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August in Paris

Bohemian Rhapsody

How To Get Pregnant In The Modern World

Ninety-Percent Mental

I Still Can't Believe This Happened

A Course in Miracles

The Oprah Diaries

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (But It Might Be On YouTube)

Eiffel Tower at night

"August in Paris" will be the title piece of my next collection of essays, I hope. It's long – not quite as long as August in Paris, though, and hopefully more amusing. This is its first appearance in print.

August in Paris

Though I spent much of my trip to Paris wishing my family would fall into the Seine, after I actually lost two of the children, I waited all night on the sidewalk for their return. The Rue de la Tombe-Issoire was as silent and motionless as a hyperrealist painting, every shuttered pastry shop, every glowing streetlamp, every parked scooter pulsing with ominous portent. On the corner, the red digital marquee of a closed-up drugstore ticked off the minutes. 2:11. 2:12. SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER.

On the way home from dinner, 17-year-old Emma and 15-year-old Vince had jumped off the subway at the Chatelet stop (basically, the Port Authority Bus Terminal of Paris) to find a club Emma had learned of on the Internet. As they called hasty farewells, I told them not to miss the last train home. In fact I shouted as the doors were closing, "Be back at the station by midnight!"

Now, long past that time, my entire being was concentrated in my eyes and ears, hearing every motor of every taxi not containing the missing teenagers arrive and depart, scrutinizing every far-off couple emerging from the darkness. One tall, one short; one dark, one fair, but always no. There would be no one for quite a while, then the hourly Noctambus would make its stop down on Rue General Leclerc and a little burst of people would come into view. Okay!
No. Not this one.


In fact, the term "family vacation" is an oxymoron. You can't see Paris with your children, your stepchildren, your mother, your husband, his mother, et. al., for the simple reason that Paris is no match for the dynamics of this entourage. What you will see is the same thing you saw in Chichen Itza or Cinqueterre: the exotic crushed relentlessly under the heel of the mundane. Thus the only reason I found to stay up past midnight in Paris was the same one I ever stay up after midnight at home.

Where the hell are the kids?

You can't eliminate the problem by choosing a "family-friendly" destination, DisneyWorld or Club Med or a cruise ship with an onboard day camp. Any family worth its salt can just as easily crush Snow White or a tiki bar as the Place des Vosges or Notre Dame. In any case, I prefer something offbeat, something undiscovered, something without printed brochure. Italy on five dollars a day and seven months pregnant, with a two-year-old, say. Or the hardened lava plateaus of Mount St. Helens in late summer, with hatless, angry babies in backpacks.

On top of my penchant for the road less traveled in the season it is half-price, I love a parade – preferably a parade through customs with me holding all the passports. Once this meant including my friends, then my kids, then my kids' friends and my friends' kids. By the time of the Paris trip, there were stepchildren, grandparents, and their friends to be considered.

I guess you have to expect to lose a few along the way.


3:21, said the drugstore clock. At what point should I wake my husband, Crispin? When would we have to call his ex-wife in Baltimore and tell her we had misplaced her daughter? When to go to the police? I gingerly began to imagine what could have gone wrong, how badly wrong it could have gone. They weren't dead, I didn't think, but they could be with bad people. Bad people with cheap vodka and bad drugs. Bad people in bad apartments with no furniture, with smelly mattresses and uncircumcised penises, with larcenous hearts and false assurances. (Don't think I was making all this up from scratch, either. I visited Europe at 18 with no parents at all.)

Vince was tall and sort of imposing-looking, but he was only 15. Emma was small and vulnerable and though far less reckless than Vince, no wizard of circumspection. But part of my problem that night was that I assumed the two of them wouldn't do this on purpose, that they wouldn't just miss bus after bus for the hell of it and not imagine its effect on me, la dee dee, la dee dah.

Suddenly, a white police van pulled up right in front of me and three young officers, two male and one female, leapt out. Le Mod Squad. I was sure their arrival was related to my problem and rushed up to them shouting, "Vous savez quelque chose au sujet de les enfants?"

