Paris for the Ages

Seeing the City of Light through the eyes of three generations, from preschoolers to grandparents.

September 25, 2005|By Marion Winik | Marion Winik,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IT STARTED WITH THE GRANDMOTHERS. In the past two years, both my mother, Jane Winik, 77, and my mother-in-law, Joyce Abell, 80, pointed out to me that they had never been to Paris.

Though each of these so-called elderly widows needs little help in most areas, I got the impression the City of Light was my department. After all, I had been to France several times, I speak French, and I know a few people there.

If I had planned a trip for just the three of us, I bet my husband would have watched the kids: my Hayes and Vince, 17 and 15; his Emma and Sam, 17 and 13; and our little Jane junior, 5. But he didn't have to, because this simple, civilized approach never even crossed my mind. I didn't think of leaving the kids, or my best friend, Sandye Renz, and her 4-year-old Ava, and pretty soon my mother-in-law decided she couldn't leave her best friend, Sallie Morgan, either.

OK, then!

All I had to do was dig up a place to stay for 12 people, coordinate their travel, find activities to fit their interests and 76-year age span, and feed them three times a day, all on a tight budget with the dollar crumbling before my eyes.

My first move was to e-mail friends in France to see if they had any leads on lodging. My best hope was Jim Haynes, an American expatriate who holds a dinner party every Sunday at his place in the 14th arrondissement to which anyone is invited. Really -- anyone. I attended once in the 1990s, and Jim and I have been in contact ever since. This delightful, pathologically generous fellow 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. In this case, it describes a nar-row, two-story kitchen with two loft bedrooms above it, an unfinished basement beneath, and a single bathroom. But Jim assured me that with But Jim assured me that with the U-shaped daybed in the kitchen, he'd been able to stuff in up to eight guests at a time.

At this point, I broke the trip into two 10-day shifts, each headed by a grandmother, with Sandye and Ava staying for a couple of days then moving to a second, even smaller, apartment made available by another Paris friend. It might be crowded but we'd make it work, because if I'd had to pay for a hotel, we'd never have been going to Paris at all.

Wish list

Though we did get right down to the items on my mother's wish list - Louvre, Versailles, Eiffel Tower and so forth - Shift One got off to a rocky start, and not only because my son Hayes the First, as we call this royal personage, was taken aback at the accommodations. He was also forlorn about leaving his daily golf practice and had dragged his clubs along over my protests. Our first morning, dazed with jet lag, we took the Metro to the edge of town so he could hit balls at the city's only driving range, set up in the center of a racetrack.

His brother Vince, on the other hand, had come with his skateboard, but it broke on the way to Notre Dame the first day. Fortunately, Paris With Kids, our indispensable guidebook, lists the location of skate shops.

Having arrived at the shop in the Place de la Bastille just as they closing for the two-hour lunch break - we were lucky they weren't closing for the rest of August, as so many places did during our trip - I set out to find us a place for lunch.

To travel in Paris on a budget with a group of our size requires one key thing of everyone. ... You have to be a good sport.

The guidebook recommended Bofinger, a fancy spot beloved by tourists and locals. However, 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 as soon as she left the house, my mother's legs wore out in about an hour, my husband Crispin's followed close behind, and right about then the boys would begin literally moaning with hunger. Could I possibly get them to a restaurant before they all began dropping to the ground?

Alas, we never did find Bofinger that day (it's pronounced Bow-fan-jay, but we persisted in calling it Bowfinger, like the Eddie Murphy movie). Instead, we ate our only bad meal in Paris at a cafe that turned out to be literally around the corner from it.

My failure to find Bofinger stung, but most of my other ferocious efforts to keep everyone happy were successful. In fact, Shift One completed all of its tourism goals, including the Arc de Triomphe, the Musee Marmottan, the sightseeing boat on the Seine, and a trip to the Louvre sans Jane (we hired a young friend of Jim's to watch her.)

After a day or two, Hayes had come around to the spirit of compromise required by our circumstances, looking up from his steak tartare to ask, "Is this what we're going to do every day - just hang around the city and eat?"

I thought about it. "Yes," I said.

"Cool," he replied.

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