Anyway, I have a strange relationship with my brother, Tim. Some would say we are very close and others, not at all and the truth is both of these statements, true. When I was a teenager he, two and some odd months younger than me, would act like a pesky younger brother and feel a need to get into my stuff. My parents had a soft gaze on my comings and goings but Tim’s was like a laser beam. Like the time, I came home a bit tipsy from all the frivolity and fun to be had. He left a hilarious note on my pillow get ahold of yourself sister, you are an embarrassment to the family with your wayward behavior.
He came into this world old and he hasn’t aged much through the years. I told Tim that I am going to Europe with Bill and upgrading to first class with Bill’s frequent flier miles. Tim announces loudly Of course you are, Kristin! And then I meekly tell him Bill is flying Business Class as his company allows this for international flights and a few rows behind the elite class where I will sit. Kristin, you aren’t going to be sitting with your husband? he scolded. “Lower your voice, Tim,” I reply, “I don’t want Paulo (his partner) to hear and think ill of me.” Don’t worry sister, you are on speaker-phone.
So with this, the story of London, Brussels and Paris unfolds. I may interview people and get sound bites of their opinions on various things, take pictures or not write at all. We will see.
I asked the guy today at REI in the shoe department fitting me with a comfortable pair of walking shoes, what should I ask the Europeans? What would you want to know? What are you curious about? He tells me that he’s curious about their diets. Does it differs from ours, is it simpler? Do they eat based on the seasons?
Our days are filled with sight seeing at the daunting London Tower, eating surprisingly delicious food: meat pies, high tea, Japanese lunches and sweet treats after yoga. My favorite thing was jumping on the back of a motorized rickshaw with a Hungarian man after having drinks with friends at a posh hotel. He regaled us with stories as he munched on a sandwich weaving us through the streets of London one night. The cold breeze whipping at our cheeks as he deftly maneuvered around traffic made me especially feel alive and free.
Onward to Belgium on the Chunnel, EuroStar to walk around Brussels where we meet his coworkers and counterpart for dinner at an ornate restaurant as we gorge on many courses. I find the bathroom most interesting. Clear glass with side by side male/female symbols and then opaque once you close yourself in the stall. Neat stuff…I am hopeful that I will get out of dinner tonight with Bill and his work mates. I don’t drink and the long cocktail time and multiple choices are tiring even though I did have fun last night.
I send a thank you to Sylvia, Bill's European counterpart, for her hospitality last night. Sylvia is German but works here in Brussels (on the weekends she shuttles home to Frankfort to be with her husband) and she replies thank you to me too and she looks forward to me joining them for dinner once again tonight. I don’t comply. Instead I busy myself alone for the day with coffee yoga and shopping for chocolates. I don’t eat much food and feel lighter. I need a day to decompress and detox. At yoga, Juan the teacher is surprised that I can tell that he has trained with Simon Park (and Shiva Ray). You practice their style too? No, I stammer, not really. I lived in Philly when Simon had lived there. He dated a fellow yoga teacher, Tina a young beautiful girl. I remember Tina, he gushes. (I tell him this is doubtful as Tina and Simon dated more than a decade ago but he insists that he knows Tina.) He tells me Simon is now with CoCo. Cool, I say as I pet his dog Sama (Samadhi). I hear him telling a lady behind me as I am walking out the door that Sama is bitchy today, she’s getting her period soon.
After yoga I am greeted by a Syrian woman who is holding a child asking for money. I tell her that I don’t have any Euros on me (which is true). Her eyes hold sorrows I can't begin to understand, and I wonder where how her journey landed her here, and she doesn’t seem to believe me as I reluctantly walk away. I need to get some Euros!
The people in Brussels are friendly and patient once they realize you don’t speak French. As soon as I say Bonjour they smile like they are indulging a child before quickly reverting to English. The chocolates are delightful (my favorite a simple raw chocolate square) and I find a vintage Italian designer shop very well priced not far from the hotel. I walk to a fine arts museum with Bruegel’s work highlighted. Amazing sculptures and paintings. The museum cost eight euros and best of all, no crowds!
The food is spectacular and normally I avoid meat, cheese and bread but here I am partaking in all gastronomic experiences. Fresh tasty and delicious with no ill effects. European food is so flavorful! The city is filled with men with machine guns and army vehicles. London was on a “critical alert” but there was barely anyone in the underground Tube or the streets except a few police officers joking with one another, but here the militia is everywhere. Although in the museum after the checkpoint, I just see one guard and he is sleeping upright. I stare long enough that he eventually opens one eye. It is a walk-able city with cobblestone streets, buses, statues, coffee, bier and chocolate shops .
It is my last day in Paris, Bill has just left for a flight back to DC. My flight to Atlanta isn’t for a few hours. It has been a magical weekend here. The Eiffel Tower, churches, museums, cafes and walking everywhere, all spectacular moments scattered in such a short time. Conversing with the people. (There are far too many homeless people here and it saddens me to see that many of them are woman with children.)
We are staying in Montmarte. A good choice, a village within the city that reminds me of Asheville within the Carolinas (people even bring their own bags I am told by the Lov tea guy). Quaint, friendly hovering to the northern end. Our hotel is perfect. A large room with hardwood floors, windows that open slightly and overlook a courtyard with an art deco design within each room. The most efficient and well managed hotel that I have ever been in (other than the Concord in London which was also spectacular in its own rite.) The staff smile when they see you, they speak perfect English and are incredibly helpful and accommodating. Everyone has been so hospitable on this trip. They don't seem to mind the Americans at all in any of the countries we visited and we are surprised by this given our current political climate.
Our waiter the other night says he loves his job as he smiles and gives a coin to a homeless man passing by the tables outside. He says that when he was young he was ambitious and cared about money but now he just wants to be happy. It is evident that he is. The food is unbelievable. It tastes like food. Something that I remember from childhood when you could taste the freshness of strawberries that were perfume tinged in color, taste and odor.
Bill bought me a book to read for the flight called the The Only Street in Paris: Rue des Martys written by a writer for the NY Times originally from where we are from in Upstate New York. Elaine Sciolino. The first day I find this street that the book highlights, coincidentally just a few blocks from our hotel. I show the book to an older man who runs the cheese shop at the end of the street. (The book is about the nuances and idiosyncrasies on Rue des Martys, the street that she lives on.) He at first seems very French and standoffish when I walk in but warms to me when he sees the book.
He pointed to the poster that he has in his shop of the book and tries to find where it talks about his shop in my English version. (He has a French copy under his desk.) He is able to locate the chapter with a picture of his cheeses. I ask him to autograph my copy and he seems pleased as he signs it with his distinct bold signature. I leave Elaine a note saying that I stopped in and have her book and grew up near where she did in upstateNew York. It is a small world indeed. Bill had no idea when he bought the book of these synchronicities.
Later when I get home I read the chapter about this man and his wife. He hasn’t had an easy life; has studied cheeses intensely and is a master of his art. He is 80 and still plays tennis. He has been married to the same woman since he was in his teens. In the book is says that he doesn’t like foreigners. The Italians touch the cheese boldly and the rest of us fail to make conversation first and say bonjour. Luckily I failed to do what was expected of me.