Monday, January 28, 2013


The next installment of The Heaven and Hell Tour will be here in a couple of days, but having reached a milestone, a celebratory interruption was imperative. My little blog, my diversion and my outlet for my historical nerdom, has just hit 20,000 page views since I began it, studiously, about a year and a half ago. I am enormously grateful to the many who have come to call. So grateful, in fact, I thought it only appropriate to thank everyone who has visited, from all around the world, in a way that would honor you. I send my most sincere gratitude to the readers from:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Our second day in Paris began with the promise of all the sweltering heat of its predecessor but, unlike the day before, our plans held a hint of possibility.

We began with a three-hour bus tour…on an air-conditioned bus…with an additional guide! Remarkably, our sorely lacking guide had the wherewithal to hire not only a knowledgeable guide but also an informed, intelligent, and charming one. From the comfort of a sitting position, with soothing, cooling air caressing our skin, Lady A showed us the Bastille Monument (pictured left), the Arc d’Triomphe, the Hôpital des Invalides and the Eiffel Tower (most of which we would visit up close and in person as our trip progressed). With spirit and personality, Lady A entertained and educated us with jokes, songs and quiz questions for which she gave points for the correct answers. Enchante!

The vehicular junket culminated at the Cathedral de Notre-Dame. Looking up at the large Gothic structure looming overhead, the high mid-day sun blurred our sight and, in the haze, perhaps the vision of Quasimodo hovering among the gargoyles and ramparts.

Standing on one of the many concrete benches in the courtyard of the cathedral, Lady A tutored us on the magnificent structure. Her knowledge and spirited narration drew in many of the milling crowd, those who could understand English, enlarging our number.

As we stood in the large courtyard, I heard more languages than I could recognize. The faces around me reflected every variance in facial structure the world has to offer and I felt part of the world, a member of the world society. It was a welcome feeling, a feeling of being a part of something cohesive and strong. If only it could always be this way.

The Cathedral de Notre-Dame is located on the east side of Paris. It still serves as a Roman Catholic Church and is the seat of the Archbishop of Paris.

This Gothic building, whose construction began in 1163, is worthy of detailed study and a visit of many hours. Of particular interest is the King’s Gallery, the row of royal statues adorning the western façade. According to Lady A, legend holds that during the first Revolution, angry Parisians chopped off all the heads of the noble sculptures.

Another delightful detail of the cathedral is the renowned gargoyles. They are, in fact, the structure’s drainpipes.

After my mother and I crossed Paris’ Le Point Zéro (legends holds that if you pass over Le Point Zéro--an octagonal marker from which all distances in Paris are measured--you will be assured to visit the magnificent city again; we each crossed over about twenty times), we entered the cavernous interior. There was a long line to enter, one politely formed naturally by the convivial milling crowd without direction, but it moved quickly. Mass was being conducted and little was needed to keep the crowd of hundreds hushed; the piercing piety of the interior demanded respect readily given.

Prayer was followed by lunch where the bread was, of course, marvelous, the filling within tasty but meager. A crepe purchased from a sidewalk vendor with a friendly smile sweetly completed the repast.

Our time at the cathedral over, it was back on the metro once more, again feeling like the sheep whose herder has lost his way as well as all his mental acuities.

We arrived eventually at the Arc d’Triomphe; our necks again craning to see the top of this architectural wonder. Our guide gave us none of the intriguing history of the structure. (We had, unfortunately, said good-bye to the effervescent Lady A at our previous location, watching her walk away like a child watching his mother walk away on the first day of kindergarten.)

“There is the entrance to the stairs,” informed our guide, pointing out the egress to the 284 stairs leading to the top of the monument, “if you want to climb. Be back in an hour.” And with these insightful words, he was off once more in search of a café.

The Arc d’Triomphe is located in the very center of the Place de Charles de Gaulle (previously known as the Place de l’Etoile) and at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. It is the apex of the L’Axe historique (historic axis). The precision of the axis--a line of monuments, buildings and thoroughfares--is so exact, the Arc can be seen when standing in line over three miles away. Construction on the monument, commissioned by Napoleon I, began in 1810 and was not complete until the 1830s.

Within the majestic confines of the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the First World War interred on Armistice Day 1920 when the eternal flame was lit.

My mother, Mrs. Y and I sat the climbing out, choosing instead to sit in the shadow of the structure’s strong base. We spoke mostly of our egregious grievances against our befuddled marshal and time passed in this catty but enjoyable manner. When the first group of youngsters returned to the bottom, they greeted us then asked if we had already made the trip to the top and back. We informed them that we hadn’t gone up at all and they moved on.

