Entries in Light the Corners of My Mind (31)


What I Remember

In late June of 2001, we moved out of Manhattan and up to the Hudson Highlands. I had a three-month-old baby, Tess. She was a little more fragile than other newborns; she was born five weeks early and had spent ten days in the NICU before coming home to us. She needed lots of extra holding; it seems like I spent most of that summer nursing her while reading the entire Inspector Lynley series, which I checked out in bulk from our new library.

With Tess's arrival, we had four children aged 8 and under. Our two oldest had just started at their new school the week before--Christian in third grade and James in kindergarten. Two-year-old Hope followed me around our new house every day and asked me when we were going to go "home." I hadn't had much time to get to know people, what with unpacking and post-partum sleep deprivation, but we had met three houses' worth of very kind neighbors. 

The morning of September 11th, Patrick took the train into Manhattan for work, like he did every day. I put the boys on the school bus, cleaned up breakfast, and was reading to Hope and nursing Tess. A knock on the door interrupted us; I went to answer it while trying to comfort indignant Tess. It was darling, newly wed Mary, my neighbor from across the street.

"Is Patrick all right?" she asked. 

I told her that as far as I knew, he was fine, and asked why. 

"Does he work in the World Trade Center?"

"No, he's not downtown; he's on the east side," I said. "His office is across the street from the United Nations." 

"Oh, good." Her relief was obvious.

I asked her what was going on, and she told me a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. I pictured one of the small private planes that I'd often seen flying along the Hudson River. I asked her in, and we made our way around all the unpacked boxes to the master bedroom. We sat down on the edge of my unmade bed and turned on the TV while I bounced fussy Tess until my thighs ached. I still didn't know the new channel lineup, but I eventually found CNN, and Mary and I watched the coverage of the crash together.

Just after the first plane hit the North Tower, it seemed like a bizarre accident; no one at that point thought the plane had crashed deliberately. But as we watched the live coverage, listening to reporters trying to figure out what was going on, the second plane hit the South Tower--right in front of our eyes. 

That was when everything changed. For me, the event instantly transformed from a tragic but random event to an apocalyptic attack of unknown proportions. Looking back, that is what I remember most clearly: that we had no idea what the next target would be, or how many targets there would be. Once the Pentagon was hit, my terrified mind told me that an attack on the UN was a logical possibility--and my husband was far too close to it for comfort. I frantically tried to reach Patrick in every way I knew how. 

He had a cell phone, but at that point, all cell phones were useless; the city's cell towers had all been on top of the WTC. And no one at Patrick's law firm was picking up the phone. Social media and smart phones didn't exist, and email was a rudimentary thing in those days. Sometimes it's difficult to remember how different the world was before texting and tweeting and instant messaging. But I remember how isolated and desperate I felt that day. 

But our phone started to ring. Members of our new church congregation knew Patrick worked in the city, but they didn't know where. I told people over and over again that I was positive he was safe, but that was a lie. 

And then the school called; all the children were being sent home. I met the boys at the bus stop, gave the three older kids a snack, and let them watch VHS tape after VHS tape on the little TV upstairs. I couldn't tear myself away from the news coverage, but I didn't want the kids to see any of it. I'd witnessed people jumping or falling out of the upper floors of the towers. CNN only showed that footage once, when it was live; mercifully, I never saw it again, but I'll never forget it. 

That morning, Patrick got off the train at Grand Central Station and walked a few blocks uptown, as he always did. He passed several people who were standing on the street and looking south. In New York, you don't generally pay attention to strangers doing odd things, but he finally asked a construction worker what was going on. The guy said he'd been working at the top of one of the Trump buildings and had seen a plane hit one of the World Trade Center towers. Patrick's initial reaction was the same as mine--it had to have been an accident. 

By the time he got to his office, the second tower had been hit, and the law firm immediately shut down and sent everyone home. Patrick went back to Grand Central and got on a Hudson Line train--but he and all the other anxious passengers sat waiting in the station for a long time. Finally armed men came down the platform and asked everyone to exit the train and the building as quickly as possible. The historic station was thought to be a potential target and had been closed. People started stampeding off the train and through the halls; Patrick says that's the only time he was truly frightened. 

