In which we enter the harried world of tourist Paris, and later seek refuge in the woods and art

Our next day was our first weekend day in June Paris, and the city groaned under the weight of human bodies. Places where we’d previously seen empty were swarmed with selfie-stick armed visitors, there were lines at places we’d simply walked into a few days ago. We descended to the path along the Seine to meet up with our friends at St. Chappelle Chapel. These roads have been converted into pedestrian walks, with little diversions for kids along the way like small playgrounds and climbing walls built into the stones along the bank. It’s a way to escape the crowded overland and move through the city in peace.

Rock climbing along the banks of the Seine

Saint-Chappelle, built in the 13th century, is known for its stained glass, and in this it does not disappoint. The chandeliers appear to float in midair, lending even more of a magical air to the multicolored space inside. While waiting in the short line to get in, a French man behind us struck up a conversation. He had lived in Paris for 20 years but had moved out, and was now bringing his son to come visit for the first time, and was clearly so excited to show him around the glittering city. I know that feeling – it’s the same one I get when I take my kids to the Exploratorium in San Francisco, or introduce them to a favorite childhood book of mine. Some of it is the joy of sharing a beloved experience with your kids, and some of it is the magic of watching them feel the wonder of it for the first time. He told us all sorts of fun facts about the chapel, that the palace courtyard in which we stood was the hall of Kings, and that the pillar on the right when you enter has “29 January 1910” inscribed on it and a line below about five feet off the ground, indicating to where the waters of the Seine rose during the great flood of that year. 

The magical interior of Saint-Chappelle

Onwards to Montmartre and Sacre-Coeur, and here especially was where the annoying side of tourist Paris reared its ugly head. Crowded sidewalks and side-by-side tchotchke shops selling all the same made-in-China crap that will eventually end up in a landfill. I’d premarked a few possible lunch places on Google Maps and we went to check out a creperie. The one  I’d wanted had too long of a wait for starving bellies, but voila internet, there was one around the corner with good reviews. We headed over and it was tiny, with only a few two top tables left. The kids took one table like little gourmands, and we had our own. Creperies are the best lunch options in the city in my opinion. For between 10-15 euro for the lunch special, you get a savory crepe, a sweet crepe, and a drink of soda or cider, the latter of which is served in a wide-mouthed shallow mug. C’est magnifique!

Ick


Myself? I prefer Sartre to Camus, don’t you?

Goat cheese with marmalade and hazelnuts

We headed up the stairs to the cathedral after lunch, being accosted by men who tie a bracelet onto you and then demand money. Most of us walked on by but as we’re a large group a few were bound to get trapped in the net of deftly lassoed embroidery floss over a pinky finger before being able to shake free. Some steps up the hill later and we stood at the base of the white travertine cathedral, built in the years around 1900. 

Sacre-Coeur, the steps, and lounging tourists

I downloaded the free audioguide, and the boy and I listened to a few seconds as we walked around. It should be mentioned here that this was NOT one of the boy’s best days. He kept picking fights and bickering with his sister, and then me. We were listening to the audioguide together on low speakerphone volume, him standing on my right hand side. The girl was on my left and talking to Dana on her left. The boy then leaned over and across me, nearly knocking over a cordon holder in the process to ask the girl what she was talking about, as he can’t bear a discussion to be had without his input. She rebuffed him and wouldn’t really tell him, which I say fair – you can’t expect people to repeat every conversation which you’re not part of. But then he leaned back to me, annoyed that his sister wouldn’t acquiesce to his demands and became upset that I continued to listen to the audioguide without his presence. “You’ve got to pick – you can either listen to the audioguide with me or walk over and join their conversation. You can’t try to do both at once,” I admonished. Apparently this was too much for him to handle and he got very upset and started fighting back with me. As Sacre-Coeur is meant to be a silent space, this means we had to walk out of the chapel a few times to work this out. Even then, it wasn’t finished and he continued to needle his sister and at one point actually hit her later in the day. 

View of the heat shimmering city from the top of Sacre-Coeur

I’d like to chalk it up to heat and fatigue and hunger, but it’s still obnoxious to deal with at the time. Small graces though – the next day as we were walking along he apologized for his behavior the previous day, “I’m sorry for being so mean yesterday,” he admitted. And this I appreciate, for we all have days when we’re just not quite ourselves for whatever reason, but I’d venture that most of us adults aren’t quite as good at acknowledging it. I know I’m not. More importantly, it goes to the rhythms of travel with children. Not every moment is sheer delight – almost every day are small squabbles, corrections, and minor breakdowns. We get through them, and memory is good sandpaper to erase the edges of the hard days, and leave behind the soft glow of happy times only. 

At the “I love you” wall, Montmartre

We were all spent by the end of the day. I will share here an unpopular opinion, but it is this: Sacre Coeur is skippable unless you are someone who loves seeing cathedrals. If that is the case, do not miss it, but if not, then don’t bother – at least not on a weekend day when the descending hordes make it impossible to enjoy the experience. The area of Montmartre surrounding was lovely, and I wish we’d had more time to just wander the streets, but given the heat and fatigue, it wasn’t to be. Hot, sweaty, and feeling squashed into the city, our flat and dinner was a true relief.
 

Sunday was another looming weekend day, and we decided to avoid the city and seek refuge in greenery. My initial plan was to take the Metro to the Bois de Vincennes on the Eastern border of Paris, but I couldn’t find a bike rental place for kids that was open on Sunday. This ended up being a very happy accident. We ended up instead in the Bois de Bolougne on the Western edge of Paris. When I’d read up about it, I saw a Frank Gehry building – the Foundation Louis Vuitton – that looked beautiful and housed an art museum. I bought a family ticket online and off we went. Arriving at 11, we rented bikes and rode around the park for an hour first. Not really knowing where to go, we got a little off track and out of the really lovely woodsy part. If I did this again, I’d make sure to look up some riding  paths first or at least stay in the western side of the park. It was hard for me to enjoy the ride, honestly. I felt some of the Paris gloss had worn off after the day yesterday in tourist ville, instead of where we had previously spent it in “pleasant surprise-ville” or “picnic-in-a-garden-ville.”

When we’d walked in earlier we’d passed by the Jardin d’Acclimation and saw a queue. What’s the queue for? As it turns out, the Jardin is actually a very large space containing green areas for picnicking and also an amusement park, paddling pool, sprinkler area, and multiple playgrounds. Busy though it was, it is almost entirely French with few tourists that we could hear. A ticket to the foundation also gets you entry to the Jardin, and this was a fun surprise. We got surprisingly tasty sandwiches from a little shop outside the park and walked in for a picnic before our museum visit. My travel mood was restored! I had again the enjoyment of a pleasant surprise and a delightful picnic in a park! 

