Sunday, May 28, 2017

Paris, with family, continued

It rained last night. The streets are now fresh and clean, as if those little electric trucks that sweep Parisian cobblestones had all gone out in the middle of the night, wiping the city of dust. But the sun is out again and we're promised one more very warm day.

On my morning walk to the bakery, I make a quick list in my head of needed items. I should stock up on fruit. Sundays and Mondays are tricky days here. Many grocery stores are closed on one or the other. The big produce market on Buci is open today, it'll probably be shut tomorrow. I get a handful of apricots and of course the berries and cherries.

And I think -- for me, this is probably the best part of breakfast here right now. The south of France apricots are deliciously sweet, the strawberries lack that toughness that commercial berries in the US tend to have. The raspberries are so delicate that they melt in your mouth, without falling apart first in your little box. Fruits here are beastly expensive compared to ours, but the flavors are without match. (By comparison, the croissants and pain au chocolat are coming up close in taste to the French stuff in many American bakeries.)


(Here's someone who either has a houseful of guests this weekend or is picking up bread for his corner bistro, with pains au chocolat for the staff to keep them happy.)


As I walk back with my own purchases, I admire the blocks to my left and right. It's amazing how the buildings are not at all uniform and yet they all work well together.


(This is the restaurant that's part of our building. The sunny tables are in demand in the cold season. Not so much today.)


(Which would you reach for first, the fruits or the bread products?)


(Snowdrop reaches for the breads, but eats fruits first.)


(Fooling around on my bed...)


(In France, it's Mother's Day today! Snowdrop gives her mom a snuggle hug.)


And what does a Parisian family do on a Sunday, especially a warm Sunday, especially one which coincides with the Fete de Maman?

They surely go to the park. So you'd think we'd be off and strolling in the Luxembourg Gardens with the rest of humanity, but in fact, we choose a different venue: the little Parc Boucicaut (right by the Bon Marche department store). Our host recommended it to me (he has two toddlers himself). It's quiet, it's pretty, it has a small (free) playground. And it has a lovely little merry-go-round.

What a great surprise for the girl who loves merry-go-rounds! This one truly is small, but on the upside, the rides are shorter so you can have more of them. And she travels solo, while her mommy and I sit back on a bench and wave.


Her choices are predictable. Car, helicopter, train, truck.


How can going around in a circle make anyone so happy?

We stop at the store across the street where she tries on sunglasses. I love these...


... she has her own ideas: blue! - she tells me. Oh fine.

And then we're back in the park where she does a little bounce here and there on the various kid playground bouncers.


(There is a slide, but these days, Snowdrop just likes to climb up and climb back down again.)


And now it's time for lunch. We choose a local creperie on Buci Street.


She is not an indiscriminate eater, but she does occasionally surprise us with a passionate love of unusual foods, like today: a crepe with blue cheese and prosciutto.


Walk home...


Afternoon. I could go out while Snowdrop naps. ("To nap" means to rest and she does that, but it takes her FOREVER to fall asleep here. Today she hit a record, finally dozing off at 5 p.m. How are you supposed to adjust for that one?) I don't go out. I talk to Ed, I go over my photos, I think about the last day in Paris (tomorrow).

Just after 6 p.m., I wake Snowdrop. We have one important thing to do! (Important to her, that is.) The merry-go-round in the Tuilerie Gardens!

Her mom is worn out. Her dad has work to do. I tell them -- it's me and Snowdrop! We'll see you at dinner!

(She looks way serious here! I made her pose by the flowers. She's not a kid you should ever ask to pose. She's best left alone to her own devices.)


At the merry-go-round I see that she has settled in to her Paris life. She loves the ride alright, but she is spinning all the while. I can hear her thoughts! "Great. I'm sitting in the train car. But gaga should sit next to me just in case, or else another child might come and take this seat. Okay. That's safe. But what next? I see that little monster child clamoring to get off his ride. I wonder why he is doing that? Is there something wrong with that ride? Does he want mine? Well now, I can grab the truck next time. But oh! Did I forget to ride the airplane??? Gaga! I so wanted to ride the airplane! And the horse! No one is claiming the horse"


It took a week for her to feel like she isn't an outsider. It would take an adult more than a year to get to the heart of a place and make it one's own. But a two year old? I can see it so clearly! It's all over her face and so much in her words jumbled up with the thoughts that lie behind them!

Look at that dog, gaga! That's a Paris dog! Can I have some water? (she knows she can have it because there are men selling it everywhere in the Tulerie Gardens, so she doesn't have to feel desperate.) We are going to dinner? In a restaurant?  Pasta? Yes, I want that. Thank you! (Can you say it in French?) Merci!

We are at  Les Editeurs and it is perfect for us on this night. For one thing, it's cool. The French wont sacrifice the outdoors to air conditioning, so they oftentimes give you both: from some place inside, cool air comes in, but the windows remain wide open so that you are at one with Paris.


