Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lost & Found, and Letting Go

Ten years ago my younger sister K. won the raffle at my sons' school: a $2k travel certificate, good for anywhere on the planet. Lovely person that she is, she said to me "Let's go to Paris!" Guess what: I didn't turn her down.

I humbly admit being somewhat well-versed in Many Things Parisian, having spent numerous extended periods of time in that city way back in my more youthful days. But this was a K.'s first foray into Europe, and I stepped up to the invitation with unabashed glee. (I'll mention here that she left her husband and two sons at home.)

I'm not going to turn this post into a Paris travelogue -- Hazel's posts over at The Clever Pup are accomplishing that in fine fashion at the moment -- but I do want to tell a story that K. and I have repeated numerous times these past ten years....

Arriving at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport on a sunny late-March morning, I insisted that we board Le Metro for our trip into the city. I guess that I thought I was still traveling on a student budget, and eschewed any notion of a taxi. Silly me! I hadn't considered the hefting and heaving of suitcases over turnstiles and into subway compartments and negotiating around the other million-or-so Parisians using public transportation. Aaahhhhh.....

We were suffering the usual jetlag/foreign-city haze, and when we finally arrived, sweaty and dazed, at our metro stop -- St. Michel -- bumped our luggage up the seemingly endless stairs, and emerged into the sunny midday Latin Quarter, with the Seine and Notre Dame at our backs, cafes on our left, a glorious fountain on our right, and Boulevard St. Michel stretching out in front of us, my only thought was to hightail-it the two-or-so blocks to Hotel St. Jacques, shed the luggage, take a shower and head out, refreshed, into the city. So I leaned forward into the bustling crowd and headed off at a brisk clip. Determined.

About ten paces down the sidewalk, I turned to say something to K., and she wasn't there. I turned around and saw her still at the stop of the metro steps, luggage at her feet, slowly turning wide-eyed (a kind of Mary-Tyler-Moore That Girl moment) to take in that glorious first Paris moment. I called out for her to catch up, and she shouted back "WILL YOU JUST STOP!"


What was I thinking?

She started a smile which I don't think let up the entire ten days of our visit.

There was one more lesson to me, later that day, where I was once again reminded to stop herding my little sister. We were shopping in Au Printemps department store on Rue de Rivoli, and I turned around and she was nowhere to be seen. I walked around the linen department, where we'd been perusing tablecloths, expecting to find her at every turn, but no luck. I then systematically looked for her on all (eight, I think) floors of the store, but still nothing. I began to panic. Did she have a city map? Did she know the name of the hotel? Could she figure out the metro on her own? (I can't believe that I really had these thoughts -- yikes!) I thought: Mom will never forgive me for losing K. in Paris. (I'll mention here that she was 39: a grown-up.)

Doom and gloom began to set in. Several hours later, we met up in a shoe store a few blocks away. She was contentedly checking our something fabulous in black leather and straps, and was unconcerned about my obvious panic. She has this way of peering at me -- a brief fixed stare -- which means, "sister, you're nuts." I realized at that moment that it was high time to let go of that big-sister/little-sister relationship, that she was no longer a year-old toddler set out in the backyard for her older (five-year-old) sister to watch.

(But I'll have you know I took my responsibilities very seriously, at the age of five!)

We are hoping to visit that glorious city again next May, and I promise -- PROMISE -- to leave my apron strings at home.


  1. great story. I confess I would've freaked out, too, if my travel companion became utterly lost to me. I get overwhelmed and overcome in big cities...I need to know where my peeps are at all times!

  2. Not easy being the big sister is it T? I know...all too well.

  3. I used to love Paris. Just sorry I didn't have a younger sister, or brother, to show around. Now I'm more at home in the 'La France Profonde'.

  4. The sense of wonder at finding one's self surrounded by Paris for the first time (an experience I've not yet had) would bring every other thing to a halt. I am the five-year-older sister and though we are rarely together, she as the baby has a unique hold on my heart. I'd likely be the one who needed looking after.

  5. I remember my younger brother coming over to Paris and I was working so he had the whole day to himself. I was worried he would be at a loss because he speaks no French. That evening he regaled me with his tales of walking around Paris, having lunch, mid-afternoon beers etc. "How did you, um, manage to communicate?" I asked. "International language of American Express," he answered waving his card at me. "Always works."