The cure for tired feet is – champagne! I learned this on a recent vacation in Paris with my husband and fourteen-year-old daughter. We saw the city sights exclusively from the ground up. We meandered along the river, over the bridges, down the grand boulevards, through cobblestone alleys from the Sorbonne to Notre Dame to the Arc de Triomphe and around Place de la Concorde.
My husband has an internal compass, an unerring sense of direction, and he never likes to walk the same route twice. It bores him. So when we travel, my daughter and I trail him like imprinted ducklings following behind their duck mother. We walk against the traffic lights and have to sprint to catch up before being creamed by a Livraison delivery truck from the Monoprix. We walk everywhere we go, we walk while we are there, and we walk all the way back when we are finished.
Just when Molly and I think we are on the most direct route back to our apartment in the St. Germain, John takes a curvy side street that disorients us. We watch him for physical cues like a turning of the shoulders, or a flick of the head that will tell us which of these meandering rues will take us to a street we can recognize. When walking back without him, while he goes off in autre directions to amuse himself by trying to get lost, Molly and I take false turns along circuitous routes we have walked before, but not always leading straight home. It is so nice of the French to post maps on the streets at every metro station. One can never get very lost in Paris.
The god of travel has blessed John with his internal navigator and a pair of tireless well-functioning feet. They are broad and thick to look at with oddly stumpy toes. They look like clogs and are probably just as hard and impervious to wear and tear. Molly and I have long feet; size tens. Hers are still AAA width and prone to blisters on their narrow heels, while mine have broadened with bunions and calluses. My calluses have sharp edges that burn and develop subcutaneous blisters. When we travel, I pack five pairs of flat shoes: lace-ups, cushiony flats, nearly worn out flats, pretty flats and the clunky running shoes that are the badge of the American tourist. I wear the running shoes only in the mornings when we take our first walk for coffee and croissants at a new café every day. It is too embarrassing to wear them at other times. French women wear beautiful shoes with heels that would have me whimpering in half an hour. Even Molly has noticed and asked me one day, “If I wore flip-flops, would the people in France care?” I said, “I don’t know, honey, I’ve never really thought about the flip-flop factor.”
A few days into our trip five of us stopped at Brasserie Lipp at dinnertime without a reservation. We let our sister-in-law, Susan, who majored in French, do all the talking. There were empty tables and she thought our chances were pretty good until the Maitre d’Hotel looked down at her feet. Susan swears that he turned us away when he saw her funky chunky white Nike shoes with the reflector strips along the sides.
One day we walked our usual five miles or so and then walked around Le Louvre in search of the two most famous gals: Mona Lisa and Venus di Milo. We said hello to the headless Victory and Marie de' Medici along the way. From there we walked over to Berthillion for ice cream and found a bench to sit on, while enjoying the riverview and spontaneous accordion music nearby. When the last drop of sticky sweetness was gone, we trudged back two miles to our apartment at number 15 rue de Sevres. I didn’t think I would be putting shoes on or lowering my elevated feet again that day. Then John opened a bottle of Tattinger champagne, poured us each a glass, and let the bubbles lift our spirits. We talked and laughed and took family photos. By the time we finished our mood was so elevated that we decided to go back out to photograph Le Tour Eiffel lit up at night.
I put padded band-aids on my blisters and eased my feet into the worn-out flats. It didn’t feel too bad. We walked until we could see the searchlight on top of the tower. We were drawn toward it and could make out the top third shining through the trees. We followed it like a beacon until the Ecole Militaire got in the way. We could see the tower, but would have to lose the sight of it and go around. Just as we turned toward a side street, the tower began to sparkle with random bursts of bright white light. We didn’t want to miss it. I forgot my tired feet and we hoofed it as fast as we could along the Avenue de Suffren toward Parc du Champ de Mars.
John had attached his camera to its collapsible tripod that was extended to its full length. The camera rested against his shoulder and the legs of the tripod were pushed out in front of him as if he were a jouster about to raise his lance. We stretched our legs and really moved until we got to the grass of the park. All around us were people on blankets with bottles of wine, picnic dinners and candle lanterns. We all watched the tower glittering like fireworks. When the random flashes of light slowed to a stop, we stared at the intricate ironwork radiating within its golden light. It was a magical moment, and we were so happy to have found ourselves there. I don’t think we would have made it if I had heeded the throbbing of my tired feet, and I don’t think I could have ignored it without the champagne. Perhaps this is how French women manage to walk so well in les petites chaussures – they drink lots of champagne.