Some days are better than others. August 5 was one of the best I’ve ever had and I’d never finish coming up with reasons. It felt like several days, divided as it was into amazing chunks of good living: sunrise yoga; quiet, intimate reflection on our hotel balcony in the early morning, shopping one of Paris’s famous market streets for food to last us four meals, wandering Paris’s grandest sites, wondering at our first-ever train ride, discovering glorious, perfect Aix, doing the work of travel (reviewing a budget and washing clothes by hand). It’s one of those days of our trip that I look back to now and it boggles my mind: We really got to live that!? I don’t know when I’ve felt more in love or felt happier, maybe like C. S. Lewis’s “happy”: not wanting to be anywhere else at that moment. By this fourth day we were getting our travel legs, so to speak. We were learning it like you learn a dance step – finally actually dancing, and it was starting to do its work on us, on our marriage, on our tired souls. It was just a good, good day.
A few missing details worth remembering: This summer I accidentally bought the wrong rail pass in preparation for our trip. The discovery was horrifying, since it’d been a non-refundable $850. But it was exchangeable and a wonderful customer service representative spent an hour or more on the phone with me one afternoon going over our travel plans with a fine-tooth comb until I knew for sure exactly what trains we’d need on exactly what days, and applied that $850 to all those tickets, to our Paris 3-day metro passes, and to our London Oyster Cards. In the end I think we only lost about $12. We used up some “spare money” by upgrading almost all our rail tickets to first class. So we were riding in luxury, and it was a ball. And oh, the scenery from Paris to Aix!!
The walk we took on this morning ended up being one of our best times in Paris, taken at a leisurely pace. From our hotel at 23 Avenue Duquesne we walked to Rue Cler around 8:30 a.m., shopped and ate, then (with three baguettes tucked into my bag) found our way to the river, crossing at Pont de l’Alma and then walking east alongside the river past Grand Palais, Port des Champs Elysees, the stunning Pont de la Concorde and Place de la Concorde, and then through the Tuilleries & Louvre, across the river again and deep into the web of streets again where we did a pretty good job navigating home, considering I accidentally lost our map.
Finally, Aix deserves some introduction, and a few of the good moments there need recording: We picked Aix because a handful of our dear friends have lived there for various seasons. We wanted a small town and we wanted the “feel” of south France. Ideally we wanted to see endless lavender fields, which didn’t quite happen. In our imaginations we saw ourselves wandering outside of the town to lie on a picnic blanket for half the day. That also didn’t happen because we fell in love with the town in an instant and couldn’t get our fill. That night we browsed through the artisan stalls, buying a handmade drum for the kids, some beautiful clay-and-glass plates for our dresser, aprons or little bowls for assorted family and friends. We lingered long over several tablecloths or other textiles but couldn’t reconcile ourselves to their prices, a little disappointed, but sure we could find something cheaper on a bolt in a shop.
Upon returning to our room (in a plain, cheap, but charming hotel in the historic city center – words wouldn’t do for capturing it) for late dinner with Jason Bourne and a lot of dirty laundry, we finally reviewed our budget for the first time since setting out, discovering that in our perpetual frugality we’d significantly under-spent in Paris (besides, we’d been too busy to shop for souvenirs), and that my memory of a $200 “gifts/mementos” budget was actually wrong. We’d saved $500 towards it. Our anxious budget-trained hearts at all the cash we’d parted with in four days of profligate living were stilled and the rest of the trip we just had fun. The next day we bought ourselves a tablecloth to make your heart sing, dang-it. We’d set a good pace for our spending and came home soundly within our budget. (Never mind the story of the $3000+ transmission rebuild that stood between us and the road on the morning we left Florida. Oh well. It was good while it lasted.)
Tuesday 5 August, 6:10 a.m.
This morning we plan to shop and eat in Rue Cler before a walk through the Tuileries Gardens, along the Seine, past the Louvre, and back to get our bags via 12:15 mass at Ste. Clotilde. If we’re lucky there will be time to peek into the sculpture gardens at Rodin Museum. We’ll bus across town past its major sights, ending at the Bastille, where we’ll catch the metro to the TGV bound for Aix-en-Provence. This city has charmed me, intrigued me, challenged me, as if to say “I dare you to figure me out.”
Un autre fois.
3:40 p.m. T.G.V. Gare du Lyon —> Aix-en-Provence
Which came first? The ^1-^5-^6 of the train announcement or the Bourne theme?
And so Paris is done. A perfect end to the morning, sitting on our balcony, finishing 1 Corinthians and praying, aware of the grander of Christ and His kingdom by comparison with Paris’s own splendor and grandeur. We didn’t want to leave that moment, that place.
We set out to Rue Cler at 8:30, leaving our luggage at the hotel desk. We ate Pave du Chocolat (custard filled pastry) and a raspberry cookie for breakfast after procuring three cheeses, four figs, a jar of fig-raisin confit, two almond pastries, and 3 baguettes from shops along the road. From there we walked (strolled, finally, after days of quick clips) up to the Seine and east through the Tuileries Gardens (where I fell in love!) and realized as we left the Louvre grounds that our map was lost. We navigated as best we could within a few blocks of Ste. Clotilde. We stoped at a cafe to ask and were answered by a lively, hilarious argument between a tall, sharp, suave waiter and a crusty-but-sophisticated old American ex-pat. A third man counseled us to listen to the ex-pat and we all laughed a lot. Ste. Clotilde was surreal – Franck’s church. We were there for noon mass, a beautiful thirty minutes with a dozen other worshipers. Daily worship – so simple, so perfect. An oasis in the bustling city, like the consulate for the kingdom of heaven.
Along the way we enjoyed an eclaire from Eric Kayser. Returned to our hotel about 1:15 and boarded a bus across town (a group of nuns sat beside us after a few stops – they are such inspiring characters). We disembarked at the Bastille and walked to Gare du Lyon.
Along the Seine a dark-skinned old woman (Spanish?) stopped us with a found ring; she offered it to us (“good luck”) and then, when we refused money for a cafe she took it back in a huff. Not till I saw her again by the Louvre did I realize we’d been conned. She must’ve had the ring all along, not found it.
In an age of photography (not to mention narcissism – so many Asian kids with long sticks to attach to their phones to aid in taking “selfies”) we memorialize every sight we see. But how do you remember the sound of the accordion playing golden age French love songs – Le Vie en Rose – on the metro? How do you remember the smell as you walk past a cafe or a poissonierre? How do you remember the taste of a perfect cheese – sweet, almost, like it was faintly perfumed with blueberries, or (today) with orange? You can only live in those moments, fully present, thankful, wondering. Photography overdevelops one sense, dulling the others, and gives us confidence in our archives, making us lazy and lethargic toward the present moment. (And yet, for full disclosure, I took around 700 pictures in these 4 days!)
I love how the hay bales are smaller, the fields look like patchwork compared to ours, and the farmhouses and barns are regal almost by their stone walls. America the Beautiful isn’t the only thing going…
12:30 a.m. Hotel des Quatres Dauphins, Rue de 4 Septembre, Aix-en-Provence
We loved Aix-en-Provence immediately – walking down Cours Mirabeau amid the evening street vendors. We settled our things and went out to shop for gifts and mementos, coming back at dark for a picnic of Paris food and Bourne Identity while reviewing our budget and doing laundry. C’est bon!
Given all that this day contained, 72 pictures doesn’t actually seem like a lot…