The chilly breeze yesterday morning, walking in my neighborhood with the tree limbs moving about with leaves edging into fall, reminded me of three years ago in Paris. My husband and I’d flown into Charles de Gaulle Airport early on Thursday morning for a trip that would celebrate my retirement from school nursing.
We’d reserved lodging at Hotel Aramis– a boutique hotel in the the area of Saint Germain. Years before, we’d stayed at a ’boutique’ hotel in New York City and I knew that meant small rooms and tiny elevators. When we pulled our luggage cart into the elevator at Hotel Aramis, there was barely room for both of us.
“You go on up,” I told David. “I’m taking the stairs.”
He remembered that time in the NYC elevator. A couple with a large suitcase had pushed the limit when they squeezed in the elevator that was already at capacity. The platform carrying too many passengers stopped between two floors. I felt on the edge of a full-blown panic attack when finally it moved after multiple tries pushing the emergency button.
Our room at the Aramis was on the fifth floor. The metal stairway was narrow and spiraled. I stopped at the floor landings to catch my breath, then pushed on to meet David with our luggage at the elevator.
After the tight inside spaces of the overnight flight, the taxi, and stairwell, I was all too happy to get outside and explore Paris. We were several blocks from the Luxembourg Gardens and the cool and sunny weather couldn’t have been more perfect. I spotted a grassy area that we could come back to for a leisurely meal. I’d packed plastic wine glasses and a small tablecloth for a picnic in Paris.
We walked for blocks and blocks, trying to avoid taking a nap so we’d get used to our new time zone. David complained with his knee hurting, but that seemed to be from all the walking on cobblestones and cement. We’d go back to the hotel later to rest before dinner.
Eventually we made our way to the Notre-Dame Cathedral and mass was just starting. We took a seat and listened to the service in French.
Before our trip, my friend and former French teacher at the middle school, Jennifer came to our home and helped us with our itinerary and language skill. David quickly remembered words and phrases, drawing on his proficiency back in high school and college. He understood the language and could speak it beautifully.
I struggled. No matter how patiently Jennifer worked with me on pronunciation, I could only speak a few simple words like, “Bonjour” “Merci” and “Au revoir” with any confidence. When we needed to use French to navigate I would have to rely on David. It was a relief that this was not one of my solo journeys; I could relax and depend on my husband.
Even without an understanding of French, I felt moved by the mass. We were one group of worshippers from countries all over the world. Passing the Peace is the same in every language, sharing a warm handshake and smile and saying “the Peace of God be with you.”
We lingered in the cathedral, astounded by the medieval architecture and the depth of beauty in the icons and statues, all pulled in close by the fragrance of incense.
Outside in the courtyard, we stood in the fall air and listened to the bells toll, a breeze blowing leaves across the pavement filled with adults and children sharing that space.
After the quiet reverence of the cathedral we walked a short distance to a bookstore on my bucket list: Shakespeare and Company. I was intrigued and disappointed with the small one-and-a-half story building with very low ceilings. After observing their reading room where the academics and writers had lively conversations, I stood in line at the checkout for the one souvenir I really wanted: a tee shirt with their bookstore logo.
“Sorry, we don’t carry them,” the sales member told me.
Guess this picture is the best I could do.
On Friday, we spent the day hopping on and off a double decker bus, getting a view of the city and touring the some of the sites. I was most fascinated by the architecture– especially the tall buildings of homes with mansard roofs and floor to ceiling windows. I’d seen those types of homes on HGTV international shows and wished I could go inside.
We saw the Eiffel Tower and what impressed me most was that it was made of iron. Being so close, you had a sense of the cold metal and felt its magnitude looking up through the tower from the bottom. Jennifer told us one of the best spots for a nighttime view of that iconic tower and all of Paris was the Montparnasse Skyscraper Tower Roof terrace.
That night, we rode the elevator to the fifty-fifth floor to the Observation Deck then continued on by steps that took you to the roof terrace at the fifty-ninth.
Looking out at the vastness of the city, the Tower appeared to have millions of lights like sparklers; I was spellbound. What a perfect moment. David and I walked around the terrace to see the city expanding in all directions. After an hour or more of absorbing the Paris night, it was time to leave.
Going down the stairs toward the elevator, David complained of his leg hurting– and said we’d have to take the steps slowly. Right when he was taking the last stair, he fell forward into a deep squat and cried out in pain. He’d pulled something, torn something and complained of feeling dizzy with pain. He didn’t want me to call for help.
“Just let me get my breath,” he said, his face contorted and obviously trying to control his fear and pain. After resting in place and taking some deep breaths, he was able to get down the stairs to the elevator.
We managed to walk to a row of taxis in front of the entrance to Montparnasse. With some shuffling about we got him into the backseat of the taxi and I joined the driver in the front for the three-block ride to our hotel. Finally we made it to our room. After he was positioned in bed with pillows elevating his leg, I made my first trip to the basement ice machine. It would be the first of many down and back the six floors of metal stairs.
While taking those steps my mind was spinning with questions about what to do: how do I get medical care, will we be able to continue our trip, what do I need to do to change our Eurail reservation for the next day to London. David was hurting and could only answer briefly. He wouldn’t be able to navigate using his French skills as I’d expected.
Eventually, with prayer and calming myself, I remembered my solo journeys–13 in total, and how God had helped me in every challenging situation. While I was on foreign soil in Paris, I was on familiar ground; God was ever-present and would use the people in my path.
I placed the ice pack on David’s leg and walked back down to the lobby. The night clerk was working at the desk, and looked up from his computer. I asked him what guests do for medical care, wondering if we’d have to go to a walk-in clinic or a hospital, imagining the difficulty of that in such a large city.
“People use SOS medicine. They’ll send a physician to your door,” He said and offered to make the call for me in the morning.
I didn’t sleep well that night, with trips down to the basement for ice and my mind having a hard time settling down for thinking of my to-do list. But on Saturday morning, true to his word, the desk clerk called and spoke with SOS medicine in French, making the call effortless. Within two hours, a physician arrived at our hotel door.
Amazing! I thought. That would never happen in the States, a physician making a house call within two hours on a Saturday morning.
With pain med prescription in hand, I found my way to the pharmacy within our block. David would have to hobble down that afternoon to be fitted for a crutch. I returned to a corner market three blocks away where we’d bought snacks the day before, this time picking items for lunch in our room. There was a patisserie across from our hotel that was a feast to the eyes– with the pink painted walls, white doilies underneath intricate cakes and chocolates, and all the items artfully arranged in the shop window and display cabinets.
I picked an assortment of chocolate tarts and marbled cake, that were placed in a paper bag that was art. I carried all my purchases back to our room. These were the same items I’d planned for our picnic at Luxembourg Gardens– sans the wine, which wouldn’t go well with pain medicine. I spread them out on our bed and that would be our Paris picnic.
It wasn’t what I’d wanted; the trip that I’d planned ended abruptly when my husband missed that bottom step. But I managed to enjoy being part of the Saturday street scene that fall day in Saint Germain–navigating alone around a neighborhood in Paris. I found a young woman at the market who understood my English, I was able to motion to the giggling teenage girls at the patisserie to make my purchase, and David received the medical care he needed; It all worked out.
There were people in my path to help me and once again, God showed me that I had the resources I needed for my unexpected situation. That’s part of my memory of that Saturday in Paris.