They looked at me like I was mad and told me, once I had explained the situation, that I would have to go the gendarmerie on the rue de Maine and file a missing person report. Then they went into the alley with their flashlights, executed "la mission," as they put it, then rushed back to the car and sped away. I have no idea what they were doing. Practicing for the post-August crime rush, perhaps. 

Around 4, I went inside to pee. "Are they not back yet?" my mother-in-law, Joyce, whispered down from the loft. Now it turned out that both she and her friend Sallie had been awake all night. They had heard the phone ring at 1:15, when Emma called to say that – surprise! – they had missed the last train. Her younger brother Sam answered the phone and though he told her I was awake, she hung up before speaking to me. I chided Sam about this, as if he could possibly have prevented it, and the poor boy was up for hours after that, groggily apologizing. Until I stepmotherishly snapped, "Stop apologizing! It's not your fault!"

While he now seemed to have drifted off at last, his tiny, white-haired, deceptively birdlike yet utterly formidable grandmother was tiptoeing down the narrow, winding wooden staircase in her bathrobe. Things are tough, people are weak, Marx was right – these are some of the building blocks of my mother-in-law's worldview. She once told me that at the age of five, she was sent alone by her maternally disinclined mother to visit an aunt in civil service in Albania. I pictured her standing at the rail of the ship, even smaller than she is now, setting her jaw.

Her jaw is still set, her mind is a razor, and much in the world does not pass her exacting muster. Lucky for me, she took to me as soon as she met me: then, a 40-year-old woman in cut-off shorts, floating into her living room like a Macy's parade balloon of love for her son. Fine with her, it seemed. Having been unappreciated by my previous mother-in-law, I realized my good fortune immediately. In fact, the trip to Paris had its inception when I said something dreamy about wanting to spend some time there, maybe rent a little apartment, and Joyce sighed. "I've never been. And now I'll probably never go."

My own mother hadn't been either, I realized. And though each of these so-called elderly widows needs little help in most areas – in fact, makes elderly widowhood look like something you wait your whole life to achieve – it seemed the City of Light was my department. I had been several times, I speak a little French, I know a few people.

If I had planned a little trip for just the three of us, my husband surely would have watched the kids. He would have had to, really. But this simple, civilized approach never crossed my mind. I never thought of leaving him, or the five kids we have between us, or my best friend Sandye and her four-year old, and pretty soon Joyce decided she couldn't leave her best friend either, and so we were twelve.

Sadly, American Airlines would not let me bring our miniature dachshund unless I put him in cargo, so he alone remained stateside.

I sent emails to two Parisian friends to see if they had any leads on lodging. One was Jim Haynes, an American expatriate who holds a dinner party every Sunday night at his place in the 14th arrondissement to which anyone is invited. Really: anyone. I attended one evening in the 90s and Jim and I have been in contact ever since. This delightful, pathologically generous fellow, in whom the spirits of Tom Sawyer, Andy Warhol, and Mother Theresa combine, wrote back immediately that he would be leaving Paris for most of August and we should just take over his atelier.

The French term ‘atelier' means studio, as in a painter's studio. I had only visited it briefly during my earlier trip but thought I remembered that it was pretty small. As Jim clarified in a further email, it was indeed. The main room was a narrow, two-story kitchen, with two tiny loft bedrooms perched above it and an unfinished basement beneath. There was a single toilet and shower. But, Jim assured me, what with the U-shaped daybed in the kitchen, he'd been able to stuff in up to eight guests at a time.

Thus encouraged, I decided it would be possible to fit in the atelier if I broke the trip into two ten-day shifts, each headed by the appropriate grandmother. Crispin and I would fly over with my mother (Jane, aka "Nana"), my teenage sons Hayes and Vince, and our five-year-old daughter, also Jane. The day Hayes and Nana went home, Joyce would arrive with Crispin's kids, Emma and Sam. She would also have with her her friend Sallie, fortunately an impeccably nice and helpful person, because though I tried to impress on everyone that they could not bring friends this time, my mother-in-law didn't listen.

