Sunday, January 28, 2007

First Trip to Paris -- January, 1980

Twenty-seven years ago this very week, I was seventeen years old and on my first trip to Europe. I have been looking for the photos which I took with my grandmother's old Brownie camera but I can't find them anywhere. Oh, well, they were a bit blurry, anyway. I was able to find similar prints from a 1982 trip of some of the same places of interest.

Winters were colder then, and it had been a bitterly cold winter in Maryland, with piles of snow. I was a senior at Prospect Hall High School, now renamed Saint John's Prep; it was the only even nominally Catholic high school in the area. The school was in the old Dulaney mansion on a hill overlooking Frederick, Maryland. It was a grand old house; unfortunately, most of the classes were held in the gymnasium, which was freezing. We had to leave our coats on much of the time and then avoid slipping on the ice when changing classes.

Therefore it was with great excitement that about twenty of us students prepared for a ten day excursion to Paris, with a stopover in London. Not only were we leaving the misery of school, but, for me, at any rate, I was going to see so many places I had long dreamed of. Among the young travelers were three of the Thomas girls, whom I had known since childhood, but the adventures in Europe cemented our friendship into a lifelong bond which endures to this day. My designated roommate was a sweet, devout Methodist girl named Beverly who had grown up on a farm. Beverly had already been to England as an exchange student and so knew a little bit about getting around Europe.

Nothing can compare with the first experience of Paris. Climbing to the heights of Montmartre and entering the Basilica of the Sacred Heart for the first time was a moment of gravity and inspiration, for I thought of Saint Denis and his companions and their sufferings while at the same time glimpsing heaven. We entered the gothic portals of Notre Dame while the evening organ recital was going on, and all the glories of the Middle Ages unfolded before me. The same at Sainte Chapelle, which encapsulates in wood, glass and stone the love and devotion of Saint Louis IX.

What can I say about the Louvre, except that to walk in and see the "Winged Victory" was pure magic. (It was before those awful plastic pyramids were set up.) I was going through a Raphael phase, and soaked in the radiance of his Madonnas. On the Rue de Rivoli I was thrilled to see Saint Joan of Arc on horseback; anything that had the least to do with that saint was a special delight. Another church I fell in love with was the Madeleine; there were bunches of fresh lilies everywhere in the church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalen, almost as if it were Easter.

Of course, I must mention our night on the town. Our teachers took us to the Lido, which was billed "the most famous nightclub in the world." I now question the prudence of taking twenty teenagers to such a sophisticated night spot; it was indeed an experience. Being near-sighted even then, I did not see much when not wearing my glasses. We were each given half a bottle of champagne, and since Beverly was a teetotaller, I helped to finish her portion. It was a bit too much and I was sent home in a taxi rather tipsy. The taxi collided with another one; luckily, no one was injured.

The day we spent at Versailles was especially memorable. I had studied a book on Versailles that my grandmother had in her house but the magnificence of the Sun King's palace was still daunting. It was a soft, misty day, damp but not cold. We walked over to Petit Trianon and I was amazed at how the birds were singing in the gardens of the queen. There was a unique atmosphere there, both haunted and hallowed. It made an impression on my psyche which would linger for years; I did not think that someday I would write about Marie-Antoinette, although the inspiration was planted on that occasion. Share


Anonymous said...

So...what happened when you got to London?

Josh said...

Lovely memory!! I remember my first, and only thus far, trip to Europe. I went with my sister and brother in law to vis my brother. My brother was finishing his last year in seminary, although he had been ordained the year before, and we decided to see where he had been for five years. It was amazing! We saw the sights and walked the city, but nothing prepared me for St. Peters. I was literally awestruck as I walked through this holy place. Words can hardly describe it. Then when we saw the catacombs under the basilica and came to resting place of St. Peter himself!! Wow!!

I do enjoy reading what you write, your style is very easy to read. You also write about a topic that doesn't get much air time these days. Thank you for the time and effort it takes to publish such well written and articulate posts each day. It's definitely appreciated!

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, Josh, for the comment and the kind words!I have never been to Rome and would really like to go.

I checked out your blog; it is very interesting, too!!!

elena maria vidal said...

Well, wordsmith, in London I ended up with a group of girls who only wanted to shop. I don't know how I got separated from my usual sight-seeing friends. I ended up spending the day lost in Herrod's department store, and never saw the Tower or Westminster Abbey or any of the things I had really wanted to see. I was heartbroken. But at least I got to see some shows - Yul Brynner in "The King and I" and "Annie."

Anonymous said...

Brings back memories of those days. So glad you had the experience.

Anonymous said...

Makes me want to dash over there!

Anonymous said...

I want to go back to Paris too!

Anonymous said...

Indeed it was a very cold January. Just before you left there was a very bad plane crash into the 14th Street Bridge in Washington. Icing of the wings caused the terrible crash.

My Mother and sister were in Paris in 1965 while my sister worked in a photographer's studio for about a month. They had the same incredulous experience viewing Winged Victory, in spite of the fact that is was raining and the Louvre's roof was leaking. Buckets filling with water were at the base of the statue.

This is a wonderful blog. I try to catch it everyday.