Editor's note: Since my Paris flight back to Denver was cancelled, and I won't be arriving back at the office until Wednesday morning (if there are no further hiccups), and since the paper must come out on Thursday, Lora and I have decided to include a dispatch from the
Lyons Recorder's newest foreign correspondent, Josef LaCarre-Zeek, at our Paris office. We hope you enjoy, and thank you for your understanding. Joseph Lekarczyk - Lyons Recorder
Perhaps we should have realized that there were some unusual forces at work when a mere three inches of snow on Friday evening caused a twelve hour delay getting out of DIA on Saturday morning, despite sunny blue skies. But, we were finally in the air at 10:30 p.m., and headed for sunny Miami (instead of snowy Philadelphia), and then on to Paris the next evening.
We arrived in Miami at 4:30 a.m., booked a hotel room and slept until 11 a.m. A short Uber ride brought us to Coconut Grove for lunch, and then it was on to "Little Havana." No sooner had we gotten out of the car at the domino park on Ocho Calle, when a shouting match between two gentlemen (neither of whom was less than seventy-five years old) broke out. Within moments they were throwing rocks and broken pieces of concrete at each other, and were soon slugging each other and rolling about in the plaza. None of the other domino players even looked up! Welcome to "Little Havana." The Cuban coffee was "excellente!" And the mango ice cream alone was worth the diversion to Florida. Proof positive of the old adage, "when life hands you lemons, make lemonade."
The over night slog to Paris was just that, but by Monday morning we were finally in Europe. A light lunch at the Cafe Angelina, a stroll through the Jardin d' Tilleries, a nap, and it was off to the Paris Opera House for a two and a half hour tragedy about a brother who killed his mother to avenge his father's murder, who then fifteen years later meets his sister who has to decide whether or not she should kill him or his best friend. . . By the middle of the second act it was "just kill one of them already, and let's end this thing."
But the Paris Opera House c'est fantastique! The architecture is incredible; marble and gild everywhere. Soaring ceilings and sweeping staircases, statues and painted frescos at every turn. And the place was built over three hundred and fifty years ago. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin might have sat in the same box, and watched the same opera about sibling rivalry. The next morning it was off to Gard Nord, the train station, for a trip through the "Chunnel" to jolly old London.
The VRBO, a basement flat in South Kensington, was charming and centrally located. Dinner at a neighborhood Indian restaurant and off to bed for a 3 a.m., wake up call for a bus ride to Stonehenge for sunrise on the Winter Solstice. Normally, they don't allow you to walk among the stones, only along a path that circles the monument. But twice a year, on the Winter and Summer Soltices, they allow about five thousand crazy Druids, Wiccans, and Pagans in flowing robes, with holly sprigs in their hair, carrying antlered walking staffs, playing drums, and blowing rams' horns to walk and congregate among the stones. It felt kind of like a cross between a Christmas service at the Wildflower Pavilion and a Grateful Dead concert.
Back in London that afternoon, it was time for a little shopping at Harrad's (where a dog collar for Pip would have set me back 350 pounds, and a set of sheets went for 1,880 - I kid you not). Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and we basically got out there with a Christmas ornament and some make-up.
The next morning, much to everyone's surprise, was all blue skies and sunshine. We decided to go to the beach. An hour train ride found us in Brighton. A stroll on the beach with some white cliffs in the distance, lunch, and some more shopping (this time at normal prices) got us a few more ornaments, some candy canes, and some ribbons and bows and we were all set for Christmas in London. We just needed a tree. That evening, back in London we went to the theater and saw a very British play called "An Inspector Calls." But still no tree.
The next morning it was a short walk to the Royal Victoria & Albert Museum for an exhibition titled "Rebels and Revolution" about the turbulent 60s in England, France, and America. Very interesting and some great music (Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, The Who, The Doors, etc.), I could have stayed there all day, but we had promised a certain teenager a visit to the Harry Potter Movie Studio a couple of hours north of London. So it was off to platform 9 and 3/4, and back on the train.
Two days before Christmas, and every school child in England was on holiday. Most of them decided that this would be the perfect time to get Mum & Dad to take them to see Hogwarts. It was a zoo! But it was fascinating, and made me want to binge watch all the Harry Potter movies some cold snowy winter weekend. Back in London that night, on the Uber ride back to South Kensington, we spied a Christmas tree lot on the corner about four blocks from our flat.
Bright and early the next morning, we found a tree to make the Yule Tide merry. A few strands of popcorn, candy canes, ornaments, ribbons and bows, we were almost ready for Father Christmas. Over the mantle, stockings were hung with care and we were good to go! Time to see the sights of London on the "Hop on, Hop off" (a double decker bus). The plan was to circle our way back to St. Paul's Cathedral for the Christmas Eve caroling program, however, the line to get in, literally, went around the Cathedral (and it is a massive building about an entire city block) and down the street. After about five minutes in line a very nice British chap came by and informed us, and all the hundreds of people behind us, that we had no chance of getting into the Cathedral for the program. Oh well, c'est la vie.
Back at the flat, we cracked open a bottle of port, had some figgy pudding, and opened our "crackers" (little poppers with a small gift and a paper crown inside; some sort of English Christmas tradition). With nary a visit from the spirits of Christmas - past, present, or future, the next morning Saint Nick had indeed found his way down our fake fireplace and filled our stockings and placed a few presents under the tree. "Merry Christmas to one and all," as Tiny Tim would say.
Later that afternoon we had a traditional English Christmas dinner, and strolled around the streets of South Kensington.
On Boxing Day morn (December 26 - another British tradition; imagine Black Friday on steroids) the shoppers made their "battle plan" and went off to Oxford and Regent Streets. I went to the Marble Arch in Hyde Park to read my new book. Then it was lunch at Covington Gardens, and back to the flat to get ready for our train back to France.
An overnight stay in a small rural French town just outside of Dijon (of the mustard fame) with some old friends, and then a bullet train back to another VRBO in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Three days of doing the Paris "tourist thing" (a boat ride down the Seine, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Sacre Coeur, Ile St. Louis, etc.) and New Year's Eve in a charming little Parisian bistro. It was time to come home.
We should have suspected there was trouble brewing when the Uber ride got a flat tire on a busy highway in route to Charles DeGaulle Airport. We still arrived with plenty of time, but there were problems with "unaccounted for" luggage in the cargo hold, then a flashing fuel gauge light in the cockpit, and finally after sitting on the runway for ninety minutes, the flight was cancelled and everyone (260 passengers) was told to deplane and make other arrangements to get home. Bon chance, y bon voyage! Another night in a airport hotel, a side trip to Madrid, then to Dallas, and finally back to DIA at midnight.
Two days late, and too weary for words, but home none the less.