21 May 2006
Homage to My Daughter Isabel
I just spent 6 full days with my daughter Isabel in France and I long for more. It was her 10th birthday the day she left for Paris and this was her birthday present – a trip to Paris to be with me. She arrived early in the morning and I was so happy to see her that I cried. Belle cried too but for other reasons – she didn’t like the airline food and had decided to avoid it and that upset her. We rode a bus to the train station and then took multiple trains back into Paris and our hotel. This is the second time Belle has been to Paris. She was 4 when she made her previous visit and over the course of our 6 days together I learned that she had incredibly sharp memories of that trip. I was worried that she might forget THIS never imagining that she has a clear recall of a trip she made when she was 4. It is clear to me now that she will remember this trip for the rest of her life.
Within minutes of her arrival Belle’s first request was to ride a double decker carousel which she remembered from her last visit. She told me where she thought it was and we found it at the park in front Sacre Couer in Montmartre. She rode it three times and was quite pleased.
The next thing we did was go to the Bateau Mouche for a water tour of Paris. The best part of the ride was when Belle crawled up into my lap and I held her as we both fell asleep for a large portion of the ride. Cost: 8 Euro - Experience: Priceless
The rest of our time is now a blur of metro, TGV and bus rides. While she was hesitant to ride her first metro Belle soon became a skilled “metro surfer” asking me if we could use metro instead of walking a few blocks. She enjoyed trying to ride without holding the rail while I was always reminder her to do just that – HOLD ON. She loved opening the subway and bus doors. She loved walking with me, which we did a lot, and she always either held my hand or my arm. She never strayed more than a couple of feet away from me.
We used bus 80 to get everywhere the metro didn’t take us and soon she started calling it buseighty finding the one word version funnier than my two word version. We joked about the talking GPS systems in the taxi cabs – TURN LEFT IN 100 METERS. As we were walking Belle would all of the sudden say TURN LEFT IN 1 METER and then walk into a wall to make me laugh – I DID!!
We went clothes shopping and she seemed so at ease as we found bargains for t-shirts, skirts and pants at the Monoprix and Okaido. She wasn’t at ease when she tried on the most amazing pink cololured dress which fit her perfectly. The saleswoman doted on her and told her how beautiful she looked and as the salesperson walked away Belle said she didn’t want it. I didn’t press her then, or later, but from what I know of Belle she hates to be the centre of attention or to stick out at all. I presume that this is what she was thinking when she said NO.
We had the greatest time together. As she was waiting to leave at the airport, two women in front of us started talking to Belle. They realized that she was flying alone and they wanted to set her at ease. They told Belle that in terms of “Cool” that a trip to Paris with her father and buying clothes was absolutely the “Coolest thing a kid could do.” She smiled back at them but didn’t really respond.
It is hard to know what Belle was thinking. I haven’t spent a lot of time with her over the past 2 years and I really have been away so much of her life traveling from place to place. I know she misses me because she tells me so. At one point we were walking back to our hotel and Belle said to me “Daddy, you are famous…you are in newspapers and on TV and you are famous.” I thanked her for thinking I was famous but I explained that I really wasn’t famous at all. I don’t think she really understood. She had delivered to me an article which featured me and the work I was doing in Macedonia. My work is what has always taken me away from her.
I was left wondering what she will think of me when she turns 20. Will she still think I am famous or will she resent the fact that I was gone for so much of her life?
As she left me at the airport I told her that I loved her endlessly and will miss her very much. She didn’t realize that I watched her until she disappeared never looking back to see if I was there. I cried then as I am crying now.