Finally, Sandye and little Ava, 4, would come in towards the end of the trip, briefly cramming in to the atelier before moving to a cat-sitting gig in the Marais that had been offered me before the size of my entourage was revealed.

So really, we would be no more than ten at a time.


Unsurprisingly, Joyce took a dark view of the missing-children situation. I told her I had spoken with the police earlier and they said the only way to inquire was to go to the station.

"So go," she said, fixing me with her pale gaze. "What are you waiting for?"

Wearily I trudged back out to the alley and pushed open the iron gate. I was only half-way down the next block when I felt so cold and tired that I wondered if I mightn't wait until morning. I should get Crispin's opinion, I decided, and retraced my steps, mounted the staircase, and knelt beside the bed.

"Crispin," I whispered.

One blue eye opened under its gingery eyebrow.

"The kids never came home."

He pushed himself up on one elbow. "What the hell," he said grimly. Like his mother, he was quite certain that I should go to the police station immediately.

This is the problem with always acting like you are the most capable person around and don't want or need any help at all. People will take you right up on it.

I borrowed a sweater from Joyce, went back out, and trudged a mile or two on the shadowy, unwelcoming Rue de Maine. None of the few vehicles that passed me was a police car; I'd thought I might flag one down for a ride. None of the three pedestrians I encountered had a cigarette I could bum either. I arrived around 5 at the precinct. Outside at a guard booth were a pair of cops, male and female, both smoking. But obviously I couldn't start by begging for cigarettes, so I launched into my plaint and they sent me inside.

 Inside was a large, dirty reception area with three policemen lounging on swivel chairs behind a long counter. One was fat, one had a moustache, one was fat and had a moustache. They heard my tale – les enfants ne rentraient jamais! – but were unworried. First of all, said the moustache, they couldn't do anything for me right away – there was no simple phone call to make, no database to check. In fact, the missing persons report was a "grande procedure" and I should come back with passports and other documents around 7, and plan to spend most of the day. The bulletin would go out all over France, he assured me.

However, he continued, les enfants would probably be home by the time I got there, because the trains and buses started running normally again at 5:30, which it by then was. I searched their faces pleadingly, hoping for something more, and classic French-style shrugs were offered in return.

Okay, okay, I said, and expressed my hope not to see them later. Then I went out and tried to bum a cigarette from the pair at the guardhouse, but now they said they didn't have any. Sure. The whole place smelled like a damn Gauloise factory. So much for the help of the gendarmes.

So I returned to the house, where Crispin and Joyce were at the table sipping coffee and tea. Soon I had weakly responded to all their questions and we fell silent. I was too tired to prepare for the approaching grande procedure, or even to think. Outside, the sky paled to gray.


The Depression-era song "April in Paris" was written by Yip Harburg, also the lyricist of the even more wistful "Over the Rainbow." The words are, frankly, uninspired – blossoming chestnuts, singing hearts, etc. – but the apparently the mere thought of April in Paris was enough to lift the spirits of New Yorkers in breadlines and to live on for all time as a symbol of romance.

Our family, unfortunately, missed April by a season and a half. Instead, we had August, the month when those who live in Paris leave and lend their apartments to others. One by one, the shops close, the window-gates are pulled shut, the chairs and tables are hauled in from the sidewalk. Only the museums staunchly hold wide their portals as the city is given over to throngs of tourists. These are the people of August, people who dare not speak its name, because they cannot. What kind of word has three vowels and one diacritical mark before you ever get a consonant? Août. Really.

But let us briefly turn back the clock from Oot in Paree to June in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania. In June, school let out and summer began. It had a special poignancy since I knew that for me, the relaxing part would be so short. You're going to Paris for three weeks this summer? people exclaimed when they heard. You must be so excited.

