Is it March already?

Sorry folks. I stepped out for a bit and–whoosh!–time slipped by. I’ll keep this short, as no one really likes the “I’ve been a slacker”-type posts. Much has happened since last we all spoke, and we even have a few trips to write about.

Since October:

  • the Columbus Metropolitan Library levy passed–hooray!;
  • we took the Wee Bos’n on his first plane trip to Seattle for Christmas (well, technically Bremerton and Poulsbo);
  • I completely failed at participating in Passports with a Purpose (but will try again this year);
  • we spent a weekend with friends in Pittsburgh;
  • we spent a weekend in Cincinnati;
  • we broke it to Granuaile that we would likely not be visiting Egypt anytime soon;
  • we celebrated the Wee Bos’n’s first birthday;
  • we started looking ahead to summer and fall travel (Montana? Chautauqua? Asheville?).

There’s been more, but that’s the (mostly) relevant stuff. Where have your travels taken you? What’s the scoop?

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For the Love of Libraries: Library of Congress

This post is an installment in my For Love of Libraries series, about the intersection of libraries and travel, and is intended to show my personal support for the 2010 Columbus Metropolitan Library levy. These posts are not meant to imply the guest authors’ support.

Today’s post was written by Jennifer Seebauer, a dear friend who has achieved her fairy tale.  She’s married to a wonderful man, parents three amazing children, and spends her days as a school librarian. She deeply thanks her fairy godmother. To learn more about her days as a librarian, please visit her at Seebauer’s Suggestions.  She’s @jsuzanj on Twitter but be careful – she shares about more than just library silliness.


I am a bit of a library connoisseur.  Moving mid-childhood, I had the pleasure of knowing both a rural and a suburban library.  My employment as a teen was at my neighborhood library; during my collegiate experience I enjoyed 4 years at my academic library exploring its 8 floors. I’ve explored rural, suburban, urban libraries in my own communities, my friends’ communities, and my vacation spots.  As we’ve entered the virtual age, I investigate many libraries that I may not ever set foot in.  I love libraries and will seek them out.

It was not, however, until my 10th+ trip to our nation’s capital that I finally discovered the library that rekindled that fire for the building plus its contents, the combination of both the wrappings & the gift inside.  In 2006 I stepped inside the Library of Congress.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress by Hugaholic, from Wikimedia Commons

The Library of Congress, like many buildings in our Capitol, is a grand affair.  In fact, the Library of Congress is not one building but three setting upon Capitol Hill.  My tour was of the Thomas Jefferson Building.

Its multiple layered stairs take you up and around to the front doors.  As you stroll up the stairs, you are greeted by the tall columns standing around and above tall windows.  The building gives you the impression it means serious business, yet the stairs compel you to walk in. They pull you in so you can see the wonders within.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress interior by Diliff, from Wikimedia Commons

Once inside you are greeted by a building that is a functional art piece.  High ceilings, many are stained glass lights, painted detailing, high marble arches span above you.  The floor is as magnificent with its detailed designs.  But you know you are in a library as it is not only majestic, it is a learning center meant to serve its patrons.  The spaces are geared toward movement, functionality, simplicity.  My favorite space was a walkway that allowed guests to look down into the library, to see into the stacks, to watch patrons using the requested materials, to see the library hum its natural tune.

The Thomas Jefferson Building has three floors offering many galleries of special exhibits and collections.  My companion and I toured these rooms, viewing the paintings and encased displays.  However, my mind was not focused on what I was seeing but thinking about what I was not seeing.  I wanted to know about those spaces that made the library function.  I wanted to see the behind-the-scenes spaces that were off limits to the public: the room filled with cataloguers, the rooms filled with materials needing processing, and the stacks and stacks of archived materials.

I must admit I got a bit overwhelmed with emotion thinking about how fortunate we, Americans, are to have not one but multiple buildings devoted to Libraries.  It preserves some of the most fascinating, rare, and common documents, paintings, books, and more.  The Library of Congress offers not only an archival services but typical library services.  Finally they are an authority for cataloging materials. What a gift our Forefathers left us; what a gift we continue, and rightfully so, to preserve.