Picnicking in the shadow of the building, so pretty


I wasn’t sure what to expect from the institute. I knew there was an art exhibition, but not much else. Friends, this is a fabulous place and deserves a stop by all who come here. The building itself is something else, with swooping reflective glass wings that guard over it. Depending on the angle, the roofs reflect the cloudy sky or the shimmering movement of the fountain below. 

Currently there is an exhibition featuring African artists, which had some of the most innovative pieces I’ve seen recently. There’s an excellent free audioguide which comes with a pair of very cool earbuds clad in wood which you get to keep at the end of your visit! If you go, get the audioguide. 

Woven tapestry by Athi Patra-Ruga “The votive procession (to exile)”

Series of hairstyles of Nigerian women, J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere

Series of West African masks made out of found objects, by Romuald Hazoumé

After the galleries, we wandered around the building itself and admired the angles from the interior. 


Then the Jardin beckoned – there are a lot of fun rides to be had for 2.90 euro/ticket, but we wanted to get in a little more time with our friends, who had opted for museums and the tower that day. The kids settled for a run through the playground and then the misters to cool off, and back home we went.A metro ride later and we were at the Place de Republique, where on summer weekends they have a kiosk with free board games to borrow and play on tables set up on the plaza and a bunch of free outdoor games for children scattered around. We met back up with Rob, Dana and S, and left the kids to the games. We went across the street where we could still watch them playing and had a beverage to end our time in Paris together. Occasionally I’d see the girl running across the way, foam sword in hand in front of her chasing away an enemy and with a white felt crown on her head, looking all the world like Max from “Where the Wild Things Are” just without the wolf suit. Then I’d take a sip of my Provençal rosé and return to the conversation. 

Free games at the Plaza de Republique

Saying goodbye to our friends

After returning to the flat and eating leftover meze, we began to hear what seemed like live music just out the window. A piece finished and I heard clapping – it WAS live music! I craned out of the window but couldn’t see any players. We were tucked in for the night, but my curiosity got the better of me and I headed down the stairs to see where it was coming from. As it turned out, across the street in the little bar were musicians who looked like they’d gotten off of a concert gig and were now just playing for fun. Tarantella, the Star Wars theme, Hey Jude – all were up for grabs for the tuba, stand up bass, violins, cello, and trumpet players. Another pleasant travel surprise! Eric and I went over to listen and play a game of backgammon on a magnetic travel set I have. I am loath to report the truth, but it will be told – he won the game handily

-s

In which I get pickpocketed, and Eric nurses a Brutalist hangover

After a lazy morning in with more croissants, fruit, and yogurt, we headed out for a day at the park. Passing by the Centre Georges Pompidou along the way, our first stop was to the Musee Cluny, the Medieval Art museum. It is housed in one of two remaining Medevial buildings in Paris, and contains multiple medieval artifacts and the ruins of old Roman Baths that used to be onsite. As always, I’m a sucker for anything fiber arts related, and they have a room with seven other “lady and the unicorn” tapestries, clearly a popular motif of the middle ages. Was it the only art form of the time which allowed phallic symbols? Perhaps so. 

Really, the tastiest yogurt ever.

I now feel free of the need to try and visit the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, their medieval art museum. Whenever I go, I talk about how I’d like to visit and see the unicorn tapestries there, and now it’s something of a running joke with Sapana because it’s really far out of town and we never make it there. Spirit, you  are free of the need for more medieval art! (But really it would be nice to make it up there sometime)

Contemplating the sartorial appearance of a knight. One word: heavy

Unicorns! Lions! Monkeys! and a millefiore background. This tapestry has it all.


We strolled down to the Jardin de Luxembourg, intending to pick up bread, cheese, and vegetables along the way for a picnic. I assumed that I’d be able to walk up any street and see a million fromagerie and boulangeries. While there are a lot, they do need to be found. We wandered around for longer than I would have liked in the hot Parisian noontime, and I resolved next time to pre-pick some selections and save them to my googlemap. We found a fromagerie on that app and headed over. Upon entering what was actually a food hall type of place with many smaller vendors, we found the cheese shop closed. I walked over to the butcher next door and asked in French, “What time does the cheese shop open?” “Not until 4 pm!” she explained. “Oh…” I replied, “We were hoping to get cheese for lunch. Do you think the Marks and Spencer food shop next door would have some?” At this she visibly shuddered and placed her hand on her chest, as if to say “God forbid one eats cheese from Marks and Spencer.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that for this American, cheese from Marks & Spencer in Paris would probably be tastier than anything I was used to back home. She told us to go up the street for an open cheese shop, however upon following her instructions there was nary a fromagerie to be seen. We ducked into a Carrefour supermarket, away from her offended eye and bought some brie and comte, some fruit, veggies and two bottles of Heinekin and headed to the park. We got waylaid by a pastry shop and picked up a lemon tart too, because Paris. 
Friends, thus began a perfect afternoon. Walking into the garden from the North entrance, we found ourselves on a path lined with trees that opened into a plaza with a pond in the center. Beyond were rows of larger trees fiercely manicured into severe rectangles arrayed in rays extending southward. I kept remarking to Eric that I felt we’d wandered into an impressionist painting! 

Children sailing boats at the Garden of Luxembourg, Paul Michel Dupuy

Finding  a shady bench, we set up shop, tearing the bread apart and slicing the the cheese and vegetables into it with a plastic knife. Eric used his bottle opening ring to pop the caps off the beers, and we munched away in happiness. Below us was a pond where colorful wooden boats lazily made their way around in the breeze, chased by children holding long slender bamboo poles. When the boats would reach the edge of the pond, the poles were used to push them off into the center again, their little sails billowing out when they caught the wind.  

I like to send the kids out on small missions in foreign countries, especially in ones where they don’t speak the language. I feel it helps them to learn how to operate in unfamiliar circumstances, and at this point they’re comfortable with this. They went down on their own to find out how to rent boats and how much it cost, scurrying up a few minutes later with the verdict – 4 euros for 30 min. I handed them a 10 note and off they scampered to get their boats. The boats sail for a country – the boy wanted Japan but it had been taken, so he settled for Ireland instead. The girl, she sailed for Spain, and I suspect it was partly because her boat would then match her dress. Without electricity or motors, children happily sent the boats around the pond, devising races and competitions. Beware though – some flags look quite similar, as the boy discovered when he found a little pirate trying to poach his Ireland boat instead of the India boat that he actually owned. The cheek! 

Once the maritime adventure ended, we headed over to the large playgrounds. 2 euro for the children to enter, and 1 for the adults. Eh, I could take pictures from outside the fence and save 2 Euros. We handed them enough coinage and found a bench where we could watch in but not actually have to sit among the running bulls. As it was before 3 and not Wednesday (because French children just don’t have school on Wednesday) it wasn’t terribly crowded. The kids befriended a couple of other visitng American kids, Eric took this time to enjoy a nap in the shade, while I read a book (The Sympathizer) and took a few pictures. We ended up spending almost four hours total in the park, and enjoyed every single second of it. 

