“Those Girls and The Blonde” sounds like a great name for an eighties girl band. It wasn’t. It’s the name of my two roommates and I from 1981 when our landlord (otherwise known as Dragon Lady) coined the phrase after “The Blonde” (Susannah) ripped up the carpeting in our basement, slummish apartment in College town. Susannah is one of the few born and bred Manhattanites I know. She takes charge. She’s decisive. The carpet was horrible and “there’s hard wood floors under there”. So the other “Girl” Janine and I went along for the ride, ripping up the carpet.
We have remained friends for over 35 years. We all had our first born children in 1993. We’ve seen each other marry, sometimes divorce and move to various cities (Washington D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Croton-on-Hudson and Scottsdale). We’ve never lived in the same city at the same time since Ithaca. We’ve had a few reunions but since about 1983, TG&TB have not reunited at the same time sans kids and spouses. So when I had an opportunity to go to Paris, I contacted them both and suggested we reunite in the City of Light. Janine and I were both Paris Virgins and Susannah was fully versed in all things French. We had a plan and TG&TB always execute a plan. We spent 6 days reconnecting in a lovely apartment near the Eiffel Tower.
These are my lessons from reconnecting some 33 years later:
- Let someone lead. Several weeks before departing for Paris, I found some activities that we might want to try out. There were huge email trains between the three of us about costs, times, travel between arrondissements, etc. It wasn’t working. It would take several days to get confirmation. So I finally suggested that Susannah take over the planning going forward. Janine and I signed off on whatever Susannah wanted to cook up. We had faith that she knew what we would like and what would work. As they say, too many cooks spoil the broth. Pick a leader, have faith and stick with it.
- Be willing to get lost. Ever since my daughter turned me on to Google Maps for walking directions in Manhattan, I’ve been pretty obsessed with not being lost. I realize now I am a “Direction Control Freak.” I also hate to appear the tourist with the pocket map. I had to let my judgment go. For God’s sake Cathy, you are a tourist. Who cares if someone else knows it? They will the minute you try and say “Bon jour.” So what if we walked the wrong direction for half a mile in the Marais. It’s Paris. Every street is interesting and unique. I believe it was Janine who said, “It’s all as intended. We are where we need to be. No regrets.” When we were lost, we stumbled on an out of the way café full of locals and sans tourists. It was wonderful. Get lost.
- Quality versus quantity. When you go into one of the largest museums in the world, focus on quality over quantity. We took a guided tour through the Louvre with an American expat who had phenomenal art and history knowledge. We stood looking at a sculpture of Hercules for almost 20 minutes. We discovered how his face change from docile to contemplative depending on the angle. It was fascinating. I’ve never spent that kind of time on one piece of art….ever. I’m more of a fast food consumer of art. Trying to check off each piece as fast as possible, Degas…check, Renoir….check, Mona Lisa…check. This is not the way to appreciate art. This was a huge shift for me and I appreciate our guide’s contemplative example. Don’t consume, appreciate.
- Make space for connection. I’m not positive but I think we ducked into at least three cafes a day. So if we had walked for an hour, let’s grab a table and a drink. If we stumbled on an interesting café, let’s grab some café crème. It was around one of these tables that we reconnected about career choices, our kids and reminiscing about our youth. Those conversations may not have happened if we were too busy trying to make sure we went to every museum in Paris (which I’m not sure is possible but is certainly not practical). I found fantastic advice and stories from two women I respect immensely.
- Utilize your strengths. We all were paying for different things. I figured, it would all wash out by the end. I didn’t feel compelled to keep track. Thank goodness Janine is incredibly organized and meticulous. Between the exchange rate and dollars versus euros, she kept it all straight. Susannah was our motivation. She knew the best falafel place in Paris. It might be a mile and a half away but her enthusiasm was contagious. So what if we walk 8 miles in one day. I was the compass. Street crossing in Paris is pretty crazy. There are cars and motorcycles come ricocheting in from all angles and walking at the cross walk is critical. It became a chess match as to how to get to the street you wanted without losing life or limb. Fall back on your strengths.
- Be realistic. We made sure that we were rarely rushed. So if we wanted to check out a park on the way to Notre Dame, we make sure it was doable at a slow pace with time to spare. If it wasn’t? Move on. If the uber driver hasn’t been able to find you for twenty minutes, take a cab. If the maître’d explains that the dish has raw duck in it, order something else. Be realistic.
- Be open to adventure. Janine and I went up the Eiffel Tower together. It’s a pretty trippy adventure. The funicular is at an angle and with all the structure supports going by, it is a bit disorienting. When we got to the top, I wanted to stay inside. I was as high as my acrophobia wanted to take me. Janine ran upstairs and ran back down. “Cath. You have to go to the top. It’s not bad.” I did and it was worth the flight of stairs up. Susannah wanted to see the Saint-Chappelle. From the outside, it’s not very impressive and we had just been through Notre Dame. When we entered what I later found out was the first floor, it was some chipping paint with a low ceiling and trinket stands. I thought, “What’s the big deal?” Then we walked up a stone circular staircase (did I mention I’m claustrophobic?). At the top was, and is, the most beautiful chapel I have ever stood in. My breath was taken away and tears were in my eyes. I know that if I hadn’t gone with TG&TB to Paris, I would never have stood in that awe-inspiring spot. Be an adventurer.
This was a trip of a lifetime with two of my favorite people in the world. So think about it. Who would you like to connect to again? Break out of your normal agenda and take off on a reunion adventure of your own. There will be no regrets.