Well,we did not quite make the actual day,but we did fulfill our long promise to Mozart to celebrate her sixth birthday in Paris at the Eiffel Tower. Princess Mozart had quite the birthday celebration from ten in the morning until almost midnight soaking in all the joys and beauty of Paris! We picked that special promise as a way to involve her in the excitement of the world tour by bringing it to a kid level and she has been really looking forward to it for over a year. After all, Eloise, Madeline, Charlotte and Linnea all got to go to Paris and seemed so thrilled about it, why shouldn’t she? She has been beside herself with exuberance and anticipation since we entered France and woke up early on her first morning in Paris with the giddiness of Christmas morning.
We started the day close to our Bois de Boulogne “home” with a very short bus ride to take the “Petite Train” near our Porte Maillot Metro/RER station. We could have walked there, but decided to save our feet for this long day and we did not want to miss the charm of taking this Parisian child’s classic. The small old fashioned train takes one on a enchanting ride thru a forest to Le Jardin d’Acclimatation which is Paris’ biggest children’s amusement park. Mozart liked it that the engineer was a woman.
We had a day of every kind of weather and it is a good thing we brought lots of extras for variations on layering. It started out as a semi cold and cloudy morning, then it became sunny and very hot at times like a perfect summer day, but we did get momentarily sprinkled on several times in between the glorious sun and sometimes with it. We even had an unusual lightening/thunderstorm and downpour right before our birthday dinner, but it was pleasant again as soon as we finished. I have been out on cold late Parisian nights before and we were not sure if we could fit in a boat ride on the bateaux mouches or not, so we all brought our black vests and sweaters which came in handy. It was hot on the metro even at night and warm inside the Eiffel Tower, but I got quite cold waiting for them as I passed on going up to the top as it did not appear compatible with my late onset vertigo and tendency towards claustrophobia. At one point while in the park during the day, Mozart was in a sleeveless tee shirt and light capri pants, but by the time we left late at night, she had every layer on her.
Mozart enjoyed playing on all the rides, tried winning some prizes, adored the roller coasters, checked out all the exotic playgrounds and formal gardens and even saw a bear right in the middle of Paris! As usual she made some friends despite the language barrier and had a ball. We have a boardwalk at home in Santa Cruz and Bonfonte Gardens nearby which she loves and is popular with the kids and this was a little like a combination of both with a French flair of course. The joy of travel with kids is doing ordinary things in extra ordinary places. This might be a regular treat for many kids who live in Paris (as most seemed like locals), but it was a first for all of us. Needless to say, we had to try out a few treats there like carmel popcorn, ice cream cones, and an interesting one called pic nic which was gooey chocolate with sticks for dipping into it.
She has been obsessed lately with talking on a made up cell phone in a made up foreign language, so the first toy she picked to buy there was a play cell phone. She has not played with pretend cell phones in years (maybe because she loves calling friends on real phones), so I think it is part of her way of processing living in a world where no one is speaking your language. Perhaps it makes her feel more like she fits in or is in control as she chatters away in gibberish with great animation and passion, giving precise meaning to her local sounding utterances and wanting us to play along. (Or sometimes she wants to pretend that she is on her own and does not know us;) Here she adds in some real French words occasionally (maybe because we do) and it is all sounding more French, but still with a Flemish tint so far. Perhaps it is part of how language is absorbed by kids.
When she is playing with other kids who do not speak the same language, I see how she and they find many ways to communicate and use lots of squeals and giggles and expressive sounds to add to their play. You would not even know they did not speak the same language unless you looked and listened closely. Often they jabber away to the other in their own language and appear to have conversations, but then adults who don’t speak the same language can do the same thing.
Our plan after our time at Le Jardin d’Acclimatation was to go to Le Samaritaine which has the largest toy department of any big store in Paris plus a carousel and all kinds of goodies for kids in addition to a great cafe on the top floor with spectacular views where we thought we would do a late lunch. Alas, we found out that it is all closed for an extended time. So we shifted to plan B (made up on the spot!) and moseyed over to the Louvre where there is a mall with some kids toys as we promised that she could pick out a couple of little things for her birthday for presents. It turned out to be a delightful second choice. We got to peek in at the Louvre thru the open viewing windows there, had gorgeous views everywhere and we could see the Eiffel tower in the distance. Mozart pointed out the Arc de Triumph du Carrousel on her own from our study with great excitement, loved the glass pyramid and playing in the water.
No matter how much you love Paris,one just forgets exactly how beautiful it is until you see it again. It still takes my breath away. Our sweet cabbie who took us home late at night (as Mozart fell asleep) said he takes it all for granted now, but I do not see Paris enough to take it for granted. So far it is always a thrill for me ,but then so is our beloved San Francisco. I love beautiful,vibrant cities, even if I would not necessarily want to live in them today. We are happy to be visiting “our” beloved Paris again and sharing it with Mozart who is also falling in love with it. I wish our French was better, but I enjoy the sounds (and sights!) of it all around me and even the sound of English when it comes with a melodious French accent.
We eventually made our way to Les Enfants du Musee which is the Louvre’s children boutique which seemed like a good place to give her open choice for picking a small gift. She picked a really cute tiny art case called “art on the gogh” and it has a little mannequin (like the large one her dad has at home), a small pad and pencil, tiny paintbrush and paints and tiny bottle to carry water, all in a handy, portable, translucent case. Later she even got to draw the little African girl who sat across from her on the train while we were serenaded by several interesting singer musicians on the way to the Eiffel Tower that I noticed helped connect them when after a while they longingly looked at each other as she walked away with her mom at her stop. We also got her an interesting Us borne book called construis ton village where we can create a whole medieval village which will go nicely with our studies and is easy to do via camper. Mozart and her dad are talking about setting it up in her tent here in Paris on a lazy rest day.
