Friday, March 25, 2016

Europe 2015 - Paris: Blissful disorientation and modified romance

Deniz likes to know what she's getting herself into. I prefer the element of surprise. She's pragmatic. I'm idealistic. She likes movie previews. I don't. But we compromise and manage to find a good balance between preparation and spontaneity.

For example, she wanted to know our kids' sex and I didn't. So with Aylin, we didn't find out until her birth. She totally rocked our world by being born a girl - so much for parental instincts. We learned Emilio would be a boy at 11 weeks. Usually, you have to wait until 20 weeks to see the baby bits. We don't intend to tell him this, so it doesn't go to his head.

This marital dynamic of ours played out nicely in Paris. Deniz did her homework, settled on a few must-hit places, and simply turned it over to our college friend, host and tour guide extraordinaire Delphine. She whisked us through our three days with pin-point precision and record-breaking efficiency. She had the timing down to a science - knowing where and when to go up to the bell towers at Notre Dame, take the elevator to the Eiffel Tower summit, or wander the Louvre during the least congested time. Usually, it falls on me to herd the cattle, but with so much to see with such little time in a sprawling city I’d never visited before, I was more than happy to just "moo" along.

By buying us time, Delphine helped us find another balance. We enjoyed Paris’s romantic offerings without neglecting the kids’ needs. For example, we enjoyed the Eiffel’s spectacular night view of its City of Light, but we also made time for the carousel across the street – a far more enjoyable activity for the kids.

It didn't hurt that Delphine lives in Saint Denis, where we were able to leave our car in her building's garage, and walk five minutes to the Metro and be in the heart of Paris within 20 minutes. This saved us time and patience. Like in most big cities, Paris traffic is a bitch.

I spent a better part of the time blissfully disoriented in what has to be one of the greatest walking cities in the world. Although I'm aware of key landmarks and managed to retain a healthy, high-school level of historical context, I purposely don't like to spoil the experience by reading up too much. I rather experience it as it comes. It's partly my Navy submarine background. We used to go down a hatch at homeport. A shake, rattle and roll later, we'd pop up in some port on the other side of the world. And then, we'd go out and embrace the unknown - meandering around town, sometimes drunk - our uniforms weren't the only things ready for a good soaking after weeks of being underway. The excitement of not knowing what's around the next street corner - before Google Maps and smart phones - was enticing and has stuck with me.

This is where Deniz and I differ. For her, getting a preview and knowing more doesn't spoil anything. It enhances your travel experience. It is due diligence. Certainly many of you will see it her way. And you would all be terribly wrong. I’m kidding. Mostly.

For me, the uncertainty of it all is part of the draw. I loved that the Eiffel sort of snuck up on me, as did great looking Parisians - women and men. These people are as ubiquitous as baguettes here. I suppose in the fashion capital of the world, you should expect the occasional, drop-the-sippy cup, high-cheek boned, elegant, well-manicured, model types.

Not all disorientation is welcome, however. We found the Louvre to be a messy maze of staircases - almost out of M.C. Escher's famous "Relativity" lithograph - and confusing signage, especially when piloting a stroller with two highly kinetic enfants. And it seemed most places had two entrances and exits, but everyone was only aware of one.

In the end, we all enjoyed Paris tremendously, if even if at times we stretched the kids' routines to squeeze in some live jazz at Luxembourg Gardens or gave up a little romance to walk up Avenue des Champs-Élysées to the Arce de Triumphe hands-on-stroller instead of hand-in-hand.

Deniz even scheduled a short stop at Boulevard Saint Michel near Université Sorbonne, if only so this idiot can accurately visualize the famed street anytime I listen to Peter Sarstedt's wink-to-Paris lullaby, "Where do you go to, my lovely?"

So, I guess I can - reluctantly - acknowledge that a little planning ain't all bad. Especially, when the planner has your number. Merci, mon amour.

Europe 2015 - Paris

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