Sunday, August 30, 2015

GHS 212 Mini-reunion in Paris

Last weekend, we had a mini-reunion -- in Paris. It was not a "big" year, like a decade year; the next one of those will be the 50th and I'm sure it'll be in Philly so the maximum number can attend. No, this was the 47th and not an official reunion, of course. It all started at the 45th, two years ago, with people saying how they would really like to come to Paris. Over the years, several classmates have come to Paris, individually, and occasionally their trips have coincided and we've had lunch or dinner together. I always enjoy meeting up with these visitors. As I've said before, most of these women and I did not know each other in high school. It was, and still is, a very big high school, with hundreds of girls in a graduation year (what the French call "une promo"). Class 212 graduated in 1968.
A little over a year ago, I created a poll to find out how many of our classmates wanted to come to Paris, thought they could do it, and when they would prefer to do it. Of course, not everyone could come and of those who could, not everyone could come at just any date, so I had to find the best solution. For the teachers in the group, we had to do it before classes started, and that pushed us to August instead of September and this year just seemed more popular than next year. I wrote to a couple of tour directors I know to ask about how to organize a group. I had about 25 classmates interested and if I added in spouses and other travelling companions it could have been a very large group. Gary Kraut, of France Revisited gave me some very sound advice: involve a travel agent in the US and get a deposit from the participants at least 6 months before the reunion. No one used the travel agent, but she was nevertheless very helpful in suggesting they make their own flight arrangements and even suggested a hotel or two. And once the request for deposits went out, the group size dropped, too, which, for me, was easier to deal with.
I'm not going to name names in the blog; I don't know how each person feels about having her name out there, so I'll just use initials, if I talk of anyone specifically, at all. If you decide to leave a comment, it's up to you to name yourself, but please leave out others' names unless they have already identified themselves. This is also why I am only going to post the "official" photo that was taken before we went for our walks, because Tom, the photographer asked if anyone minded it going up and no one did.
The reunion was from Friday evening to Sunday noon. Some arrived a few days before, some stayed a few days after, but the part I took care of was just that bit. (a couple GB and EZ with E's husband) arrived for a great stay with us and a little trip to the southwest of France -- preceding posts) First off, a dinner cruise on the Capitaine Fracasse. We met at the loading dock on the Ile des Cygnes between the Bir-Hakeim and Grenelle bridges. Four of the group were in a taxi whose driver did not know how to get onto the Bir-Hakeim bridge to leave them off and drove them around and around. But they made it! And one whose flight was via Moscow came running across the bridge trailing her suitcase, and she made it! All 17 of us (11 classmates, spouses and friends) made it. It was a warm evening and the banks of the Seine were packed with people just hanging out, drinking, eating, dancing. We didn't see much of the monuments; we were too busy talking! The food was excellent, much better than I think anyone expected. After dinner, we went up to the upper deck to see the sights and just before we docked, the Eiffel Tower did its hourly show of blinking lights right in front of us. (I can't seem to add the image google made of the assembled burst of shots -- quite nice, but sorry, not here.)
This was the real reunion.
On Saturday morning, everyone dragged herself out of bed to meet at the Splendid Hotel Tour Eiffel, where most were staying, for our 4-hour bus tour of Paris. To start, the four at the Hotel Albe had a taxi driver who took them to a different Hotel Splendid and they had to walk fast to be on time. (By the way, everyone was satisfied with the hotels. The Splendid will be completely renovated starting next month, so I imagine it'll be more expensive next season.) On the way, they were able to take in the cavalry horses in training at the Ecole Militaire, not a sight most tourists get. The guide was a few minutes early, but the bus was an hour late!
Our guide, Richard, is from Madagascar. His English is good, when just speaking with him individually, but on the bus, in the fuzzy mike, giving his tourist spiel, well, no. His accent got in the way. It's not a typical French accent. He didn't stress the right syllables (NA-po-leen), and he mixed up some syllables (lily water flowers - liliwarflor), so if anyone was really listening, it was next to impossible to follow. We had to cut the tour to 3 hours, and we did get a discount. We stopped at Montmartre and most of the group climbed all the way to the top. As requested, we got dropped off at the Place d'Odéon and were able to get a bit to eat before the walking tours started at 2.
Most of the group went on the James Baldwin in Paris walk with Monique Wells. I wasn't on this walk. The impressions I got later in the evening were that it was a very hot day and the pace was perhaps a bit too fast. They heard a lot about the fights he got into and not much about what he wrote in Paris or the political circumstances. On the whole, though, they liked the walk. A suggestion to tourists on a guided walk would be to give the feedback as you go, so the guide can adjust the spiel.
I had the privilege of leading the smaller group in the Marais. We caught the 96 bus at Odéon and got off at Saint Gervais, to start the tour at the Shoah Memorial. I think it went well. It was a very, very hot day and we stopped about half way through for some drinks or ice cream. (I had the advantage of being part of the group, not an external, hired guide.) This stop also allowed us to readjust our expectations, so we cut out going all the way to the Museum of Jewish Art and History and I cut short the commentary on the mansions north of the rue des Francs Bourgeois. We ended at the Place des Vosges and went on to Bastille to catch a bus back to the hotels.
Dinner on Saturday evening was at the Grand Bistro on the Place Breteuil. The terrace was open; it was almost like being outside. It was perfect. By this time, we had decided to cancel the Sunday picnic at the Parc Floral since it was going to rain, and it did rain on Sunday morning. Some, not all, of us gathered at the Splendid and then went to a café on the deserted rue Cler for a coffee/late breakfast. I left the group, there, to go home and flop on the couch, while the others continued their tourism. From the pictures they've shared, I think they got a lot out of their short stay and I'm so, so happy they came.


RoRo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ellen said...

Ruth wrote a comment that hasn't come through, but she sent it to me in an email:
Absolutely on target, Ellen -- and thanks for posting promptly to capture impressions when they are fresh. My own preference for trips is to plan carefully but be prepared for flexibility as the circumstances demand -- and I think we achieved that pretty well. It was equally terrific to reconnect with classmates I knew at GHS, those I knew only by name, and their friends/spouses whom I was meeting for the first time. Again kudos and thanks to Ellen for her meticulous and well-considered planning.

Yours from Tours,
Ruth and Abe

Ellen said...

RoRo left a comment and then asked to edit it, but it got removed. Sorry, RoRo, you'll have to repost it when you get a chance.

Kate O'Neill said...

What a great narrative and I'm so glad you posted it. I've been enjoying Robin's postings too. Thanks for being such a great host and travel agent. I am impressed with your hard work and resourcefulness. If I couldn't be there at least I have been able to enjoy the mini-reunion long distance!
Kate O