We have a complicated meal of many courses, many requests for many types of water and wine and who knows what else. Snowdrop sits through all this at first coloring, then eating, then showing her impish self to the couple not too far from us -- an older pair of Parisians. She smiles, she wiggles, she watches.

I say to them -- she is just two year old (Snowdrop always looks twice her age because of her incredible height). They retort -- oh, but she is just so magnificent! The way she tried those escargot, her eating, her drawing -- she is just wonderful!

So there you have it. We ought to go home first thing tomorrow morning, because we will have ended then on this high note (I've already forgotten that night of the dinner in the restaurant in our building...). The French (if I may generalize) are so persnickety about restaurant behavior and I understand that: the consumption of food is as big a deal here, in the same way perhaps that baseball and football are back home. Sure, they don't say "go Packers!" and "Yay Yankees" (or their equivalents) every time they sit down to eat, but they ask for respect for this obsession that they have with food (and oh, what a lovely obsession it is!) and clearly Snowdrop has delivered.

I tell you, we should just go home.

But we don't go home. We walk back to the apartment (which, I suppose, Snowdrop does regard as home) ...


And I offer her leftover strawberry cream cake, because I have enough of Ed in me that I don't want to waste it and she has (I'd like to believe) enough of us in her that she also doesn't want to waste it)...


Good night, good night. Happy week ahead to all!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Paris, with family, continued

For a city this size, Paris can be surprisingly quiet. Veer away from the boulevards, or better yet, take a stroll on a weekend morning -- not even early morning, mid morning will do -- and you will hear your own footsteps.

For the first time, I am able to be up and about when it still feels morning cool outside. (The pleasant aspect of this heat wave here is that the nights cool off remarkably well.) I go to pick up fresh croissants -- and that's lovely too, because Snowdrop and I have been eating day old stuff which, I dare say, is tragic in a country where bread products, kept even for half a day in advance of eating them, aren't respected.

I don't go far. There's no need to search for perfection. Croissants in most bakeries here are like the violin that's just short of the stradivarius. Paul's is a short two or three blocks away. I go there.


(Past a quiet little square...)


(Catching the tip of St. Sulpice over the always low rise buildings...)


(And the tip of the St. Germain against a very blue sky...)


In the cafe filled Buci Street, there is a gentle stir. The early birds are starting their day.


I was once one of them here. I'd chase sunrises and watch the city wake up. Not anymore.

At home, Snowdrop is just waking up. She and I share breakfast as her parents slowly get themselves up and going.


And then we do a rerun of a lot that she and I have done before, only this time with one or both her parents.

An important point about this day: the temperatures have crept up a bit. We'll hit 90F (32C) by late afternoon. This was predicted and indeed, it's "cooler" than originally predicted, but still, by American standards it's air conditioning weather, only most places here don't have it, don't use it and make do without it. Our apartment, if worked right, is remarkably cool. Shutters or shades pulled, windows open only because we are shaded everywhere. By evening, the air is really terrific and throughout the day, the humidity hovers around 35%. But still, when the sun is out, you want to stay toward the shady part of the road.

To the park then! We do the thing that is done best before the day becomes too toasty: pony rides!

This time mommy leads and the horse is named (by Snowdrop) "Lucca, like in the book!" Here they are, with the Luxembourg Palace and Senate in the background. (And yes, you're supposed to follow along with the group, but there is only one attendant and the group spreads out greatly, so for many minutes it feels like you're parading your little one through the park on a horse, while the populace around you walks.)


As before, I tell her that pony rides require the removal of the sweater. She's happy to do it to get up on that pony. (Passersby always take pictures of the kids on their ponies. I remember doing that too!)


As we walk the predetermined route, I notice how this vast park, too, has its numerous quiet spaces. People are drawn to the big pond and to the cafe, but walk your pony among these chestnuts and you'll feel the almost meditative mood of the old and young trees in their various shades of green.


After the ponies come the swings (way up high, in the sky, Snowdrop continues to fly...) and then she asks for the playground. I hesitate. It's packed with kids today. Is it worth watching her stand back and wait a turn that may or may not come about? Kids here are confident in their movements. They have years and cultural familiarity on their side. But in the end, Snowdrop is so determined to show this space too to her mom that we go along. And I'm glad of it. Mommy can rest a bit, gaga can admire the progress the little girl has made in attacking the climbing rope ladders (she makes it all the way to the top)...


... and the confidence that allows her to tell kids who do not understand any of it -- that space is for gaga. You can go there -- pointing to some more distant place... (Snowdrop never tells you what to do, she suggests it. It's never "you go there" but rather "you can go there.")


