In our hectic lives, we seldom fulfill our desire to do something for our loved ones. We imagine that distant day when we can take the person closest to us on the trip of her lifetime, but the realities of cost and time stops us. We keep the dream inside our heads, and tell ourselves: someday. I always believed that when I had enough money and time, I would take my mother on an adventure to anywhere in the world she wanted to go. This June, I bravely cast aside the logistics and took my mom to Paris for one week.
Now my mother had never really left the comforts of Prince Edward Island, and at the age of 63, I realized that if she did not take that first step towards adventure, then a great opportunity would be missed for me to give something small back to the woman who had given everything she could to me.
I carefully timed my phone call – after thirty six years, I knew that the best time to get her to agree to all manner of schemes was to call late at night before bedtime. The proposition was this: I will fly you all-expense-paid to Paris for one week’s adventure. Much to my confusion, she actually agreed with enthusiasm to travel with me. She did not know where Paris was, but it “sounded safe enough” and “a little trip would do her good.”. With a scrambled call to the airlines, I was able to take advantage of a great deal on the flights, which is often the case if you can travel within certain timeframes for larger carriers. Within twenty minutes I secured tickets and accommodation in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district of Paris, which would be both reasonable for Paris and where the main sights like the Louvre and Notre Dame were within walking distance.
My mom does not speak French, she has no sense of direction and she had never been to an art gallery. Yet, from when we met at the airport, she was ready to take what adventures would come her way. Her only request was that we find Earl Grey tea on a daily basis, and that she would get to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre sometime during the trip.
As someone who has traveled to Cambodia, India, Africa and many of the world’s metropolitan centres, I knew that my greatest challenge was going to be to allow myself to give in to the touristy activities. While it might kill me, I was going to have to take a bateaux-mouches cruise down La Seine at night, to climb l’Arc-deTriomphe at sunset, to rush to the Mona Lisa as the Louvre’s doors open and to sit in over-priced cafés while watching the world go by. It did not kill me. In fact, it was glorious to just give in to buying crêpes and croque-monsieur on the street, to walk the well-worn tourist paths towards the big monuments, and to laugh surrounded by the beauty of it all. On this trip, I discovered that there is a reason why people enjoy being tourists, and I will forever see my own travels differently after this experience.
Hemmingway and Fitzgerald gulped wine at Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore; so did we. While a sit-down breakfast was expensive, we were able to cheaply procure buttery chausson-aux-pommes and coffee pour l’emporter. We walked twelve hours each day through the streets, but also took the time to talk about the moments we were sharing. Standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, I asked her what she thought. She confidently exclaimed that “the big tower thing seemed kind of out of place for the other beautiful buildings.” Rolled over in laughter, I told her that that big tower thing was what she wanted to see. With an little smile, she exclaimed “Not really worth seeing, eh. Goes to show how much my friends know about Paris!”
Sitting at one of the late night cafes on Saint-Germain-des-Prés, my mom reflected on what she had thought of it all after six days of chasing me along the side streets. She loved the Louvre, because she had never imagined so many beautiful things in one place. The Musee d’Orsay was another hit, not because of the art but because of the views of Paris from the top floor. She never realized how much she over ate until she tried to eat Parisian style. She now found herself eating less, feeling less hungry and eating much better food all day long. Perhaps the most revealing thought my mother gave me in her moment of clarity, however, was that: “In Paris, all the best things are kept behind big doors.”
In the past few weeks since our return, my mom carries the iPhoto book that we made together everywhere she goes. She has mused that not everyone is interested the details of her big adventure, but that she tells them anyway. She also loves to flip to two photos taken by her in the Louvre: both are of Venice, Italy. It has been whispered that she is secretly planning her big adventure next year, while she can; while we can.
Note: A series of four prints from this adventure will be offered in the Fall in a limited edition of fifty. The process of signing, prepping and matting has taken much longer than thought, but two sets of five have been mounted this week -they look stellar. I am still planning hold an exhibition of my travel photography this Fall somewhere in city, so keep an eye on the blog as the details are resolved.
Note 2: My latest article for VinylFetish, “The Unreal of Wonderland”, is now appearing at www.vinylfetish.ca.