I have so many things I'd like to do this summer. I so badly want to take a vacation. I've not been on vacation, the kind where you get to be lazy, no cooking, taking each day as it comes, no planning, just going and doing, in years. Literally, it's been 15 years since I was able to be on that kind of vacation. I desperately need it and I can't tell you how badly I want it! At the very least I want to take the boys to the beach this summer. It's a shame to live so close and never go! Sounds like a great day trip anyhow! As momma said, I"m old enough not to let my wants get to me".
The last time I went on vacation was 1999 when Daddy and I went to Paris. It was a trip he and Mom had talked about for years and when Momma passed away, Daddy was more convinced than ever he wanted to honor Mom's desire to go. He invited both my sister and me, as well as my "second parents". Both Ron and Bev went, but my sister's littlest was still a baby and the timing was bad.
Honestly, it was the most amazing trip of my life. It was only seven days, but it was packed with the most wonderful sites, sounds, tastes and experiences I've ever had. We saw museums I'd only dreamed of seeing, we went places I'd only read about, we tasted food the way the French really cook it, and we saw an old friend I'd not seen in ages (she met and married a Frenchman and had lived in Paris for some time). It was amazing to be in one of the oldest, most beautiful and history rich cities in the world. A place where art was so vital and was such a huge part of every day... I'm a big fan of the Impressionists and to be able to walk the grounds and magnificent gardens they walked, to eat at little sidewalk cafes where they may or may not have wandered, to see the same views they saw was, just extraordinary.
Riding along the Seine and walking amid the gardens filled me with the longing of lovers; their longing for each other, for lost love, for love yet to come. I was awestruck by the gardens that seemed to be everywhere... anywhere there was a small patch of ground a garden had been planted, gorgeous gardens.
The food was not so horribly rich I was gaining weight by the moment. It was rich alright, but you walk everywhere in Paris, so who can gain weight? And the chocolate... oh my stars the chocolate... the confections, the pastries... it was just sinful! But worth every step I took during the journey.
The weather was spectacular, with days topping out in the mid 80's on a hot day and the sun shining from early in the morning until after 10pm at night. The streets were busy all that time too. People so busy socializing, eating late, seeing the sights.
The cathedrals that seemed to dot every other block were just fabulous and you could not help but stop, sit and say a prayer for all who came into those blessed buildings, that they too would be blessed. You could hear the whispers of saints and royalty in Saint Chapelle (which, to me, was far more impressive than Notre Dame).
Walking in the Arc de Triomphe filled me with awe as my dad regaled me with his stories of having been in that very place, as well as the Trocadero, in 1945 on R&R during World War 2. Thinking of the soldiers who fought bravely for freedom for all people who stood on the same grounds upon which I was standing filled me with a sense of obligation, freedom, pride and sadness all at once.
Being brave, which I am not, I swallowed my stomach, gave up on my fear of heights for only a moment and decided to travel not to the first deck of the Eiffel Tower, and not to the second, but to the very top observation deck. It was so exhilarating to see Paris from such a vantage point! So badly I wanted to drink it all in over and over so I'd never forget a single thing I'd seen from the top of that awesome tower. It was an absolutely stunning sight.
I wandered around the grounds under the Eiffel Tower thinking of the number of people; artists, models, sculptors, kings, queens and "commoners", who had all wandered these same paths. All the history that has taken place in this city... all the love that has happened in this city, all the beauty in this city is just amazing.
My journey through the Louvre and Versailles as well as Les Invalides and Musee d'Orsay took me to places in my heart I didn't know I had. I was awestruck by the masterpieces hung in the halls, feeling as though I should sit reverently, thanking God for bringing me to such a place while I drunk in quietly every single piece I could feast on with my eyes and my heart. To see the art that surrounded every step you took in each of these places, whether it was a full suit of armor, a masterpiece by itself, or a fresco, a sarcophagus or the Venus de Milo, the Dancer or a painting or a painted ceiling; whether it was any single bit of architecture or just the air in Paris, it took me to new places in my soul. I drank it all in eagerly, like a wide eyed starving child, hungry for anything after having had nothing all day. My eyes sought out every nook and cranny, every brush stroke, every word of the plaques and notations, every ounce of art with which I could feed myself. I felt as though my heart had never known the magic and life I was seeing and experiencing when I was there.