Looking over at Mrs. Y I recognized a look, one that I would see quite often as the trip progressed, a look dominated by an ironic smile and laughing eyes. I asked what amused her so.

“These kids think we,” and here she pointed to us, three of the oldest members of the group as well as ones with infirmities, “beat them, up and down 284 stairs.”

Mom and I laughed with delight; my first great laugh in Paris.

The next ride on the metro was as stimulating as the last but at the end, we found ourselves at the Hôpital des Invalides, the hospital for invalids or Les Invalides for short. Les Invalides (picture depicts the dramatic entrance to the grounds) was built under the direction of Louis XIV as a hospital and retirement home for war veterans. It still serves that purpose as well as being a museum and monument, most notably to that of Napoleon.

And, once inside, we stood above Napoleon’s Tomb. It was hard not to be impressed by the beauty of this memorial. Within this opulent and ornate tomb lies the remains of Napoleon I…or do they. It is rumored that many French citizens have requested the tomb be opened and the remains tested for DNA as well as to determine the true cause of Napoleon’s death. The French government refuses to perform the tests. The layout of the museum surrounding the tomb is an easy to follow circular pattern and there is just enough exhibits, with easy to read (in three languages) descriptions at each, to engage without overwhelming.

Dinner this evening was better than that of the previous night but just as uninspired. Salad followed by baked chicken breasts with the same thin brown gravy and roasted potatoes. There were no offers of drinks other than the too few pitchers of water and there was, astonishingly, no bread. There was a refreshing three fruit flavor sorbet; its striking coldness chilled a path down my hot intestines, now even hotter in the airless, small backroom of the café.

Getting lost on our way to the evening’s activities brought the anger against our guide to an erupting frenzy; we rode the metro to unneeded stops, turning right around and getting back on the stifling, smelly subway. Our ire became all the more intense when he revealed that our destination required the climbing of steep stairs or the extra, out-of-pocket cost of the tram. My throbbing feet, ankles and knees made my choice for me. Most of the adults joined my mother and I on the Funiculaire de Montmartre, a funicular railway operated by the Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens that climbs the hill when approached from the south.

At the base of the hill, as the young people separated from us to take the stairs with exuberance indicative of their undeniable youth, street vendors aggressively approached my son. He was frightened when one man grabbed him by his pinky finger, barking at him in a language he didn’t recognize, asking for ten euros. At some bad advice, my son gave him the money and ended up with a cheap yarn bracelet. Tip: while these men may come on strong, they really won’t hurt anyone. If they did, they wouldn’t be allowed to take up post on so many corners in the real touristy areas. Stand firm, say ‘no’ with real conviction and ignore them thereafter and they won’t bother with you anymore. I believe I truly scared the crap out of the one who approached me as I released all the anger and frustration upon him that manners prevented me from unleashing on our guide. I not only barked at him, I’m quite sure I stabbed him with eyes like daggers and barred my teeth at him much like a rabid dog. He quickly turned tail and ran.

Montmartre reminded me of an east coast tourist trap (Cape Cod, Newport and Key West come quickly to mind) with a decidedly French flair. The multinational crowd wandered along the uneven cobble streets, slipping in and out of the small souvenir shops, art galleries and cafes. The aromas of zesty dishes mingled with the body odors in a ying/yang result. Well rested, well fed, free of the frustration and anger imposed by the incompetent guide and of a slightly cooler temperature and the party-like atmosphere would have been much more appealing. Montmartre is on my list as one of the places I've been that I wish to experience again.

Montmartre is the highest hill in the city of Paris, also known as the Painter’s Hill, a place that has inspired numerous artists including Auguste Renoir and Vincent Van Gogh as well as Dali, Monet and Picasso. Montmartre translates to ‘mountain of the martyr’, getting its name from Saint Denis, the patron saint of France, who was decapitated on the hill around 250 AD. Besides an artist haven, the area is famous as a nightclub district. Its crowning glory, the domed Basilica of the Sacré Cœur is visible from miles away. The view pictured is from the Basilica's steps.

On the trek back to the hotel, made more than sixteen hours after leaving it, the kids were taught how to sneak through a metro gate. Our stunningly inept guide had once more taken us into the wrong subway line, though this time he did realize his error before we got aboard the wrong train. We exited from the wrong line appropriately enough but, whether out of laziness or the unwillingness to purchase more tickets, we then illegally reentered to the correct line, our guide helpfully showing us how to hold open the gate so that we could all enter without a ticket.