As I left the Library of Congress I felt my seeking could stop; my circle had finally made its full revolution. I had again found the building that had put together the full package, the wrapping meshed with the interior wealth.


Libraries are incredibly romantic–full of stories, history, knowledge, and promise. I love libraries that echo this romanticism in their architecture, temples built in reverence to literature, learning, and the arts.

Like Jenn, I was also moved by seeing the Library of Congress. I remember getting a little teary, going up the staircase. So tell us, friends, do any libraries make you weepy, or are Jenn and I just saps?

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For the Love of Libraries: New England Historic and Genealogical Library

Today’s post is written by Melinda Marsden. A wonderful tour guide of Civil War sites and my aunt by marriage, she is also an alumna of Bucknell University’s Education program and has an MBA from Frostburg State University. She is the former Executive Director of the Washington County Historical Society and currently volunteers for Breast Cancer Awareness-Cumberland Valley, Citizen’s Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

This post is an installment in my For Love of Libraries series, about the intersection of libraries and travel, and is intended to show my personal support for the 2010 Columbus Metropolitan Library levy. These posts are not meant to imply the guest authors’ support.


My Library Vacation Story (or What I Did on My Summer Vacation)

In August 2000, my husband took a business trip to Boston. I went on these trips when I could and spent the days sightseeing and shopping and then told him and some of his associates what they missing in the evenings. I had been to Boston two or three times before so I had done many of the tourist things and I am not much of a shopper. However, we needed to make a side trip to Middlebury, Vermont, so I decided to go.

Since I knew that I had several New England ancestors, I decided to take a couple of days and check out the collections at the New England Historic and Genealogical Library in the Back Bay area of Boston.  I arrived about 15 minutes before the library opened and as I waited for the doors to be unlocked, I started an idle conversation with a woman from Kansas. We were both visiting with our husbands, who were there attending meetings.

New England Historic Genealogical Society

New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts

When the library opened, I went to one of the reading rooms, where I investigated some Vermont town histories on the trail of some of my Amsden and Buck ancestors. The library was not very busy as August is the slow time for this facility. I happened to hear a man at the next table speaking with an acquaintance and he mentioned the name Buck. When his conversation was over, I spoke to him and mentioned that I heard him talk about a Buck family and wondered if it was part of my Buck family. The man’s name was William Buck and he was visiting the library from Rhode Island. I told him that I was researching a Samuel Buck. He asked if that was Samuel Buck who was married to Lydia Allen. I said that it was and he said that we are cousins. He then went on to describe to me where the Buck Family Cemetery is located outside of Reading, Vermont. I thought this was a great coincidence. I thanked him and went back to my research.

The following day I was working in the microfilm reading room where I was reading Vermont Town records and Massachusetts wills and probate records. The woman that I had spoken to the day before was at the next reader. William Buck came by and asked me how I was doing. I told him that I was reading the 1668 will of Isaac Amsden of Charlestown, Massachusetts. My acquaintance from Kansas looked up from her reader and said that she was descended from Isaac Amsden! She was descended from Isaac’s daughter, Elizabeth, and I am descended from his son, Isaac.

I only talked to two people besides the library staff and I am related to both!


This is a wonderful story. It’s implausible and makes me smile with its Francis Hodgeson Burnett-style serendipity.

I’m trying to come up with a greater lesson for it–to connect it to why you should travel or how, or why libraries are great–but it’s troublesome. Travel (like genealogical research) is a fickle mistress. Some days, it’s magical and you discover a traveler’s gift–a secret mountain view, a back alley restaurant that sells wine grown in the proprietor’s backyard, a long-lost relative sitting next to you–some days, that magic moment doesn’t happen. But then, that’s what magic is, isn’t it? Your results may vary.

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For the Love of Libraries: Mackinaw Area Public Library

Today’s submission is from Susan Porter, a freelance writer, poet, and prolific twitterer. You can find examples of her writing and more information at or find her on Twitter @susellwrites.