Fast times on the flying fox

Zut Alors! The Métro!


We popped down to the metro and found it…packed. Cheek by jowl (and guarding our pockets) we made it home and conjured up dinner. This evening from Maison Plisson, a high end small grocery store and cafe around the corner from our flat, akin to Dean and DeLuca. Fresh ricotta and spinach tortellini and a side salad made a perfect summer meal.


After dinner, we let the kids entertain themselves (translation: play Minecraft and some game called Animal Jam on the iPad) while Eric and I scouted out some speakeasy cocktail bars in the area. The first one was Candelaria, in which you walk up to a hole-in-the-wall taco joint with maybe six seats in it, serving up fresh tacos off a flat grill. At first we looked at each other, thinking, this can’t be the place, but then we saw someone exiting through a false wall in the back! We slid on through and found ourselves in a small well lit space, the bottles behind the bar glowing from golden light. 


We texted the kids, and as they were fine we decided on another stop – the Red Door. There was a doorman holding the false door open, so this element was no surprise this time, but the fun was that all the drinks were based on architectural styles. Eric chose a “Brutalism” which came served, appropriately, in a concrete columnar glass. Perfect. I chose “Modernism” mostly because it came in a very long-stemmed bowl cocktail glass which felt quite elegant. We chatted with the British waitress afterwards – the staff was responsible for the thoughtful drinks, and she told us they considered various ingredients for months before putting the drinks together. The Brutalism, for example, has ingredients that are all treated rather harshly – burnt roasted orange, oxidized vermouth – down to the coated and fried baby’s breath garnish on top which was indeed edible. I took a bite of the flowers, syrupy and crunchy without being overly sweet.

 

Brutalism and Modernism side by side in cocktail form


—-

The next morning, Eric woke up with a headache and nausea. “I feel terrible,” he groaned. “I think you might have a hangover,” I replied. “I only had two cocktails though!” he said back. Unfortunately, when you are generally a relatively light drinker of beer (no more than two a night) two cocktails with any possible combination of alcohols can easily do you under. For better or worse, I was not so afflicted and so once it was clear that Eric wasn’t suddenly struck with meningitis or another life threatening condition, the kids and I took off to see the pyramid of the Louvre and then visit the Musee d’Orsay, complete with a picnic in the Tuilleries along the way.

 

Most of the time when I’m out and about, I just put my money in a deep inside pouch of my backpack, but today I thought that with going into tourist territory, I’d be better off with my money in a fanny pack (yes, I do have one) right in front of me. As we boarded the relatively empty metro at our first stop, I suddenly felt a few people shove into me forcefully and push me back. I was pushed into the kids, they were pushed into the people behind me, and I couldn’t tell what was happening. A group of British women behind me started talking about times when they were pickpocketed, which made me wonder. We were all crammed intogether in a small space, and then one of the women, teenager really, who had pushed me picked up my coin purse off the ground and handed it to me. Turns out – I HAD been pickpocketed! Given that my attention was entirely on the kids, I hadn’t noticed the group of women hanging around at the station looking for easy targets (me). When they pushed us all in, my focus was nowhere near my money and it was easy for them to zip open my bag and then lift out my coin purse. Now, I actually keep my credit card, driver’s license and a little cash in that, but if you were to pick it up it feels empty. After the thieves got off at the next stop, I checked my coin purse and saw that everything was still in it. The cash, about 50 Euros, wouldn’t have been a huge deal, but to lose my license and credit card would have been a real hassle. The British tourists behind me said that they thought that perhaps the would-be thieves returned my wallet because they felt found out, but I partly think it’s because they thought that there wasn’t anything valuable in it. At any rate, deep into the backpack went the little coin purse. I kept the fanny pack for my phone and for decoy. Mostly though, I felt incredibly foolish – here I am, someone who’s been all over and considers herself a savvy traveler, getting taken for the oldest trick in the book. Sheesh. 

The Louvre? Who cares! BUBBLES!!

After this, we exited at the Louvre where I was triply careful, and walked past the pyramid. I gazed upon the I.M. Pei piece in wonder and gawked at the huge palatial buildings around me, the former Paris residence of Kings Charles V through Louis XIV.  The kids saw “BUBBLES!!” and ran off to play, with barely a sideways glance at the architectural masterpiece. One of the really nice things about having more time in a place is that you don’t have to feel rushed to always be getting somewhere, so bubbles it was. 

MORE BUBBLES!


We spent about twenty minutes in front of the Louvre while they chased bubbles big and small in the sunshine, before heading to Eric Kayser to grab a baguette and some drinks. This time, I’d marked out a few places before we set out for our trip so we wouldn’t wander forever. I’d brought some cheese and salad from dinner the night before, and we settled for a picnic in the Tuilleries. After this we walked over to the Musee D’Orsay, the Impressionist museum across the Seine from the Louvre. Housed in a former train station, the building itself is a gorgeous sight. I’d purchased e-tickets that morning, so we just walked into the museum and skipped the line. Side travel note: I cannot tell you how many times I’ve skipped a line buy buying e-tickets. Why everyone doesn’t do this is beyond me, since most of the people I see in lines are staring at their smartphones. I’ve even bought e-tickets while waiting in a line and then simply left and walked into the speed entrance. Granted there are times this isn’t possible, but for all others, why not? It is always, always worth the extra Euro per person. 

Looking up at lady liberty

There’s an exhibition at the D’Orsay currently on spiritualism and Impressionism. It was packed. We moved slowly, waiting for popular paintings to be able to get in closer without pushing people. Whenever I go to an art museum, I always like to find an artist I like who I’ve never heard of before. This time it was Odilion Redon, who paints dreamlike scenes that draw you into the miasma, so different from other impressionists who generally stick to real-life scenes, painted softly. 

Tree on Yellow Background by Odilon Redon. (Sorry for the crappy photo, best I could get in the crowded gallery)

While the kids and I were looking at an artwork, and I pulled the girl closer to me so that she wouldn’t be in someone’s way, I heard an angry British voice behind me (again with the Brits! What country is this?) “See there?! You just moved in front of me!! I was trying to read the information and you just moved right in my way!!!” I looked back at the man who was at my eye level and said coolly, “There’s no need for that. I wasn’t aware that I moved into your way. All you had to say was ‘Excuse Me, I can’t read the sign anymore,’ and I would have happily moved aside.” “Well! I can’t even look at a piece of art around here without people stepping in front of me!!” he exclaimed back. “It seems to me you need to work on your manners.” I admonished quietly. “My manners are FINE,” he said back angrily. “That’s … debatable,” I said. He moved on, and a French woman next to me said, “You guys are being fine! I don’t know what his problem is. Some people just want to be unhappy.” Indeed. We walked through the rest of the gallery, not letting the incident mar our time there, and later crossing paths with the French woman from time to time and exchanging words of amazement with her about the beautiful paintings.