And educational tour, indeed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


The Frankfurt Airport
The security here is much tougher than in the states. A battery-powered toothbrush and a child’s safety scissors will get your bag searched and an under-wire bra will set off the metal detector. It looked like any other airport, cold and speckled tile floor, large windows, pale grey walls and vinyl seats. Chocolate shops abound as one crosses the concourses, but you know you’re far from your own land at the babble of unrecognizable language.

First contact with the German’s are at the check points where the agents appeared severe and stern. Yet given a friendly word or joke, their smiles emerged; you just have to look for them with a keen eye. (After the very burly, female agent felt beneath my breasts, ensuring there was no knife or such hidden along with the under-wire, I could not help but ask, "Was it good for you?" Her attempt to disguise her grin was unsuccessful, much to my delight.)The hundreds of airport workers made their way through the facilities on bicycles, shocking the Americans as we strolled along, of two-wheels and even three-wheels if they have need to carry tools with them.

That first day of adjustment is difficult. The senses showed us daytime but the internal clock denied it with every weapon available: inability to see clearly, to concentrate fully and the little extra effort required to move. Push through it and come to grips with reality.

A trip such as this is an oasis of time away from real life and if the mind should stray to thoughts of problems left behind, give it a good kick in the ass and tell it to move along.

PARIS! We thought we had died and gone to hell.

It was a heat wave in a region not known for heat waves. Day after day temperature records were set, climbing to or near one hundred degrees. According to, “The 2006 European heat wave was a period of exceptionally hot weather that arrived at the end of June 2006 in certain European countries. The UK, France, Benelux, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany were most affected. Several records were broken. In The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the UK, July 2006 was the warmest month since official measurements began. Temperatures as high as 40C (104F) were recorded in Paris during the heat wave.”

We were not only sweltering, we were exhausted. For all our good intentions and attempts, we never slept on the flight over or in the airport during the layover. We became walking zombies, subsisting on no sleep after twenty-five, thirty hours. Unfortunately, I do mean walking zombies. Our hotel, not the one originally booked for us (Hotel du Petit Louvre, pictured left) but one vastly inferior to it (Pierre & Vacances Buttes Chaumont, pictured below), was so far off the road more traveled that the bus could not make it’s way down the narrow, cobble streets. There were no other transportation arrangements and with all our luggage in tow we trekked, though sloughed is a better word for our exhausted trudging, a half mile in 95-degree weather to our lodgings.

To say that these lodgings were a disappointment is to say that Hurricane Katrina was a storm.

In actuality, the rooms were adequate: they are spacious enough with living room, kitchen and bed areas, except, of course, if you’re one of the kids who were six to a room. The difficult feature, or lack thereof, for us Americans was the lack of air conditioning. Since the hotel is located on such busy streets it was impossible, even in the dead of night, to leave the windows open and get any sleep. An interesting condition is the lack of insects, here in Paris anyway, more on that to come.

It was here that we encountered the first, and may I add only, genuinely rude Parisian. As one group of our young women entered their room, the house cleaner-still inside-began to yell and scream at them in guttural French, gesturing for them to get out, that the room wasn't ready. These young girls, one in particular already exhausted and overheated, were frightened and insulted.

After a few hours in this heated confine, though at least the windows were open, we met in the lobby where we found out that almost all of our inner city travel, the next four days of our vacation, would be on foot and by metro.

I felt my heart constrict in my chest; had I, with my physical ailments (I suffer from chronic Lyme Disease or fibromyalgia, depending on which doctor you ask), embarked on a journey I may not have the stamina to endure? Had I put my mother, though still vigorous and healthy at seventy-two at the time, in physical jeopardy?

The Paris subway system is a winding, twisting labyrinth of dark, dirty cement tubes. The Paris subways during a heat wave, where most of its occupants had never even heard of deodorant, is an olfactory nightmare bursting upon the senses. The doors open and close again in mere seconds; if you don’t get on or off in time, too bad. Making sure all forty of us got on and off at the right stops and together was a challenge, one we failed at on one occasion. My anxiety grew with each passing moment.

