It hit 108.7° (42.6C) in Paris at the end of July, breaking a previous record of 104.7° set in 1947. The chief architect working on the Notre-Dame cathedral said he feared the vaulted ceilings damaged in April’s fire could collapse because of the rapidly drying support walls. “Il fait chaud, très chaud!” people moaned, as they fanned themselves. Tourists plunged feet first into the fountains of the Trocadero by the Eiffel Tower; Parisian women pulled their scarves from around their necks and soaked them in the waters of the Fountaine de la Concorde to cool their fevered brows. Even the French find it hard to be stylish and sophisticated under such extreme conditions.
My husband and I landed in Paris on our 50th anniversary. Somehow, the heat seemed welcoming and appropriate, since it had been 104° in South Texas on that July day when we got married half a century ago. The church where our wedding took place is one of the oldest in Texas dating back to 1824. Adjacent to it is the convent of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word, coincidentally an order founded in 1625 in Lyon, France, from which five nuns ultimately came to establish a school for girls in my hometown. It is still in operation, albeit with more lay teachers than nuns; my Grandmother went there, my Mother went there, and so did I for 12 years.
Needless to say, the women in my family and the women in the convent share a long history, which in part explains why they were so excited to have me and my bridal party get dressed there on my wedding day. They did the best they could to accommodate us in their antique-filled front parlor by moving furniture and bringing in full-length mirrors and huge standing fans. Of course there was no air-conditioning in this ornate Spanish Mission style motherhouse built in 1904. In a scene reminiscent of Maria’s wedding day among the Sisters of Nonnberg Abbey in The Sound of Music, here were my six bridesmaids and I donning formal dresses and trying to perfect hair and make-up while extreme heat melted lipsticks and giant fans blew headpieces across the room with the hot force of a jet engine.
Memories of my wedding day kept coming back to me on our entire anniversary trip to France, prompted by the similarities of extreme temperatures, the lack of air-conditioning in old buildings, and the dominant influence of the Church and its cathedrals and convents in French history, art and culture. Moreover, since Paris was the home base of an international company for which my husband was working when we married, and through which he continued to build his career, that City has been a major presence in our lives over the years. He/we traveled there often, made friends there, and came to understand and appreciate all things French — especially the food and wines!
Paris is inarguably one of the most beautiful, most romantic cities in the world, so what better place could there possibly be to celebrate a marital milestone. Since we know the City well, we could just BE there, just walk and wander at leisure and enjoy each other’s company without the typical tourist burden of having to visit every iconic landmark and every major museum. As a plus, there were the summer “Les Soldes” (clearance sales) in July, just before French residents head off for their own vacations in August, which actually makes shopping in Paris almost affordable.
I did my share of shopping, as always, for the exquisite papers and stationeries and beautiful tabletop linens. We stayed in a hotel right across from the Tuileries, on the Rue de Rivoli, a perfect location from which to walk to the Place Vendôme, the Palais Royale, the Avenue de la Opera, and the Place de la Concorde, where the obelisk from Luxor is placed precisely on the site of the infamous guillotine of the French Revolution. Even with such a macabre history, this location is still inspiring and beautiful. And of course we walked down the Champs-Élysées and over the Ponte de la Concorde to the Left Bank and and into Saint-Germain.
On the night of our arrival, we celebrated our anniversary with an elegant dinner at a restaurant in Saint-Germain, Brasserie Vagenende, a Belle Epoque establishment from 1904. It was exquisite. (And here’s that date of the motherhouse in my hometown again — another remarkable the coincidence.) The food and service were so wonderful and the ambiance soooo French and sooo elegant. Over the course of the weekend, we revisited other favorites, including the historic (and yes, touristy) hangout of 20th century writers and artists on the Left Bank, Les Deux Magots, and Harry’s New York Bar down from Le Opera on the Right Bank, the infamous Hemingway watering hole and proclaimed home of the French 75 (which is one of my favorite drinks.)
And then, after our idyllic Paris weekend, we took the train to Lyon to board a river cruise down the Seine through Burgundy and Provence. Our adventure continued. More about that later.
Vive La France!