Once outside, he waited in a block-long line for a pay phone so he could call me. We talked briefly, and I can't describe the relief I felt when I heard his voice. Once we hung up, I burst out sobbing and couldn't stop for a long time. I knew he was safe for the moment, but no one knew what would happen next. 

Patrick went over to Times Square, where the Jumbotron showed live footage of what was going on downtown. He stood with thousands of other people in the streets and watched the second tower collapse. 

In ever increasing shock, he decided to see if he could take a ferry across the Hudson to Hoboken; he figured that his parents or I could then drive down and pick him up. He walked west to Eleventh Avenue. There he saw two alarming things. First, the line for the ferry was literally a mile long. He realized getting across the river was not an option.

But far worse, for the first time he saw people walking up the avenue from downtown. They were grey with dust, hollow-eyed, and numb. They looked like zombies. 

He turned and also walked uptown--all the way to his best friend from college David's apartment at 106th and Broadway. He and David and Catherine (David's wife) sat on their couch for hours, glued to CNN. The Pentagon. Pennsylvania. Footage of the towers on endless repeat. It was sickening, but it was almost impossible to look away.

A while later, it was announced that trains were running on the Hudson Line again, so Patrick walked up and over to the Harlem station and waited for a train. He says that when one finally arrived, it was packed to the gills, like a Tokyo subway train at rush hour. He elbowed his way on and got home to us a little more than an hour later. Holding him in my arms late that afternoon was the best feeling in the world--except that I knew that thousands of families weren't so lucky. 

The days that followed are a blur. I know there was no school the following day--maybe not for the rest of the week. Patrick eventually went back to work, and life slowly assumed a more normal routine. But it was a new normal, far different than the one we'd had until that morning. And the world hasn't been the same since.

I experienced intense survivor's guilt for months. We'd abandoned our beloved city just weeks before, and now it struggled to rebuild without us there to help. We still visited Manhattan often, but we could no longer claim it as our own. 

One night the next spring, I was driving along the river in New Jersey for some reason, and I saw the Tribute in Light for the first time. I hadn't known about it beforehand; remember, there was no Facebook, no Instagram, and I didn't watch the news very often. At first, I thought it was some sort of hallucination. The sight of those two beams of light reaching up from the ground and into the infinite sky--it was astonishing. I had to pull over and stare, my grief renewed. 

Three and a half years later, Patrick and new baby Daniel and I were on our way to London for a quick trip. Due to a passport mixup, we couldn't take our original plane. We already had a babysitter for the other four chlidren, so we stayed overnight in a hotel in downtown Manhattan. Our window directly overlooked the Ground Zero site, which was brightly lit, with heavy equipment driving around and people working. I couldn't bear to look at it for more than a minute, and quickly drew the blackout shades. 

Fifteen years later, I still get emotional when I talk about the events of that day. Probably everyone old enough to remember does. And I can't help thinking of another day four years before 9/11.

On a rare day off, Patrick and I took Christian and James downtown. We walked along Battery Park and ate street hot dogs. Christian chased seagulls while James watched from the stroller, laughing glorious toddler belly laughs. It was a gorgeous, clear day, so we decided to go up to the observation deck at the top of the World Trade Center. I'd been up to the top of the Empire State Building, but had never seen the view from the Twin Towers. We stood in line for quite a while, but it was James's nap time by this time. Normally, he happily fell asleep in his stroller, but this day, he was fidgety and cranky. 

Finally, when it was apparent that James would not be distracted or lulled in any way, I turned to Patrick. "Let's go up another day," I said. "After all, it'll always be here." 

But we never did make it back.


Ten Reasons I'd Move to England in a Heartbeat

I’ve been away from this poor blog for months, now.  In May, life got crazy, and then the crazy never really let up.  Perhaps it will now that school has started. 