Yeah, I said, in the tone of someone who had just received a single-digit number in the draft lottery. Every time the subject of the trip came up, I was filled with dread. And though this trip had its share of dread-inducing aspects, I must admit to having been filled with dread by every trip I've ever taken. I dreaded Mardi Gras, I dreaded the Caribbean, I dreaded Buenos Aires and Florence. I dreaded Yugoslavia when it still existed and East Germany before the wall came down. I'm not sure why this is. I love to think of travel, I love to make far-off plans, but as the trip becomes imminent, I panic. I consider what level of crisis would have to happen to cause its cancellation. Could I have some sort of elective surgery, some inessential organ removed?

But while watching Jane at the pool one day, I came across a newspaper article titled "U.S. Wants You To Help Boost Image Abroad: citizens asked to help counter perception of ugly Americans." "How the world views the United States," it read, "as a good nation or a bad one – could go a long way toward defining the Bush years. And the administration, deeming the task too important to leave to professional diplomats, wants everyday Americans in on the global public relations effort."

How many families could be better suited to correct the image of our people, I wondered, than our little band of atheists, communists, anarchists, punks and hotties? In fact, I had a patriotic duty to take my family to France, and it was time to shore myself up for the task. This meant coping with my grief about the impending separation from my miniature dachshund, indeed the greatest diplomat of us all, as well as fielding the dubious comments of friends about my housesitter, whom some believed was a homeless drug addict. Meanwhile, I dealt with many packing questions from my fellow travelers. My mother-in-law had been told that you simply cannot wear sneakers in Paris as it is an insult to the French people. You may as well wear a giant neon sign that says AMERICAN.

Well, I told her, I think they will know anyway. So why suffer.

My mother, having been to Barcelona and beyond with her bridge buddies, was of the same opinion, and was also a devotee of the pickpocket-foiling belly pack. Again, gaucherie aside, she explained, it was really the only way.  Joyce would not even have to go out and buy one because my mother would leave hers, a kind of passing of the grandmotherly baton.

Meanwhile, my son Vince was planning to cart along his skateboard and his older brother Hayes was packing up the golf clubs.

No, Hayes, you won't need golf clubs I told him. Nana's not bringing her clubs. Paris is a city, like Manhattan. There aren't any golf courses in it.

That can't be, he said.

I went online and looked. It could be, actually. There was some sort of driving range near the Bois du Boulogne – that was it. I flashed the website in his face.

I bet you'll have so much fun you won't even think about golf, I said.

Apparently I had not understood the fundamental principle. There is no fun without golf. So he threatened not to go and I ordered him to. You're going to Paris, like it or not!

These were words I would live to regret.


Though the transcontinental journey went as smoothly as one could hope, Shift One still got off to a rocky start. My mother remained calm when someone (possibly me) got grease on her yellow jacket when removing it from the car, Jane was easy on the plane ride and Hayes was stoic with the baggage. But after the manly schlepping through airports, train stations, and city streets, he was unimpressed, even shocked, by the atelier. "How could she bring me to sleep in a kitchen?" he demanded of my mother. As his more adaptable younger brother put it, it's hard when you're a royal personage.

That night, we invited our host Jim Haynes, who had not yet left on his trip to Scotland, to dinner. He took us to the Lebanese place next door, which would have been great except that a, everyone wanted French food, b, they all hate Middle Eastern food, and c, Jim ordered about twice as much as we needed and everyone was in a terrible mood and falling into the hummus from jet lag and it was our first Paris restaurant so of course we were appalled when it was $120.

By the time we got back, little Jane had forgotten all the fun she'd had at the playground that afternoon and had melted down completely, screaming "I miss my friends! I want to go home!" as Hayes smirked sympathetically beside her. At 2 am, I lay awake contemplating the best course of action. Should I kill them all and then myself, or just kill myself and leave them to figure out how to get home?

But in the morning it was business as usual. Constitutionally unable to resist placating Hayes, I escorted him and his golf bag to the metro. We journeyed to the edge of town so he could hit balls at the place I had seen on the Internet, the city's only driving range, set up in the center of a race track. He morosely smacked buckets of balls into the distance as I sat on a bench in the reception area, whiling away the hours studying the Pierce Brosnan lookalike at the desk.

