Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Of Parisian Marathons, and Many Other Things

I just spent a week in Paris. It may have been the best week of my life, and I've had some pretty good weeks.

It all started innocently enough. I was looking for a spring marathon, and I thought, why not Paris? Why not indeed.

Things snowballed from there. My son's girlfriend is Parisian, and shortly after I mentioned the marathon I found myself on a team running for a wonderful French charity, Autour des Williams.

So many parts of this trip were like a movie that I hardly know where to begin. Walking from the Arc de Triomphe over to the Rue Balzac before the start of the marathon. Saying bonjour to the policewoman watching quietly from a doorway, then turning a corner and walking into a crowd of people wearing the same jersey I was wearing. They were from a variety of European countries - I was the only American. They took pity on my French, and we mainly spoke English.

The connections came at odd angles, and were forceful. Williams syndrome involves being born without approximately 26 genes. As I read online about the characteristic elfin features and the "cocktail party" personality, I remembered being in College Park, Maryland, a few weeks earlier. We were eating supper in a parish house during the walk from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. This was part of my work for healthcare reform, and there, I understood in retrospect, I had probably met someone with Williams syndrome. He was very nice. Just a little off, and without the trip to Paris I'd never have had a clue as to why.

Christophe, at the morning meeting (we took a group photo), called it serendipity.

The team totaled 71. I, of course, was one of the slowest, but who cares? Not me. The weather was nearly perfect - sunny, in the 50s, and I had a great run. At kilometer 37.2 (out of 42.2) there was a cheering section for Autour des Williams. My family had gotten a bit turned around, and almost didn't make it. But then I heard, "Bill, Bill!" and running up behind me was Marie, my son's girlfriend, and then Ben, my son. You have to be 23 miles into a marathon, on a beautiful day, to know what that meant.

After the marathon, there was a lovely party in an apartment about a block from President Sarkozy's house. As Marie's parents were walking with us to the bus home, two of the police officers guarding the palace - one man, one woman - inquired about the medal on my neck, and with help from Marie's mother I managed to stammer through a very pleasant conversation. It was a bonding moment.

Did I mention that we ate very well? Marie's mother organized my personal pasta dinner the night before the marathon. And a few days later we had a superb dinner at a restaurant near their apartment, called Le Bouclard. Meanwhile, Ben and Marie steered us to several restaurants we'd never have found on our own.

Lois and I stayed at the apartment of Marie's sister, Loulou, and most mornings my daughter, Alicia, and her boyfriend, Alex, would come over for breakfast. They were staying at Marie's apartment. Did I mention that Parisian hospitality is astounding?

To round things out, yes, we saw the sights. The Venus de Milo at the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Rodin Museum, Napoleon's tomb at Les Invalides. And simpler, less expected, things. Running along the Seine in the marathon, and looking left, and seeing the Eiffel Tower. It was so large I felt I could reach out my left elbow and touch it.

Or walking with Alex in the Jardin du Luxembourg. We had momentarily lost Alicia and Lois, and I suggested that he look for two brunette women wearing black jackets and sunglasses. And, he said, "Bill, you've just described half the people in this park."

How to end? Oh yes, the volcano in Iceland. We left Thursday morning, and didn't even know it had happened. Alicia and Alex left that evening. There's a rumor they were on the last flight out before Paris - Charles de Gaulle shut down. I don't know about that, but I do know that Ben was supposed to fly out Sunday, and instead wound up running his own marathon of sorts, finally getting home on Thursday, four days later than he intended.

Oh well. He was in Paris. Not a bad place to be stranded, really.

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