Written circa 2012 when I was mid-20s
My father’s side of the family is a gaggle of suburban American women—lip-balm crazed cousins and meddling, megalomaniac Aunts.
A few summers ago, I was in Paris with them. This was a mistake, but I knew it was a mistake before I arrived. I was trapped by circumstance.
I am an archaeology PhD student. I was weeks into excavations in a Slavic village when I emerged to the city to buy fresh socks and check email. My inbox was overrun by a 27-email long exchange between The Aunts about an expedition to Paris in celebration of Aunt Jackie’s 50th birthday. All The Aunts, female cousins, and one unfortunate uncle were going! The trip coincided with the exact days that I would be in Paris between digging in the village and returning to America. I could not be in Paris without joining them.
I was trapped by circumstance.
I arrived in the evening of the third day of their trip. Three days in Paris! What had they done? What had they seen?
They had spent the past three days trying to find the Louvre. Each day, by the time they got there, it was awfully late and not worth entering.
I was in disbelief that five adults and seven young-adults could fail to visit the Louvre on three consecutive days. Until the feat was repeated for me on day four.
7:00 am: The getting ready brigade begins.
7:17 am: I am ready.
The rest of the gang is amidst a frenzy of showers, hair-drying, -straightening, -curling, and outfit indecision. (Why do they straighten their hair just to curl their hair? Female beauty routines mystify me. I have 3 hairdos: ponytail, half-ponytail, or down hair)
“We MUST look fashionable in Paris!” proclaims Aunt Gloria.
7:32 am: Aunt Maxine extols a platter of croissants: “Everyone MUST have a FRENCH croissant.”
I prod the rubbery pastry with my index finger and it resumes shape like memory foam. This is NOT a flaky, airy French croissant from the corner boulangerie. It is an industrially produced croissant from Monoprix. I inquire why they purchased them from Monoprix and they explain that it was cheapest.
Aunt Nancy bites in theatrically. “Mmmmmm. It’s magnificent!”
8:42 am: The first argument over shoes. 29-year-old April wants to wear heels, but Aunt Gloria insists that everyone wear sneakers because “we’re going to be doing a lot of walking.”
10:23 am: Aunt Nancy busies herself packing lunch—sandwiches of prepackaged Monoprix bread and cheese. Much grumbling and bewilderment over why peanut butter was in the International Foods aisle and so pricey.
10:45 am: I am still ready.
11:12 am: Uncle Bud sighs. His eyes, hopeless.
11:47 am: We eat the sandwiches Aunt Nancy packed for lunch because it is lunchtime.
12:14 pm: We exit the apartment. The Metro is two blocks away, but The Aunts know a short cut through… Monoprix. The women begin shopping, frothing. They are frenzied by the idea having “clothes from Paris, clothes from Paris!” even though we are in the Walmart of Paris and the clothes are mass-produced in China.
12:47 pm: 16-year-old Cousin Kaley finds an unremarkable sweater and needs it now.
1:12 pm: We leave Monoprix. I see the Metro sign—but wait!—Cousin April is going to buy a soda. As she scurries into a shop, Aunt Gloria explains why the soda is contentious.
The Cousins have been forbidden from ordering sodas because The Aunts deemed them too expensive. The Cousins have no money of their own because The Aunts believe that one can only get Euro by cashing Travel’s Checks at a certified exchange office. Devastated by the soda prohibition, Cousin April withdrew cash from an ATM. The Aunts know this will cost you unthinkable fees and targeted for conspiracy kidnapping.
Aunt Gloria continues, “And after she got cash FROM THE ATM she has been flaunting it and buying as many sodas as possible.”
Animosity is stewing. April is missing. Aunt Nancy’s cell phone rings.
Aunt Nancy listens and then announces, “April is lost and sitting on some church steps.”
I start to understand how they failed to reach the Louvre on three consecutive days.
1:55 pm: After locating April, I convince the group to stop by the Natural History Museum, which is in a nearby park where I have to meet Gilbert at 3:00 pm. Gilbert is my best friend in graduate school and worst exasperation. He is obnoxiously charming and flamboyantly French.
Gilbert had sent me a brief email, which set our meeting and explained his current state of shambles. He had just returned from fieldwork in Armenia and while he was away his parents had moved. His major possessions were in the new house, but he didn’t know where that was, and his parents were out of contact, on holiday in Turkey. His credit card had been frozen, so he could not buy a ticket to the USA for school in 5 days. Oh, he didn’t have a phone, or a place to stay, but would find some ex-girlfriend in the city.
Such is the norm for Gilbert’s life characterized by brass nonchalance and melodrama. He is far too French and alive(!) to do things like rent apartments and not loose his wallet. I call it the “Pfft [scarf]!” mentality (imagine someone saying “pfft!” and then tossing their scarf behind the shoulder with a disdainful wrist flick). “Travel alert on my credit card?” “Pfft [scarf]!” “Lock my bicycle?” “Pfft [scarf]!” “Register for classes?” “Pfft [scarf]!”
Despite his multifaceted, pressing predicament, Gilbert absolutely had time to meet for a tea. I just had to shepherd The Aunts and Cousins to the park by 3 pm (I wasn’t allowed to go alone because they saw Taken and knew I would be violently abducted if I traveled alone in Paris).
3:00 pm: Of course Gilbert is not at the rhino statue, our designated meeting spot.
3:17 pm: I search for Gilbert as my relatives occupy themselves in the museum.
3:29 pm: They are bored and head to the McDonald's across the street. It begins to rain, but phew—they brought plastic ponchos.
3:37 pm: I come across Gilbert. He is looking overly French, wearing wee red shorts, a scarf (in August), and loafers. His accessories are a cigarette and a posh, unamused woman with fire engine lipstick that I could never pull off. She’s just an ex-girlfriend in the city.
We embrace and he asks, “Where are ze cousins? I want to meet ze American cousins!”
We cross the street and find my American relatives: in a McDonald's, wearing ponchos, with multiple maps open, trying to find the Louvre.
They are so impressed that Gilbert is really from France. They ask him if he likes wine. They gush that it must be so neat being French. They tell him how delicious the croissants were at breakfast.
4:00 pm: We’re not making it to the Louvre today.
4:10 pm: Aunt Jackie asks if I can find a nice Italian restaurant with chicken fingers on the children’s menu for dinner.
As long as I could write, I've been writing "for fun." First privately in childhood journals and .doc files saved on a dial-up era desktop. Then publicly during my 20s blogging heyday. Here's a sample of my musings, plucked from different ages and posted in a non-linear timeline.