My sister H and I went to Paris in May/June 2009. We timed our trip perfectly because it wasn’t quite tourist season and the weather was gorgeous—sunny and 70 degrees each day. We decided to spend our money on attractions, so we ate cheap while we were there; most days we would walk down the street to a little bakery and buy a French baguette, then we’d stop by a cheese shop and get a hunk of cheese to share. We spoke no French and as I remember, the proprietors of the shops didn’t speak English (or if they did, it wasn’t to us). Rather, we pointed to what we wanted and they handed it over. Although it doesn't sound like it, it was all very amicable. We’d eat our lunch of bread and cheese in a park near our hotel, or while walking around the streets of Paris.
One day we were leaving the park by the Eiffel Tower and saw a kiosk full of bikes. These are located throughout the city so you can rent a bicycle, ride to your destination, and return the bike at another kiosk. We decided to ride back to our hotel, which was located on a street off of the Champs Elysees near the Arc de Triomphe. When we tried to check out the bikes though, the automatic card reader wouldn’t accept our credit cards. You couldn’t pay with cash either. We kept trying, with different debit and credit cards, but to no avail.
At the same time, a couple and their son came up and started trying to get bikes too. We sort of waited around to see if they’d be able to figure out how to work the kiosk. When they were unsuccessful, we walked on and decided that we’d find a restaurant to eat lunch. We settled for a tiny pizza parlor that could barely fit the six tables that were inside. The couple and their son walked in right after us. "We overheard you say this place had pizza, and it sounded good. We aren't stalking you!" they said, as they were seated at the table next to us.
Because of the close nature of the tables, the family was only about 3 inches away from our table. We started talking and learned that the family was from the same town in Colorado where our great aunt lives (small world!). The family was taking an extended vacation throughout the major cities in Europe--Paris, Rome, Madrid, London--in order to figure out where to live next. What? That's right, they were moving from a small town in Colorado to a major city in order for their son, who was seven or eight, to have a better education. I distinctly remember the dad saying "It's time he learn a new language. His mom is fluent in Spanish, and I speak French." Wow, impressive.
The son was very different from other boys his age. He told us in great detail about everything they had seen and done in Paris. He spoke a lot about his favorite works at the Louvre, which they had visited the day before. Being an art history nerd, I really enjoyed talking about art with that kid. The boy even asked us what we had on our itinerary. How many little kids can participate in a conversation like that with total strangers? As lunch wrapped up, the dad told us that he was an author and had just published a book called Wakeup Call From Mexico. He told us to look out for it, we agreed that we would, and we parted ways down the thin Paris street.
That was four years ago. I still think about that family from time to time and wonder where they ended up and how their language learning is going. The family as a whole was so enthusiastic about learning, travel and culture; I truly hope they're out there in the world doing and experiencing great things. A couple years ago for H's birthday, I bought her Wakeup Call From Mexico. I doubt she's read it, and maybe she never will, but it's cool to own a book by an author (Wilson Beck in this case) you met while trying to rent a bike in a foreign country. If you're out there Beck family, I hope you're well.
|H had her purse in the basket and everything!|