Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thursday in Paris

I think most working parents in the U.S. regard rearing children while maintaining a job stressful. We know of course that our corporate culture isn't family friendly and it is no surprise that fewer vacation days and less time off to parent (to say nothing of fears about saving for braces, for camp, for college, for anything at all) only aggravate these stresses. This is a much discussed subject and I offer no new insights there. But I do have to say that purely from a "navigate through the day" perspective, parents in France have an easier time of it, simply because the geography of cities, towns and villages -- the urban landscape, if you will, offers so much more for families with children.

And I say this despite the unfriendly (toward young families) infrastructure here, so don't accuse me of heaping praises on the French government, which, in my opinion, has done more to facilitate bike riding in the Paris than to allow for an easy maneuver of a stroller up and down metro steps. They say that disability laws mandate elevators. Ha! I defy you to find one in some of the stations! (Though again, there are numerous hands to help anyone trying to go up or down with a babe.)

The reason I think it's so much easier to parent/nanny/grandparent here is because of the parks.

The closed off safe areas for very young children are a dream. Numerous benches line the perimeters, strollers are set to the side, parents talk, children play. It's that simple.

Walking up and down city blocks with a stroller makes me feel like I am one of many, because there are hundreds around me -- grandparents, parents, nannies -- who are doing just the same. As we pop in and out of stores, the greetings are warm, the emphasis on social interaction is strong and your child is taught early on that this is the norm. A smile requires a smile back.

Though I must note that "family friendly" means something else here. Americans wont, for example, find French restaurants "family friendly." Much is expected of both you and that little one. You may receive a friendly welcome, but there will be no special menus, no high chairs for wee ones. If you bring your child inside she or he must join the adult world of food and manners. That can be very tough, though again, a child has a lifetime of learning to do and she or he are coached throughout their young years to act in a way that is "sage." It's one of the lessons found in school and even in preschools, so you have help in guiding your child through these life skills. Again, you're not alone. And when you need the extra respite (you already have preschool -- close to 99% of French three year olds attend free preschool), you have the parks.

All this to say that the three days I've had with Snowdrop here have been wonderful.

So, easy as pie, or rather easy as a strawberry tart, you ask? Well sure, but Snowdrop is young and there are times when she just needs a good cry. This happened twice today and I'll tell you about both when my recounting of the day calls for it.

We are back on track with night versus day and she is once more the great sleeper of yore. So much so, that I cannot wait with breakfast: I have mine before she wakes up. (Ten o'clock? Really, Snowdrop?)

The meal is a repeat of yesterday's: a croissant picked up (yesterday) at Julien and then the usual accoutrements.

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She has the same, again taking in the view of not only the Tower, but of the tops of trees as they sway with the winds. A top story apartment (American 7th floor) has its virtues!

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(Did you catch the raindrops on the windowpanes?)

I give her a bath. This is delightfully easy here because she loves the spout that comes out of the weird fish's mouth. When it's time to put an end to bathing, she protests to high heaven.

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I dress her and I take this photo, only because there are so many mirrors in the apartment!

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It's supposed to rain on and off today and right now it's off, so I quickly get her ready and we head out. This time I take both her jacket and rain coat. And it turns out we will need both. Very soon.

I have the idea that we should check out what most would regard as Paris's premier park -- the Tuilerie Gardens stretching from the Champs Elysees to the Louvre. It's not my favorite park, but I'm thinking -- maybe I should consider it with Snowdrop eyes? 

We're off. She is always happy to be off. Perhaps that is why it is so easy to be with her here: she and I have the same agenda: to be out.

(Here she is on the bottom half of the Champs Elysees. You think she is singing "Aux Champs Elysees? Maybe!)

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We come to the Tuilerie Gardens.They're relatively quiet and I have to wonder -- where is everyone? I mean, the weather is not that bad.

I let her out of her stroller. She is happy about that, but she is uncertain of the possibilities.

There are a lot of puddles.  She forges ahead.

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And then she remembers that one of her favorite activities of late is to push the stroller. (I have to turn it around because she can only push it from the low end.)

This way, grandma!

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Good call.

We find the carousel.

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Oh, there is no hesitation today. I pick for her an outside horse that goes up and down.

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And she so doesn't want to get off at the end that I purchase another run. The ticket agent is kind -- he tells me - go a third time. For free.  I switch her from a horse to a plane ride. I am reaching my limit of the round and round. But she is happy as can be, giving me her most special wave to show her delight.

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When we disembark, I promise her a romp at a "playground." But the one nearby is slated really for older kids (in fact it states that it's targeting the 3 - 12 year old set). She thinks for a while. What can I do here?

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She picks out the hammock and she really gets into it. Boys play ball in the background, she sways back and forth, all is well... until...

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... a young little guy (her age?) comes by with his dad. he wants the hammock. We are, of course, all about sharing. The little guy climbs in. I smile. Snowdrop waits for the next move. He's really uncertain about the swaying bit. He wants his dad to climb in too. Well now, this is a challenge. His dad obliges nonetheless. The boy repositions himself to make room and basically sits on top of Snowdrop whose feet get twisted and stuck in the rope holes. She wails in utter dismay.

I take her out, the dad, who has on his hands a very tentative child, retreats. Snowdrop settles back into the hammock.

We leave soon after and she is happy to get back in the stroller. Good thing, because now the rains come down. Oh, do they come down!