This post is an installment in my For Love of Libraries series, about libraries and travel, and intended to show my personal support for the 2010 Columbus Metropolitan Library levy. Although these posts are not meant to represent the authors’ support of the library levy, Susan writes that she is in support of it, that “books and libraries are vital to the enrichment of communities”.


We visited a fantastic library in Mackinaw City, MI last year while camping. It was tiny but we went because behind it was a letterbox and my daughter is into letterboxing.

The children’s area was posh. It had games, puzzles and a story cottage.

Mackinaw Area Public Library

Mackinaw Area Public Library, Mackinaw City, Michigan

I am emailing you from outside the Carriage Museum Library [Carriage Museum of America, Lexington, KY], but I doubt we will go there–my kids are bored with culture and are enjoying playing games on my iPod and insisting we find a playground.


I tried to find pictures of the story cottage Susan mentions, but was unsuccessful. The search did get me thinking about children’s areas I’ve known and loved.

Here in Columbus, the children’s section at the main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library has a tree house you can read in; the public library in Old Worthington has castle turrets and murals. These sections are often fanciful monuments to imagination, beckoning visitors to enjoy the act of reading and the act of dreaming about reading as much they might enjoy the books themselves.

Where is that invitation for adults? Granted, we often turn to libraries for research or business purposes, but many of us go to the library just looking for a good book. Print readers always talk about the sensuous aspects of reading, but libraries don’t often recognize that need in adult readers.

Friends, regale me with your tales of whimsical and imaginative reading rooms–for children or adults–that you’ve encountered in your travels.

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Photo Friday: Cordes Sur Ciel

Cordes Sur Ciel, France

Cordes Sur Ciel, France (and a gas station)

We were desperately out of gas and we were not speaking. The Cap’n and I had been angry and tense ever since our last attempt to stop for gas a while back.

The Cap’n, who is fluent in French, had pulled into a gas station, waited in line to get to the pump, gotten out of the car in pouring rain, read every sign plastered all over the gas pumps, but couldn’t make gas come out of the pump.

He got back in the car, soaked, and we heatedly discussed what he could be doing wrong. He circled the pump again. Finally, he got back in, slammed the door and started up, saying we’d find another one.

To exit the gas station, all cars funneled through a single-lane driveway past a cashier’s kiosk. Of course, we hadn’t pumped gas, but we still had to sit, sixth or seventh in line, waiting for the other cars to pay and leave. When we got to the cashier’s window, the Cap’n tried to unroll his window to explain to the cashier that we hadn’t successfully purchased gas–an awkward thing to do in any language–but our car, a two-door Fiat, had no window controls.

There were no handles to roll the windows down manually–just caps where the handles should be. There were no automatic buttons. We searched frantically, stopping occasionally to pantomime our confusion in big exaggerated gestures as the cashier pantomimed her impatience.

Finally, the Cap’n gave up, opened the door, lurched his tall body out of the tiny front seat into the rain, toward the cashier’s window. Her eyes opened in nervous surprise as he reared toward her, waving his arms, and sputtering angrily in something that was neither French nor English, but a combination of words you wouldn’t say to your grandmother or grand-mère and some words that were gibberish and some gutteral howls.

The cashier waved us through.

The Cap’n lurched himself back into the car, started it, and hit the gas, trying to speed away from the crazy gas station and the cashier who had witnessed his humiliation. Instead, the stick-shift car sputtered and stalled. He erupted in profanity. I did what is natural in times of stress when faced with running out of gas in a foreign country and a livid spouse.

I began to giggle. Nervously.

Please know I wasn’t laughing at my poor husband. You must know this, dear readers, even if the poor Cap’n will never believe it. It was a nervous reaction and the least helpful thing I could do.

We drove on. The Cap’n was steely; I scrunched next to the window, as far away from him as possible, my scarf muffling my giggles, which seemed uncontrollable.

Finally, when we were on fumes, a gas station appeared and Cordes Sur Ciel behind it, our destination for the night, rising up like Camelot. We looked at each other and smiled.

