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Taken Back to School

Even though I was on summer holiday from my job as an independent school administrator, a recent experience took me back to school.

I closed this past summer with a short vacation that included a few days in Prague followed by a stop in Paris. Nick Reynolds, a friend who lives in London, arranged to meet me in Paris since he was also on summer holiday. We share a passion for our common hobby, photography. Paris sounded like an excellent late summer photo opportunity.

We arrived in Paris on the second Sunday in August. I took a midday flight from Prague to Paris. Nick traveled on a late afternoon Eurostar train from London’s St. Pancreas Station. I checked into our hotel before taking the subway to Gare du Nord to meet Nick’s train. We made a quick return to the hotel to drop off his bag, and then we collected our camera gear and tripods and set out to photograph Arc de Triomphe.

It was a beautiful evening in Paris. The late setting sun provided a few hours for us to work the angles as we circled the monument taking photos. The sun set slowly and the cloudless sky changed from orange to blue to black, marking the photographic “golden hours” that bracket dusk to early evening to night. Just after 9:00, lights turned on illuminating the Eiffel Tower in the near distance.

It was a perfect night in Paris and a great start to what would be a brilliant few days in France.

On our walk back to the hotel, even though it was late, we decided to search for a market near Porte Maillot where we could buy a bottle of wine to enjoy in the outdoor patio attached to the hotel lobby. We were not ready to call it a night and there was a lot to catch up on since we live on different continents.

Just as we began to worry if we would find an open market, we saw a man walking towards us with a brown paper bag in hand. That gave us hope that there was a store in the vicinity. Thoughtlessly, I pointed to the paper bag and blurted out, in English, “Where’s the market?” The man with the bag gave me a patient look, made an exaggerated swooping gesture with his free hand and said, “Bonsoir” in perfect rhythm with the wave of his hand. To be sure that I understood the lesson, he focused his gaze on me, eye-to-eye, and repeated, “Bonsoir.” 

I was embarrassed by my bullish lapse in manners that framed me as a not-too-photogenic “American in Paris.”

I got the lesson.

I’ll remember the second Sunday in August 2011 as the night I was schooled by a Parisian who did, in fact, direct my friend and me to a fruit stand market where we bought two liters of water, a bottle of Bordeaux and a basket of strawberries.

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