Yet I forgot all hardships endured up to that moment when we walked into the mammoth courtyard of the Louvre, the once palace of kings and now one of the greatest museums in the world. We entered the fortress of the Musée du Louvre (pictured)
from the Rue de Rivoli and toward the Cour Carrée. Its size and majesty captivated and beguiled me. The awe-inspiring grandeur of the crème stone walls, blue slate roof and gilded moldings stilled me; I felt as if time had slowed as I gazed about.

I had read so much of this place for research on The Courtier's Secret featuring the Sun King, Louis XIV who spent the majority of his childhood within these very walls. As I walked along the marble floors and hallways I thought I heard the echoes of the child Louis XIV had once been. I looked in dark corners of the twisting stairways wondering if perhaps here was where he hid as a frightened youngster, as the screaming hordes of the Fronde snapped at his door.

When we tried to enter the museum through the glass pyramid entrance, they turned us away; this egress was not for groups. We followed the museum attendant’s instructions where to enter as a group, befuddled and suspicious: why didn’t our tour guide know this. At the group entrance we were stopped once more. We had no tickets! I’m not sure if our guide thought we could sneak in or if his information was so outdated, he didn’t know what he was doing. We waited in a huddled group, wrung out by the heat, still without sleep for close to a day and a half as our fear-inspiring guide purchased the tickets. Even in the relative coolness of the marble Passage Richelieu, we sweltered.


The original building was constructed in 1190 during the reign of Philippe Auguste (1180-1223). Located to the west of the city and on the banks of the Seine River, it was intended as a fortress and an arsenal and erected as a defense against any Anglo-Norman threat.

The Hundred Years’ War, which began in May of 1237, came after the city of Paris experienced growth beyond the walls of the Louvre. Its boundaries could no longer serve as protection. In this same century, Charles V set architect Raymond du Temple to transform the once-military fortress into a grand royal residence, igniting the tradition of opulent palace for French royalty. Du Temple instituted elaborately carved windows, ornately decorated rooftops, a pleasure garden and the ‘grande vis’, a spiral staircase accessing the upper floors of the new buildings.

Interest in the Louvre passed with the passing of Charles VI and it remained quiet and unused for over a century. When Francois I decided to take up residence in 1527, he demolished the Grosse Tour or medieval portion.

The next phase of work continued for another hundred years including the construction of the Tuileries Palace and the formulation of the Grande Galarie. From the early 1600s to the early 1700s, the grandiose structure grew by leaps and bounds as the vision of le Grande Dessein (Grand Design) was implemented. The expansion included the Pavillion Sully (Clock Pavilion), the Lescot Wing, and the Le Mercier Wing.

When Louis XIV turned his attention and money to Versailles, all interest in the Louvre evaporated. Later in his life, Louis began the conversion of the Louvre to that of a museum by ordering the creation of a gallery of antique sculpture in the Salle des Caryatides.

At the time of the Revolution, the Assemblies Nationale decided the Louvre would not only be the house of the king but would also serve as a gathering place for the monuments of the sciences and the arts.

The Tuileries was demolished in 1882 and over the next fifty years the museum spread through the complex.

In 1939, at the onset of WWII, the collections were evacuated, except for the most heavy and cumbersome. In 1981, a restoration plan instigated by President Francois Mitterand was implemented, bringing the museum to its current, glorious state.

Perhaps the most controversial feature of the renovated museum is the glass Pyramid designed by I. M. Pei and inaugurated on March 30, 1989. While at first the object of great disdain by the French people, it has become one of the country’s, and even the world’s, most recognized structures.


Our joy at entering the museum amplified as we felt the flutter of air conditioning on our boiling skin. They gave us a large and not easily discernible floor plan, instructions to meet up top at the pyramid in two hours and set loose. The excitement began immediately, but it was not over the glimpse of any masterpiece. The teenagers buzzed with excitement as George Lucas passed us in the large foyer and one forthright young man got the famous moviemaker’s autograph. Then it was on to a treasure hunt.

Inside, the Louvre is an endless labyrinth of hallways, passages and chambers. Some of the world’s greatest artistic achievements cover every inch of the towering walls, a feast for the eyes, the colors and the genius of composition that will stay forever imprinted upon my mind. In the short time allotted in this magical place, we were able to find the Venus de Milo, The Wedding Feast at Cana, the crown jewels and the Mona Lisa. The crowd swelled and rippled around this famous painting made even more familiar since its starring role in The DaVinci Code.

We ended at the base of the Pyramid, taking pictures of it and its child hanging inverted below and we soaked our feet in the foaming fountains. It was a moment I had hoped for when joining this excursion.

