw it. Such an old friend. We think that we’re going to take the train to Caen, miss the museum, see the D Day coasts, and the cemetery and then meander our way through the country side to Mont St. Michael. Maybe stay in a little bed and breakfast and not hurry. If we get back in a day or two—who cares? The upside to being old. Then we’ll see the museums when the weather turns rainy.
October 27, Dear Cindy, Kathy, Kathy, Clytee, and Cathy
Occassionant du perturbations, which is what the departures sign said next to the train to Caen because of a ten minute retard. I had to sit right down and laugh. Charlie was pacing. We arrived in Caen and went directly to the car rental, and guess who left his driver’s license at home and guess who had hers in her pocket? So I was driving listening to the GPSs lady giving me instructions to get in the right lane (not the far right lane) which was the street car lane (I should have noticed the tracks) and an electric trolley was nearly upon us. I made a quick left barely missing not much of a family, the children were small. No one said anything for about five minutes, then Charlie said, “I nearly threw up back there.” I’m just so glad he didn’t. Once we were out in the country, we found an adorable boulangerie and had a couple of chocolate éclairs which made everyone feel better. Then Charlie drove (he insisted) and I held the map and had the GPS in my lap. The GPS lady doesn’t say much on country roads when you’re going the right direction, and then suddenly it’s like your crotch is talking. “In eighteen meters go through the round-about and take the third exit.” Very startling. Nevertheless, we had a nice time in Normandy, walked along Omaha Beach, and saw the Bayeux Tapestry—amazing. Of course, getting back into Caen and finding the train station was hair raising, and we had to have more éclairs for dinner. We are sleeping in today. Husbands are funny. After entering the game in the fourth quarter, Charlie is now in charge of the map, purchasing tickets, and the keys. I am in charge of figuring out the metro and chatting with strangers. Neither of us takes picture of ourselves, as Charlie says, “Let’s keep the illusion going as long as we can.” We are thinking of visiting Versailles tomorrow, if Charlie’s nerves are up to it. And then it’s home on Monday. It will be very hard to leave. I’ve gotten used to the smell of “very old.” This garret has been around since 1670. And I’m not sure how to tell the grocer I’m leaving. However, it will be lovely to see all of you.
October 29, Dear Betsy, Andy, Pete, Charlotte, Nollie
We’re getting home late Monday night. It will be a long day, and Charlie goes to work on Tuesday. But we’ve had a wonderful time. Two days ago, we unplugged the clocks and put our watches in the closet. The new impressionist exhibit at the D’Orsay opened on the 20th and two days later the staff went on strike. Those Parisians, when they’re not happy, they head to the streets. Anyway, it opened again yesterday, and we went, and it was completely wonderful. I’m so sorry you all missed it. We went through the exhibit twice, had lunch, and went through it again. Even the paint colors in the rooms were beautiful. The day before, we were at the Louvre. Charlie was zooming around seeing the highlights with an audio guide, and I headed for the Flemish wing away from the crowds. No one was about except an older lady—she was probably sixty—and we both sat there looking at the three Rembrandt self portraits which really do take your breath away, and she finally pressed my hand and said, Magnifique! It was a great moment. Charlie and I met at our appointed spot, and he walked up carrying his shoes under his coat. Very funny. Very unCharlie, but his feet hurt, and he wasn’t about to miss the Alexander the Great exhibit. Today we’re walking to the Bastille, a terrifying round-a-bout, but we’ll just look at it from the sidewalk. Then I think we’re going to see the old Opera House that I remember my grandfather mentioning in some of his missionary letters. I think tomorrow we’re going to a mass in Saint Suplice and hear the pipe organ. And then I suppose we’ll pack. It will be hard to leave—I mean who can give up five flights of winding stairs three times a day and a grouchy cleaning lady—but I’m starting to think about home and getting ready for the holidays.\n\nI expect I’ll be upside down for a few days, but then I’ll check in.