When my parents left Cleveland and went back to France last month they took Minette with them. There is a tradition in our family that Grand-Père and Grand-Mère make a trip to Paris with every grandchild who has turned five. My brother’s three children have all had their turn over the last decade. Minette’s came this summer.
I did not grow up in Paris but that’s where I was born, where I came back to study as I was pushing twenty, and where I have stayed often enough throughout my life for the city to feel familiar every time I return. Last month’s trip was not Minette’s first time in Paris. We have been there with her a couple of times to visit friends. But it was the first time her trip would be focused on many places tourists gravitate around. A trip carefully planned and joyfully anticipated.
My parents brought a book about two children going to Paris and read it with Minette while in Cleveland. They talked with her many times about what they would see. They studied the city map with her. They booked tickets in advance. They planned an itinerary that would have her view the Eiffel Tower briefly from métro aérien (elevated train) first, then more leisurely from a bateau-mouche (excursion boat) on another day, before climaxing with a visit proper on her last day in Paris.
The cherry on the cake? Minette even had a sleep-over at her dear French friend Annabelle’s. Annabelle and her family, who used to live in Cleveland, moved back to Paris at the beginning of this year and we miss them all. The sleep-over was something we would remind Minette of when she felt blue about her friend having moved away. The much anticipated get-together lived up to everyone’s expectations, not least thanks to Annabelle’s parents’ special gift for all things kids.
As Minette was away discovering Paris and we were duly filled in on her expeditions every day, with pictures and all, I was thrilled but not in a reflective mood. I was enjoying my own couple getaway, then getting ready for Bastille Day in New York City. Now that some time has passed and that Minette brings up details of her trip from time to time I am becoming more thoughtful about it. I try to see the city with her eyes and to imagine what she was feeling.
There she was, navigating the city that contained so many memories for her grandparents and myself, and looking at it through her own fresh lens. Eyes wide open for all the things she was seeing for the first time. How will she remember the trip years from now? Probably as one of the milestones of her young life; maybe as the beginning of a life-long relationship with Paris. The city will play a different role for her than it has for me, surely, but I believe she will relate to it in her own meaningful way.
A few days before the trip Grand-Mère, Minette, and I went to see a delightful Cole Porter musical in Wooster, Ohio. Fifty Million Frenchmen depicts high society American tourists fooling around in Paris. One of the songs we loved, and now play regularly, has a nostalgic tinge to it. You Don’t Know Paree has somehow become my soundtrack for Minette’s trip. Listen to it here.