Finally, when we pass 1p.m., we pull her away and direct her out the park toward a lunch place. It's hot, but I'm sure she is hungry. And I wonder where she finds her energy: she has done a lot of running and walking today on yet again too little sleep! (And yes, the sweater stays off. She asks for it, but sometimes, you just have to say no.)


(A quiet block that today makes you really believe that we've hit southern Europe. At the siesta hour.)


The young family is happy to try Da Pietro's and again, the little one dives into her mushroom pizza. Whoever thought of this magic for kids food ought to get a spot in heaven. Is there a child that doesn't love pizza?


(But Snowdrop definitely is worn out. We are surrounded by French families out for a big weekend meal and she watches their interactions as she rests her head on the chair that is of course too big and too low for a two year old...)


We pick up pastries from up the block. You can ask Snowdrop which one she wants, but her choices aren't necessarily going to make her happy and this isn't the time or place to teach her independent decision making. Not when someone else is picking up the tab for her.

(This display of bigger cakes actually has hers in it: it'll be a corner of the square strawberries cake  with strawberries and cream -- a reliable selection that is bound to make her happy.)


And it does.


Evening. Snowdrop is awake, looking for a few cherries perhaps.


It's really warm outside, but we have a date: her parents had an errand to do and we are to meet up with them at the merry-go-round. Snowdrop is so ready!


Mommy and daddy are already at the carousel by the time we get there, waiting, waiting... Snowdrop runs in total anticipation!



And then she sits on her favorite carrier, from where she navigates the globe.


There is the usual plea for everything to continue: if not the merry-go-round, maybe the playground? Yes yes, it's for big kids, but as she tells me, ever so honestly -- I'm a big girl! A few bounces and jiggles and we all head home.


If you add up all the meals since I left the farmette, my count tells me that there have been 18 altogether. I've eaten all of them with Snowdrop -- from the airplane dinner (her verdict on that one: yuk!) to all the breakfasts, lunches and dinners thereafter. I wish I could say that I was always laid back about how things would go. I think I was pretty chill, but not completely so. I worried about all the pieces fitting together: Snowdrop's tastes, inclinations, and too, her mood.

For today's dinner, I haven't any of the worry: my daughter and I have a date at Semilla Restaurant (where she and I have eaten before) while Snowdrop's daddy is left with figuring out where to take the little one for their evening meal. When my daughter and I leave, there is still much indecision and discussion. No matter, my daughter says: they'll figure it out.

She and I have a wonderful evening, just at the open window of this remarkable and very favorite restaurant.


We walk home after 9:30, just as the sun does the final set over Paris.


We tiptoe up the final steps. Surely Snowdrop will be in bed and asleep by now.

She and her daddy are not even home when we enter our tiny apartment. I'm nervous. Where are they? Relax, my daughter tells me. I'm sure they're fine.

A few minutes later, Snowdrop bursts in. She is all smiles and giggles after her special night with her father. They had gone to a moulle fritte (mussles and fries) place and the expectation was that he would have many moules and she would have some frittes, but in fact, as the story goes, she devoured very many of his moules and so he was left with satisfying his own hunger with the frittes.

There are many lessons to be learned from this evening, but that's not the point, of course. The most important message is that there are so very many ways to cut an evening and so very many joys to be had on this planet despite your conviction that only one set of outcomes will bring peace and satisfaction.

I write this in the quiet of my bedroom. It's Saturday night, but it is very very still outside. Has Paris fallen asleep? No, I don't think so. The better explanation is that my bedroom faces the courtyard.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Paris, with family

I suppose I could still title the post "with my granddaughter." I am with her after all. Indeed, Snowdrop and I do not meet up with her parents until the afternoon (and it is a meet up that tests the patience of the little girl, as it is full of bad remembrance, on my part, late train arrivals, on their part, and mismatched eating times for us all). But the day is really a coast to the finish line, because I know that by the time I have to navigate that stroller into the courtyard again and carry everything upstairs, I will have help.

But the morning belongs to Snowdrop and me. We are each others pals -- the two adventuring explorers, in the sun bathed city of Paris.

Breakfast, with flowers at last!


After the usual ritual of bath and clean up, I do the extra touch of sweeping up croissant crumbs and the like, wanting to give the young family that feeling of freshness when they trudge back home. That is, I want to sweep. But when Snowdrop discovers the broom closet, I lose control of any cleaning device. I try to ask for the broom back, but she retorts: it's not available! The things kids pick up in school these days...


Well okay, they wont notice a few crumbs.

I want to spend the morning with her in the Jardin du Luxembourg. This, after all, is my personal favorite spot in Paris and it is hers too. (Well, it would be if the carousel there wasn't closed for maintenance. But it's definitely up there!)

And yes, it is another gorgeous day in the city! Here's a view of our street:


In the park, I ask her if she'd like the playground or the swings. She does not hesitate. Swings!