Back at home, I turned my attention to my mother's wish list: the Louvre, Versailles, the Eiffel Tower and so forth. As soon as we left the house, Vince's intention to scare the living shit out of all remaining lifeforms in the city by skateboarding noisily and furiously to every destination became clear. However, two ollied curbs from the front door, the deck broke in half.

Though it might have been wiser to conceal this fact, my already dog-eared copy of Paris with Kids listed all the skate shops in town. We headed for one in the Place de la Bastille but arrived just as they closed for lunch. At least they weren't closing for the whole rest of the month, as would shortly become the rule. To pass the time, I set out to find us a place to eat as well.

In the Bastille neighborhood, the guidebook fairly drooled over Bofinger, a fancy spot beloved by both tourists and locals. It is pronounced Bow-fan-jay, but we then and ever after referred to it as Bowfinger, like the Eddie Murphy movie. Unfortunately, due to confusing the Rue de la Bastille with the Boulevard de la Bastille, I dragged my party around for quite a while in vain. This led to the soon-familiar tired/hungry scenario, which went like this. Five-year-old Jane was sick of walking almost as soon as she left the house, my mother's legs wore out about an hour later and Crispin's followed close behind. Meanwhile, as soon as the idea of eating was mentioned, Hayes the First and his brother the dauphin began wailing with unbearable hunger. So I had to find a restaurant immediately, THIS VERY SECOND, though part of my contingent had completely lost the ability to perambulate in search of one.

We never did find Bofinger that day – we ate our only bad meal in Paris at a cafe which turned out to be literally around the corner from it.

By evening, Vince was sick -– his throat swollen, his lungs congested. Never a stalwart sort, he lay moaning on the kitchen daybed as if it were a Civil War battlefield. Reaching our doctor in the U.S. and finding an open pharmacy was a poignant throwback to other family vacations: Hayes's horrific diarrhea and fever in Mexico at eighteen months, Sam's ear infection in Jamaica, Emma's impacted tooth in San Francisco, the headaches and digestive problems which follow Crispin around the globe and can be escalated to crisis proportions simply by leaving the Tylenol home. (Even as I write this, three family members are recovering from a fever virus that is sweeping the Caribbean.) When no one is in need of medication, Crispin is adept at inventing other shopping challenges. Often he arrives at a deserted beach with no bathing suit, or conceives a sudden, urgent need for some obscure English-language book. On this trip, we combed the city for the sequel to a children's novel about unicorns he had been reading to Jane back home. What fun.

Though Shift One managed to complete most of its tourism goals and had many fine meals, at times interpersonal tensions of the group were more than I could bear. I would lie in bed half-awake all night, sorely missing the comfort of my miniature dachshund, obsessively reviewing the emotional traumas of the day. One evening, just before we went out to dinner, we had a gloves-off brawl about the location of a particular Italian restaurant vis a vis the bakery on the same street. It was me against them, Crispin and Hayes and Vince, and I was right in the end, but of course that didn't help. The meta-arguments, as usual, were the worst of all: This is your worst trait! Vince said darkly, meaning that I argue so hard, which seemed a low blow considering they were all one-hundred percent incorrect, but by then Hayes had done the typical Hayes thing of changing what he had been saying so he was actually not wrong, which is his worst trait, and this move destroyed the fragile alliance between him and Crispin. Vince at one point tried to smooth things over, saying everyone has bad traits, but Hayes shouted him down.

These people are not very nice to me, I sadly concluded (again). And though we were not at home, I continued in my domestic enslavement to them, their clothes, their meals, their dishes, their rumpled beds. And all of this was my fault, of course, since the ultimate horribleness of one's horrible children is that you have only yourself to blame.

My mother, on the other hand, was no trouble at all.  During the Italian restaurant imbroglio and most others, she repaired to a table in the bushes in the alley with her martini, her cigarette, and one of the seven books she had imported from the Ocean Township public library. Having passed on the task of driving me insane to the younger generation, she could relax.

