When I was sixteen, me, my sissy and our parents headed to Paris…on Air Pakistan. Air Pakistan because it was dirt cheap to fly and it was our only last minute option. Mysterious vapor streamed out of the AC vents, mutton was served for dinner and in the middle of the night, over the Atlantic, prayer rugs covered every space on the floor in economy. There were a lot of people on that plane praying that we would arrive safely in France. In the 80’s you could find deals to Europe, the dollar was strong and if you didn’t care how you got there, when exactly you went or where you stayed you could go to Paris or anywhere in Europe on a relative song.
Sis and I put my parents through the ringer that trip. Humongous brats. We stayed in a tiny, cheap hotel and had our own room. We raided the minibar snacks, stayed up until dawn watching a concert on TV and when my Mom wanted us to go to mass at Notre Dame Sunday morning, we wouldn’t budge. We acted that way the entire trip. Awful. And because we were so impossible my parents gave up at some point, they let us loose. We got a map of the Metro and explored on our own. We figured that subway out and learned how to jump in a cab if we got lost. We cruised the Champs Elysees and spent our babysitting money on beautiful little purses from the snotty Gucci shop keepers. We discovered jambon et fromage baguettes from street vendors who smiled at us and spoke French that we didn’t understand but made us smile in return. We didn’t realize it then but we discovered the magic of wandering around a huge city, without a plan, without a language and without anywhere we had to be. We had no fear. Maybe because we were young.
My parents didn’t have fear of letting us go either. They trusted that we had some street sense but there were no phones, no one spoke the language and they just didn’t seem to worry about that. I am not sure how you do that as a parent, let go like that and maybe my parents were desperate for some peace from their two impossible girls but it didn’t seem hard for them to do and it was a gift to us. And while there is space in my brain occupied by the Wailing Wall, the Rio Negro, Mt. Etna and Il Mercato di San Lorenzo-the beauty of the other places I have been, another, bigger space is taken up by the knowledge of what a little freedom can do for you. Freedom that prompts curiosity, bravery and spontaneity. Freedom that is best discovered with a subway map and no plan, in an unfamiliar, spectacular place.