It’s Like They Have A Different Word For Everything

I was at dinner last night with an old friend and we realized that it has been ten years since I was last in paris. (Which makes it twenty years since we met, but that’s another story). I spent the first day doing my usual jetlag-defying routine, perfected when I used to come to Europe several times a year for work: lots of coffee and water, no naps, plenty of walking, and nary a thought toward what time it is back home. It’s remarkably easy, especially if one goes easy on food, which can be coma-inducing in excess. Ironic for the beginning to such a culinary odyssey, perhaps, but I didn’t face-plant and it was remarkably easy to make it past midnight and get a good night’s sleep on the local schedule.

On the way in to Paris from Roissy, the weather was mild, even warmish, and very foggy. Having slept for exactly zero minutes during the flight, I was a little groggy, with my interior state mirroring the mist outside. It feels like spring here, even if the bright green is limited to the fields since trees aren’t budding just yet. It has been a cold winter in Europe, but mercifully that has abated, and temperatures are right where they should be, which means I can swan around in nice clothes instead of a big parka.

I thought a little bit about the random coincidences and accidents of fate that led to this trip, going way back before I stumbled on some reference to the contest on someone else’s blog. My maternal grandmother spent a litte time in Paris before World War Two; she and her parents and older sister fled Germany when things started to get very ugly. Soon enough, Paris wasn’t safe, so they moved to Bordeaux, and then on to Casablanca, followed by Cuba and then finally to Boston when their cousin in Chicago was able to get them papers. This all took a couple of years during which time she would have been in high school. She never went to college, either, but she spoke five languages and did the Times crossword in pen every morning. Leaving Bordeaux with forged documents, they escaped by the narrowest of margins: the very next train to Spain was stopped by the Germans.

Twenty years earlier, my paternal grandfather–whom I never met, and whose name I have for a middle name since my birthday would have been his fiftieth wedding anniversary–spent eighteen months in a trench not far North of here engaged in a tiny part of the wretched, pointless, and seemingly eternal exploration of what twentieth century weaponry could do to nineteenth century tactics. At one point, during an assault, he was out in no man’s land and turned to call back for help carrying a wounded comrade when a German bullet went in his open mouth and out his cheek. A minor wound, but about an inch from a fatal one.

But for these accidents, I wouldn’t be here. The city looks about the same as it did then, of course, but the circumstances of my visit couldn’t be more different. I’m here for entirely hedonistic reasons, which is pretty special, and I’m grateful. I know my ancestors would approve. Today begins the real eating, and I’ll make sure the camera comes along.

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8 Comments

  1. March 2
    Reply

    Very nice post Peter. I love hearing stories about where people came from. This *I think* is the first time I’ve heard anything like this about you. Very refreshing. We all have a history, it’s neat to hear about it.

  2. Eve
    March 2
    Reply

    Loved this, Peter. Your post title had set me up for something delightfully sarcastic but what a nice surprise to find this little (serious) glimpse into you/your family’s past. So she did the Times x-word in pen, no less?! Perhaps that’s where you get your unique way with words… Have a wonderful trip!

  3. March 2
    Reply

    Peter great piece. Enjoy your trip and keep writing & snapping pics, can not wait to read about your fantastic journey!

  4. Nice! I wish my family weren’t so tight lipped about their business. That was a great story and adds a lot to your travels.

    I know very little about who, where, what and when except that there were some whispers about my great-aunt who was an army nurse during WWII. She did some very interesting time and carried a few juicy secrets with her to the grave…

    You have a huge responsibility to tell great tales and send awesome photos for the rest of us… I’ll just stay here and thaw out my beef tongue for my obligatory St. Paddy’s corned whatever.

  5. March 2
    Reply

    I’ll be in Paris in April, so I’m so looking forward to hearing about your trip.

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