No further outings to the practice range were suggested, though we did rent a rickety green golf cart with piped-in commentary to drive around the gardens at Versailles.

The night before Hayes and Nana left, we celebrated her seventy-eighth birthday in the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, at a table overlooking the Seine. Though it was $60 just to get up there in the elevator, by this time I had developed the numbness about money that is essential to any Parisian vacation. I had bought everyone discount passes for the public transportation system, converted the children from drinking expensive soda to cheap wine – there was nothing more I could do but sit back, open my wallet, and try not to mind.

Just before my mother and Hayes headed to the airport (Vince planned to stay on through Shift Two), I sprinted about a mile to find Mom a pack of cigarettes. It was now August 13th and the few operational tabacs and bistros in our neighborhood were boarding up. All around me, people were locking their doors and streaming into the streets with their wheeled luggage.


A few hours later, the orgy of worry that led to my night on the sidewalk began. Joyce, Sallie, Emma and Sam were due in shortly after Hayes and my mother departed, but navigating the airport shuttle and trains took them three hours longer than expected. At last they arrived, exhausted, and I promptly herded them off on what I thought would be a pleasant walk to a restaurant over a mile away. What the hell I was thinking, I don't know.

As we finally limped in, the hostess greeted us with a frown. Possibly we had more children than she thought necessary. When I inquired about something vegetarian for Emma, she assured me there was not a salad or a piece of bread in the place. We had to get up and leave.

By now, the stress hormones were lining up to get out of my glands and into my bloodstream. We crossed the street to a florist, where an kindly teenager with a pierced nose told me that I might find something vegetarian at Chez Papa down the road. Eventually we arrived at a small restaurant jam-packed with young people vigorously forking food from huge ceramic bowls into their mouths.

The maitre d' told us we might have to wait half an hour or more and it was actually about twice that. Throughout, ever larger throngs assembled to dine, filling the tiny foyer and the street outside. I grew frantic, worrying about the travelers' jet lag and starvation and the poor planning on my part – but when it seemed we could wait no more, maybe at 9:45, we were seated.

Our smiling waiter graciously set before us the house specialty: giant bowls of salad mixed with gizzards and greasy hash browns. They left the gizzards off Emma's portion. It was great.

The next morning I rushed to check my email to see if I'd heard from Hayes and my mother upon their arrival in the States. No word. As soon as it was day in Pennsylvania, I learned they had been delayed overnight in Boston due to storms. That afternoon, I further determined that they had been rerouted to Washington instead of Baltimore. And finally, that night at dinner in the Marais, I spoke to my mother on Sam's cell phone.

She sounded about as irritated as I had ever heard her, using the word "fuck" in every sentence. She told me that as they were finally on the shuttle bus approaching the Baltimore airport where my car was parked, Hayes lost the car keys – they evanesced somehow into outer space. Fucking outer space. Stranded, they had had to call Hayes's girlfriend in Pennsylvania to pick them up.

And then. And then on the way home on the train, Vince and Emma split off at Chatelet to find the Lizard Lounge and my stress hormones threw an all-night party on the Rue de la Tombe Issoire.


Around 5:45 a.m., the front gate clanged shut; Joyce, Crispin and I all heard it. We looked up from our mugs into each other's eyes. It was the exact sound we had been waiting for.

Was that the gate? I said.

Maybe not? said Crispin. It seemed too much to hope.

Then we heard the soft chatter, the right voices, and raced out onto the stoop.

When they saw all of us lined up like that, tiny Joyce, exhausted me, rumpled Crispin, their jaws dropped. Of course they hadn't realized how much worry they had caused us, they had been having fun going to different clubs and bars, got a little haphazard about the buses, got some misinformation, and only in the last couple hours had started trying to get home in earnest. It had just occurred to them that one of us might be awake by now. I was so angry and so relieved – as soon as I went up to bed, I burst into tears – but of course I could easily imagine being them instead of me in the situation. Just thirty-some years earlier, my sister and I had come home at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, still tripping a little, only to find my mother and Uncle Bruce awaiting us at the kitchen table.

