We passed one on our first morning in Paris. We were walking down the Rue de Rivoli, and there it was in the Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville, a lovely double-decker merry-go-round with old fashioned horses and carriages. I was confused, because I was on the lookout for the Apple Store, one branch of which was in the Carrousel du Louvre near the inverted pyramid. The carousel we saw was definitely not an underground shopping center, and it turned out that the shopping center had nothing to do with carousels. (I hadn’t noticed the difference in the spelling; I was in another country, after all, where they spelled in a different language.)
But wait, there’s more. Paris is full of carousels. We saw one near the Eiffel Tower, one in the Jardin du Luxembourg, and one near the St. Paul Metro station. And when we left Paris for a short trip through Normandy and Brittany, we saw carousels in Saint-Malo and in Honfleur. Most of them were not limited to horses but included lions and tigers and elephants and chickens and cars and planes. I loved all of them.
When I was a child, my mother would occasionally take me to Acushnet Park near Fort Rodman in New Bedford. The park is long gone, and it never was serious competition for Lincoln Park, whose carousel had an impressive collection of horses and carriages. Lincoln Park is, alas, also gone. I was very young when Acushnet Park disappeared from my life, but I still remember the carousel, which was not limited to horses but included geese and rabbits and other animals. I was particularly fond of the rabbits.
On the carousel in the Jardin du Luxembourg, the children riding the outside circle of horses are given sticks that they use to attempt to spear metal rings from some sort of ring dispenser. I remember once riding a carousel in Oak Bluffs that featured a ring dispensing machine, but I don’t remember being given a stick. We had to reach out and grab the rings with our fingers, and I think there was a knob on the horse’s neck to hold the collected rings. I wasn’t fast enough to grab more than one each time around, but the Oak Bluffs kids would grab two or three at once. Anyone who got the “gold” ring would win a prize. It was fun, but I really wanted to ride a rabbit.
Last Christmas, when our trip to Paris was still in the planning stages, my brother, Edward, and his girlfriend, Susan, gave Joe and me a French language map, a laminated collection of all the phrases a traveler would need to know when meeting people, changing money, eating out, shopping, or dealing with emergencies. We already knew how to say “good morning” and “thank you,” but the French phrase for “I’m sorry” was unfamiliar to us. Je suis désolé sounded like something we might write on a sympathy card, not something we’d toss off after accidentally stepping on a stranger’s foot.
Last Friday was the big day in all the Apple Stores, including those in Paris, and we were there early. I wanted to see the Apple Watch in person, compare the various models, and try on a couple of the bands. It was great fun! But as I was taking a last look at one of the watch tables, an Apple employee took a step backward and accidentally stepped on my foot. Je suis désole, he said, and he really, truly did look désolé. In fact, he looked so désolé that I forgot all about my foot, which really didn’t hurt at all, and tried to console him in his desolation.
Now I think I understand a few things about how Parisians interact with one another. Je suis désolée that we will be leaving this city of surprising courtesies just as we are beginning to feel at home.
I am well into a virtual walking tour from Le Puy, France, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, with a further trip to Finisterre. I reached Léon, Spain, on April 1, during a long layover at Heathrow Airport on my actual trip from Ithaca to Paris. Right now I’m virtually between Léon and Santiago but actually in Paris. I’m thinking this is sort of like being stuck inside of Mobile while wanting to be in Memphis, which was pretty much the pattern of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, as I think I remember one reviewer saying, but that was a long time ago.
Neither virtually nor actually, but truly, madly, deeply, I am not stuck anywhere. I am where I want to be–in Paris and in Léon–and there are a few other places I would also like visit all at the same time. I think that’s what life is like, and while living in the moment has its benefits it also has its limitations. Why should geography deter us when the mind can fly faster than a speeding bullet or a powerful locomotive?
Three days ago we took a day trip from Paris to Chartres, toured the Cathedral, saw the sights. One sight I didn’t expect to see, although perhaps I should have, was a marker in the sidewalk indicating that Chartres is on the route to Santiago de Compostela–not my route, which began much closer to the Spanish border, but the one that starts in Paris. Pilgrims can begin anywhere they want. Where you are is always the starting point, and the journey radiates outward.