I CANNOT find the. name of this artist. Internet, if you know it, help.

After a walk through the van Gogh and pointillism galleries, we headed back home to meet up with Rob, Dana and their son S who had flown over from Timisoara to meet up with us!! I’m again floored by people who take time and space out of their lives to meet up with us, and am always, always grateful. This time dinner was from a traiteur, a tip we’d learned from Bruce the bike guy. Traiteurs are takeaway catering places, and we’d walked by a Greek one near our house the last few days. This time we went in and found a little place with a cooler full of delicious looking Greek spreads and foods.  I asked if I could take a picture, and the woman there said “only of the food! I don’t even have any makeup on!” I told her truthfully that she looked beautiful, and snapped a few shots. 

 

We loaded up on dolmades, olives, hummus, artichoke spread, greek salad, tabbouleh, and sarmale that the proprietor told us “people come from far away to eat.” She wasn’t wrong, and we had a happy evening catching up over the delicious food.

-s

In Which I Embarrass Myself in French, and we begin our plan to eat all the carbohydrates in Paris

19 years ago, I travelled solo to Europe in the summer before starting medical school. One of my favorite memories from that trip was having a picnic lunch on the Champs des Mars park in front of the Eiffel tower with a gathered  crew of like wanderers from the youth hostel. The girl has also had a lifelong (9 WHOLE YEARS) wish to visit Paris and see the Eiffel tower. Thus, I decided to end our year with a week in Paris. But then it turned out we could spend a few days in Reykjavik on layover on our way home, so that changed a bit. But that’s a story for another blog post. 

We flew in relatively early, landing in Paris before noon. The first thing we saw was sunshine, glorious glorious sunshine, and coming from Ireland we nearly lay down on the airport sidewalk to soak it up, but thought it might be frowned upon. We hopped into a taxi to get to our flat, and I began speaking French with our driver. This proved only moderately successful.  I took French from 7th grade through some relatively advanced college courses, at one point was conversationally fluent. I remember my French professor, a thin sprightly woman named Sophie who had dark-rooted blond hair that frizzed past her shoulders in messy waves, who always wore all black clothes with a black leather jacket and smoked a cigarette outside before class. She was really far too cool for San Diego, land of cargo shorts and flip flops. She always yelled at me for my terrible grasp of the negative construction.  When I tried phrases in my mind before arriving here, Spanish words would worm their way in so that I was speaking some bizarre form of a mutated Romance language patois. Our Algerian taxi driver, however, was a patient listener and helped me to figure out some of the words, and having been here now for a few days it’s coming back to me. I’m sure I sound like a three year old, and at one point told the hostess at a restaurant that “she need to go sit outside” instead of asking if we could sit outside, garnering a furrowed brow and slightly offended look. I corrected myself, she broke into a smile and waved us to a table.

The view from our 4th floor flat, across the street from St. Denys

We’ve a little flat in the Marais, clean and modern in what’s clearly an old building. The Marais is one of the oldest districts in Paris and the one least touched by modernization. Whereas much of Paris is characterized by large grand boulevards and Haussmanian architecture, the Marais retains its near-Medeival heritage. Many houses are fronted by large double wood doors that open into a courtyard, created for horse and carriage to pass through and then have room to turn around. “Le Marais” literally means “the swamp,” and was a waterlogged area for vegetable gardens until drained for French nobility to build grand mansions. After the Revolution in 1789, the nobility declined as did the area, becoming a more working class neighborhood. It then became an important Jewish & immigrant neighborhood, before turning into a gay friendly neighborhood, before being completely gentrified by what our taxi driver referred to disparagingly as “bobos” and what we would call yuppies, if we even use that word anymore.  For visitors like ourselves, however, this means a delightful place with small narrow streets filled with boutiques, bars, restaurants and museums. 
 

Crossing the bridge to Ile de la Cite, the breeze flapping up Stitch’s ears

After dropping off our bags, we went on a mission to find crepes. This proved surprisingly more difficult than we’d anticipated, and we didn’t find a restaurant until we’d wandered onto Île de la Cité, and were grandly rewarded for our efforts. We continued to Notre-Dame, and walked in to look at the cathedral, built and remodeled over the years. I particularly like the gargoyles myself, edging the stone as protective spirits. In that they shuttle rain away from the structure, in a way, they are literal protectors as well.

 

In front of the famous cathedral, the breeze has died down making Stitch once again lop eared

Ironwork detailing on the doors

Our Catholic schoolgirl lights a candle for St. Therese

We continued on to the very tip of Île de St Louis, to see the love locks left by romantic hopefuls on the fences surrounding. You engrave your name, close the lock on the fence, then throw the key into the Seine. The more famous bridge with love locks is the Pont des Artes, where they’re cut down as they damage the structure. Honestly, I get the idea behind it, it’s sweet. But it seems to me a modern and damaging form of graffiti that will eventually destroy the beauty and the structure itself, is this the legacy you wish to leave? Not to think of the keys rusting at the bottom of the Seine, which I can’t imagine are good for the environment or the fishes. Akin to carving initials into a tree stump, what is it about young love that requires some form of violence to prove it’s legitimacy? Call me a curmudgeon if you will.

 

Across the bridge to Shakespeare and Company, an English Language bookstore on the Left Bank. Opened by an expat American, Sylvia Beach, its other branch in Paris had been a literary hangout for Hemingway, Joyce and other authors of their ilk. That branch is closed, but the one across from Notre Dame remains. No pictures are allowed inside, sadly, but to wander among the tall narrow winding pathways filled with gorgeous books is an experience. Upstairs is a quiet reading area that echoes the reading library at the former space, complete with nooks and slumbering cats, where you’re welcome to sit and relax.

The only picture we got outside the shop, taken the next day. The girl kept trying to photobomb and I got so annoyed that I just walked away instead of waiting to get a picture without the random tourist in the background.

Here, of course, is where we were when a terrorist decided to attack a police officer with a hammer just across the street at Notre Dame. Eric writes about this eloquently in his post here.  I was at the front register when I heard two loud sounds from outside. Couldn’t possibly be gunshots, I disbelievingly thought to myself, but I’d turn out to be wrong.  I had been waiting for an employee to bring me a copy of “American Gods,” so we were still in the store instead of walking past Notre Dame right when it was happening. (She showed up with the book, but it was a heavy hardcover and I felt too guilty to get it, knowing that we’re carrying everything with us. Now of course, it feels like a talisman protecting me, as had we not been waiting for it we likely would have been walking across the plaza at the time. I went back a day later to buy the book, and alas, it was sold out.  I bought a copy of “Anansi Boys” instead, I hope it serves the same protective influence.) The store employees closed the doors and told us to all stay inside. The kids were nervous and scared, but sat in a corner reading books calmly.  After sheltering in the store for a while in limbo, I asked someone scrolling on their phone what was happening and learned that it was one person with a hammer who’d been shot. Feeling safe to do so, we left through the side entrance and took a long route home, staying well clear of the Notre Dame area. Later on, we talked it over with the kids, and over the next few days answered more questions from them as well, hoping to help them process what had happened. 