Cordes Sur Ciel is a bastide–a fortified town, one of our favorite things in the world–in the Tarn department of southern France. Day trippers aren’t allowed to bring cars within the city walls at all. Overnight visitors may drive to their lodging, unload, then must park their cars at the foot of the hill and trek up.

During the day, it is packed with tourists, most of whom arrive on busses. After 5PM, however, it’s like a cloud city, calm and perfect. Although I wouldn’t have known this without Wikipedia, after Albert Camus visited it, he said “In Cordes, everything is beautiful, even regret”.

Cordes sur Ciel

Morning in Cordes sur Ciel

This post is a part of Delicious Baby‘s Photo Friday roundup. Thanks for joining us!

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O (it’s just) Canada

I have a new friend–a wickedly smart Canadian with a sharp sense of humor. The other night, over drinks, I told her how much I’ve loved every visit I’ve ever made to Canada, how much more I still need to see, and how I’d love to become a Canadian travel specialist. As loyal as she is to her home country, she was surprised. Really? There’s that much you want to see?

Oh my, yes.

Growing up in Cleveland, it wasn’t hard to get to Canada. We had class trips to Niagara Falls and Toronto, where gangs of middle-schoolers would obediently troop through Casa Loma, eat pizza at the Organ Grinder, and buy tchotchkes at Eaton Centre. Countless unloved Cleveland teenagers would brag about their “Canadian girlfriends” with whom they’d spent torrid and mythical summers. In Cleveland, Canada didn’t even count as a foreign country. Have you traveled out of the US? No, only Canada.

Canada didn’t get the best press.

My relationship with Canada really took off when the Cap’n and I started traveling together. Our engagement in Quebec, our honeymoon in Niagara Falls, and our trip to Nova Scotia whet our appetite for Canada, making us realize how much we’ve enjoyed what we’ve seen and how much there is left to see.

Things we’ve loved about Canada:

  • Cape Breton: All of it, every inch of it, from the placid beauty of Bras d’Or to the cliffs of the Cabot Trail.

    Cape Breton

    The Cap'n in Cape Breton

  • Oatcakes: Each recipe different–some sweet, some savory, and the waitress who pronounced them “ootcakies”.
  • The Ice Hotel: Still one of the five coolest things I’ve ever done, no pun intended, and yes, I intend to talk about this again and again and again until you decide that you’ll be warm enough and go. (You’ll be warm enough. I promise.)
  • Niagara Falls: What surrounds the falls might be cheesy, but the falls are magnificent. It was our honeymoon, and it was just perfect. Plus, we came home with some truly stylish flip-flops from the American side.
  • Niagara-on-the-Lake: We still talk about the paté at The Buttery and want to go back for the Shaw Festival.
  • Toronto islands: My friend reassured me that Centre Island hasn’t changed in 25 years, that it’s not some silly Canadian amusement park, but a lovely afternoon, just a short ferry ride from downtown.
  • The Consulate Inn, Pictou, NS: The proprietor, an ex-punk rocker, ranted at us for a bit, then guided us to the best lobster place in town, curing me of my fear of those big red bugs.
  • The Red Shoe Pub, Mabou, NS: There is no better combination of food and live traditional music in all of Cape Breton.
  • Halifax: The Cap’n said it reminded him of Seattle before it was cool, which is not to say Halifax isn’t cool–it’s just not as expensive. But Halifax has grit, in lifted-chin stance of a boxer ready to go another round. The city exploded, people, exploded, burned to cinders, and rebuilt itself. That’s pluck.
  • Meat Cove: This is the ends of the Earth, named after rotting carcasses, and stunningly beautiful.
  • Joe’s Scarecrow Village: A macabre and strange collection of scarecrows near Cap le Moine, NS.
  • Maple syrup: In Ohio, we know maple syrup, or so I thought. In Quebec, I asked the waitress, What’s a Sugar Shack Plate?. Oh, everything you put maple syrup on, said the waitress, like pancakes, waffles, sausage, eggs, meat pie, potatoes, batter-dipped toast, and baked beans. Oh, and deep-fried bacon. Who, besides lumberjacks, could justify deep-frying bacon?
  • The language: I tell my friends pining to go to Scotland or France that they should visit Cape Breton instead to get both. Combine those accents with the closed vowels of northern Minnesota and some remnants of British, and you have voices that are musical and strange to my ear.
  • The music: This country gave us Stan Rogers, Great Big Sea, the tradition of Cape Breton fiddling with its honky-tonk piano and imitation-bagpipe sounds, and even planted the seeds for Cajun when it sent the Arcadian French down to Louisiana.
  • The mythology: I love ghost stories, cryptozoological legends, and the like, so how can I not love a country that boasts Sasquatch, eel balls, UFO sightings, lake monsters, and Mi’kmaq variations of elves and ogres?