To sit in front of the paintings in the Louvre and just feel the power of God and His gifts to these magnificently talented artists was overwhelming. Often I was seen wiping my face clear behind a bent head pretending my allergies were wreaking havoc on my sinuses and eyes. It was emotion more powerful than I'd ever imagined.
To wander amid the Impressionists at Orsay, with their lively colors, landscapes, dancers and style was breathtaking. I become a part of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, (and yes, you and she do become a part of each other as her gaze follows you where ever you go in the room), and to feel the power of all those masters just lifts your soul.
And yes, the jewels were magnificent too! Oh My Gosh... were all those amazing jewels magnificent. How I wished I could be a courtier or a princess just to be able to put on the jewels and feel how amazing it must feel to literally be dripping in diamonds, pearls, rubies, emeralds and sapphires.
We were accosted on the banks of the Seine by the artists peddling their wares and I was filled with more awe as each artist seemed to be exceptionally talented. Never had I seen so much exceptional ability in one place. I'd heard talent before musically, but never had I seen the talent I was seeing. We were fortunate to have purchased some rather excellent oil paintings (on rolled canvas) outside Les Invalides. Imagine our good fortune when we later met the artist. His sister had been selling his paintings that morning, telling us of her brother's efforts to overcome the family's poverty and put himself through art school. We were sure it was just a story, after all, aren't most artists, starving artists? In our travels through the city that day, which found us by the art school, we noticed a young man who's painting style was so much like the paintings we had bought earlier. When we watched him sign the painting he was finishing, we realized it was the same artist. We were lucky enough to get his signature in pen on the backs of our canvases. He was appreciative that we were able to recognize his particular work for the hundreds of artists we had seen that day. Despite the story his sister told us, we were blessed to hear the same story again, told in his own words.
Being part of the generation who fell in love with Diana, I found myself drawn to the tunnel in which she died quite by accident. We were just wandering, having decided a day of organized tours was not what we wanted. We just decided to wander and I found myself drawn to one location. It gave me a sadness I couldn't explain. I sat down, just to try and think of what could possibly make me so sad on a day where we had visited some of the more atypical places in Paris and seen how the Parisians really live. It had been a wonderful day, leisurely and restful, despite all the walking we had done. We found ourselves in places of the city no one had marked on a map or had indicated were typical, tourist-y places. When I looked up, I saw the sign. We were at Place de l'Alma, just under where sweet Diana had died just two years earlier. I think all girls my age were in love with Diana as we watched her life and her maturity as a young adult Princess. She was beautiful and living a fairy tale. We later identified with her babies, her beautiful baby boys (and yes, I had my own two beautiful baby boys). I totally understood her heartache as her marriage disintegrated and felt the pain of watching what she had built be scratched at and picked at in effort to discredit her hard work. Yes, I was in love with Diana, the fairy tale Princess.
It was then I fully realized the memorial there was for her. I hadn't made a correlation to the huge brass flame (ironically, a replica of Lady Liberty's flame) with flowers tucked around it's base in memoriam to her beautiful life flame being extinguished all too soon. I just knew that where I was, was special somehow. When I read the memorial, the deeply sad emotions I felt made too much sense and yet they didn't. It was so very sad to me that I would feel that pain. There were other reasons why I was identifying with her pain that would become far more overwhelming to me after I got back home. While I was there though, I was simply struck with the heart ache of losing someone so vibrant, so alive, so good and so open despite her efforts to give her family some sort of privacy and normalcy. It was as though Diana were a close personal friend or family member. We left there after a while, everyone having had a chance to rest and reflect.
We found some fun cafes tucked away off the beaten paths at which to eat, to grab a sandwich and a water,(and to this day, if I ever see another menu that reads "jambon e fromage" I may scream). We just basically wandered away from the typical visitor locations. Sure we hit Planet Hollywood - Paris, but the other eateries were much more fun just because it was so "not" American.
All in all, I'd have to say my trip to Paris was, in a word, phenomenal. It was most definitely a trip of a lifetime and one I could never duplicate the feeling and emotion.