 

Eric and I dropped the kids at home and went to find bread, cheese, vegetables and wine for supper.Given how expensive Paris can be for food, our goal was to eat in as much as possible.  As always in a new neighborhood, it took a little longer but home we came and after a deliciously fresh sandwich, to bed, content at our first good day in Paris, terror attack and all.

 
___

Given that it’s bright here until well near 10 pm, we slept in in the morning before heading out for a leisurely walk through the Marais, stopping by the remnants of the old city wall and various other architecturally interesting buildings, ending at the St.Paul Metro, where we hopped on board to get a bit outside the city and meet Bruce for a bike ride along the Marne. 

Remnants of the medieval wall, now surrounded by cellphone checking teens. Bookends of new and old in Paris


Bruce is an American who’s lived in Paris for many years and runs bike tours in Paris and also in the countryside. If you are planning a trip to Paris, I highly recommend his tours to get out of the city – email him at French Mystique Tours. We did a three hour bike trip along the Marne, and it was lovely. As we wheeled past the geometrical French cottage houses, the boy burst into song, “Little town, it’s a quiet village, every day, like the one before…” 

Cycling in France is a bizarre experience, in that cars respect bikes on the road. Vehicles on the right have right of way, which is respected by car and bike alike. If we were going slowly on a narrow one way road, cars slowly trailed us until they could go past, with not a one getting too close or trying to squeeze around. Used to being nearly run over by Irish drivers, we were hesitant at first around the cars until we realized they really weren’t going to hurt us. 

 At one point, the girl’s front tire slipped on a curb and the bicycle tumbled sideways, throwing her off of it onto her palms. Without tears or wailing, she picked herself up slowly and rolled up her pants leg to see how badly her knee was skinned. We waited back, asking if she was okay. “I think so,” she replied. “My thumb hurts.” In all honesty, I was worried she could have broken her wrist, as she landed on outstretched arms. A quick finger and wrist exam, though, didn’t reveal anything other than some bruising, so off we went again. That girl, she is tough.

 

Returning to the town of St. Maur des Fosses, we walked back into the quiet center for a drink and a waffle at an outdoor cafe before returning to Paris, our cozy little flat, and a well deserved night of sleep. 

Attacking waffles with a Viking manliness, and YES to rose in French summer


-S

In which I share some thoughts on leaving Ireland, and the children assure me they’re not sociopaths

It’s nine o clock on a Monday night, our last in Ireland. Even though we’ve got a few stops before getting back to Denver, this day feels like the end of the year we had planned. Ireland is giving us a proper Irish goodbye, with gray rainy weather and low cloudy skies. You’d think that packing up a life of six months with all of its attendant detritus would be overwhelming, but not really. Over the last few weeks, we’ve packed 4 duffle bags, one large, one medium, and one small, and one extra small rather like the bears of fairy tale, or perhaps like luggage matroyshka dolls, and have sent them across the ocean with those who have come to visit. What was left was clothing, some shoes, a few souvenirs, and lots of mugs, which we couldn’t really send home early as we needed them for our daily morning tea. At this point, we’ve managed to pack everything we are taking with us into our original travel backpacks, plus one additional small backpack for each of us and one extra medium sized duffle bag. 
Today was spent packing for a few hours, after which our friend Alena came by to cart away things which were staying behind, including those which she had kindly lent to us, like her bicycle and a corkscrew. We also packed grocery bags full with food that wouldn’t get eaten, though as for that we did pretty well and didn’t have mass quantities of food to give away. After she left, there wasn’t much to do until the last load of laundry finished drying so we piled into our rental car and Eric and the kids went swimming while I went to a coffeeshop to finish up the last blog post. Pizza for lunch, then a matinee showing of “Wonder Woman” (mostly liked, can’t say I loved) and then back home.
The kids took off on their bike (singular, yes, as the boy rides the bike and the girl rides standing on pegs that stick out from the back wheels) over to their friend V’s house a few blocks away, their last hour of being able to take off and simply yell “we’re going out!” that they’ll have for a while. They said goodbye and then left the bike there for V before walking over to their friend S’s house, who ended up trotting home with them. They all played a card game called Exploding Kittens, but not before first creating a Minecraft world in which one could actually make a kitten explode so that when a poor feline was decimated in the card game, they could recreate this in the pixellated world. I expressed my concerns about animal cruelty and it’s future bearing on sociopathy, however they seemed unfazed, and reassured me that no actual kittens were being harmed.  

I have trouble characterizing my feelings today, as it comes at the end of what feels like a fairly epic journey. Wistful, perhaps, comes closest, but not quite. I relate it to the feeling of having completed some big event in your life, and once it’s over, feeling a sort of empty space inside where you previously held the emotion you used in planning the event and then experiencing it. Even though I know the adventure isn’t entirely over, for in less than two months we’ll be moving to New Zealand, it’ll be different in that instead of bouncing around from place to place in a peripatetic existence, we’ll be more rooted in one place and well, I’ll be back at work. Something about the thought of that fills me with profound sadness. There are those who never like to really go anywhere, to remain settled and find comfort in that. I’ve always been the opposite, mostly happy when I’m moving hither and to.

In two months I’ll be back in a hospital seeing patients again. I wish I could say that I really, really missed working, that a year away has made me realize how aimless my life is without my vocation, and that I’m itching to get back to use my skills again. I would, however, be lying. I’ve quite enjoyed being away from the high-stress world of medicine and the headaches of hospital administration. This isn’t to say that I think I’ll be unhappy once working again, but just to say that life without it hasn’t been the doldrum plodding I’d feared.

Mostly I think I’m feeling the inexorable passing of time, in that I cannot believe all that has passed since we left home. Looking back, there are perhaps a few things I’d do differently, but sitting here it’s hard to say exactly what those would be. Friends, it’s been a full year, and I hope I can say the same after the next. 
-s

In which I describe the Weeping Hour, and we nearly ride away on the Kelpies

Side note on travel & dinner:

There is a time of day I’ve started to call “The weeping hour.” This is the time directly before any meal, when the boy is at his nadir of exhaustion and apex of emotion, and will begin to sob uncontrollably over some slight offense. Once, it was because I started to play a game of “we went to the zoo and saw…” and then each subsequent person adds on an animal. He simply couldn’t tolerate even an imaginary trip to the zoo, which he sees to be gulags full of creatures who live in desperation at their captive state. No amount of pointing out that we were not, in fact, going to a zoo and instead simply waiting for dinner would mollify him, and we had to change the game to “On our travels around the world, we saw…” and continue with the animals. After food has been processed by his digestive system and the subsequent glucose molecules have transported across the blood-brain barrier into his cerebral cortex, good humor is restored and he can usually laugh at his prior foolishness, though he maintains his views on real zoos.


