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October 20, 2012

DODD: The French connection

“Let me give you a warning. If you go to Paris, chapeau means hat, Ouf means egg. It’s like those French have a different word for everything.” — Steve Martin

 

I had a very different opening quote in mind. It started with “I’ve seen London, I’ve seen France ...

Kim forbade me to use it.

Southern Indiana’s version of the Clampetts in France took place Oct. 5 when we spent the week in Paris. It was without a doubt the best week Kim, Cameron and I have had as a family. We experienced close to 60 miles of Paris on foot. The people were wonderfully friendly and helpful. The sites we saw were stupendous, and by the way, I saved a Frenchman’s life.

There is no way to adequately describe Paris for someone who has not spent time there. Like any of the world’s great cities; it has a charm and personality all its own.

Some of my observations include that there are no clocks in Paris. The pace of life was much more relaxed. Supper meals in restaurants are served much later in the evening and are more of an expanded social gathering than simply eating to quench hunger. No waiter or waitress will make you feel rushed to pay a check. In fact, one might grow old waiting for the bill to come.

If you see an overweight person in Paris they are a tourist. Parisians tend to look fit and trim, seem to walk and bike quite a bit, and buy fresh fruits and vegetables daily in the many open air markets. In general, they are a very attractive people.

While there were a few American fast food restraints, they did not dot the landscape on every street. Oh, and the McDonald’s served Heineken. On a more critical health note — it seemed like every young person I saw was smoking.

Our favorite stop was the first adventure we had and likewise the last stop we made on the final evening; Montmartre nestled on the hillside just below the medieval abbey, The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Denis. It is the highest point in France and makes for a wonderfully breathtaking walk both figuratively and literally, lined with quaint shops and cafes.

One can see much of Paris from the steps of the church. One of my favorite moments occurred when an African street performer had an impromptu concert with perhaps a hundred tourists from around the globe with multiple native languages singing the Beatles’ “Let It Be” as an ad hoc choir. Music is truly an international language.

The stereotype of the rude French was something we never experienced. The language barrier was evident on many occasions in shops, restaurants or on street corner encounters. On more than one occasion, we simply had to part ways and seek another helpful volunteer for directions. I think there might exist some kind of arrogant attitude to think that as Americans we would have been singled out for any special positive or negative attention.

I am sure in the week spent traversing Paris we rubbed elbows with someone from at least six continents (I am not sure if I know what an Antartican would look or sound like). We had been warned not to look too American (like I really physically could ever blend with the French people).

The subways were clean, safe, inexpensive and convenient, although we used them sparingly as we walked anywhere from 8 miles to 17 miles on any given day. Paris was a town designed and specifically laid out for walking enjoyment. We saw Notre Dame of Paris, spent some time on top of the Eiffel Tower and visited the Palace Of Versailles among many other tourist spots.

One of the most unusual experiences was getting my picture taken in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. I might as well have been attempting to get Justin Bieber’s autograph. There was pushing and shoving with elbows flying all around — although I am pretty sure I didn’t injure anyone seriously. There were actually two full-time workers to simply allow those crowded at the front to exit from beyond the ropes. It was literally impossible to get out going the same way you approached.

Da Vinci’s masterpiece is definitely the rock star of the art world.

One of the quickly learned lessons in walking through Paris is that you always look behind and beside you before crossing a street, even when you have the right-of-way. On one street corner where some work was being done, you could not see the intersection until you were literally on the street. As we were stopped, two young locals approached with the one right beside me talking to his companion with his head turned completely unaware of any danger. I saw a car coming through the intersection at a high rate of speed. The local kept right on walking and not seeing the car as I said three times each progressively louder, “Stop, stop, stop!”

Had the man literally taken one more half step he would have been struck by that car. After a brief exchange of glances once the car passed, he continued on his way as if nothing happened. Kim and I were a bit shaken. I thought in that brief moment that there was no way he was not going to be struck down right before our eyes.

Parisians are the best parallel parkers I have ever watched. If there is 8 inches to spare in both the front and back of a car, they can park there. Cars are tiny and parking space is at a premium. I don’t know how many times one of us commented that it was impossible for a car to fit and watched it happen.  

My favorite thing about the week was the fact of having no cell phones, work schedules or any electronic devices during the daytime. It was simply quality family time shared together. When you have a son that is 17 years old, you fully realize the special moments that will produce a lifetime of precious memories.

It’s impossible to put a price on that — however, we are beginning to tally up the Visa bills.

And “Oui, Oui” has a very different meaning over there!

— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at lindon.dodd@hotmail.com

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