My indulgence in these subjects began years ago, but can be pin-pointed to a very clear moment, an exact instance of utter believe in how I would continue to live my life from that moment on. Circa 2007, Paris, France, a budding traveler; it was my first trip to Europe at 18 years old. And of all occasions, this Franco-Italian two-week journey was a “family-moon” post wedding of my father to stepmom.
My Dad, seasoned in many things, but not foreign travel, was on his maiden European voyage as well. His Midwest-American up-bringing deeply ingrained in him an awkwardness among all things foreign, providing much additional entertainment on the trip and inside jokes (unfortunately, at his expense), which we still enjoy cracking today.
A day delayed, due to a miss-documentation of flight arrangements during booking, we touched-down in Paris on a warm summer afternoon. My poor new Stepmom had broke into tears at the Denver International Airport at check-in as we found out the flight we were really book on was already boarded and ready for take-off. We would have to take the following flight out the next morning. As the travel veteran, she had taken it upon herself to plan the entire two-weeks for a new family of five all on her own. Let me say, we deeply appreciate her ambition.
A bit frazzled from our premiere euro-cab ride into the city, we found ourselves in front of a classic facade and making a stumbling phone call up to the housekeeper who had the keys. The keys were to a quaint true Parisian flat on the Île Saint-Louis in the heart of Paris. My stepmom had arranged this flat rental through Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO). I highly recommend this type of accommodation for families and those on longer stays. It can be quite affordable and lends an authentic atmosphere. From the apartment’s roof-top terrace you could see the Gothic steeples of the Notre Dame de Paris, gargoyles and perhaps Quasimodo peering back. Bells rang, joining the flutter of pigeons’ wings as the gentle June sun warmed my face. Heaven?
The housekeeper, an older Parisianne madame, showed us around the petit apartment. A feature of particular importance was the lock on the door. The means of unlocking which was an old-fashion brass key straight out of the hands of a fairy tale character. She had each of us try to get in. Each failing miserably as she instructed us on how to turn the tricky lock in a thick French accent. Clearly, she has received an American or two into this lodging before, knowing just what would trip us up. As we thanked the Madame for her assistance and bid her goodbye, I spit out in my very best, limited French,”merci beaucoup!”
The first morning we awoke jet-lagged at the crack of Parisian dawn. Our noses, though, perhaps the culprit and not the jet-lag. A most incredible aroma was wafting up the stone stairway and through the vintage key hole. The streets below were vacant and silent. Just a splash of sunlight illuminated the white stone and wrought iron balconies. This vision, combined with the exotic yet homey sent, is a sensation irreplaceable to memory. My sister, brother and I descended the stairwell, following that sweet, warm ethereal scent to a Boulangerie below. Upon discovery, we quickly ascended for a few Euros and re-descended for a baguette pulled directly from the oven and wrapped gently by the baker in a square of parchment.
We returned tout de suite to the apartment terrace to enjoy and share. I tore off a hot, crusty, buttery piece. Oh that baguette, so flaky, so warm, so full of the flavors of France. It was at that taste, at that experience of what ordinary life was for a Parisian that I fell in love with not only France and a French way of life; but traveling and experiencing these simple things that are so good, so basic , and yet capture so much about a culture and a people in just one bite…or sip.