She gets out of the stroller and I coax her to take the sweater off. It's going to reach the mid 80sF today (30C) and it's already quite warm in the morning. No thank you, gaga.


In the swings, she is radiant!


You get five minutes for your 1.5 Euro. When her time is up, she looks at me with those great big pleading eyes, willing me to let her go for another round ... Okay, Snowdrop.


As I get my upper body workout by pushing her up up up, higher than high, I look over my shoulder and notice something else that is so much part of the Jardin du Luxembourg experience if you're feeling splurgey. [And here I have to say that even though I've sprinkled many a coin for her playground, swinging, and carousel experiences, I have done none of the big stuff which really pulls out the Euros. No boat rides (long and boring), no ride up the Eiffel Tower (horribly long and terrifying for gaga), not even a side step into the Bois de Boulogne amusement park. We mostly keep to the parks and oh, what joys can be found here for the little ones!]

What I've just seen over my shoulder is children on ponies. I have spent many a minute in the past smiling at these youngsters riding around the gardens on the weekends. I wonder now if Snowdrop will like this. (I read on some blog or other that a young child is often terrified of straddling a real horse on these Parisian pony rides.)

I ask the attendant (who follows the trail of ponies sweeping up "les crotins" -- the poop) -- at what age can they go? He grins: 15 months if you help them.

Will she go? Will she like it?

She LOVES it!


Gaga, he stops if you don't hold the rope!


The girl has a little of the Wild West in her!


Her biggest disappointment on this day is when her fifteen minute ride through the park is over.

I horn in on one last photo in the park -- the two of us and (named by us) Spots, the pony.


We're to meet up with her parents for lunch -- they will walk over from the train station and we'll all eat what is said to be one of the best croques monsieur in town, at the nearby Cafe Trama.

But I misremembered the time (we're early). Fortuitously, their train is late pulling into Paris, so I cannot feel like I really messed the day up for us. She and I eat lunch...



... and then retreat (she wants to walk: you follow, Gaga) to the nearby Bon Marche department store...


... to hang out and wait for the parents to arrive and eat their own lunch.

In the store, she spots the kitchen that is a bigger, nicer version of what she has at home. She likes it...


... but then she finds a toy stroller and babies. Well, I lost her to the toy that's so very close to her heart.


Eventually I pull her away by telling her that we need more cherries. The grocery section across the street has a wonderful selection of fruits...


I load up the stroller with a bunch of her favorites, though honestly, I've not encountered a fruit that Snowdrop does not like. She really attacked the free samples of melon at the weighing stand.

As we walk back to the Cafe, we pass a clothing store that has an especially light and simple dress for little girls.

Size 2/3, I tell the clerk.
I don't think so, she replies. Look! And she measures a 3/4 against a very cooperative Snowdrop. Perfect! 
You're growing up fast, Snowdrop.


Finally. At the Cafe. Mommy and daddy are there. In the three days they were gone, she never once complained about their absence, but she is overjoyed to see them now!


And daddy is able to coax her out of her sweater!


Let's go home to play!


... well, not for long: the sweater goes back on once we resume our walk.

At home now, making sure every grownup is following.


And now evening. And it really is evening. By the time we got home, by the time Snowdrop showed everything and anything about her life here to her parents, by the time she finally settled in for her nap, it was... 4 p.m.  Hey, she is up just before 6!

And now she is really excited! She's about to bring her parents along to the penultimate, the joy of joys -- the merry-go-round.

We walk to the Touilerie Gardens, and it is just such a beautiful evening! Blue skies, vivid shadows of an early evening...


At the Gardens, she is just so anxious to get there. Where is the merry-go-round, where is it?

There it is! And gaga is reprieved! Mommy is the one who goes round and round and round and round...


And on the trampoline (because she insists on showing them this too), daddy helps her jump jump and jump so high!


Life is good.


And dinner? Oh, this is so easy! Cafe Varenne is open, after a day's pause. My most revered, beloved place for that solidly lovely Parisian meal. As usual, the waiters are your best friends and without so much as a blink of an eye, they bring the coveted item that no other Parisian restaurant will offer -- a high chair. Too, they always have a child's pasta dish -- today it's spinach fusilli and she just loves it.


Why wouldn't anyone finish the whole thing?


She says all her s'il vous plaits and mercis and the owner pats her cheek more than once and tells her she is such a big girl and she is just so happy!

(Ice cream with whipped cream and strawberries, and she is happy, yes she is, but she loves even more mommy's chocolate pot de creme.)


Walking home with mommy and daddy...


... until she can walk no more.


By 11 p.m. she is (mostly) asleep. Snowdrop almost couldn't be persuaded to let go... until I tell her that she needs her rest if tomorrow she is to show mommy and daddy the horses.... Oh, the horses!