I realize my Canadian “done” column is tiny compared to the size of the country, but I also know just how much of the country is hiding up there above the 66th parallel north. That doesn’t knock it out of the “to do” column (unless Granuaile has something to say about it).

I recently sat down with the Cap’n to make our Canadian travel bucket list and was surprised at how long it is (and it doesn’t even include all the things I want to do over, such as Cape Breton, Quebec City, and finding the Toronto of my childhood).

Our Canadian Bucket List:

  • Baffin Island: We spent a night in a Meat Cove B&B with a man who traveled frequently to Baffin Island and talked about spending a week snowbound there, with nothing to do but eat whitefish and play solitaire. Sounds like fun!
  • Calgary, Alberta
  • Banff: It’s fun to say (Banff! Banff!) and the Cap’n wants to go skiing.
  • Lake Winnipeg
  • Newfoundland: You can see where Earth’s mantle has poked through the crust. How amazing is that?
  • the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, ON
  • Prince Edward Island: I’ll pretend I’m going for twee lighthouses and coastal scenery, but we all know I’m searching for Gilbert Blythe.
  • Montreal
  • Vancouver Island, BC: From end to end, says the Cap’n.
  • Mont Tremblant, Quebec: Yet more skiing. Only one of us skis.
  • the coastline of British Columbia: One of the least inhabited places on Earth.
  • St. Lawrence Seaway and the Thousand Islands
  • Bay of Fundy
  • Moncton, New Brunswick
  • Nunavut: The Cap’n can’t tell me what he wants to do there. He’s sure there’s something.

So, what am I missing? What are your favorite places, sights, oddities, memories, landscapes, imports, and traditions? What should I taste? What must we see to believe?

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For the Love of Libraries: Portsmouth Virginia Library

Today’s submission is from Rachel Tayse, who writes about food education, urban homesteading, and natural living at Hounds in the Kitchen. You may have been introduced to her earlier when I raved about her menu plan for her back-country canoe trip.

This post is an installment in my For Love of Libraries series, about libraries and travel, and intended to show my personal support for the 2010 Columbus Metropolitan Library levy. These posts are not meant to represent the authors’ support of the library levy.


I moved to Portsmouth Virginia from my lifelong home of Columbus Ohio in 2002.  Still looking for work and short on money, I visited the local library to check out books in my first week.  I searched for the computer book catalog and was greeted with a card catalog and a small one at that.  I browsed books with hand written Dewey Decimal codes on the spine.  A scant four computers, newly acquired from a grant, had paper wait lists four people deep.  When I went to check out, the staff member filed a card in the back of my books and stamped each inside.

Portsmouth Main Library

Portsmouth Main Library, Portsmouth VA

This library was old school in a manner I thought existed only in vintage movies.  Before my first experience at the Portsmouth library, I could scarcely remember a return date stamped in a book.  Maybe it happened in one of my elementary schools?

I was shocked, not because of the methods of the Portsmouth library, but because up to that point I failed to recognize the gift I left behind in Columbus.  Columbus Metro Libraries, with their constant drive to improve the customer experience through technology and an incredible book selection, had conditioned me to expect an exceptional library.  CML is a treasure I was happy to return to in 2004 and hope to never lose again.


I’m not that much older than Rachel, but I do remember having check-out cards in the back of books in my childhood neighborhood library. I loved reading over the previous borrowers to see if I knew any of them. Now I see what a privacy violation that was, but at the time it was like an early form of social media.