But I had to drop in and tell you all about our amazing trip to England.  We were there from August 9th through the 25th, and it was every bit as terrific an adventure as last year’s vacation in France.  As soon as Patrick gets all the photos uploaded, I’ll give you the detailed travelogue, but until then, I’m posting a few lists of tidbits to tide you over.  Here’s today’s:

10 Reasons I’d Move to England in a Heartbeat

10) Shake the Midnight Drifting

Ahh, Persephone Books!  Located in swanky Bloomsbury near the British Museum, Persephone publishes forgotten novels that deserve a second life, mostly by early 20th-century women.  I’ve ordered from them online, but visiting the tiny but lovely shop, filled with their gorgeous dove-gray volumes, is a treat I’d love to enjoy more often.

9) Food, Glorious Food

Mmm, Marks & Spencer’s Extremely Chocolatey Caramels! Smooth chocolate lavishly coats each delectable knob of the creamiest toffee.  To be savored slowly; one or two will do nicely.

8) Morning Glory

Sainsbury’s 4% Thick & Creamy Yogurts  The flavors: Strawberry; Peach & Nectarine; Pineapple; Raspberry; Rhubarb; Plum; Pear; and Apple & Blackberry.  Scrumptious, every single one.  Can I just say that we ate a lot of terrific food?  It’s a myth, that cliché about bad British food.

7) Flower Power

Whether it’s the hanging pots of exuberant petunias at every corner pub, the purple buddleia that spring up wildly along every train track, or the voluptuously scented roses at Hampton Court Palace—flowers in England delight at every turn.  David Austin, how I love thee.

6) Riding the Rails

We decided not to rent a car this trip and instead relied on Britain’s excellent railway system.  What a revelation: we sat together, relaxed and able to move about, with ready access to snacks and loos.  The gorgeous English countryside whizzed by.  Anne could amble and change laps to her heart’s content.

The trains were quiet, fast, and comfortable, even in Standard Class (Daniel was jonesing to take a trip in First, but it was not to be).  We got to Liverpool in two hours, when the drive would have taken almost four.  Why don’t we do this in America?


5) Cleave the Rock

Waterstone’s: now this is a bookstore, and fabulous despite being a large chain bookstore, at that.  Is it just me?  Because Barnes & Noble inevitably disappoints me.  It boggles my mind that they could boast that many books on the shelves, yet not have what I really want on hand. 

Waterstone’s is different: knowledgeable staff, well-chosen inventory, and great special offers make this a place in which I could happily linger (and spend) for hours.

4) Bug Free

At our gorgeous house in Twickenham (thank you, HomeLink), we had the windows open every day to catch the lovely breezes that blew constantly.  We saw nary a fly nor a mosquito in two and a half weeks despite a complete absence of window screening.  Never has a lack been so delightful.


3) Back in Plaque

I love walking down the street and seeing the blue plaques that mark where notable people have lived and worked.  You might pass the spot where Mozart composed his first symphony or where Charles Wesley experienced his spiritual awakening.  The carefully memorialized history on the elegant cobalt badges makes me shiver every time.

2) There is Beauty All Around

I can’t get enough of the Dutch masters and the Hans Holbeins at the National Gallery, and the Pre-Raphaelites at the Tate make me cry every time.  Moment’s-notice proximity to my favorite art would be heaven on earth.  Speaking of proximity to beauty, our pilgrimage to Down Ampney, birthplace of my favorite composer in all the world (Ralph Vaughan Williams), was a highlight of our trip.

1) Roots

Patrick and I both have loads of English ancestry.  We got tastes of our personal heritage here and there this vacation, but how I covet the luxury of leisurely jaunts to places like Hillmorton and Maidstone and Kilmersdon in order to see where our forbears lived and died.  I feel it every time I’m in England, that sense of deeply personal history.  I’d love to mine it to its fullest.

I’ve been to England six times now, which I realize qualifies me as inordinately spoiled.  And I love where we live now. 

