My daughter Elena went to Primavera Sound, a music festival in Barcelona, at the beginning of June, and since she planned to rattle around the continent for a couple of months after that, she invited me to – okay, I begged her to let me – join her for two weeks of her trip.
I didn’t “deserve” this trip. I hate it when people say they deserve something, unless it’s adequate food and shelter. Or health care. Does Jeff Bezos deserve to go into space “just because”? Meanwhile, the Taliban has retaken Afghanistan, forcing much of the populace into poverty, and women into de facto slavery. Russia had reduced Ukraine to rubble. Did anyone deserve that? That was a rhetorical question.
But my staying home, covered in cat hair and thinking dark thoughts, helps no one, either in Ukraine or outer space.
I was last in Europe in May of 2019: Italy and Berlin. I hadn’t been to Europe for some years, and on that trip, I was painfully aware of the American exceptionalism that means that everyone in the service industry speaks English. I kept thinking, if we were in France, I could at least make an effort to show that I don’t take that for granted. I lived in Paris as a student, from June of 1973 to May of 1974, and achieved some level of competence in the language: I’d say halfway between “ou sont les toilettes?” and a coherent argument against electing Marine Le Pen. I’ve forgotten most of it (the French, not the argument), so I spent some time on the Duolingo app, where I learned that “telecharger” means “to download,” and “en ligne” means “online.” I didn’t need either word in the seventies.
Then I made plans to take Elena’s younger sister to Europe, including Paris, as a college graduation present. That would have been In May of 2020. We all know how that worked out.
But time passes, vaccines become available, restrictions are lifted, and I finally got my chance when I joined Elena, first in Vienna (if you’re going to sit in a plane for twelve hours, you might as well make more than one stop at the other end), and then to the City of Lights, where we spent most of our time.
Finally! “Vous allez fermez?” I asked when the salesman at the thrift shop waved us to the door. And “C’est pas necessaire,” when a cashier asked if I needed a bag. Not ce n’est pas necessaire, because (two generations ago, anyway), Parisians usually drop the “n” in that sentence. United Nations – watch out.
Elena mapped us to the small apartment building where I lived, at 14 rue des Ursulines. It was a little anticlimactic, but what did I expect, a banner reading, welcome back, Donna?
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After Paris, we went to Greece for a few days. It was in Santorini that Elena introduced me to the concept of “Type 2 Fun.” “Is that like Type 2 diabetes?” “No.” Okay, Boomer. “Type 1 is when you’re having fun. Type 2 is when you’re doing something you don’t enjoy, but then you look back and see that it was fun, or at least you remember it that way.”
We had just descended a long, scary, winding staircase to the harbor, where I’d booked us on a three-hour cruise. (Say the words “three-hour cruise” to anyone my age and you’ll hear them sing the song. You know the one.) The descent alone was hard enough, and I had the humbling experience of resting one hand on Elena’s shoulder. Then, halfway down, we encountered a veritable herd of donkeys lined up against the retaining wall. One donkey was standing near the middle of the stairs, hindquarters facing us, and I thought, one swift kick from his rear hoof and I’m hooked up to a monitor for the rest of my life.
We finally screwed our courage to the sticking point – it was that or turn back – and passed the donkey. The rest of the descent involved avoiding mass quantities of donkey droppings. “So that was Type 2,” I said, when we finally reached the bottom. “We’ll look back on that and think it was fun.” No, I won’t, but don’t spoil it for her.
“Yeah, you got it.” Bless her – she didn’t want to spoil it for me.
I rarely experience Type 1, because I am almost never in the moment. I am always thinking, what do I need to do next? What should I do next? That’s why I don’t get the massages that other people are so kvelly about. A thirty-minute massage for me is a thirty-minute interior monologue that roams from, “when am I going to the grocery store?” to, why didn’t I get an MFA when I had the chance?
There are exceptions. I (inexplicably) lost some weight recently, and I had vowed to eat my way across Western Europe. I didn’t let myself down, either: At the hotels, I piled eggs and croissants on a plate every morning. I left no gelato stand unmolested (strawberry cheesecake! salted caramel!), no frites unslathered in the mayonnaise that’s a more popular condiment than ketchup, no plate unscraped.
That was some good Type 1.
Unfortunately, in Paris, and, later, Athens, we hit an unprecedented heat wave, that turned the last two days of Paris, as well as our two days in Athens, into Type 2. Except it wasn’t unprecedented. I swear to you that during the summer of 1973 the thermometer never cracked 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Forty-eight years is statistically significant. I already believed in global warming, but the proof was in the perspiration. You can’t argue with 98 degrees, not when you’re standing in line for forty minutes, waiting to get into the Musee D’Orsay.
If you live in some barbarous place like Las Vegas, you go from air-conditioned venue to air-conditioned venue. But Paris! You want to walk around! That’s the whole point of Paris. You want to go to the flea market. Sit outdoors at a café. And – here again is American exceptionalism – A/C in France isn’t like A/C in the U.S. First, it’s called climatisation (another word I didn’t need in 1973), and it’s more like we’ll eliminate-heat-stroke-as-an-immediate-outcome.
We did sit outdoors in cafés – because it was Paris!
What happens in another forty-nine years? I won’t be here, but I have children, and I might have grandchildren. How much of the planet will even be inhabitable? Cans of French Coke say RECYCLEZ-MOI, but that won’t help when we’re brewing tea in the ocean.
I’m back in San Francisco, where it’s cold enough that I need a winter coat. I’ll enjoy it while I can, especially since the wildfires have started.
Donna Levin is the author of four novels, many of which feature characters on the autism spectrum, and all of which are available from Chickadee Prince Books. Her most recent novel, He Could Be Another Bill Gates, is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or at the bookstore right across the street from your home. Please take a look.