In the next days, many locals assured me that I was overreacting. Paris is such a safe place, they said, the risks are few. Perhaps they were right. Whatever we lost in Paris was easily found, from Vince's skateboard, sitting on the windowsill of a Pigalle snack bar, to Crispin's bookbag, left on the sidewalk in Montparnasse, to Jane's pink shirt, which the cashier tossed to me the moment I walked into the Trocadero bistro where we'd abandoned it hours before.

While Vince, who has been my son all his life, didn't seem too concerned about the worry he had caused me – after all, it's just another drop in the bucket - my stepdaughter Emma felt very badly. It was actually rather refreshing for me to see the forlorn, anxious look on her face. I don't believe my boys know how make that face.


The rest of the trip was quiet. My husband took to spending days with Jane in the Parc Montsouris; I no longer cared if the teenagers didn't get up until after noon, and whiled away the morning eating croissants, reading the International Herald Tribune and typing in my journal. I find if you don't spend about half your waking travel hours writing in your journal, you will have more experiences than you can record. Especially if you devote hundreds of words to things like seeing "The Wedding Crashers" with French subtitles (they translated baba ganoush as baba au rhum, and fuck as shit!).

What we needed, we thought, was one grown-up Big Night Out, and we called Anna, a young Russian friend of Jim Haynes', to come over watch Ava and Jane. But our original concept – dinner in the garden at the Grand Palais – was canned due to financial concerns, and the eight of us who were older than five ended up at a cheap creperie in the market at the Rue Daguerre. When we finished eating at 8:15, it was too early and we were too pathetic to do anything except walk home. Anna and the girls weren't there – they stayed out an hour later than we did. We had to wait up for them to get home so we could go to sleep.

My mother-in-law and Sallie strapped on their belly packs and went out every day, did everything Rick Steves said they should, even had an amazing meal at the elusive Restaurant Bofinger. Not so elusive, they reported: It takes up a whole block and has huge red awnings emblazoned with its logo. They went on about the stained glass ceilings and piles of oysters as big as the pyramids.

"Why don't you just go?" they asked me.

Why didn't I? Somehow I felt I'd rather just have it hover in the distance, always just around the corner yet impossible to find.


The very last day of the trip, we all went out together. I had three stops in mind: the store Deyrolle in the Rue de Bac, vendor of taxidermied animals and educational nature posters, the top-floor bar of the Samaritaine department store, and the carnival in the Tuileries Garden the kids of Shift One had so loved our first week in town. However, we hit the Paris-in-August trifecta.

Deyrolle IS open in August, just not on the day we arrived. The Samaritaine would have been open as well, were it not closed for renovations. By that time, the humor of the group was a little strained, though bolstered by an emergency stop for 60 dollars worth of soda at an outdoor café. At least at the Tuileries the kids would be able to go on the rides they'd been anticipating all week.

Well, guess what. We could see from a distance that the Ferris wheel was gone, and when we got into the park, carnies were disassembling all the other rides. Jane and Ava burst into tears.

"Good thing we're leaving tomorrow," said Vince, "before they take down the city altogether."

As bravely as I could, I swept my disillusioned group off to a nearby bistro we'd visited earlier in the trip. I'd called that morning to make sure it hadn't closed, so unless the staff had been swept by a sudden urge to hit the beach, they should still be open when we got there.

As it by now had started to drizzle, we sent Vince ahead on his skateboard to get a table for nine. Score: we were soon drying off in an Art Nouveau alcove with platters of mussels and steak tartare.

After dinner, we dragged the wearier members of our party over to see the lit-up Eiffel Tower. Just as we got there, it began to pour in earnest. But as long as they didn't actually shut it down and turn off the lights, we weren't going anywhere, by God. We sat right down on our unfolded subway maps in the plaza and ate ice cream in the rain until we had seen the sparkler effect twice.

And why not. Soon it would be September, and we would be back in Glen Rock, where the fact that everything was open for business and we had four toilets in our house would not make us as happy as you might think. In many ways, it would be surprisingly like Paris.

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