Yet I’d go back tomorrow, to stay, indefinitely.


My Heart's Quiet Home

Grandma Ybright, Mom, and me, Christmas 1989

Today I honor all my mother has given me:

My love of music, art, literature, and precision;
My anglo- and francophilia;
My voice and sense of humor;
My interests in handcrafts and cooking; and
Hours and days and years of care and nurturing.

I love you, Mom.  Happy Mother's Day! 



By Special Arrangement

Patrick, Bill, and Bill's sister

I'm incredibly spoiled.  Longtime Novembrance readers know that Patrick does legal work for many Broadway and West End theater people.  Patrick's clients are amazingly talented, and the best, most decorated, and kindest of the whole bunch is a genius named William David Brohn.

On Sunday, Bill was honored at a gala benefit concert entitled "Broadway to West End by Special Arrangement: A Musical Tribute to William David Brohn" at London's Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.  Though our October calendar was already quite inked up, Patrick didn't think we should miss the chance to celebrate with Bill.  Our friend Marucela agreed to watch the kids, so we made plans for our mini-escape.

Saturday night, Patrick and I flew to London; we landed at about 10 o'clock Sunday morning.  We took the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station, then caught a taxi to Marylebone, the charming neighborhood where our dear friend Carmen "LaFabulous" lives.  After a joyful reunion, we sat in her tasteful and spacious flat and chatted for hours. 

We went to dinner at a lovely little gastropub near Carmen's flat and afterwards visited a new gelateria in Marylebone High Street.  After a stroll down the high street, savoring our dessert and looking in all the fabulous shop windows (including those of this bookstore that demands a visit someday soon), we parted ways with Carmen and took a cab to Drury Lane. 

The concert was top-notch.  Sir Anthony Andrews was the Master of Ceremonies, and how divine it was to see him in person again.  We heard some of the best songs from many of the musicals Bill has orchestrated over the years: Miss Saigon, My Fair Lady, Carousel, Showboat, Ragtime, Mary Poppins, and Wicked, among many others.  I wish they had chosen something from The Secret Garden, but I can't complain.  Highlights for me were "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" (sung by Sir Anthony himself), "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" from Showboat, "The Wizard and I" from Wicked, and Bill's "Ragtime Symphonic Suite."

Even better than the music was seeing our dear, modest Bill overwhelmed by accolades from producers, composers, and other theater legends.  Blushing and beaming, Bill's radiant face probably could have powered the entire West End all evening long.

We made a brief appearance at the post-concert reception, warmly congratulating Bill and saying hello to several other old friends.  Then we went back to Carmen's and sat up talking until 2:00 a.m.  We hated having to sleep, but a few hours of rest seemed prudent.

Monday morning, we got up at 6:00, hugged Carmen goodbye, and made our way home.  I love traveling with our children, but I also love traveling alone.  Patrick and I watched three movies in a row on the flight home without a single interruption: heaven.

Then, jiggety-jig, we were home again just 45 hours after we'd left.  Of those 45, only about 6 were spent sleeping.  Whirlwind?  Yes.  Worth it?  Absolutely.


The Great French Saga, Part V

Friday the 14th was Day Two of the Paris Museum Pass.  We went to the Louvre first and saw the bare essentials.  As it was 16 years ago, so it was on this trip: I have a hard time being motivated to spend a ton of time at the Louvre, since we go to NYC's Metropolitan Museum on a regular basis.  They both have vast collections of gorgeous art, but as philistine as it sounds for me to say this, except for a few very notable pieces, I find the two museums somewhat interchangeable (though the physical structure of the Louvre itself is far more fabulous).  Don't hate me. 

So: we saw the Mona Lisa, which is much better placed than it was 16 years ago.  You could actually see it despite the mass of humanity standing in front of it.  We saw the Winged Victory (above) and the Madonna of the Rocks.  We saw Paul Delaroche's Christian Martyr, an engraving of which hangs over our living room fireplace.  You may have seen it right here at Novembrance before.