As a last quick trip before leaving Ireland permanently, we hopped over to Edinburgh for four days in which we had no visitors. Friends, I wasn’t expecting much from Scotland. How different can it be than Ireland? I surmised. Greenery, gaelic, and gloomy weather I expected, and was entirely surprised by how much I loved it.

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A  view of Edinburgh castle from across the park

After learning that the tours we would have wanted to take were booked, we decided to rent a car instead. Saving some money by renting a midsize manual car, we showed up to find that we had a free “upgrade” to a large passenger van! Still manual, but now that I’ve had plenty of driving experience in Ireland I was comfortable with it. I wish I could say that the garbage cans put out for collection in the narrow-streeted villages were as comfortable with my side view mirror, but I digress.
Our first evening we wandered around the city, stopping by the Elephant Cafe where JK Rowling first wrote “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” which is, well, a cafe. We walked on. Behind it, however, is Greyfriars Kirk with a picturesque cemetary and where Rowling was inspired for some of the character names in her novel. There’s also a tribute to Bobby, a loyal dog who came to the cemetery every day to sit on his master’s grave for 12 years, eventually becoming something of a mascot and garnering a burial spot of his own, though alas, as the cemetery is consecrated ground he could not be buried alongside his master. Short shrift for the dog, eh?


The next day was a driving one, and off we went to see the Falkirk Kelpies, a massive outdoor art sculpture. I’d seen photos before, as you will below, but nothing really prepared me for how enormous they are. The Kelpies are mythical beasts, who lure people to ride them due to their beauty, and once they’re astride, dive into the water to drown them. The sculpture rises out of the horizon, far overhead, and is a dramatic example of when large scale public art really words. We were entranced by the statues and nearly hopped on ourselves. One of the horses is getting a little work done, and we chatted with the workers who told us that this was the first day since 2013 that they had needed any maintenance. They reached over onto the scaffolding and handed the kids a set of nuts and bolts from the original statue, to wide eyed thanks.

 

 

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The Kelpies rising up over the horizon

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More importantly, the Kelpies sit on a large complex of parkland and as we had driven in, the kids had espied a playground off to the left. Back we went to check out the structures. A super high slide, speedy merry go round, spider web structure kept us all in play mode for a good half hour. The kids say it’s one of their top five world playgrounds, among the ones at Sydney Harbor, Timisoara’s Parcul Copilor, New Zealand’s Raglan Beach, and London’s Hyde Park. That is some high praise from these two.

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Even Eric took a turn on the slide!

Onto to Stirling castle after this, a Renaissance castle about an hour away. While the initial castle was built during Norman times (12th c.), due to various occupants and occupations had been torn down and rebuilt such that the current structures date from the 16th century onwards. The king responsible for most of the changes was highly influenced by Renaissance ideals, and the palace is filled with and surrounded by artworks carved from wood and stone. A large restorative effort has gone into the castle to regain its former splendor, down to a ten years long project in which seven large scale tapestries depicting the hunt of the unicorn were woven by master weavers, using the ancient techniques. The original tapestries currently hang at the Cloisters in NYC, and to see them brought back to full life was stunning. There was also a restored painted ceiling of carved wooden figures, repainted as they would have been during the time of the kings. I loved seeing the restoration, to get an idea of how the castle would have actually looked, not just in the semi-ruined state you usually see.

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The carven ceiling, here you can see Caesar in the center,and other Roman gods around.

At lunch yesterday we’d stopped off at a little bar/restaurant called the Mockinbird, and it was here we returned for quiz night this evening, run by a convivial host named Anna, who is a fellow American. We all had a blast and WON, if you can believe it, getting pounds 30 knocked off our bill!


Friday was our Edinburgh day, and we started off by a visit to the National Museum. This place is incredible. The building architecture itself is spacious and full of light, and the museum is arranged in four parts from east to west and then vertically so that if you were interested in, say, Scottish history, you’d start at the ground floor of the East hall and then go upwards to stay within a topic. Alternatively, you could wander across a floor and get a cross section of Science, Paleontology, Fashion/Design, and History. Filled with interactive exhibits, you could easily spend a few days here and not run out of things to see.  We also popped into the St. Giles, where there was a display of a Scottish diaspora embroidery project, some of them pictured above, though my favorite has to be the one from India showing a lassi on the left, whiskey on the right. On the plaza outside was a motley crew of characters, including a blue-mohawked woman spinning yarn, “singing” Scottish ballads loudly. For a fee, you could take a picture of her, however I chose to abstain.


Our last full day in Scotland we headed to Doune Castle, a true Medieval castle just an hour out of town. While not on the radar as one of the most important castles in Scotland, it had a high importance to us as the filming site of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” We spent the time wandering about and chatting about the average wingspeed of unladen European swallows, as they kept flitting about overhead and into the castle through the open windows. Both children farted in my general direction quite often as well. The audio tour walks you through the scenes where it was filmed, and adds in its own bits of humor. Oh, I suppose it also talks about the history of the castle and how it was used in Medevial times, but pish tosh.  (For Outlander fans, it’s also Castle Leoch so you may recognize it from that, the gift shop certainly does.)

 

After a delicious lunch at the Buttercup cafe in Doune, we headed over to Loch Lomond. While Loch Ness is the famous highland lake, we didn’t want to spend five hours in the car to get there and back, and instead headed west to the far more accessible Loch. At the first stop in the excellent visitor center, the Ranger gave us tips on hikes and we set out. First a short hike around the visitor center, where a soft path leads through a forest and to a waterfall. The path is surrounded by bluebells in high flower, the trees coated in fuzzy moss, and with the constant chirping of songbirds around us, it felt as if we had passed through the veil and into fairieland. At a wildlife hide we sat and watched red squirrels feed and scamper head first down trees, crossbeaks and great tits vie for birdseed at the feeders.

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Public art along the path, eerie to see the reflections in the woods

 

Westward to Loch Lomond, we headed off for a hike up a nearby hill for panoramic views of the lake and the islands. It is possible that on the way up this hill, there was a slight tiff in the family due to fatigue, interrupting words and a bit of the weeping hour setting upon us, but by the way down all was well. This is where I should start to sing the “You take the high road and I’ll take the low road” song, or Loch Lomond as it’s properly known. Apparently, the high road is meant to represent death, as the rebels heads would be displayed along pikes on the high road, and hence why the singer will never meet his true love again “On the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.” What else do you need but pictures here?

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-s

In which we have a few visitors from across the pond

The Era of the Visitors descended upon us. Because Irish weather can be utterly miserable before May, and because most of our friends are tethered to the school calendar in some way, everyone who wants to visit us is doing it now.
This is fantastic, though when we spend time with people on sunny days here I feel as if it’s a little unfair, as if they aren’t really understanding the doldrums of gloom that the weather can bring.
The first of the crew was Eric’s parents. The kids were so excited to see their grandparents!