Then we went on to Nature and Decouvertes which had a nice toy section and she picked a stuffed cat to be our world tour mascot and an award winning dvd in French about an African village called Kirikou. I was surprised by the stuff toy as she has not been one to pay much attention to such. But I think she misses our cat who she was very fond of and this gives her a pet to take with her. She named her Tigress (with a French accent of course.)
As we headed out of the Louvre area, as we had decided on finding an outdoor cafe instead of a restaurant inside the Carrousel du Louvre, a big storm loomed with dark clouds and a few sprinkles. We did not make it too far when the lightning, thunder and downpour started, so we bought a couple of extra umbrellas and Mozart picked a restaurant. It was Italian, but the perfect one for us as our first dinner in Paris. The best thing going for it was it was out of the rain and a place to sit, but it was also cute, with a great staff and really quite perfect tho we did decide to eat in the inside part while we let the storm pass. We were hungry as we never got around to having lunch since our choice was not open and the day kept rolling along. It felt good to rest our bodies, have a glass of wine and fill our bellies with good food.
Mozart ordered a whole cheese pizza, I had salmon lasagne and DaVinci had spaghetti...not fancy French food, but perfect family cuisine celebrating a six- year- old’s birthday and it was delicious. Mozart gave the pizza her highest compliment, “It tastes like American pizza!”. I had to laugh, but also understood the need of enjoying food that is familiar, especially for ones birthday. She wanted to pour her 7 up in a wine glass so we indulged her and made a toast. When she went to the tiny bathroom with her Dad down some very narrow stairs that are typical here in Europe, I beckoned the waiter and asked if we could have a birthday cake after dinner. He did not think it was possible, but then he talked to the owner who said they would come up with something.
When they came out with a small cake with 6 candles lit and singing the whole little restaurant joined in (singing several language versions of the birthday song!) and everyone clapped at the end. Mozart glowed with contentment. It was not a real birthday cake, but coffee flavored and very creamy and quite scrumptious. We saved one candle to put in our scrap book to remember this special birthday forever. What a lucky kid she is, the perfect pajama party before our world tour to celebrate her birthday early with friends and now a perfect kids day and night in Paris to celebrate a sixth birthday she will never forget. Ahh, the benefits of being the raison d’etre of older parents who waited a long time for their precious jewel. I wonder if she will ever fully understand how lucky she is as it all seems perfectly normal to her.
When our little party was over, the weather had cleared and it was nice to get into the cool air as the restaurant was warm. Our next challenge was to find our way on the metro to the Eiffel Tower station which is not an easy feat for neophytes and in fact we did get on the wrong train, so we again went to plan B and saw that we could still get there altho going the long route now. Even the metro is part of the adventure and I must confess that I don’t think I was ever on the Paris metro before despite all my visits to Paris. Heavens, I was hardly on the NYC subway and I lived there for years, so it is about time to get the experience.
It is very fast and efficient, one of the best mass transit systems in the world and it was clean and quite pretty, especially at the Louvre station, so we were quite proud that we made our way around fairly easily despite the one error. But I admit that DaVinci was the main reason we made it as I find the places thru my books and he figures out how to get there with the maps that I have found. I am often entertaining Mozart, so he tends to have more time to focus.
It is sometimes a challenge to manage a very energetic, independent new six year old who thinks she is twenty and is not aware of all the dangers that could befall her, but mostly we do quite well tho it does take more focus than if we were just a couple. Her aunt BJ said before we left her one fear is her running off as she has always had the tendency to just take off for what she wants. Long before she was a year old, she would run football field distances away from me, always anxious to explore and be free. She would jump off high things before I could get to her at a park even as a baby so there was a period that I could only send her with her father as she was faster than me (and fearless) and I did not feel I could keep her safe. There was a reason why she started gymnastics with two and three year olds when she was just nine months old as she needed a padded space to be fearless in.
We all have endless stories about how she ran off from grandma from her stroller at a busy beach while she bought pizza or took off for the candy store thru a crowded mall at xmas time slipping away from both vigilant parents in the santa line dodging the masses of people like a football player making a touchdown or dashed off thru the crowd to go backstage at an opera when it finished leaving mom blocked by throngs of people etc etc. This is not a docile child. She has never been hurt by it or gotten lost, but our speedy gonzales has given many of her beloveds a near apoplexy from fear. So the kind of restraint needed for this type of a trip is good training for her, but keeps us all on our toes. I would not of dared attempt it when she was younger.
We insist on her mostly being in our hands or at least very close at all times. Night time in Paris with the lit up Eiffel Tower close by, abundant African hawkers selling bling/bling souvenirs left and right, crowds, lights, sounds and traffic just added to the adrenalized energy. We read that the least crowded times to come were very early morning or at night, so decided that night time would be best for us plus the opportunity to see it lit up. Still the line and crowds were plentiful. I waited below with their backpacks as they headed for the top. DaVinci was quite impressed as it was his first time up it and Mozart’s favorite part was the very top of course. I enjoyed myself just watching the crowd and admiring the neck straining view and had a nice conversation with a sweet young tourist from Ireland as we were endlessly approached by the tenacious souvenir sellers.
We topped the night off when Mozart and I took a pleasurable ride on the lit up carrousel across the street and she had more popcorn as we explored the nearby bridge, river and quay. We then jumped into a van cab that we caught easily at the corner and Mozart quickly fell asleep as we had a splendid conversation with the amiable cabbie. She woke up in time to walk to the camper and play a little while we got ready for bed. Then we all snuggled up in bed for a much needed rest after a very satisfying day. Happy 6th birthday beloved Ms Mozart....may you remember this heaven sent one for the rest of your life!