The kids were thrilled to see the original: very gratifying.  But the Louvre was a mob scene, so we left after an appallingly short visit and walked down the Tuileries to the Orangerie Museum.  Everyone liked this one better because there were very few people there.  Four of Monet's gigantic water lily pieces hang in a very cool oval room.  After having been to Giverny, the kids were thrilled to see Monet's masterpieces.  The museum also has a lovely collection of other Impressionist art, so we took our time and enjoyed it all. 

It was lunch time.  Café Angelina awaited.  We got there ahead of the lunch rush and got a big table in the back.  The lunch was delicious, but the real reason we were there was for the hot chocolate.  It is ridiculously thick--like pancake batter--and so creamy, dark, and delicious.  Once again, reality exceeded the high expectations I had given my children.  The bill was a small fortune, but I know the kids will never forget that meal.

After Angelina, we got on the Métro and headed for the Arc de Triomphe.  Countless stairs later, we emerged at the top of the Arch and had a great look around. 

The air was a bit hazy, but the skies were clear and the views were still terrific.  Daniel absolutely loved the Arch; it whetted his appetite for the Eiffel Tower.  The Tower and Notre Dame were the two things he most wanted to see, and he had been so patient.  His reward was coming.

That night, we watched a French movie called Les Choristes on DVD.  It's available in the U.S.--titled The Chorus--and you must see it right away if you haven't already.  It's about a man who gets a job teaching at a boarding school for troubled boys.  He forms a choir, which of course transforms everyone's lives.  Yes, I know; it sounds like Stand and Deliver and Blackboard Jungle and every other movie about idealistic teachers and cynical children, but it's a lovely film and the music is exquisite.  When we got home, I bought the DVD, the soundtrack, and the sheet music for two of the songs so that my children can learn them.

The next morning: Destination Eiffel.  We got there early.  Tess and I hopped out of the van and got in line while Patrick and the others parked the car.  I'd never been to the top of the tower before because the crowds are always so daunting.  But this time, it was all about satisfying the kids.  They loved it: the views, the elevators, the kitschy gift shops.  It really was great fun, and how satisfying it was to descend and see lines three times as long as when we arrived.

We walked all the way down the Champs de Mars toward our next stop: Les Invalides.  It was hotter than blazes, but we walked in the shade and the kids sang the rounds that I had taught them on the way home from Normandy.  The stares we got were very gratifying--the Von Perkins Family Singers on their European tour. 

Les Invalides is totally cool.  Napoleon's ginormous porphyry tomb is so over the top; you have to admire the ego that persisted long after his death.  The mosaics, the bas reliefs, the stained glass, the gold-encrusted dome: it's all a huge temple to one man.

Kitty corner to "Napoleon's house," as Daniel called it, is the Rodin Museum.  This normally would not have been on my list (though Rodin's work is amazing), but James got the nickname "Rodin" at Scout Camp this year (apparently because he's a deep thinker), so he was all fired up to go.  It was on the Museum Pass list and so close by, so we included it. 

The sculptures and gardens were lovely, but the guards didn't want Patrick walking around inside with Anne in the backpack, and since she'd fallen asleep and had had so few naps on our trips, there was no way we were taking her off his back.  We let the older kids go inside the manse and explore on their own while we waited on the steps. 

After Rodin, it was a long walk back to the car, but we made it with periodic water breaks and by playing the SmartCar game.  There are SmartCars parked on nearly every block in Paris, much to Daniel's endless delight.  We finally made it back to the parking garage.  We got in the van, broke out our lunch, and headed for Fontainebleau.

Fontainebleau is an accessible palace, not nearly as grand as Versailles (and practically deserted in comparison), but it's so much easier to imagine actually living there.  Which is exactly what Tess did--as we toured the blissfully empty halls, she decided exactly which bedrooms would belong to whom in our family, etc.  I had never been to Fontainebleau; it was a delight to discover it along with the children. 

Anne loves sculpture of any kind, it turns out.  She points and stares and coos: it's terrific. 