We soon found ourselves once more in hell’s sweltering heat and after a trek, a subway ride and another trek, we reached our restaurant on the Champs-Elysées. The broad, tree lined avenue is one of the most well known streets in the world. In the early 1600s the vast fields became a tree lined path under the direction of Marie de Medicis (Queen Consort to Henri IV). By the late 1600s, walking the path became an intrinsic part of the social activities of the French. The avenue stretched to the top of Chaillot Hill in the early 1700s to where the Arc d’Triomphe now resides. In the early 1800s footpaths, fountains and gas lighting were added. Today it is part of the vortex of Paris, festooned by cafes, cinemas, luxury specialty shops and couture boutiques including those of Dior and Eve St. Laurent.

We ordered drinks as soon as the waiters offered and reveled in the lukewarm, iceless liquid. Then our sterling guide told us that we had to pay for any drinks but water ourselves. This would have been extremely nice to know before we ordered the four ounces of 'lemonade' that cost then about 7 euros (about $12 US).

The very Americanized meal included lots of bread, arugula salad, a very, very under-cooked hamburger (sans bun), mashed potatoes and, the one saving grace, chocolate mousse. With a temperature close to 100 degrees it was difficult to get the unappetizing meal down.

One of my greatest disappointments with being part of a highly structured, educational tour was the food; specifically the lack of choice concerning food. The selections were made for us, except in a couple of instances where there was a buffet (though nothing like what that word invokes in the US) and for the most part they were bland, very generic offerings. I can only surmise that they were what the Europeans believed would appeal to teen-aged Americans. At lunchtimes, we had the opportunity to visit restaurants of our choice, which we did on a couple of extremely satisfying was, after all, Paris.

Feeling unsatisfied in nourishment, completely exhausted and prostrate from the heat of the confining restaurant’s back room, we descended further into the vortex of suffering. The young musicians were scheduled to perform their first concert that very evening (perhaps not the best idea considering the natural level of exhaustion and jet lag). Our ever-competent (insert a heavy dose of sarcasm here) guide had booked the location of our restaurant to make access to the venue quick and easy. Unfortunately, the restaurant was near the American Cathedral in Paris and the group was scheduled to perform at the American Church, another mile’s walk in the sweltering heat.

There was a surging of group rage, all directed at our terrific guide. We had been in his company for a mere five hours but already his ineptitude was brazenly apparent, and would, in the coming days, become worse.

We walked through the beautiful streets of one of the most magnificent cities in the world but were too tired, irritated and overheated to enjoy any of it. Our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower across the Seine River still produced oohs and aahs and we traversed the overpass under which Princess Diana had lost her life with great reverence.

We arrived late and there was no audience, none at all. It was a desolate time when the words “what have I done” marched through my head like a battalion of marines. The kids’ heads bobbled on their necks, exhaustion the master who pulled their strings.

The trip's musical directors, saw it and, with wisdom, cut the torture short. We headed back to the hotel. Walking, subway, switching lines two or three times, and more walking.

Without sleep now for over thirty hours, my body aching beyond the normal pain I suffer each day, I wept. Through my tears I apologized to my mother for pulling her into this nightmare. Mercifully, we both feel asleep within moments of our bodies finally resting in a reclining position.

Monday, January 7, 2013


As I prepare to chain myself to my desk, to forsake any life but that of the shut-in, crazed, alcohol-craving author, churning out thousands of words a day until the final version of my next book--the first in a trilogy on the birth of the female Renaissance artist--is complete, I chafe at the thought of ignoring my blog. But then, the answer finds me, in the form of a travel journal I wrote a few years ago. In a series of posts (the number as yet unknown) I will take you on that journey, one that included Paris, Normandy, Amsterdam, Belgium, and Bruges--through all its unbelievable blunders and blotches and, most important of all, all its beauty and brilliance.

(Author's Note: all the names, save those of my own family members, have been changed.)

The squeaky giggles and high-pitched, excited voices rumbled through the bus as the large tires rumbled along the bumpy roads leading out of Rhode Island. Even the deep baritones of the teenaged, almost full-grown men in the back sounded a tad higher than usual.

Across the aisle one young woman read from Culture Shock! France: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette (Sally Adamson Taylor, Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company, November 2005), regaling six or more girls on the proper etiquette of our first destination country, France.

“If you’re walking down the street,” she intoned, “and a man smiles at you, don’t smile back.”

A quiet pause of reflection.

“What if he’s hot?” piped up one of her enraptured listeners and the gales of laughter drowned out any more discussion.

