We made the five-hour drive down to Francois’ place in Montigny without any further incident. It would be our first time to his new apartment, which he shared with his son Axel, after so many visits to the house that he and Heike had shared during our past journeys. With their divorce a few years earlier, she had moved south of Paris to the town of Rambouillet, where we would visit her a few days hence.
Daughter Lisa came out from Paris for the evening and helped with dinner as we sat around the table getting caught up on the many details of our lives that won’t fit into an occasional letter. Francois had laid into a supply of Doritos chips, salsa, French beer (probably Kronenbourg 1664) and a nice big bottle of Jack Daniels and we repeated a ritual of many years, eating, drinking, talking, and sharing. The bag of chips reinforced for me how much Europe had changed since my early trips, recalling my first trip to Paris to stay with Francois and Heike in their tiny apartment in 1982, making a taco salad with the broken tortilla shells I had shipped over a month or so earlier.
We hung out in Montigny the next day and then on the 30th, our 25th anniversary, we made a day trip with Francois down to Chartres to see the magnificent cathedral there and then have dinner with Heike. Francois was in the middle of budget preparation, and his position as the director of his institute required that he be on top of the budget’s development and so in order to take off the day with us, he spent quite a bit of time on the phone with his accountant back at the office.
Like so many European cathedrals, this one is immense, built to impress upon any visitor the commanding majesty of god. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, having occupied the same spot since the town became a bishopric in the 4th century.
The current cathedral, constructed between 1194 and 1250 it is also a well-known pilgrimage destination for members of the Christian faith, who come to witness the Sancta Camisa, said to be the tunic worn by the Virgin Mary at Christ’s birth.
After spending a considerable amount of time inside the cathedral we took a break for lunch at Café Serpente located across the street. Despite all of our trips to see Francois, we’ve actually not spent a great deal of time in France, nor eaten out all that much as Heike and/or Julike would cook the bulk of the meals when we stayed with them. So it was a rare treat to enjoy a nice French lunch at a somewhat moderate price.
We finished up our time in Chartres and Francois drove us the 30 miles or so back towards Paris for our rendezvous with Heike in Rambouillet. When he dropped us off at the center of town, Heike was not yet off from work and so we spent some time walking through a large park and then back through town to her apartment.
Lisa arrived around the same time as Heike and we enjoyed a very pleasant evening together, Lisa acting the interpreter as Heike’s English isn’t so good and our French is non-existent. At the close of the evening we jumped on a commuter train for the ride back up to Montigny.
The next morning we went into Paris with Francois for an extended day in town. We took the commuter train to La Defense, the stop he usually uses, a part of town we’d not yet visited. Containing many of the city’s high-rises, it’s ultra modern and futuristic architecture is something to behold. On the western edge of the city, if you proceed east, it’s main boulevard turns into Avenue Charles de Gaulle and then transitions into the Champs-Elysees (shades of living in Charlotte!). It’s quite a hike so we took the metro to the stop at the Arc de Triomphe and then walked down the length of that famous street. This coming July I hope to join thousands of cycling fans to witness the final stage of the Tour de France as the pros race up and down the Champs-Elysees. We’ll have to see how that plays out.
We walked down to the Place de la Concorde and then up the Rue Royale and the Boulevard de la Madeleine until we reached the Palais Garnier (Le Opera). Built in the late 1800’s, it is still used, primarily for ballet, to this day. A magnificent edifice, both inside and out, we spent quite a bit of time exploring its interior.
From there we made our way up to Sacre Couer, at the top of Montmarte (famous as an artists colony with the likes of Dalí, Monet, Picasso and van Gogh having lived there at one time), the highest spot in Paris.
As our next stop for the day, Notre Dame, was some distance away we took a bus down to the Seine. Regardless of the time of year day, this famous cathedral is crowded. Joanna and I had planned to climb up to the top to try and recreate the picture we took there in 1982, with the Eiffel Tower in the background, so that we could chronicle our 25 years together. Unfortunately our timing was off and we missed the cutoff for the last tour.
Since we’d seen the interior many times, we decided to assuage our disappointment by heading across the river to Le Who’s Bar, Francois and Heike’s hangout in the early 1980’s, a place I’d been to many times with them. The three of us enjoyed a beer or two and then made our way to meet Lisa for dinner at Le Grand Véfour where we had a truly fine meal, a fantastic way to end our sojourn to Paris.
We left for Germany the next day with two nights planned at Cindy and Dave Della-Rovere’s place near Kaiserslautern. This would be their last posting in Europe, having also spent some time in Italy. After our return to Los Angeles from the 1984 trip, they moved from Giessen, Germany back to Long Beach where Dave worked for the Navy. He would go on to complete his MBA at Loyola Marymount (earlier than I would take mine there in 1998). They would move to Bainbridge Island near Seattle, where we would visit in 2002 while I was attending the annual meeting of the Pac-10 Directors at the University of Washington.
It is always interesting when you catch up with someone after a number of years apart, particularly those with children as you can mark the progress of the years by how much they have grown. Such was the case with the Della-Rovere kids, with Helen the oldest preparing to finish high school. Dave took off from work while we were there and he, Joanna and I did a short day trip to a nearby town famous for their local wine. We walked around a farmers market and then spent a fascinating 30 minutes or so outside of an outdoor shop where they were making barrels. Not ever having seen one made we were pretty much mesmerized by the process, which involved treating the wooden slats of the barrel in progress with a small open fire.
Up early the day of our flight home, we bade farewell to this family we’d shared some pretty memorable times with, and yet whom we had only had sporadic contact with during the intervening years. They would return to the States and take up residence in San Antonio and we would learn last year that Dave and Cindy had divorced, with Cindy moving to Chicago to pursue more fully her career in marketing.
And so, our last trip to Europe before the one we are about to embark upon, involved spending time with two couples that we had known for many, many years and like a number of other folks in our lives, divorced and moved on. This is not unusual in our modern times but makes one stop for a moment to think about marriage and how lucky you are if yours works. Count me as one of those most fortunate, now able to spend more time with a loving and caring individual who overlooks my many faults in exchange for my ability to neatly pack a car. Boy, did I come out ahead on that one.
Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres: http://www.cathedrale-chartres.org/
Café Serpente: http://www.leserpente.com/en/
La Defense: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_D%C3%A9fense
Arc de Triomphe: http://www.arcdetriompheparis.com/
Le Opera (Palais Garnier): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palais_Garnier
Sacre Couer: http://www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/english/
Le Who’s Bar: http://www.yelp.com/biz/whos-bar-paris
Le Grand Véfour: http://www.grand-vefour.com/