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Unpredictable Paris

View over Paris in winter, buildings lit up and leafless trees along the Seine under a cloudy sky

Paris is an ancient, time-shifting, secret society. I made it to the ripe old age of 61 by creating plans and organizing my life around them. This should come as no surprise. The clearest memory I have of my father is him sitting at the breakfast table looking from my sister to my brother then to me and asking, “What’s on your agenda today?” I learned very young: organization is control. Control was the one thing I lacked heading into my trip to Paris. Although I was equipped with The Paris Mapguide, a smart phone and an ipad, what I really needed was a crystal ball or a soothsayer.

Before my partner Bonnie and I left British Columbia, I researched the most expedient route from the airport to our Paris apartment in Montmartre: take the train to Gare du Nord, then a taxi to Square Émile Goudeau. Simple. On arrival at Charles de Gaulle, we collected our luggage and took the escalator up to the main concourse. All the guidebooks I’d read warned about “illegal” taxi drivers, sharks hanging around the arrivals level preying on unsuspecting passengers and charging them the earth for their services.

“Lift madam?”

“No, we’ll take the train, thanks.”

The cabbie smiled. “The trains aren’t running today.”

I wasn’t going to be fooled. I gave an affected Gallic shrug, and pushed a dismissive explosion through my lips, “Impossible!”

We took another escalator downstairs to the rail ticket office where the cashier explained major construction had blocked the track between the airport and Gare du Nord, but assured us we could still purchase a ticket, take a bus to a small station at Mitry-Claye – “only 10 minutes from here” – and catch the train to the city.

My heart rate accelerated, and my breakfast churned in my stomach. Scam artist or not, the taxi driver was right. The trains weren’t running. It would have been so easy to go back upstairs and take a cab.

But no, instead, we took the bus to Mitry-Claye, a 20 minute ride, standing room only, pressed cheek to jowl like pork chops in a family value pack. I had not packed lightly for this trip. After all, I needed clothes for nine weeks of winter in Paris. My suitcase still carried the LOURD tag, warning baggage handlers of certain hernias should they attempt to lift the bag. In addition, I had a carryon and a large purse containing my laptop and various other essential electronics. We heaved our cases out of the bus. It started to rain. As we followed the crowd toward the platform for the city bound train, I realized we would have to lift our cases down one set of stairs and up another. I looked at Bonnie and said, “I don’t think I can do this.” From across the track, a voice called “Madame, l’ascenseur, l’ascenseur.” The elevator. I was sure I was hearing the voice of God.

When we arrived at Gare du Nord, I was humbled, yes and exhausted, but still a bit miffed with the disruption. “Surely,” I groaned. “They could have worked on the tracks at night or outside rush hour!”

Paris didn’t get more predictable. But by the time I boarded the return plane for Canada, I had acquired a genuine Gallic shrug – a combination of resignation, laughter and respect for a city unmoved by the comings and goings of mere mortals.

Sue Harper is the author of Winter in the City of Light, a tale of a woman who after retirement, went to Paris, a must-read memoir of hope and self-discovery – honest, humorous and inspiring. Read our full review Sue blogs at seniornomad.wordpress.com

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