This was the start of my first adventure to Europe, one taken with my son and my mother in the summer of 2006. As a member of his school's concert choir, my then sixteen-year-old, first-born son was availed of the opportunity to travel to Europe, to see four countries in ten days for an incredibly reasonable rate.

Since the days when both my children were very small, I have chaperoned almost every field trip and excursion they've been on, from the smells of the petting zoos to the freezing cold apple orchards to the dark confines of a movie theater with hundreds of teenagers, I’d been there. Through the loud and smelly bus rides to being called a bitch because I’d asked a girl to be quiet at a play at one of Rhode Island’s most prestigious theaters. It seemed only right that I continue the tradition. I’d earned it. Surprisingly my son didn’t object when I said I wanted in, not even when my mother, widowed the year before, also decided to jump on board.

Over the next year the excitement built, visions of walking along the Champs-Elysées in a beautiful flowing flowered dress as the caressing summer breeze stirred my hair, haunted my dreams. But reality is never as wonderful as our dreams. I did see things that took my breath away, that brought tears to my eyes and gooseflesh to my skin, but the trials and tribulations of the trip were more aptly imagined in a nightmare. At times, they made me cry or laugh—that edgy, almost hysterical laughter—from the absurdity of it all.

Did I ever stop and think about what it would be like to visit four countries in ten days in the company of almost forty teenagers?


Did I ever stop and wonder how $2,500.00 paid for such a journey, which included all airfares, ground transportation, lodging and two meals a day?


If I had the chance, would I do it again?

You bet. But hopefully better prepared and with realistic expectations, which I hope these posts will give all its readers together with the entertainment—fingers crossed—of its presentation. Alongside my personal reflections (the breathtaking, the mind-boggling, and the humorous) of the trip will be concise data, maps and pictures of the places visited and things seen--with emphasis on historical information, of course--with tips on making any educational tour experience more enjoyable.

As you read, remember, truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

The Journey

Logan International Airport is located in the heart of Boston, Massachusetts. The roads leading to the airport had been under construction since 1991, a project fondly and not so fondly known as ‘the big dig’. Just days before our July 20, 2006 departure, a heavy rain caused one part of the work, an underground tunnel, to collapse, closing the road leading directly to the airport. Our bus driver had to follow a convoluted detour path through the beautiful historic city to get to the airport. Was it a portend of things to come? My own hindsight has answered that; I leave you to discover it for yourself.

We still arrived in plenty of time, thanks to the foresight and planning of our leader, Ms. X. Ms. X, a teacher at my son's high school, led the lively contingent with a charming balance of unflinching discipline, compassionate understanding and a sharp, quick wit. Checking forty people through the airport is a time-consuming task and patience was required, but with the excitement fresh and the energy level high, it moved swiftly.

I was surprised and delighted with the help I received from two security men. They stood at their post, large, burly, and stern faced, looking like the keepers of our country’s safety. Yet once spoken to, once human connects with human, their tight lips turned up at the corners and their eyes creased with a smile. My question asked, they went out of their way to find out the answer.

Traveling…the non-committal nature of the human contact makes it so much easier, at once bringing out courtesy and kindness while in others the rudeness normally reigned in is brought out as the undeniable true self.

As we sat at the gate, all bunched together in a protective circle, staying close to those that formed the tie to the familiar home we were about to leave behind, other passengers approached us with widening eyes and ever-so-slight frowns. You could see it in their faces.

“Are all these kids on our plane?”

The man with the thinning grey hair and incongruently thick, bushy black mustache stopped in his tracks and turned away disgruntled. The elderly couple sat as far from the boisterous young people as they could.

I sat as much among them as they would let me. Their silly conversations about movies, books, television, video games, comic strips, parties peeled away my very adult cloak of responsibilities and problems and I became lighter than air.

Crossing the Atlantic
For every hour that passes an hour of time slips away.

I tried desperately to sleep, to make my internal clock fast forward and catch up with the external, but it was a futile effort. Sleeping sitting up is not easily accomplished. Shutting down the mind is even more ridiculous a notion. Visions of the places I’d see danced across my inner eye: the Eiffel Tower at night, lit up and glorious, the Mona Lisa and her secret smile, and most especially Versailles, where I, as one of my fictional characters, lived for over a year.

I looked to the left and the horizon line was growing visible once more; above it the colors of orange, pink, green, and blue as the sun teased us with its coming day. My first morning in Europe was dawning.