Friday, 23 May 2008

Unlikely venue for a family reunion

Some may say that Paris is a crazy place to hold a family reunion. It's not the beach, it's not a state park, and it certainly doesn't have buffets or even seating for large numbers. However, as 3 out of 6 siblings in my husband's family are residing in Paris and Brussels, Paris became reunion central.

Paris has such great public places in which a big crowd can easily gather and the children can enjoy themselves. The Jardin de Tuileries was where the not yet teens would kick a ball and play army. The Jardin de Luxembourg allowed the older members to sit and have a chat, while the youngsters played with the boats and ducks in the fountain. The Palais Royal and its gardens allowed for silliness at all ages as family members would take turns jumping from post to post or posing on the columns.

Enjoying the sights of Paris was also doable as a group. The Musee Rodin and it's beautiful outside sculpture garden and cafe was a perfect place to see an incredible building with gorgeous art, while allowing time to relax under the big trees at the cafe. It also afforded the kids some mischievous time, whether it was feeding the birds some questionable food, or playing hide and seek from a fellow tourist who had her eye on one of the teen cousins.

Eating as a group also worked out, surprisingly. On one occasion we tried to have a late lunch at a bistro, L'Absinthe, and they said it was too late (and too early for dinner). But seeing so many hungry faces, the owner and waiter changed their minds and allowed us in for "lunch" (it was 4:00). Ten of us sat along the back wall in the back room. Most of the offferings of the day were still available and we ordered quickly. The service was nice, the food came shortly after ordering and it was quite tasty.

Thirteen of us had a three course dinner at le Petit Villiers in the 17th, which was quite delightful. This time, we had made reservations, and we all sat together in the back room. Despite a couple of misunderstandings, the waiter was quite cheerful and accomodating.

The Musee Jaquemart-Andre which was highly recommended by great Aunt K, turned out to be a spectacular showplace for art that the former inhabitants donated to France from their collection they had acquired over the years. We could all listen to the description of the house and the art at our own pace, and then meet for lunch at the cafe, also in the museum.

Just visiting with their cousins, aunts and uncles is what our kids liked most. Little M and G, both 6 years old, lost teeth the same week and got to have a Parisian sleep over. Hanging out at Gram and Grandad's apartment with their balcon overlooking the Comedie Francaise, and enjoying Monoprix gourmet pizza and salad was an activity our children looked forward to. They quite loved buskering on the street for passing change.

I always wonder, "Will the kids remember being together at the fountain at Tuileries? Will they remember eating at Angelina's with their grandparents? Will they recall the Guignol theatre with the littlest of French kids yelling out warnings to the puppets?. Will they remember drawing at the Louvre with their cousins? Or what about performing on the street for money?" I can't be sure they will.

But what the kids do carry with them is a fascination for the stories that are told at these family gatherings. They love to hear about dad's house catching fire when he was a kid, and the kids sleeping in the dining room, even when their four cousins from St. Louis came, making 10 kids sleeping in the dining room. The loved to hear almost any story or tips about secret languages from their Great Aunt K; they were mesmerized when she was at the table. When an uncle or aunt would begin a story, it seems our kids had a sixth sense that something good was going to take place, because they'd gather around. My son noticed that most of the great stories resulted from mishaps, accidents or even tragedies. He even said " I wish more accidents happened to us, so we would have more good stories." I'll try to keep in mind the future story value when going through an unpleasant event.

So Paris ended up being a fun place for a family reunion. It was a little more hectic than lying on a beach and catching up over a barbecue, but it had its own flavor which included chocolat chaud from Angelina's and watching the performers in front of the Pompidou. Not every family would be up for this, so I thank everyone for making it happen.

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