Even when we’d visit libraries while on trips, to places where I knew no one, I’d pick up a book and immediately scan the card in the back to see how popular a book was, gauge the average reader age by the names, and see when it was last read.

What was it like where you lived and traveled? Did the libraries you encountered on your travels make you homesick?

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Photo Friday: Peyrepertuse


Peyrepertuse, meaning "pierced rock"

The ruins of Peyrepertuse include a castle and fortress in the French Pyrenees, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The “Cathar castles” such as Carcassone, Queribus, Peyrepertuse, and a dozen or so others were a collection of fortifications and castles used as a refuge by the heretical Cathar sect during the Albigensian Crusade of the early 1200s. As the Cathars used these castles for hiding and protection, most of them are set high in the mountains, with glorious views, treacherous staircases, and rigorous ascents.

This post is a part of Delicious Baby‘s Photo Friday roundup. Thanks for joining us!

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For the Love of Libraries

Keep CML Strong

Friends, this is a travel blog, but I need to interrupt our regularly scheduled dreaming/planning/opining/listing/reminiscing for some politicking. I promise it won’t last long.

The Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) has a levy on the ballot this November–specifically, Issue 4.

  • Without the levy, CML could lose approximately half of their budget–up to 75% of their funding–and potentially close half of their 22 local branches.
  • CML’s quality rating is consistently among the top in the state and the nation–we are fortunate to have such a great system in our neighborhood.
  • CML has not increased its 2.2 mill levy in 24 years. It is the library’s only local tax support — 45% of the budget and state funding was cut $8 million.

So what’s the correlation between travel and libraries?

  • For many people, the first trip they ever take is within the walls of their local library.
  • For many people, the only trip they ever take is through the pages of a book.
  • When I’m planning a trip, my first stop is my library for DVDs, guidebooks, maps, culture books, and history books. Yes, I’ll buy one good guidebook and a map to take along, but the library helps me plan my trip and winnow my options.
  • Through your local library, you can get audio books, DVDs, or software that will help you learn a foreign language–at least enough to get by.
  • Visiting libraries in your travels is a wonderful way to see interesting architecture, find English-language reading materials, borrow new books when you’ve exhausted your stash, hop on free Wi-Fi, keep abreast of current events through periodicals, meet locals, hear music, and much more.

Between now and November, I’ll be publishing posts about visiting libraries at home and abroad as my show of support for Issue 4. I hope you enjoy these travel stories and I hope you consider voting for the levy in November.

For the Love of Libraries Round-Up:

To request a yard sign, donate, or learn more about Issue 4, visit Keep Our Library Strong. You can also stay connected through Facebook.

If you have a library travel story, please contact me–I’d love to publish it here, and it will in no way imply your support for the levy unless you want it to.

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In Defense of Baby Steps

Apparently, there is a Right Way to travel.

We should travel light, seek out authentic experiences, eschew other tourists while looking for the unbeaten path, throw away our guidebooks, and argue about whether we are tourists or travelers.* Most importantly, we should sneer at those who make other choices.

The Whisky Experience

The Whisky Experience, photo by Jessica Spengler (2006), available under a Creative Commons license.

Friends, I’ve done it all, lived on both sides of the travel coin. I’ve bummed around Europe with just a backpack and dragged around a suitcase that came up to my ribcage. I’ve celebrated a solar eclipse while dancing through the streets of Badu, Ghana in West Africa, but I’ve also paid to ride a whisky barrel through posed tableaux of moonshiners while tasting mediocre Scotch on Edinburgh’s touristy Royal Mile. I’ve buried my nose so deeply into Rick Steve’s guidebooks that I can practically smell his shampoo, but I’ve also thrown away my map in Venice, chasing stray cats through interconnected alleys until dusk fell and I was quite lost.

And I’ve sneered. Trust me, I’ve sneered, turning up my pert little nose at parents who take their kids to Disneyworld year after year. I’ve rolled my eyes at our very dear friends whose first and only trip overseas was an organized bus tour to the British Isles. (Why would you need a bus tour to someplace that speaks English?) I’ve mocked relatives whose restaurant recommendations for a city I’ve never visited include The Cheesecake Factory or PF Chang’s.