This is the library.  The whole thing is just so beautiful.  More elaborate gardens; more giant fish in the predator-free ponds.  I highly recommend it.

Sunday.  This was our last day of the Museum Pass, and we wanted to squeeze every last minute out of it.  We got going right after church.

The Orsay.  My second favorite museum in all the world (second only to the Frick Collection).  The kids LOVED it: the structure, including the huge clock; the sculpture; the scads of Impressionist fabulousness; and my favorite painting there.  The looks on the apostles' faces slay me every time.  I get all choked up taking in the joy and wonder and disbelief and cautious hope they are radiating as they run to the Garden Tomb. 

Next we went to La Sainte Chapelle.  Oh, the glory of it.  Christian had enjoyed all the churches we'd seen, but when we got to the Chapelle's second floor, he literally gasped.  It's no small feat to get a 15-year-old boy to gasp. 

The photos never do it justice, and I am surprised by joy every time I enter it.  We didn't want to leave, but Notre Dame called.

The square in front of Notre Dame was very crowded, as always.  We went through the cathedral's interior, which is lovely, but not so lovely as Chartres or Bayeux.  The real draw for us was the tower ascent.  I had been having a bad feeling about taking Anne up there, however, so I sent Patrick and the Big Five up while Anne and I waited in the shade below.  It was a good thing, too.  The wait to get up to the top was an hour, and the balconies were all very crowded once they were on top.  I didn't see my crew again for 2.5 hours (though I did happen to look up at the exact moment they looked out over the front balcony--we waved to each other--that was a fun moment).

All the kids loved the gargoyles and the big bells, not to mention the views.  But Patrick reported that it was unbearably hot and sunny up there; Anne would have been dreadfully uncomfortable and probably would have gotten sunburnt.  As it was, I read while Anne slept, and then we entertained ourselves by feeding the pigeons when she woke up. 

Once we were all together again, we walked over to the Ile Saint-Louis for ice cream at Berthillon: the best ice cream in the world.  I don't know how they make those flavors so full and rich and perfectly evocative.  Why, oh why won't they import it?  I would gladly pay a lot of money for tiny, perfect portions of this delightsome substance.  We floated back to the car, licking our cones in utter bliss.

After four solid days of Museum Pass action, I needed a down day.  Monday, Patrick took Christian, James, and Hope to the Holocaust Museum (one of Christian's requests), while I stayed at the house and played French housewife.  I had read that the Holocaust Museum was inappropriate for anyone under 10, so it worked out perfectly. 

Anne woke up that morning with red, sticky eyes, so I walked to the village square with the kids and went to the pharmacy.  What a peerless system.  I described Anne's symptoms to the highly trained pharmacist, who also looked at Anne's eyes.  She gave me some antiseptic eye drops and told me that if they didn't help in a week, to take her to the doctor once we were home.  I paid about five dollars for the drops, which worked like a charm.  The whole event took 10 minutes.  Health care reform: we need it yesterday, already.

We also went to the village market for lunch food, then went back to the house so that Anne could have a proper nap.  After naps and lunch, we went to the lovely little park around the corner and played for a long time.  P and the Big Three got back to the house just after we did that afternoon.  They had had a great time; after the Shoah Museum, they hung out in the Latin Quarter, whereupon Christian announced that he wanted to move there.  The kids bought souvenirs at the second-hand booksellers on the quais and ate crèpes Nutella--a great afternoon. 

Things were winding down.  The next day, we went to the Château de Monte Cristo, the house of Alexandre Dumas (James's request): charming, deserted, great fun.  It was only about a half hour from "our" house. 

Dumas had a lovely little house built up the hill from the main house; this was where he wrote.  Covet.  Forget a room of one's own; I want the "Chateau d'If," as he called it. 

After the fun scavenger hunt through the house and gardens (given to the kids at the Dumas Visitors' Center), we got in the car to head home. 