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The first few days we took Cheryl and Dave into the city, where they saw the Book of Kells and then we went to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which I hadn’t been in before. A Protestant Cathedral, it houses an altar, seats, a museum exhibition of the history of the cathedral, and a gift shop all within the main space. The overall effect is one of an overstuffed attic.
I was most impressed with the detailed needlepoint cushions that hang on the back of every chair, hand embroidered by people from all over the country.


We took a side trip to Cork, the second largest Irish town, and other than a stop at a pub that was putting on a traditional Cinco de Mayo burlesque show, we didn’t spend much time there. We drove down to Kinsale, which is really very pretty. A hike along the coast, a stop for lunch and then to the Charles Fort, a preserved stellate fort from the 1700s, and still used as an army garrison until 1922. Legend has it of a groom who, on his wedding day, was shot by his new father-in-law due to a bit of confused identities. The bride flung herself over the ramparts and is said to haunt the grounds still.

 

Cheryl and Dave went further west and north the next day, while we returned to Maynooth. Our friend Wren popped over from Chicago the next day, and as she is a huge Harry Potter fan as well, the kids very sweetly spent time preparing her room, complete with a breakfast menu titled “Espresso Patronum,” and hid a speaker in her closet to play the theme music as she entered. Wren and I and Eric wandered about Dublin while the kids were in school (yes, they’re still in school despite evidence to the contrary), and over the course of a few days going into Temple Bar, Christchurch, and Trinity University among others.

 

 
The weekend was for a quick getaway to Galway, but not before we welcomed our friends Tim and Amy to Dublin! They arrived exhausted as expected off the plane, but gamely met up with all of us for lunch and a pre-train beverage.

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First pint of Irish Guinness is always an occasion to be documented

Galway is a cute little town on the western coast of Ireland, known for the university, traditional music, and apparently quite a party town and home to many stag and hen parties (bachelor and bachelorette for those of ye from the states). The central part of Galway is little more than three or four cobblestoned streets, lined with shops, pubs and restaurants, and seems to be lively at any time of the day.


We happened upon a delicious tiny pie shop straight out of a movie set for a fantasy film, where perhaps cloaked characters might stop in for an ale and a meat pie before heading off on their journey. In the afternoon we made our way to a microbrewery in Salt Hill, and then to a Gaelic Football match. I personally find the most entertaining part of these matches to be how the audience screams at the players, the coach screams at the players, and the players scream at each other, all laden with expletives and a lot of passion.

 

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Back in Maynooth the next day, Tim and Amy joined us again and we had two rousing evenings of Dungeons and Dragons hosted by the boy, where much merriment was had though perhaps little progress in an actual game. A walk around the Maynooth campus and a stop in at the Russell Library, the old library housing the ancient manuscripts of the University. Tim took his time reading mathematics texts. I’m always enthralled by these old books, that each piece of them from the papers to the inks and quills and of course to the writing itself all had to be created by hand. The immense effort it took to produce one book rendered them precious objects, so different from the mass production of paper and words today, or even “ink” on a screen where words are cheap.

 

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Our last set of visitors before we leave this little country were our dear friends Rudy and Liza and their boys. We’ve all known each other for almost 8 years now, ever since our kids became friends at preschool and it turned out we lived up the street from one another, but what really seals the deal is Rudy’s ability to take anything innocuous and make it seem vulgar. Here in Ireland, this talent blossomed as he found himself free to create limericks, an art form that lends itself to crassness. As this is a family blog, I will not detail these limericks further, but buy me a pint at home and perhaps I’ll share. We also got to spend a night with David Hicks, who was in Ireland for a writer’s retreat and found the time to come out to Maynooth to see us for an evening after a long day of travel from the West of Ireland and before heading back to the states the next day.
Our two families went to Glendalough for a few days, a lake nestled in between two mountains and home to an ancient monastic site complete with a well preserved round tower.

 

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While they arrived on a sunny day, these were the visitors who finally got a glimpse of the Irish gloom. Readers, they could only tolerate it for 2 days before complaining of the desperation one feels being deprived of the sun. We fortified ourselves with pints of Guinness and a peat fire, spending the evenings catching up at the Air BnB. I got to spend so much time with Liza, and as it always is with the good friends in life, we fell into step with each other with little pause.
Side note : this Air BnB is apparently rented out as a yoga retreat, complete with a studio and outdoor meditation hut. It also had a copy of something called “The Transformation Game,” which you play to change your life. With instructions such as “pick three angel cards while you hold your spirit intention in your heart” and “if you have not been born naturally after your third die roll, you will have a spiritual caesarian and may enter your life loops at the top space,” this game was not for sarcastic heathens such as ourselves who left our healing crystals at home and instead mercilessly mocked it.

We’re off in a few days, our time spent saying our goodbyes and figuring out exactly how much we can pack into our bags. Most of our visiting friends have also been turned into luggage mules for us, hauling back duffle bags of various sizes with clothes, yarn, books and snow globes, leaving us with a much simpler job of getting our belongings out of the country.
More importantly, I’m just overwhelmed with the love that people have to come out and visit us when we’re abroad. It’s such an incredible feeling to know that there are people who care for you enough that they will board a plane and cross an ocean to spend time together, and I feel grateful to have all of them in my life.

-s

In which we visit Diagon Alley

Our main interest in going to London was, quite honestly, to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour outside the city. I wish I could tell you that it was for a higher cultural purpose than that, that we were going to see the great historical sites, Westminster Abbey, the Tower, the Palace, the stolen treasures of colonized cultures. But I’d be lying.
London was also fun because of all the people we met up with while we were there, some old friend who we hadn’t seen in years, and some relatively new ones we’d only spent a little time with.

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Overlooking Big Ben and the Thames

Our first full day in London, Eric went to find his pool and the kids and strolled through London before our tour in the evening. We were staying just next to the London Eye, and while this was a handy location, the constant crush of tourists was claustrophobia inducing. Squeezing our way over the Westminster Bridge, we strolled through St. George’s park, sidling up to tour guides to “accidentally overhear” their patter about the variety of ducks and coots in the lake, until we reached our first destination : the playground. While the kids were playing among wooden spiders and rope bridges, I suddenly heard a loud commotion in the street – tubas and other brass instruments, and wide swaths of tourists with phones moving along from spot to spot along the street like a bee swarm finding a new nest. A parade? I supposed, and gave it no more mind. As it turns out, this was the changing of the guards. I had never understood the appeal of this, as I thought it was literally two guards swapping places, like late night security detail at a bank, and didn’t realize there was all this ceremony about it. We still skipped it in favor of the playground, but I guess I get why it’s interesting. Maybe.

