When I was young, my father worked for United Airlines. He was friends with a man who started a travel agency for those employed in the airline business, taking advantage of the discounts and perks given to those 'in the industry'. It was an amazing opportunity and allowed me, my sister and our parents to travel in the 1970s, a time of relative peace in the world. One of those journeys was to France, in early 1973 (I think. My memory is a little shady these days.)
I need to back up a little here and explain that during World War II, Daddy was in the Army Air Corp, precursor of the Air Force. While I never got the same story twice when I asked what he did during that time, one consistent story was he learned French and spoke it like a native. Why. How. When. Those stories changed, but the bit about French, and being hit in the head with a propeller never wavered.
From the moment we landed at the airport, my father seemed taller, more relaxed than I had seen him previous. He gathered our little tour group together, found all our luggage, and made the connection with the person who would be our guide for the week. But they conversed in English, which I thought strange. We loaded onto our little bus and set off through the crowded streets of Paris toward the road to take us out into the Loire valley.
Even back then, the streets of Paris were crowded. And the cars were small. I sat by the window with my eyes wide with a combination of fright and amazement at the cacophony of little Tonka cars racing though the streets on their way to wherever. In no time at all, there was an incident involving the bus. Our driver's window was open and he and another driver were yelling at each other for all they were worth. Hand gestures, arms waving, full on screaming at each other such as one can see in any large city such as New York, London, or Paris.
Suddenly, my father began laughing, full on tears running down his face, laughing. After a moment, it dawned on the tour guide, as well as the driver, that my dad could understand every word that had transpired. The driver turned the deepest, brightest shade of red I'd ever seen. He abruptly shut his mouth, slid back around in his seat, faced forward and began to drive. I swear on my life, he never said another word in public the entire ten days we were together.
We toured wineries, and castles, and Mont St. Michel, which to this day is one of my favorite spots in the world. Every place we stopped my father would give me the tour brochures in Spanish, the language I was learning in school; he in turn would grab one in French while my mother took the English versions. He always told me it would help my comprehension to immerse myself into the language.
After four or five days we returned to Paris. The first days were spent doing the prerequisite French locations, the Eiffel Tower, Montmarte, the Bastille, Versailles, etc. However, the day the ladies of the tour went shopping, I stayed at the hotel with my dad. Once the others were gone, he looked at me with that familiar twinkle in his grey eyes and asked, "You want to go for a walk?"
We were out the door, down the ancient elevator, through the lobby and on our way before I could change my mind. He turned left and took my hand and we ambled down the sidewall to a small tourist shop. He asked for directions while I glanced at post cards, a favorite past time of mine at that age. Once he was sure of the way, we took off again.
I didn't ask where we were going, it was enough to just walk through the city watching the people, trying to read signs, looking at buildings older than anything I'd seen before, except in Israel, which we'd already visited. Before long we turned a corner and the river Seine lay before us. We were right in front of the Louvre. Turning left we headed up river, watching the boats passing by and looking at art strung along the river's sidewalk.
We ended up at Notre Dame. It was amazing, and we took our time wandering around the central nave of the cathedral, looking at the light through the rose stained glass, talking about the hunchback and other parts of French history.
He seemed so at ease, so sure of himself. Confident, eager to see more by exploring on his own through a town where he could move as easily as any American town. He showed me the other side of Paris, the people and their talents, the heart and the history of a place much older than Atlanta. After wandering the river bank around the cathedral, we sat down in a small cafe where he ordered us lunch and two cafe au laites. I felt so grown up and at peace, sitting by the river, watching the people, blending into the heartbeat of the city.
Though it has been 40 or so years since that magical day, I still feel that closeness with the city. My father has been dead since the early 90s, but I had more fun with him that day than I ever had before. It cemented a closeness with him that would last until his death. I still keenly miss the late night conversations we would have when we each returned home from work at midnight. But most of all, the miss the confident, quiet, quirky, musician/actor/engineer who was my father. The man who took a day to show his version of Paris and in doing so, awakened another dreamer's soul.
My heart goes out to the people of both Paris and those other countries who lost people in the senseless attacks of 11-13-15. My the vitality and love of country that carried you through two World Wars remind you that these attacks cannot divide us, they can only unite us in our resolve to crush terrorism, no matter what it calls itself.