Years ago, Americans were anathema to Parisians . . . which they let us know with cranky stares, by pretending they didn’t grasp English, or by deliberately fouling up whatever we asked of them. Back in the day, they were so chilly to us Yankees they frosted up our attitudes, making us eager to leave and resolved never to return.
The few times Rob and I went, we got out of Paris as fast as possible. Trouble is, we never ventured into the friendlier parts of the country.
Years later, along came our various grown kids who’d become world travelers. Among them we heard nothing but enthusiasm. “Mom and Dad, you’d like Paris now, and the countryside is great—the people super friendly. You gotta go. Plus you never get a bad meal in France.”
Thus it finally happened. After granddaughter Jamie did the research, Tracy booked a villa in Nice—with photos that convinced us now is the time.
But first we had to get there—meaning coping with one of the several European airports from hell—Charles de Gaulle in Paris. Since Rob is now 91, and I’m right behind him, we agreed, “Who cares about pride? Let's sign up for wheelchairs!" Which we desperately needed—not only for those miles-long, madly confusing corridors, but also for avoiding long no-chair waits in endless lines. Which may be the single benefit of being . . . well, old.
Two wheelchairs marked “Wills” waited at plane’s exit—and we were pushed by a tall, handsome man from Cambodia (complete with charming smile), and a Parisian woman. As they rushed us down corridors, they chatted nonstop--in French--and clearly knew all the tricks of the airport. Sometimes, at first, they even talked to US. For that matter, we began noticing that all the airport personnel were busy talking pretty much all the time.
We spent at least an hour with those two, and before long the four of us were fast friends. The woman opened her phone--“my daughters,” she said, pointing--and the man stood by looking pleasant. At the end, when they saw us off to a distant section of the airport . . . “There’s your van,” they said—the lady leaned close and kissed both my cheeks. For me, that hour was one of the trip’s highlights.
Next, Airfrance to Nice. Soon we spotted the rest of our family—Tracy and Paul, Jamie, Mike, and baby Eva, plus Dane and Zhanina. “We all found each other!” we exclaimed. Then came the ultimate surprise—the road to our villa. The route was straight up, a lane hardly wider than a bicycle path, with barely room for one car and spiced with at least four radical hairpin turns. (I never could have driven it, because to drive you have to remember to breathe). At last, near the top of the mountain, the path dumped us in the villa’s carport.
(Because our 7-seater van couldn’t accommodate everyone, Rob and I calculated later that Mike must have driven that harrowing road no fewer than 20 times.)
The second surprise was the villa itself. We kept saying, “Wow!” because we’d just entered an imposing, artistically decorated great room with huge windows overlooking, in one direction, the garden with swimming pool, and in the other, the Mediterranean Sea, outlined by millions of red-tiled Nice-ian roofs.
For awhile Rob and I just stood there, awed by the room and its incredible views. “I can’t believe this!” I said. It turned out the rest of the villa was just as magnificent—two oversize baths, two king-bedded rooms and one kids’ room—the latter logically assigned to Rob and me. (Not since our honeymoon days have the two of us slept with elbows in each others’ faces. But we got used to it).
To our further surprise, in the amply-furnished kitchen, the owner reminded us to look in the oven, where she’d left us two roasted chickens for our first-night’s meal.
Only as I got used to the living room did I notice a kind of metal fireman’s pole—with triangular steps rounding the pole and poking out in every direction, leading to a loft above the kitchen. Up there was a bed for a fourth couple. The steps looked so dangerous that nobody—certainly not Rob or I—were willing to climb them to satisfy any lingering curiosity. Only Dane and Zhanina were willing—and baby-free enough to be capable—of climbing the pole to get a night’s sleep. As it turned out, a fourth couple was limited to two choices—the narrow living room couch or the spooky round and round trek to the loft.
From the start, we were captivated by baby Eva (who, at three months, sported a full head of dark, seemingly-coiffed hair, plus a sweet smile), by great meals cooked up mostly by Paul and Jamie, by family card games, by some TV—in English—and by hours spent on the veranda gazing in wonder at the endless view.
We soon learned that the villa’s pool had an interesting feature. It was a jet pool—meaning you could press a button and set in motion a sideways current. Within the current the swimmer could stroke full out, yet remain in one place. Fascinated, we watched as Tracy stroked and stroked, yet never made any progress.
Rob and I left the villa only once—to sit on shaded, oceanside benches where we spent a few hours watching a parade of scantily-clad swimmers . . . in general noticeably thinner than their American counterparts.
I lie. Each of us took a separate trip with other family members to the nearby grocery store. In my case, for long moments I stood in that French store frozen, not knowing where anything was, but worse, unable to read the words on any containers. If I’d been willing to search, I might have found the milk and eggs. As it was, utterly baffled, I barely moved down the aisles. Also, I was leery of my shopping cart. The red carts were small, three-wheeled and tippy, meaning I quickly got into a dangerous lean which could have sent the cart crashing to the floor.
The week went by quickly and beautifully. After lots of minutes spent gazing into Eva’s eyes, of watching Tracy spend hours bouncing on a huge green ball trying to get the baby to doze off, of long sessions watching excellent family ping-pong, of devouring tasty American meals, of some truly competitive card games, of numerous crazy attempts to achieve a “family picture,” it was time—one morning at six a.m.--to leave.
The trip home was not arduous, but in the end, curiously gruesome—meaning we were “up” for some 27 hours. We did find a miracle wheelchair pusher in Dallas, who managed to maneuver TWO wheelchairs with one set of hands. But thanks to Rob’s malfunctioning business-class cubicle on American Airlines, and my inability to nod off . . . and after a two-hour storm delay in Dallas, we arrived home zonked.
The best part was finding granddaughter Kelly and her son Oliver, waiting for us at John Wayne airport.
Would we do it again? You bet. But only if the owner agreed to furnish the third bedroom with a queen bed. And by the way, if our weird-tasting meals on the home-from-Paris portion of the trip were typical of French cooking, I can attest that the country’s cuisine is greatly overrated.