You know what? Being a travel snob is not charming. It’s not going to win anyone over, and I’m really sorry for it.

In my circle of friends, it is hip to bash chains. No one admits to buying books at Barnes & Noble or renting movies from Blockbuster. Let’s not even mention Wal-Mart. My friend Ann, a smart, thoughtful poet from a small town in Michigan, grew more and more annoyed with this, finally saying, You know what? I like chains. I’m grateful to chains. Without Barnes & Noble, we wouldn’t have a bookstore in my home town. Without Blockbuster, we wouldn’t be able to rent a movie. For many, chains are the entryway into a larger world–baby steps.

On our last night in Paris, the Cap’n and I found ourselves a cozy little restaurant in the Rue Cler neighborhood. As we opened the front door, an orange cat followed us in and spent the meal twining around our ankles. From our table in the window, we could see the Eiffel Tower. An old woman rode by on a clanking metal bicycle. The window boxes were full of flowers. It was a perfect spring night.

The Cap’n, who is fluent in French, shared a joke or two with the owner, who brought us bread and wine, made a few recommendations, introduced us to the cat. The owner said, It’s a good thing you ordered wine. Tonight we have a shortage of Coca-Cola, and he gestured to where, a few tables away, a group of American high school students were eating.

The kids, two boys and three girls, looked like they might have gone to my high school in Cleveland. They all had accents I recognized as my own. They weren’t loud—just giggly—and were dressed appropriately, as if their mothers had opinions about what clothes they packed. They seemed like what one might call “nice kids”.

The Cap’n and I were feeling romantic. We were wrapping up several weeks in France here, in this perfect little restaurant, with a perfect view of the perfect emblem of the country. We held hands and savored our sweet and crisp little bites of foie gras. We petted the cat and eavesdropped.

It was clearly the kids’ first night in Paris, likely their first night in Europe. They spoke of exhaustion, of excitement. They did their best to be worldly, comparing countries they’d been with their families, mostly Canada. They talked about things their relatives back home said they simply must see in France, each time prefacing with, Well, my aunt said… or My dad always

Their food arrived. Each ordered steak and fries, medium, and squealed over the pink juice when they cut into their meat. When the waiter returned, they asked in English for more sodas. We’re out, he said. They didn’t understand him. We’re out. You had the last one, he said, gesturing all gone.  They asked again, he turned to the Cap’n, who translated. They asked for ketchup.

The owner threw his hands up in the air, puffed a little, and went to get it. As he turned, he made eye contact with us and winked. We smiled, touched fingers, and looked out the window, awfully pleased with ourselves.

All we know of those kids was that one hour in a Parisian restaurant. We don’t know if they enjoyed their trip—or even their dinner. We don’t know if they ate squid in Collioure or hit every McDonald’s within l’hexagon. We don’t know if they threw their guidebooks away or if they spent the rest of their trip on buses, being shepherded from one famous landmark to the next.

What we do know is that these five kids were dining out in a tiny Parisian restaurant. They weren’t with the rest of their group; they weren’t with their parents. They had traveled a long way to be there. They had found food and, presumably, a place to sleep. They were getting by.

Eiffel Tower light show

Eiffel Tower light show, photo by LunaMoth116 (2010), available under a Creative Commons license.

The light show on the Eiffel Tower began to sparkle, causing all of us to oooh and squeal and run out into the street. The owner came and stood behind us in the doorway, hands on his hips, looking up. Pedestrians stopped to watch. We were together in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, staring up at one of the most famous landmarks, lights flashing on our faces like fireworks, and we were all children then.

*And no, you didn’t ask, but what works for us is to travel light (a relative term, given our family), to seek out strange and quirky experiences, to greet every stray cat that crosses our path (beaten or not), to read a bazillion guidebooks but travel with only one, and argue about who gets to hold the map.

Posted in Opining, Travel Musings | 3 Comments