Paris was everything it is supposed to be and a lot more.
Because I am visiting my friend, Lanni, who lives in Paris, I expected that I would not do a lot of the usual tourist things. But I certainly did not expect I would spend my first hours in Paris in a Turkish bath being scrubbed with mud by energetic middle-eastern women in a steam-filled room that looked as if it had been lifted directly from Arabian Nights.
I had just landed in Paris and this was a birthday surprise from my two good friends, Lanni and Nora. The hamam, as it is called, was occupied exclusively by women. We were were slathered in mud, scrubbed with rough mittens, massaged with pungent oils, then served strong, sweet tea which we drank in room decorated in ornate plaster and colorful tile, filled with incense. A rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” was performed in my honor by a roomful of women in white bathrobes clapping their hands and swaying to the music. It was memorable.
I was then taken to eat at a lovely restaurant (still smelling of spicy oil) where we sat in the center of a round room decorated with art deco garden nymphs and peacocks. “Happy Birthday” was sung again (this time by fully-clothed singers). I sat between my two dear women friends and felt my cup overflow.
On the evening of the second day Lanni presented me with a final birthday present: a tour of Paris at night— on motorcycle. Lanni’s friend Bruno arrived on an enormous Honda cycle. We sped off and saw a huge swathe of Paris: the Eiffel Tower covered in twinkling lights, the glass pyramid of the Louvre, the Grand Palais, Moulon Rouge and Notre Dame flew by in the night.
In the morning Lanni asked if I would like to go on a road trip. Her seventeen-year-old son was attending a celebration in Normandy and she thought we might as well drop him off and see some countryside on the way. She admonished him, “Just be sure we have an address and good directions.” When she returned with the rental car, he had neither directions nor address. We hit the road.
Before long, we were hopelessly lost in some of the most beautiful country imaginable. We traveled from tollway to country highway to single-track rural roads. We passed farms and villages made of white-plastered stone with wooden shutters painted blue and bright purple. The more lost we became, the more picturesque the landscape.
After several more hours than would normally be required (and a wonderful demonstration of mother-son conflict resolution) we arrived at an ancient country home with stones spilling from the barn walls and teenagers from the front door. Lanni deposited her son with a hug and a kiss and we headed out for seafood dinner.
Daniel joined us two days later and we wandered the streets of Paris, touring tiny shops and brasseries serving wine on the sidewalk. It was Bastille Day and we joined thousands of Parisians and watched open-mouthed as fireworks exploded behind the Eiffel Tower. On our last day in Paris, Daniel and I gaped at Notre Dame and bought souvenirs with the rest of the tourists. The evening turned cool and the cobblestones were damp. We had a dinner of Swiss fondue, then stopped into an Irish pub.
Inside a group of men were playing traditional Irish music with a young man playing the penny whistle as if his life depended on it.
I listened, astonished and happy.
Till next time,