Monday, April 30, 2012

April in Paris

My heart fluttered as if meeting a lover as our high-speed Thalys train from Amsterdam pulled into Paris’s Gare du Nord terminus station. It was almost ten in the evening so all we saw were the twinkling lights of the city until our car slipped under the massive triangular fanlight on the track-side entry of Paris Nord and into the station itself. I’ve arrived in Paris countless times by both plane and train, but this arrival was different. Maybe it was knowing that Chris and Caroline would soon join us or that the marathon was imminent or having just completed a great big circle around Europe with stops in so many new, unfamiliar places, returning to Paris felt like coming home. As we disembarked under the paned glass-ceiling characteristic of so many French rail stations and heard the familiar three-tone arrival chime and the announcement, “Le train en provenance d’Amsterdam est arrivé sur la voie huit,” my heart was aflutter, my palms sweaty and my face flushed. I was actually trembling as we made our way, luggage in tow, towards the metro escalator. “My beloved awaits me!” I whispered to myself. And the best part was, Joe felt exactly the same.

We had about 33 hours in Paris before the kids arrived, to get reacquainted with her, recharge our metro Passes Navigo and stock the fridge of the apartment we’d rented (with a view of the Tour Eiffel!) with eggs and ham for Chris, yogurts, cereal and nuts for Caroline and wine and cheese for us all. It’s remarkable how frugally Joe and I are able to live when it’s just the two of us. But add the children to the mix and it’s equally remarkable just how quickly we can hemorrhage money. The minute we saw their fresh American faces come around the arrivals corner at Charles de Gaulle, we were a family together again and ready for celebration. Let the money-spending games begin -- the children have landed! We treated them to the delights of several restaurants that had become our haunts during our month’s sojourn: the steak/frites bistro near Porte Maillot, Hemingway’s La Rotonde cafe in Montparnasse, the candlelit restaurant on the Île St. Louis and the falafel joint on the Rue des Rosiers. Chris and Caroline are just as content as we are to plan travel itineraries around where we’ll eat.

April in Paris can be quite chilly, but the temperatures hovered in the high fifties and the lilacs were bursting in full bloom, radiating maximum fragrance. Whenever the weather permits, Paris is filled with flowers but I’d never seen the lilacs in such glory. From intense purple to pale lavender and white with even some surprise blossoms of deep mauve, the lilacs made the city even more gorgeous than ever, especially in the gardens around the Eiffel Tower just a few blocks from our apartment. My Mom would have loved it – lilacs were her favorite.

We quickly went from being just Marianne and Joe, the lone American travelers to a critical mass of Americans over the course of a few short days. We arrived on a Tuesday night and were joined by the kids on Thursday morning; our nephew Patrick studying abroad in England arrived on Saturday morning and our friends Neil and Nora, her son and his friend met up with us for a pre-marathon, carb-loading dinner on Saturday night. Nine boisterous Americans raised the decibel level at Carmine’s on the Avenue de Suffren more than a bit that Saturday evening. It was April in Paris at its best and the time for us to run had arrived.

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