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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Parisian Yin and Yang

Lisbon was followed by Lagos, a southern ocean town in the Algarve that offered much less frenzied a pace than the northern city of my flight lessons. It was breathtakingly beautiful, rocky mountain cliffs that dropped off steeply into the surf below. The Algarve beaches, which boasted both lovers’ alcoves and banana boats, were seasoned with tourists enjoying Europe’s high season. The expanse of sand on which my hotel had a slice of land was large and airy, rock formations set off in the distance, an Atlantic blue sea meeting a summer day’s blue sky, a swift and constant breeze making the heat bearable, even enjoyable. My days in Lagos were spent on a beach lounger, lazily heading into the town each night. A cobblestone maze of ups and downs, Lagos’ town is dotted with restaurants and cafes, all serving the finest seafood and spirits imaginable. It was a blissful three days, though, ANY day on a beach is a good day from my perspective. From Lagos, I quickly stopped back in Lisbon, en route to Paris. There I would meet my mother and sister for a week in the City of Lights. I must admit, I was a little apprehensive to meet up with them (of course, while simultaneously excited); having traveled for so long on my own, running to my own rhythm, indulging my own set of rules, plans, likes, dislikes, urges, I wondered how I would do with travel partners. FAMILY travel partners, no less. Uh-oh…

I got back to Paris, having spent 23 hours on a train, luckily in my own car for the duration, to a sleeping mother and sister in a teeny-tiny room that was stifling upon entry. They were wiped from their trip, while I, on the other hand, was rearing to go. After a quick change of rooms to a suite, a hasty unpack, and a survey of the “where to” question, we headed out, if to do nothing else than familiarize ourselves with the neighborhood. We were staying in the St. Germain des Pres area of the city, an upscale tree-lined shopping district, filled with historic restaurants and hot spots. First stop, CafĂ© de Flores, a favorite haunt of Hemingway, Sartre, et al… for a little sustenance. The allure of the Paris streets in summer makes me smile, seeing all the cafes grandly opening their arms to patrons, asking them to sit and linger over a coffee, a glass of wine, a baguette, while watching the passerby on the street. There isn’t a city that equals Paris in that regard, that energy of street life is unmatchable. But, alas, my mom wanted to sit inside. Air-conditioning, no cigarette smoke, away from the riff-raff. OK. We’re the ONLY people IN the restaurant. OK, no worries. It’s FINE. We eat. And, it all rushes back. You forget how good the bread is, how enticing the crepes are, how hearty the salads taste, how fragrant the cheese smells, how sweet the chocolate tastes, and how quickly the wine relaxes. Mmmm, Paris delicacies. Video killed the radio star. Europe’s killed my waistline.

In the past week, I’ve accumulated countless Parisian tales. They start in storied places like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe, they ramble down streets like the Champs Elysses, Blvd de Montparnasse, and Rue de Bac, they quiet in places like Notre Dame and the Sacre Couer, they explore Pompidous and Orsays while getting rowdy at the Moulin Rouge and Buddha Bar, they spend lavishly at Longchamp and Bon Marche, they fall in travel love with beautiful French men named Antoine, and they all end at the Hotel Pont Royal. All of the things you know and love about Paris are on display in these stories, the bonus of course, is that THESE stories include family rows about where to dine, what each day’s schedule consists of, hurting feet, morning crankies, why so-and-so makes themselves gag when they brush their teeth, or so-and-so insists on using a French accent to ask for coffee. Other stories address why napping is a partial occupation for so-and-so, leisurely lazy meals vs. baguettes on the go, who holds the map, who had a tone in their voice over breakfast, and who picked a better area to go shopping. You get the gist. Sometimes being with family is really easy, sometimes it’s really hard, not bothering to censor and hold tempers when censoring and temper-holding is required. I know I’m guilty of NOT being the easiest girl on the travel circuit, and I’m a bit of a travel snob at this juncture of my life. I’m not totally patient when asked if the “inclusive ticket” includes “everything,” or if we should ask the information counter if we’re on the right line (when there’s ONLY one…) “just to be sure,” or something equally obvious. Yes, yes, yes. I know this. So, I’m sure you’re not at all surprised to hear that I was definitely pushed to my limits this week, then reeled back in by my equally tolerant family as I took them on the Marie tour of Paris (of course, I held the map…but, they let me). They were great, and all the bicker faded to grey. I took my moments to indulge in smoke-filled lazy lunches at overly-expensive restaurants that my mom thought “ridiculous,” read my paper each day, write in my journal, and cavort until the wee hours at Parisian clubs. So, the dynamic, though it took getting used to, worked. Yin-Yang. All in all, a terrific week…

Now back to NYC, where I have to figure out my next steps. I know they involve a return trip to Argentina and a few months in Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Fiji. The order and timing of which remains to be seen… I’ll keep you posted.

More soon…