*Kaleidoscope comes from the Greek kalos (beautiful) and eidos (form or shape) and skopein (look at) which combines to mean a device for looking at beautiful shapes!
“Bonjour, Madame!” the smiling hotel staffer greeted me at the registration desk as I approached. “Bonjour, Madame” I said in response, smiling at her lovely face and warm eyes. My first trip to Paris had begun several hours earlier when I boarded a comfortable Boeing 767 to take me, my spouse and two dear friends across the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel to this exciting city. We traveled Economy Comfort class – it costs a little more than coach, and far less than First Class, but affords passengers more leg room and a greater recline capacity. They added a few nice touches (warm cookies, hot hand towels, and free wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages) to extend the level of hospitality on their non-stop flights.
We arrived in one of the largest airports in the world, Charles De Gaulle, as attested to by the step tracking feature on our phones – 11,000 steps to be specific! As we made our way to customs, it felt like we were on a long indoor hiking trail that would eventually lead us to our driver who was waiting patiently holding an I-pad with our names on the screen. “Bonjour mesdames et messieurs, this way” he urged as he led us through the exit doors, and across the parking area to our van.
Roaring along the three-lane highway leading into the city, he demonstrated nerves of steel as he wove daringly but skillfully, through fast-moving traffic with a speed limit that most drivers seemed to regard as a mere suggestion. There were several harrowing moments when I clutched the door handle and involuntarily shut my eyes, praying that we would survive to see our hotel. Ninety breathless minutes later, we arrived in front of the Marriott Rive Gauche Hotel & Conference Center on a tree-lined street on the Left Bank in the heart of Paris. I resisted the urge to kiss the ground before entering.
With the hotel as our launch pad, we ventured out each day into beautiful parks, neighborhoods, historic areas, and pastry shops, through which Paris expresses its love of fashion, food, wine, history, and romance. Neighborhoods reside peaceably with one another, and the boundaries between areas blend into one cohesive fabric of Parisian life.
The streets are filled with people from many different cultures; the air carries aromas of foods with distinct fragrances that merge into a prevailing social perfume inhaled by all. The sounds of overheard conversations in different languages are part of the charm of the Parisian café experience. The street scene is a watercolor blend of soft and brightly contrasting colors and fabrics from many different styles of dress that reflect the wearers’ cultures and countries. Paris is a global city with a contemporary friendliness, and, yes, a degree of caution. Since the terrorist attacks a few years ago, Parisians have gotten accustomed to seeing armed gendarmes on the sidewalks, at the entrances to historic places, and periodically flying by in police cars across packed roadways with sirens blaring and lights flashing. Every day when we were out and about, we also saw couples kissing: old people, young teens, men and women dressed in business clothing. So much romantic love in this City of Light. And that was Paris during the day!!
At night, the scene intensifies with people walking home from work, talking on cell phones while sipping cocktails at outdoor cafes brimming with people, dogs on leashes, and people on bikes and motorized scooters in neon colors weaving their way through the streets and sidewalks with steely and brazen abandon. One night we were out and looked across a large plaza to see the Eiffel Tower only visible halfway up into the evening sky due to a thick fog that had rolled in unannounced. It was eerily beautiful, distant, and mysterious.
Paris is a kaleidoscope of memories, too, that will remain in my heart for the rest of my days. I will remember the husband and wife who worked side by side in their small restaurant, showering their guests with deliciously prepared local foods seasoned with their warmth and affection. With a bit of English and French, with hand gestures and smiles, we managed to communicate where we were from and they told us their story of making a life in Paris. Connected by a sense of community with our fellow sojourners, we were made to feel at home in the warmth of this lovely café.
I will remember the little boy whose smile warmed my heart as he was slowly toddling up the stairs of Sainte Chapelle cathedral as I waited for my mate at the top of the stairs. This little boy’s eyes found my eyes and held them, slowly smiling at me, and then engaged me in silently cheering for him as he held his mother’s hand, and climbed up each stone step unsteadily until he had reached the top, widely grinning at his mother, and at me, in triumph. I was reminded of my own children and grandchildren when they were toddlers, and I felt a surge of maternal love toward him that stayed with me for the rest of the day.
I will remember the poignancy of the D-Day Tour we took in Normandy, and the small packets of silk that had been sewn by French women in the small coastal city of Sainte Mare Eglise that were on display in a museum there. The packets were made from fallen silk parachutes that had been salvaged and used for a sacred purpose: the small squares were filled with the soil in which the fallen soldiers had been buried and then the packets were mailed to their parents in the United States so that they might feel a sense of being able to touch the holy ground in which their sons and daughters lay in eternal rest. This tenderly intentional act of compassion and love expressed the common humanity of the people of France who had suffered greatly and the people of the United States who had sacrificed greatly.
Traveling is one of the best ways to open your mind and heart to the world. It has been said we travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us. I encourage your wanderlust – as Saint Augustine advised, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only one page.”