As is usually the case with travel adventures, Steve and I had dozens of other experiences on our recent trip that intrigued or edified or tantalyzed us. But I didn’t write about them because to be interested in most of it, you had to be there. The only remaining item I feel drawn to report on is our experience with the love locks of Paris.

When Steve and I first went to Paris together in March of 1974, there were no love locks. Their exact origins are murky, but a common explanation is that sometime in the early 2000s, lovers began writing their initials on locks and attaching them to the metal bars of Paris’s Pont des Arts. After securing the locks, each couple threw their key into the Seine — a symbol of their commitment to each other and to Paris.

So many locks came to adorn the Pont des Arts that Paris city administrators periodically have ordered them removed. But the locks have reappeared and the concept has spread to other cities ranging from Taiwan to Toronto. I discovered this when I was planning this trip. Somehow, I’d never seen them anywhere. I wanted to rectify that, and as I thought about it, I decided I should surprise Steve with a love lock of our own.

The Pont des Arts isn’t that far from the Pompidou Center, so after we finished touring the Cartier-Bresson exhibit, I suggested we stroll there. Olivia was busy; we planned to rendezvous later. The afternoon was taking on the golden glow that develops when the weather is fine, and as we approached the bridge, all the locks adorning it gleamed.

Some of them are gaudy…

or mawkish…

…while most are plain. Any one of them, alone, would not be eye-catching. But as a communal art work, they have a textured beauty.

We searched for a spot that could accommodate our lock (which I had bought at the dollar store in Pacific Beach and on which I had painted our initials in pink nail polish.) We found a free patch in a corner facing the Ile de la Cite. We clicked it into place then asked a passing young woman to photograph us next to it. She looked like she was hurrying somewhere, but then she took shots from seven different angles — making sure to capture one we would like. We thanked her, moved to the center of the bridge, then hurled the key into the river. I heard a guy in his 20s exclaim in pleasure at the sight of us.

I’m not sure we’ve ever done anything quite so sentimental before. It’s not my style, nor Steve’s. But adding our love lock to the bridge in Paris made us smile. I hope I have a chance to return sometime and look for it.


Honeymoon hotel

At the end of my last post, I noted that our flight for Marrakech was at 6:10. What I did not know then was that it was at 6:10 a.m., and when I typed those words it had already left. So Steve and I strolled, care-free, from Olivia’s apartment to the Grande Jatte, the island in the Seine painted most famously by pointillist George Seurat. Later, we sipped our cafe cremes in a leisurely manner, and still later we walked with Olivia in the Bois de Boulogne. We were feeling almost cocky when we got on the airport bus with what we thought was plenty of time and arrived at what we thought was 2.5 hours early. We even had another coffee in the airport before checking the Departures board and feeling our stomachs drop.

Instantly, it was clear there were no 6:10 PM flights to Marrakech. Rather, the next flight would be at 6 Monday morning. I’m to blame for this error. The only way I can explain it is that when I made the reservations alll those months ago and saw EasyJet’s one flight per day to Marrakech, it never crossed my mind that the 6:10 could refer to that cold dark hour before dawn, rather than the cilivized end-of-the afternoon alternative.

Such is the price of living in a country that uses a 12-hour clock rather than the 24-hour one so common elsewhere. Given the magnitude of this mistake (MISSING the flight! By 9 hours?!!?), what happened next was not all that bad. We were able to secure 2 of the remaining 7 seats for the flight early tomorrow, and EasyJet only charged us the difference between the price we’d paid before and the last-minute tab. We were able to Skype our hotel in Marrakech and reschedule our pickup from the airport. We took the free airport bus the two stops to the hotel center, and we got a room at the Ibis Hotel for 97 euros. It’s clean and well-designed. The pizza and French beer in its restaurant was pretty good.

It may not be the most romantic place to spend our 40th anniversary. But things could be a lot worse.

I was trying to scowl but that made me want to laugh.


Three full days have passed, so jam-packed that there’s been no time to write. Now it’s early Sunday morning, sunny and clear. I caught a New York Times story yesterday about the fact that all the recent warm weather has generated unusual levels of smog. We noticed it vaguely, but it’s seems like nothing, compared to LA on a bad day. And in the plus column, the city fathers have made it free to ride on all the buses and metros in the city these past few days, in an effort to encourage people to abandon their automobiles. It’s certainly worked for Steve and me!

The Viaduc des Art with the Promenade Plantee above


A beautiful section of the Promenade

On foot and transported gratis by the good taxpayers of Paris, we’ve experienced all manner of things we’d never seen or done before. Two photography shows (one on Brassai and a mind-boggling salute to Henri Cartier-Bresson at the Pompidou center) and a collection of 100 impressionist paintings that are normally in private collections but currently have been gathered here at the Musee Marmottan. That’s in the same neighborhood where we had our very first home-exchange house 34 years ago. As I cringed, Olivia tapped on the windows and got the gracious young resident (who was in the midst of preparing a dinner party for friends) to actually let us come in and gawk at how she and her husband have remodeled the place. Well done!