But on the way back, we saw a place that demanded exploration.  It turned out to be the Parc de Marly, the site of a ruined château, now a public park.  With a huge pond.  And the most giant fish ever.  Fortunately, I had some stale brioche in the car.  Really: these fish were unbelievable.  Not so plentiful as those in Versailles, but HUGE. 

At this park, as nearly everywhere, Tess and Daniel crowed: "Mom, your favorite!  Straight lines of trees!"  Indeed.  I'm a sucker for them every single time.  We walked around for a while, satisfied that our urge to explore had borne good fruit.

Wednesday was our last day of fun; we planned to clean the house and make a trip to the Montfort pool on Thursday, then get up and head to the airport on Friday morning.  We drove into Paris for the last time and parked behind the Basilique du Sacré Coeur.  We knew Montmartre would be crowded, but when isn't it?  The day was beautiful, and the white towers of the Basilica were starkly gorgeous against the azure sky.  When we went inside, a choir of nuns was singing a motet; we happened to arrive in the middle of a mass.  We quietly walked around the ambulatory, taking in the brilliant mosaics while listening to the perfect music.  A lovely series of moments; I had teary eyes and chills from the beauty overload. 

We walked down the hill, then took the funicular train back up to the top; we had Métro tickets to burn, and riding the funicular train is one of Patrick's fond childhood memories.  Then it was time for lunch.  We found a great little restaurant that had room for us and were delighted by the terrific meal. 

Next, we drove to Patrick's old neighborhood (he lived in Paris for a year when he was nine) and went to the Parc Monceau.  Patrick remembered feeding black swans there as a child.  The swans were gone, but our bread did not go wasted; there were plenty of carp in the ponds to feed. 

That was it.  We drove back to Neauphle.  The kids had one last chance to hold their breath while going through each and every tunnel of the Boulevard Périphérique.  We had one of our last packages of Prince cookies.  We waved goodbye to the Eiffel Tower, La Défense, and all of the other landmarks the kids had come to recognize. 

We cleaned the next day, and the menfolk had one more chance to sport their Speedos at the Montfort pool.  I made jam with the huge quantity of mirabelle plums we had picked from the neighbor's tree.  We left eleven little jars and one huge jar of spiced plum jam for our exchange family to split with the neighbors.  We had a simple dinner, but did not stint on desserts.  Friday morning we drove to the airport and took a plane home.

Once we arrived in New York, we stayed with friends for four days.  We had signed a contract with the French family for 8/2 through 8/25, but then Patrick decided he couldn't miss three Sundays in a row, so we changed our return and came home on the 21st.  This was after the French family had bought their tickets, so we made other arrangements for those last few days.  It was a nice transition for the kids, who got to play all day, every day with our friends' children.

I've probably made the trip sound too perfect; it wasn't.  There were a few whines and short tempers and meltdowns here and there.  These things are inevitable when eight people are constantly together for three weeks straight.  I fell down some stairs and did something bad to my elbow; I went to the doctor when I got home, and the ulnar nerve is still inflamed.  (It's slowly getting better.)  There was the quicksand incident.  The kids broke a couple of toys.  The exchange family's cats threw up on the couch once.  We may have killed the hydrangea and a couple of roses through neglect (I never have to water yard plants here in New York because it rains so much, and I fear we did too little, too late in the French yard). 

But it was as close to perfect as a trip can get. 

I HIGHLY recommend the house exchange experience.  We met the French family Saturday morning when we came to our house in Cold Spring to pick up a few things.  They were a delight.  We offered to cook dinner for them on Monday night and they enthusiastically accepted.  We had such a good time that night that I was heartbroken that they were leaving the next day.  We had become friends; a real bond will be between us for years to come, I am sure.  They loved our house, Cold Spring (our village), and the Northeast in general.  They made the most of their days in NYC; it sounded to us as though their trip was as good as ours was. 

When we came back to the house for good the next day, they were just leaving.  We hugged and kissed them and watched them drive away.  Our revels now were ended.

What patient readers you are; thanks for sitting through my virtual slideshow these past few days!  You're the best.