I raise my free "save the bats" umbrella (Ed's contribution to my trip), wrap her legs in the tres chique Target raincoat and pull down the stroller awning, but I know both of us will get wet anyway. 

We come to the glass pyramid that adorns the entrance to the Louvre. Like the Eiffel Tower, this structure has figured prominently in her reading material on Paris (back home) and I am excited to have her see it in real life.

As I try hard to take some form of photo, what with the rain, the unphotogenic stroller-bound Snowdrop, a very lovely American comes over and asks if she can take our picture with my camera. I demure, but finally acquiesce. And I am so grateful to this stranger in our midst. She gave me a lovely memento.

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She tells me -- I took a handful. Maybe in one of them her finger will be out of her mouth.
Well, it isn't, but so what!

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As we cross the river...

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... making our way to exactly that portion of the left bank that I at other times regard as home, I realize that the little girl must be hungry. I'm determined to stop at one of the many cafes here that would serve a hearty croque monsieur (basically a ham and cheese grilled sandwich).

We come across one rather instantly. La Palette. With a nice outdoor space that is heated by warming lamps.

Snowdrop wants to get out of the stroller and I let her sit her on the chair next to mine. She is curious about everything on the table and I struggle to keep the knife, then glass and Badoit water bottle, then pepper shaker out of her curious hands, at the same time that I try to take a picture of this most lovely sight: granddaughter finally having lunch at cafe with grandma. We've worked on this back home and here we are, putting those lessons to the test.

Unfortunately, I am clumsy. In getting up to give her a toy that is not a dangerous object off the table, I bump said table and the glass rolls to the ground, shattering into a million pieces. Snowdrop still reaches for the utensils, the pepper. When i remove these, she cries tears of bitter disappointment.

I take her out, scolding myself for being so unprepared for this.

She settles instantly and monsieur the waiter brings the meal and I tell him that honestly, it was me, not the little one who broke the glass. He doesn't care, of course, but I want to clear this child's reputation,  because really, she is such a spirited, good child!

Here she is, tasting my sandwich.

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She loves it so much that I hardly get a bite in.

Here she is, looking up with those questioning eyes -- did I do alright?

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You did more than alright, sweet child. A million times more than alright.

Oh, and this is why sometimes you just have to let others take a picture of you and your granddaughter: if you rely on the mirrors you pass by, your little short one will barely be visible.

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We come to the Buci market and I see they have quite the big supply of fraises de bois (the "wild strawberries that I've loved since childhood).

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I buy them for later. Right now, I let Snowdrop polish off a tub of raspberries. Doesn't it seem that she is she giving them that expert evaluation? A ranking? She eats every last one. Are they better/worse/the same as the ones she ate yesterday?

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Towards the evening, Snowdrop's parents return from their short trip to the south. We recount our days: they were charmed by Nice, but I had the easier hand to work with: I had had my days with Snowdrop here in Paris! (In fairness, I love Nice too and I imagine someday Snowdrop will be thrilled to dip her toes into the azure waters of the sea -- there, or, for that matter, on either coast of her homeland. In my view, children notice more the immediate tasks at hand, rather than the unusual settings within which they are placed.)

We go out together, but then I give them time with their little girl.

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And I go off to find a quick supper.

It's a challenge to eat well in France outside the official eating hours. (Lunch: 12 - 2:30. Dinner: 7:00 onwards, though only the visitor will show up at 7.) But it's not impossible. Tonight, I check out a small neighborhood place run by ma & pa -- it's called Sancerre, because it features the wines and foods of that region of France. (If you have to pick the quintessential French white white, some would say you would pick Sancerre. I myself would pick a white Burgundy, but I can see the draw.) And when I say foods, I don't mean great cuisine. I mean sausages and hams and omelettes, served with a glass of Sancerre.

The place opens extra early -- at 6:30 -- and I am there then, ordering an omelette. Except for Madame Ma and Monsieur Pa, who use this quiet time to also eat their own dinner. 

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And they talk about the Egyptair disappearance and I listen, more to feel the nuance of their language then to get the latest update on what happened over the Mediterranean. (The tragic air crash is something that happens rarely, but it does capture a large amount of our attention. Easy to see why. I fly a lot and I like the idea of perfect safety. But of course so much of daily life is unsafe. Flying, thankfully, remains one of the safest of our ventures.)

Since the restaurant remains empty in the first half hour I am there, I decide to find out more about what it's like to run this very humble place in the fairly posh 7th arrondissement of Paris.

We've been doing it for 38 years, says monsieur.
I'm impressed.
He does a mental calculation. Fifty some of cooking in Paris.
So you're the chef? I smile.
Yes, he is the chef in the kitchen, his wife answers for him.

But I order a tart and it will never win the best strawberry tart competition in Paris, but it is damn good in a very homey sort of way. Who baked it, I ask, even though I can readily guess it was madame.

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I sit there for a while, long after I've finished the meal. The TV is on. Madame and monsieur ma & pa are  keeping an eye on some game show now. I sip a glass of Sancerre and take out my computer. A single woman (my age?) comes in and orders a plate of sausages, A man comes with his dog and orders just a glass of Sancerre. I feel like I am many many miles away from Paris.

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I'm home by 8. I want the young couple to get to know Paris by night on their own. I'll happily snuggle into my space and keep an ear on Snowdrop. Go, go, play! I never did that in Paris. I don't know why. To me, Paris is homey. I go out early, I stay out not at all. Just like at home.