We also: checked out Paris’s Chinatown area, explored the artisans’ shops in the Viaduc des Arts (and then walked back on the Promenade Plantee — the one-time railroad tracks that were the first elevated park project in the world and since have inspired others elsewhere), and participated in a party (for 50 or so?) at Olivia’s Friday night that pretty much blew our minds (certainly the dancing that started around 11 and went to 2:30 in the morning.)

One of the desserts we've consumed chez Olivia. How cute (and delicious!) is that?
We depart for Marrakesh at 6:10 this evening. Once again, it’s going to be tough to say goodbye to this place.



Jet-lagged in Paris

What do you do when you arrive in Paris at 5:45 a.m. (11:45 p.m. SD time)? On the plane from NYC, Steve and I figured out that this is the 10th time we’ve been here together. So we’ve had some practice with those ghastly arrival times. It helped.

Olivia’s gracious guIdance also helped. After our arrival at her flat in Neuilly, she let us nap (from 9:30 to 11:30).

Then she served us a lovely lunch.

Then we walked around four five hours in glorious weather.

We were only faking sitting in the sun, but hordes of Parisians were basking in earnest.

Olivia fed us again after we got home. Now miraculously it’s 9:40. We’re nearly comatose, but with luck we won’t be jet lagged in Paris tomorrow..


Paris at Christmas

Now that Steve and I have experienced Paris at Christmas — a Bucket List item if ever there was one — I can confirm that the city puts on a great show at this time of year. The window displays in the huge department stores near the Opera were as grandiose as reputed.  The theme along one side of the main Galleries Lafayette this year was Chaud Show Noel (“hot show Christmas”) — a bizarrely charming mix of scenes from various movies and shows: mice and dolls singing to the music of Mamma Mia, other woodland creatures and Barbies and pigs dressed as frogmen cavorting to Singing in the Rain, the Soldat Rose, the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, other tunes.

Gallerie Lafayette

Pigs as frog men -- Gallerie Lafayette

Immense Christmas Tree--Galarie Lafayette

I loved the small shop decorations at least as well.  Several cafes that I noticed had taken Christmas trees and painted them black, then adorned them with red bows. 

Paris Christmas window

One place had erected two clear plexiglas structures, about the size of old-fashioned phone booths, except much higher.  These were filled with flocked boughs of fir trees and pine cones and silver ornaments.  They stood on the street, bearing no commercial message on them.

Street decorations in Paris

The Champs Elysee is always an impressive sight, but at night, in winter, with the trees illuminated and twinkling, the giant merry-go-around erected at the Place de la Concorde, the Eiffel Tower psychedelically sparkling, it surpassed itself.

On this trip we did things that were the stuff of legend to me: bought hot chestnuts from sidewalk vendors and munched on them. strolled under the snowflakes and dashed into cozy shops to buy tea and chocolate and little presents for each other.

Chestnut seller in Paris

DeWyze-Wolfe Christmas 2010

On Christmas day, after Steve and the boys and I had opened those, we bundled up and took the metro to Trocadero.  For the first and only time on this trip, the sky was cloudless, the sun strong even though the air was frigid.  We got the glorious view of the Eiffel Tower that one gets from the Palais, then we walked to the tower and climbed to its first level. There in addition to the legendary views, an ice skating rink offered additional entertainment. 

Both Mike and Elliot wanted to skate on the Eiffel Tower on Christmas Day.  (Steve and I had visions of injuring ourselves dancing in our heads, so we refrained.) But although the rink was full when we arrived, within a few minutes it had been cleared of everyone except a figure lying prone on the ice, covered in a thermal blanket and surrounded by paramedics. After a while, we could see that it was a man whose ankle had ballooned grotesquely. When the pompiers tried to move him at one point, he emitted horrible screams. His rescue seemed to stall, but finally a stretcher arrived and he was wheeled off, and the skating recommenced.  It took Elliot only a few minutes to gain enough confidence to be zooming around (and smashing into the side boards; a few minutes weren’t enough for him to remember how to stop.)  Mike skated more confidently, if less flamboyantly, and it gave me unadulterated pleasure to watch my sons flashing by.

A few things were missing from the Parisian Christmas — the ubiquitous canned carols in the stores, for example, or Christmas trees like we have in the States. We saw plenty of trees: for sale in nurseries, or erected in the Gilon/Ville’s apartment and at Olivia’s and in stores. But most were tiny, if beautifully shaped. (The ones I priced on the street were about 45 euros apiece.)  Also missing was the materialistic restraint that I somehow expected to find, once out of the US at Christmastime. The crowds on the streets around the big department stores were enormous, as dense as anything I’ve experienced since Shanghai, and the shopping as intense. When I told Olivia I was surprised to see so much frenzy over present-buying, she rolled her eyes and said she couldn’t imagine how I’d been so misinformed. 

