Welcome to Part Two! There’s nothing like the build of anticipation to keep you wanting the next post of this blog saga… (sorry about that).
We boarded the Eurostar in London to make our trek to Paris. This train ride was an experience unlike any train travel I’d been exposed to. There were tv screens, a multi-course lunch, everything was bright and clean, and the views out the window of the country passing by were so picturesque that it’s difficult for me to remember them as more than a dream.
The language barrier became real in the taxi from the train station to our hotel. I’d studied French for many many years, but unfortunately it had been many many more years since that time in my life. Communicating our destination to our taxi driver was a collaborative effort. I made a few passes at some very general greetings, which did not translate as I intended them to; so, I switched over to full-time window gazing.
From what I’ve heard about Paris, it was fitting that the weather we arrived to was rainy and gray. We made it to our hotel in one piece and were taken aback by the familiarity of the decor of our rooms. They looked an awful lot like spaces my aunt could have had a hand in designing, and that was comforting is such a foreign place. We didn’t have much time to freshen up before the first item on our French agenda: a string quartet and children’s’ choir performance at Saint Chappelle. While we didn’t have any tour or lesson on the chapel, the artwork on the walls gave away its age. It simply felt really cool to be in the building (literally– there was no heat). The room was only slightly lit when the quartet began to play. They played several songs before a choir of young girls marched in to sing along. Everything was sung in French with the exception of “Jingle Bells” which they performed in English as they giggled. It was a really lovely start to the evening!
Next up was dinner. My dad found this place (via the internet) for us to try that was well reviewed. He’d been in contact with the owner for some time and it was reassuring to know that we were expected and welcome. We got to the restaurant a half an hour early with the assumption that we’d have to wait for our table. Instead, our Americanness oozed all over the place when we walked in and it was clear to the owner that we were the family with whom he’d been emailing. He greeted us with the warmth and joy of a human excited about living, and asked the hostess to seat us somewhere special. She walked us downstairs into a room much like a cellar and sat us down between the kitchen and an unoccupied piano and cello. One other family shared the space with us and they looked to be a family of grown children out with their parents having a lovely time.
On our side of the cellar/restaurant space, my parents and I fumbled through ordering and confronted every cultural difference along the way. This included the unisex/multi-stall bathroom, which was an interesting first to experience… I liked how audacious it felt to be in there. But more importantly, the meal was fantastic and quickly taught me that I am enormous fan of French food. I have dreams about how great all of the food in Paris was. My tastebuds will never be the same.
As we reached the end of our dinner, the family sitting sitting near us started singing bits of a song we recognized quickly. My parents and I looked at each other as we simultaneously remembered the Christmas, and subsequent family gatherings to follow, when one of my cousins performed Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” That cousin is a fantastic singer and performer (among many talents), and it’s important to note that all performances following that first Christmas were done reluctantly and only because my grandmother would beg for them. Long story short; it’s a special song to our family.
My eyes welled and through the liquid haze, I saw two of the family members move to the piano and cello. They settled into their new seats and began playing the melody together. Another of them begins singing along from the table– reading off the English lyrics from his phone. At the same time, my parents and I turned to each other to comment on how much the guy singing resembled my cousin. Everything happening was so unbelievably curated for us that all we could do was cry tears of disbelief and radiate gratitude. The musical family noticed how genuinely we were moved by the moment that they start crying with us.
When the song ended, the three began performing “Let it Be.” I sang with them this time mostly because I couldn’t stop myself. More tears followed. Then, the owner of the restaurant comes out of the kitchen and says something to the woman on the cello. She hands it over to him and he starts playing something beautiful while the man on the piano follows along. We all moved and swayed and laughed and cried for close to an hour in that cellar. When the music finally stopped, we were able to leave. I spoke a little French to the family as we were leaving (wine definitely helps me speak foreign languages) and they told us that they’re a whole family of musicians and spouses; wished us a happy Christmas, and welcomed us to Paris. We walked out of the restaurant to find the owner taking a very Parisian smoke break. He hugged each of us and we thanked him for the most amazing evening before hopping into our Uber and heading back to our hotel. It took me two hours to fall asleep that night amid my beaming.
The next morning came sooner than most of our three person party was ready for… but we found enough time for breakfast before heading to the Louvre for a three hour tour. It is pretty surreal being driven in a modern car on cobblestone streets that lead up to this century old palace-turned-art-museum. I’m grateful we got there early enough to soak in the views before the tour started!
Coming from someone who is hesitant to participate in organized tours, I’m really glad we did. Our guide was so excited to share everything with us. Seriously, she beamed the entire time– her joy was palpable. I also got the impression that you could spend days in this museum and still not see everything. We did see a ton of art. Mona Lisa smiled at me, (from a distance because the braving the crowd in front of her looked like a terrifying invitation to have all of your belongings stolen), I learned a lot, saw a lot, it was great.
After our art critiquing, we boarded a bus to sightsee, and ended up at Notre Dame. It was Christmas Eve and the place was buzzing. When we made it inside, we saw that a service was underway. All of the tourists were told to silently move around the perimeter of the church to do their touring. The stained glass windows and the Christmas service were way neat to take in, and Quasimodo must have been there too because the bells rang as we left.
Two more segments of this saga to go– thanks for hanging in there with me!