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The purported inspiration for Diagon Alley, which, much like the oldest pub in Dublin may be one of many

A quick stop at a small street that is said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley, but here I must question the advertisement, as there are several streets in Edinburgh that claim the same, and given that that is where Rowling wrote the first novel, it seems far more likely. A visit to King’s Cross, of course, where we waited in line for the official picture going through the wall. While we waited, a chirpy employee asked “Who would like to answer some trivia questions?” The kids began to bounce up and down, waving their arms in the air in a close approximation of Hermione and handily answered all questions, winning some free Hogwarts Express tickets for their efforts.

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A small confession here, I suppose. I don’t actually like any of the Harry Potter movies. I find them rather dull in general, with the storylines plodding along in slavish need to mirror the books line by line, particularly the earlier ones. Good books don’t always make good movies without good screenwriting, but this was hampered (in my opinion) by a strong fan base who insisted on seeing page by page renderings of the text. That said, a visit to the studio tour is, as Ron would say, brilliant. Even if you’re not a fan of these movies, chances are you’re a fan of SOME movies and the site is a dedicated tour in learning about movie making in general.

I learned, for example, about how most of the actors wore wigs and even facial hairpieces throughout filming to maintain consistency. Since the scenes aren’t filmed in order, it would have been too jarring if the hair looked different from scene to scene. The level of detail given to background objects – the green tiles in the ministry of magic are cardboard, hand painted with a seven step process to look like gleaming ceramic. How many ideas were worked on for months and then discarded because they didn’t work, such as using actors on stilts for the werewolves.And then some, like the inferi, which were worked on for years for less than seven minutes of screen time.


My favorites were the physical set pieces that were created for illusion. Hallways that seemed to stretch on for miles but in reality are less than ten feet in length. The famous bridge is only a short stretch for filming, then was digitally extended for the film. Half the time you see Hagrid on screen, it’s not even a human face, but a highly detailed animatronic mask worn by a very tall actor. My other favorites were the physical set pieces WITHOUT illusion – many of the mechanical workings of the film actually worked as such – the snake door, Gringotts vaults, the rising staircase to Dumbledore’s office. Some of the reviews say that for little kids, seeing these things takes away from the magic of the film, but for us it enhanced it, to see how these objects were brought to life and the care with which it was done.


Our following day, we went to the Tate modern partly to go but mostly to meet up with an old friend, Elaine. Elaine was a British exchange student who lived with me and others my sophomore year, and we travelled for a bit afterwards to the East Coast and Chicago. A favorite anecdote is when we visited my uncle in Chicago, and Elaine asked for a glass of water without ice. My uncle seemed overly surprised by this and went to fetch it, while Elaine and I looked at each other with puzzled glances. Was water such an unusual request? She accepted the glass and began to sip at it, then leaned over to me and whispered, “I think…your uncle just gave me a glass of vodka,” which indeed he had, misunderstanding her accent. Elaine, of course, did the proper thing and drank the glass handily without complaint.

My children, of course, chose this exact hour to engage in a prolonged bickering session, belying all the lovely ways I try to depict them in this blog. Despite that, it was fantastic to see her again & reconnect.

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At the globe, the view from the £5 plebian seats

A stop at the Globe theater to see Romeo and Juliet, which was surprising to say the least. I’d expected traditional Elizabethan staging at the Globe, and instead was shown a rock/hiphop version of the play, complete with an emo Romeo, female Mercutio, Indian priest, and more surprisingly, an execution of the parents by gunpoint at the end. “Did that happen in the play?” Asked the girl.
I enjoyed the production and found it entertaining, with the exception of the decision to release crinkly shiny plastic streamers into the audience, which my kids and others found irresistible to pick up and crunch. “Stop it!” I found myself hissing repeatedly, and silently cursed whoever made this foolhardy decision. My purist son and husband however, were dismayed at the alternative staging and would have preferred more heaving bodices I suppose. Fun fact, the priest was chanting in Marathi so I could understand what he was saying for filler in his scenes, which was just “we are going, we are going.”

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With Betty and Jon, overlooking the millenium bridge

After this we met up with friends we made in Portugal, Betty and John, both involved in recruiting students for study abroad in London, and just very, very cool people overall. We started chatting in a microbrewery in Lisbon, and so they found a tasty one to visit in London. Unfortunately, no children were allowed inside. I have to say, this is a pet peeve of mine in the UK & Ireland in general – Kids aren’t welcome in pubs really at all. Some family friendly ones will serve dinner and you can bring kids, but then you’re relegated to a small sad cordoned off area at the back. I completely understand having a time after which no kids are allowed, say 9 or 10 pm, but for the travelling family who would like to try a microbrew it can be rather difficult for places that don’t allow children at all, and such a change from everywhere else where we generally felt welcomed as a family. We found one around the corner that let us in, and next door was a tea shop.

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recording the day, or more likely a new d&d campaign

Upon hearing of the kids’ love for tea, Betty popped out and returned with some bags for them to take home, which was so sweet. While we sat and chatted, the boy sipped on his tea and worked with his new quill pen, as 11 year olds do. We ended up later at a delicious ceviche place in Soho and then a stroll through Chinatown, the night filled with discussion of travel and politics.

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On our last day in London, we were again besieged with requests for a playground, and made our way to Hyde Park as it’s noted to be a good one. The reviews tell you to get there early else you may have to queue. (Yes, queue) A large space filled with structures and hideaways based on Peter Pan, the children scampered about happily until it was time to head out for lunch.

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Here we met up with Nick, who we’d met about two years earlier at my house. He’d come to my music birthday party at my house as a guest of of other friends. He borrowed a saxophone and picked up a pair of drumsticks, and then stayed on even as the friends he’d come in with had to leave to get home to their kids. After all the other guests had left, Nick, Eric, Sapana (who’d flew in) and I were sitting on our back porch in the warm June night air. Nick was busy gobbling down brownies in rapid succession, when Sapana furrowed her brow, turned to him, and said, “Now, wait, WHO are you exactly?” in that way of hers where she will just bluntly blurt out a question. [Side note: one of my favorite of these is from one of the first times she’d met Eric, when she looked at him intently and queried, “Eric, will you ever go bald?” To which he took the question seriously and replied “No, Sapana, I will never go bald.” And thus far he’s kept up with his promise.] Nick proceeded to tell us about himself, his time in the foreign service spent in Iraq, a return to London and changing careers to psychology and providing group support for PTSD survivors, and turned out to just be a very interesting person overall.

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The last meetup of the trip was getting together with Ellen, who is the daughter of one of Eric’s best friends John. Eric knew Ellen as an infant, so seeing her as a grown woman with her boyfriend Jon was emotional. Catching up on lives and talking about plans at an Indian tapas restaurant, which I must say is a wonderful concept that should be replicated everywhere. Basically, you get small plates of various dishes to taste and share and get fresh poli (roti, like a tortilla) to eat it all up with as you wish. Amazing. They had a blood orange lassi that kicks a mango lassi butt anyday.

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-s