Buches de Noel, Paris

On Christmas Eve, we exchanged small presents with Olivia and her family, but she also gave us an enormous and priceless present: she created several evenings for us in her home that will forever glow in my heart and memory (and I imagine in those of all my family.)  On Christmas Eve, her Neuilly apartment was decked out like a scene from a storybook: beautiful tables welcoming 8 young people in one room, and six elders in the living room. We feasted on mushroom and chestnut soup, and stuffed partridges, and sensuous cheeses, and Buches de Noel that were as pretty as they were delicious. Sadly, because I was recovering from food poisoning that had struck only the night before, I could eat only a small fraction of what I would otherwise have gobbled up.

But as my crew and I made our way home on the metro, the memory of that small shadow on the evening was already fading. At this moment, barely two days later, I’ve almost entirely forgotten it.  

What I remember is the lovely young woman playing classical airs on a violin in one of the underground corridors of the #1 metro line.  She’d been there when we had journeyed out to Olivia’s early in the evening, when a crowd bustled past her and the African guys selling light-up Santa Claus hats. On our return trip, well after midnight, the vendors were all gone, and the crowds had thinned to a trickle, but the violinist was still there, still playing. I dropped a handful of change in her violin case, she looked almost as merry. It seemed like a true Christmas miracle, but I believed it.

French Elevator Hell

My sons have had previous experience with French elevators. When we were here for a few days in 1997, they found the elevator up to our friend Olivia’s apartment hilarious. It was just a normal French elevator — so unbelievably tiny and slow it seemed like a cartoon. It amused them no end to take it up and down, and so when Michael arrived yesterday afternoon, one of the things I was eager to share with him was the elevator in the Gilon-Villes’ building.

I think it shocked him with its smallness (despite his previous experience) and then tickled as it transported him and his two suitcases up to our flat on the fifth floor. Hours later, when we returned from the Christmas soiree at Olivia’s (in Neuilly), I smiled wickedly and urged both boys into the telephone-booth-sized space (Steve and I took the stairs.)

I had expected they would joke with each other on the ascent, but what I didn’t expect was that the door would not open once they reached their destination. Numerous button pushes later, we all concluded: they were stuck. It was 10:30 on a Sunday night. What to do?

What did NOT work was phoning the two separate “emergency” numbers on the elevator door. My French isn’t great, but I think the recording I got when I called each basically communicated the idea that I should leave a message and someone would get back to me… eventually.

Next I tried going down to each lower floor and pushing the call button. No dice. The boys tried pushing all the buttons within, including one that sounded a piercing alarm. (But that was so nerve-wracking they only did it for brief periods of time.)

Eventually, our neighbor on the fourth floor poked her head out and inquired about the ruckus. SHE knew what to do, descending to the foyer on the ground floor where, it turned out, the critical button was stuck. But she lectured us that the problem was that our sons weighed too much for both of them to be riding in the elevator together. I felt insulted. Together they amount to no more than 160 kilos (350 pounds), and the sign inside the elevator clearly proclaimed that the fateful limit was two persons weighing 180 kilos.

No matter. Our neighbor was convinced it was all our fault. Once she’d rescued us, though, she sweetly bade me bonne nuit.

And y’know… once Michael and Elliot were released, all was again well with the world. After a shower and change of clothing, Michael earlier in the afternoon had insisted he was up for attending Olivia’s party, his grueling journey notwithstanding. The party was magical, staged in O’s huge, airy, peaceful apartment in Neuilly and attended by not one but two serving assistants, who deftly offered delicious sandwich slivers and multiple desserts and endless glasses of champagne. An intriguing assortment of thoughtful and charming individuals filled the salon with conversation. Everyone in my family loved it, so the vertical entrapment afterward came as we were awash in happiness.

Today has been filled with equal pleasures: an outing to Notre Dame, a quick lunch back at the apartment, a dash down to the Gran Palais, where a friend of Olivia’s helped us secure tickets into the incredible Monet retrospective (even though they’ve been sold out for weeks? months?) At times the exhibition moved me to tears, and all the other men in my family appreciated it to one degree or another.

At 6 we rendezvoused with Olivia at the venerable LaDurree on the Champs Elysees for coffee and wondrous pastries (shocking by San Diego standards to be consumed at 6:30 but normal here.) We returned home and enjoyed an excellent dinner just down the block from our building. Mike, Steve, and I walked up the stairs afterward. Elliot ascended in the lift.