Sunday, April 29, 2007

It's a bird...It's a plane....It's....

Five planes, in fact. Containing nearly a dozen people we know and love, all touching down between beginning of April and early May. Sounds crazy, we said. But it just might work.

There is a kitschy old tune that can be often hear lilting down the cavernous passages of the Metro, carried by some lone accordionist's melody... "I love Paris in the springtime, I love Paris in fall...I love Paris every moment...". Despite this time-honored truth, everyone we know decided that the month of April sounded best. And yes, they have reason, as we say in French. It is a fragrant, bustling season, in which the city is abundantly encumbered with early blossoms and early tourists; hanging from aged trees and aged monuments, respectively. (We don't see too many tourists hanging from trees. Thankfully, Franco-American relations are still much too intact for that sort of thing.)

So, "why oh why do I love Paris? Because my love is near." That is to say, Paris is a beautiful place, but Paris with your dear ones is almost too lovely for words. I'll give it my best shot.

The first arrivals were Ethan and Kim. They brought with them endless amounts of sun. Literally and figuratively. It hasn't rained here since the 2nd of April. We all found this quite ironic, since they apparently had come from very brown and frozen Minnesota landscape. In Paris, the magnolias were just beginning to offer their flamboyant selves to happy passers-by, and the trees were already full of leafy green. We dined, wined, strolled, slept and then did it all over again.

Somewhere in the haze of these lazy, crazy days of early summer, another group of people joined the party. My mom and dad, Seth, and Kaija arrived...but their luggage did not. Fortunately, AirFrance is fairly accommodating, and offered the fam daily shopping sprees until their own duds showed up. Score! So, we helped them navigate their jet lagged selves through the insane maze of Parisian department stores. The sales had landed some days before, leaving strewn clothing and ragged nerves in its wake, but we emerged victorious with bags on our arms and dinner on our minds.

Dinners and picnics. This was perhaps the best part of the visits. When you've been away from your loved ones for as long as we had, it is no small thing to share bread, wine, a simple dish or two, and heavy helpings of laughter. Somewhere along the line there, Pam and Jerry joined the table. They were (and still are) on a fabulous European Tour including Scotland, England, France, Germany, and Holland. What adventurous souls they are!

One day, we all ventured out to the end of metro line 1 to the dusty Chateau de Vincennes. (I think this was Kaija's sightseeing choice, and we are all forever grateful to her.) When we arrived, I was a bit uncertain about the outcome, as the staff seemed initially a bit huffy that we dare march in and ask for a tour in English. Thankfully, there was Dominique. He had to "re-arrange his schedule" of course, to "fit us in", but after these formalities he threw himself - heart and soul - into his task. He was bound and determined to make sure we didn't leave without a decent education on dukes and regents, horse chestnuts and clovers, gothic chapels and military ramparts, and everything you could imagine pertaining to a French castle in the Middle Ages. The afternoon finished off with a picnic in the grass. This seemed appropriate, since it is the very grass that I was tempted to nap in during my long training days for the marathon.

Yes, between one picnic and another, dad and I squeezed a little 42-kilometer run in there. I have already soliloquized aplenty about this in a previous entry, but here's a nice shot "for the record." (Thinking back to that moment, I'm surprised we had the chutzpah to smile still. Maybe we're just squinting. I remember concentrating very hard on being able to stand up. Things have loosened up since. Thank goodness. )

Since our home has been opened to visitors, we have grown quite accustomed to train sendoffs. It feels sort-of romantic and old-fashioned. You buy a chocolate and a croissant, watch the world come and go, and suddenly it's your turn. Or, in this case, Pam and Jerry's turn, off to Frankfurt for more adventures. And the futon cannot stay empty for long, which is super 'cause otherwise it would just there, relatively useless. After a whistle-stop visit from my Auntie Ruthi, on her way to Spain, she too climbed into a train, in her cute pink beret and eyes plenty wide-open to catch everything that went by. Leaving the couch unoccupied...

Till tomorrow, of course.

Heavens, I'd better go wash some sheets!

**Photos courtesy of Kaija Hansen, since I was too lazy to carry around a camera. Thanks, hon!**

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Camaraderie of the Long Road

When I first started training for the marathon a couple of months ago, it was pretty much (please forgive the expression) a walk in the park. The scenery was beautiful, the tunes in my mp3 player were kickin', and I trotted the little paths of Bois de Vincennes quite contentedly from week to week. (Except for a few pesky wrong turns, of course.)

However. The innocent afternoon jogs gradually stretched into longer stints. And the cute little distractions began to wane in effectiveness. Yes, believe it or not, Daft Punk's driving techno beats do lose their potency...after a few hundred repetitions. And trees and flowers are awfully nice, but if all you want to do is lie down and take a nap on the green, green grass, you may as well be running past asphalt and cement blocks.

So what keeps a body going? I depend mainly on the grace of God at all levels. Then there is sheer willpower, of course. (More on that later.) But another thing I noticed as I coaxed my haggard self along those seemingly endless training miles was the camaraderie of the long road. What do I mean by that? Well, amongst runners in general, there is a certain built-in feeling of togetherness. A strange paradox, since it can be one of the most solitary of sports. Usually, a quick nod and smile is all you have time for as you pass one another, and yet this simple gesture can be immensely encouraging. If you have the fortune of crossing paths with the same familiar face a couple of times, you come meeting up with that same poor soul who, like you, was running two hours ago, is still running, and will continue to run. You both flash a grin, broad with simultaneous satisfaction and sheepishness. "Look what we've both done! Wait - what are we doing?" It takes but one humorous moment, but sometimes it is all you need. Imagine 35,000 potentially similar exchanges on April 15th.

Pretty overwhelming.

Particularly when quite a number of those exchanges take place between you and your own dad. We happily trotted along together as the sun shone bright (perhaps more like beat down on our heads at a humid 85 degrees farenheit... yeesh.) Despite the heat, we were both in fine form, and the miles and kilometers slipped by almost unnoticed. The first 16 miles we ran together, during which he also equipped me for the final push: "remember, the final 6 are all in your head. Your body will be finished."


Mile 20.5, and all of a sudden my entire lower body goes numb. I mean, I can kinda still feel my feet. But otherwise, the muscles that had been moving steadily for about 4 hours were kaput. "All in your head, Abbey. All in your head...." Dad's advice repeated in my head, even though I no longer had him next to me. The event had been a solitary affair for a while, but the camaraderie of the long road was still having its undeniable effect. Greatly heartened by this, the sight of my husband at mile 22 with a shoulder squeeze and an energy bar, and also perhaps the pixie cup of Bordeaux I sloshed down at mile 23, I made it. I crossed the finish line running with a hazy Arc de Triomphe in the distance - 4:46:04 hours after I left. Dad pulled in about 6 minutes later.

And then, everything was victory. And I finally laid down in the green, green grass.

(Thank you, Lord.)