My sister and I do not have the greatest travel record. Until recently, all of our trips together involved someone getting hit (her), bitten (also her), or fantastically, world-meltingly angry (me).
But she just graduated from college, and I’ve survived two years in the wild as a Young Adult Millennial, and that plus a spontaneous Kayak search for plane tickets to Paris last November were enough to convince me that We Could Travel Together. I booked us cheapo round-trip tix from JFK and then six months later we took a train to a subway to an AirTrain to a very, very compact jumbo jet and then there we were: Paris, France, city of dreams.
The rental car seemed like a much better idea from the safety of my American laptop. It was a very vroomy diesel-powered Mercedes—automatic, thank God—but the instant we rolled out of the Gare du Nord I started hyperventilating. We—meaning I—were going to drive this thing?! In Paris?! And then into the wilds of French farming country?!? What if it blew up, or got a flat, or needed more gas and we didn’t have a credit card with the little puce on it and the gas-station attendant murdered us? And—putain—what about the roundabouts?
Well, we made it. Turns out, Alice possess all the hallmarks of an excellent travel companion: laid-back attitude, unusually stable blood sugar, calming reading voice. In Paris, when it took us two hours to roll our bloated American suitcases (and bloated American selves) to our rented flat (apparently June 6th is some kind of holiday? Joking, joking; we will never forget except when jetlag makes us cotton-brained), she was preternaturally composed even when I was about to burst into tears. When the dashboard of our rental Mérco lit up with a terrifying red ! she told me not to worry, even though I was convinced the car was about to blow up real good (turns out, it was an alarm to tell us that there was another car in front of us, because apparently French drivers don’t just look out the windshield?) She did not complain that most of our meals were a variation on a ham and cheese sandwich (all the rosé helped) and I don’t think she even snored.
She is also adorable. She wondered why Holland was involved in so many French political situations (that’s M. le Président Hollande, for the record) and freaked out when we saw a bunch of tiny ponies in the Jardins de Luxembourg.
We had what can only be called a grand old time. We saw Notre Dame, Père LaChaise, the Musée Cluny, Chartres, the squat, crumbling castle of William the Conqueror, a random battlefield I made us swing by where young Guillaume broadsworded his rebellious cousin into submission, Mont-st-Michel, the Bayeux tapestry, the Louvre. We saw the graves of Abelard and Heloise, gigantic Rubens paintings and a more modest-sized Caravaggio, and three movies in theaters that were resoundingly French and definitely funny. I made a really good French joke (ask me about it, I’ll totally explain the pun to you in person), and she laughed. We went to the spectacular ruins of Jumièges Abbey and ate bullet-shaped strawberries and supermarket vanilla pudding. She drew pictures and I lay in the grass and woolgathered. We made friends with a French girl named Juju and saw an entire line of French boyscouts in berets and gloves and ponchoes marching through a thunderstorm with banners of saints held on high.
Still, I have never spent a vacation so nervous (and I’ve had panic attacks in Reykjavik, Verona, and every airport I’ve ever been in). Alice and I have never traveled abroad without our parents (or if not our parents, someone else in loco parentis who could, you know, rent the car and make sure we had a place to sleep). The hour-and-a-half journey from the Periphérique to the rental return place on the spiderwebbing, unmarked streets of Paris remains the most charged with adrenaline I’ve ever been (though I did manage to let slip a few lusty Mais merde, connard, va t’en! through the window).But if I have our dad’s temper, Alice has our mom’s patience. We are becoming adult humans, and we can take care of not just ourselves but each other.
“I don’t want to be one of those people who says, I just love Paris, you know? Because those people are awful,” I told her. Alice rolled her eyes. Why can’t you just like what you like? she said. Who cares what other people are doing?
She had a point. What a smart human that child grew up to be. I’ll never bite her again.