France 2018: Lunch on the Corner; Picnic in the Park

July 31stParis

Finally, after what seemed like miles of trudging through the underground labyrinth of the Paris Metro, we found our station and boarded a train heading towards our hotel.

Dori had read in Rick Steve’s Best of France about cute little hole-in-the-wall restaurant the few know about (except the multitudes who buy his books). It seemed just the sort of place for authentic French cuisine off the beaten track, as it were.

The more closely we examined its location on the map, however, the more we realized that we would have to walk several long city blocks to reach this place. Then, how would we get to our hotel? By re-tracing our steps to the Metro or trying to hail a cab?

We began to think that perhaps we should alter our itinerary and eat somewhere closer to the intermediate Metro stop. We could just start looking as soon as we got of the train and hope we could find something along the way to that restaurant.

Well, in God’s mercy, we spotted a restaurant on the corner less than fifty feet after seeing daylight. It was on the corner, with seats outside. We had arrived at noon, but I suppose the locals had not yet had time to make it there, so we had the pick of the patio. We decided to abort our original plan and take advantage of what seemed to be God’s provision.

To make a longer story a bit shorter, we ordered what looked like delicious dishes, and were not disappointed. The tables quickly filled with guests as the waitress, who had advised me on my selection, scurried about to serve them, assisted by a man who seemed to be the owner. Meanwhile, we watched as maybe thousands of busy pedestrians came to and fro at what we now saw was a major intersection right across from l’Ecole de Militaire, where Napoleon had received his training.

I learned later that Dori, who was by now completely exhausted, found the hustle and bustle a bit too much, but I loved both the meal and the urban ambiance.

After lunch, we went below and caught a train to the stop whence we had started out trip that morning. We checked in to our hotel, were taken up a tiny elevator to our tiny room, settled in, and took a very restful nap.

When we got up, we set out for our next destination, the Eiffel Tower. The man at the desk told us that the best way to get there was to walk down the street near the Metro, turn right onto the avenue that ran along the Left Back of the Seine, and the Tower would be on our right.  Dori had purchased advance tickets for 7:30 before leaving home. We knew we’d be hungry before we could ascend the Tower, so we looked for someplace to buy a simple picnic supper to eat beforehand.

Almost immediately, we came to a large convenience store with a wide variety of offerings that perfectly matched outrappetite. I was thrilled to find a whole-grain baguette. I mean, I was grateful for the one I’d had for breakfast, but this combined the best of both worlds – healthy ingredients and the inimitable taste and texture of a French baguette. I left the store a very happy camper.

I’ll spare you the details of our journey to the Eiffel Tower, which took much longer than expected and entailed navigating congested crowds at rush hour (partly because I stubbornly refused to follow Dori’s advice to consult our map to see whether there was a shorter route), leaving us very tired by the time we reached our destination. Suffice it to say that we were hassled, hungry, and eager to rest and eat. Dori espied a bench in the park and we hurried over to it, reaching it just ahead of a family of six - grandparents, parents, and two children..

As we sat down, Dori saw the angry look of Madame, who clearly thought she had been cheated out of “her” place at the park and who “wore her emotions on her face,” as Dori later commented. I was looking in Dori’s direction, so my eyes didn’t meet the glance of the mother bear, who stood behind me. Her mate and her two cubs had to stand. At first, I was thankful that God had provided a place for us. We began eating our supper, which tasted mighty good by that time.

A few minutes later, however, as the children played in front of us, the awkwardness of the situation barged into my consciousness. I began to put myself in her place. Obviously, this family had planned a special evening at the park – probably their outing for the summer - and were as happy as we had been to discover an unoccupied bench. Then these Americans – our nationality had to be obvious – cut in front of them and stole their chance to eat together.

As I pondered her probable emotional state and actual condition, I asked, “What would Daddy do?”

The answer came quickly. I stood up, gestured to her to take my place, and moved out her way. She responded with a surprised smile and sat down.

I was content to eat the rest of my food on my feet, but my pre-meal tiredness began to affect me. Just then, she smiled again, moved over a bit, and motioned for me to sit down again. The atmosphere had changed from cold war to tepid peace.

Meanwhile, the older of the girls, whom they called “Marie,” scampered about happily in the area between us and a lovely old tree.

I had bought some genuine French chocolate squares at the convenience store. After I had thoroughly savored the flavor of one of them, another idea came to me.  My growing mastery of French emboldened me to call out, “Marie, Marie,” as I beckoned her to the bench, where I was slowly pushing another square out of the package.

I offered it to her, with a glance toward her mother seeking parental approval, which came with a nod and a smile. The delighted girl sat down next to me and gingerly took the square with a charming “Merci!” The French are connoisseurs, and she consumed this delicacy slowly and with child-like pleasure. After that, she ran to her mother, who had called her over to say something. Marie, returned and said, “Thank you very, very much! “

“Oh, so you speak English!” I answered. Her pronunciation was quite good, and I told her so. She was in the third grade, I learned.

“How long have you been studying English?” I inquired, and we began talking in the international language taught even in French schools now.

When it came time for us to go, Dori and I said “Au revoir!” and they answered, “Goodbye!”

We parted the best of friends, with warm smiles and happy hearts.  I thanked God for my father’s example. He was an officer and a gentleman.