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Nothing accidental about this tourist, abroad for the first time in 35 years

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Richard Nixon was president, Charles de Gaulle Airport had just opened and People magazine had just begun. No bar codes were on products, no one had a personal computer and online booking was impossible for hotels and airlines. Travelers' checks, not plastic cards, were used when travelling. I had recently begun a job at the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting, and my sister was a rising senior at Duke University the last time I was in Paris. That was June 1974, my last trip to my favorite city until this month.

Unlike Macon Leary, Anne Tyler's main character in "The Accidental Tourist," I do not hate travel. The number of years, 35, since I have been out of the country stuns me. I am doubly amazed when I think of how much I travelled in my first three decades.

My grandparents were big believers in the benefits of travel. As soon as my sister and I were old enough to sit, car trips began, first to New Jersey and Virginia, then New England, Canada andFlorida.

When they deemed it time for broader horizons and time to test our seaworthiness, we travelled by ship to Bermuda. The following summers we crossed the Atlantic to Europe two times. They were afraid for the family to fly. Another summer, because of time constraints, we ended up flying, and surviving, but my grandmother had heart palpitations for a year around that trip. In college and afterward I returned to Europe several times, once for three months. In those days airfares were cheaper, and the American dollar stretched farther than it does now.

My last trip across the Atlantic was in 1976, when I went to England to visit friends. Although I knew him then, two years later I began seeing the man who is now my husband. Like his mother, travel is not his first choice for recreation. He is not afraid of airplanes, heights, bridges or any other spaces that can keep those who are phobic from travelling. My husband does not like to break the routine of doing his art. The weeks of preparation leading up to a trip break his concentration and throw him so far over onto the left side of his brain that it is impossible for him to do what he loves best: travel the world of painting and drawing via his imagination.

This April my niece asked if I would meet her in Paris at the end of June. I knew that June would be a blockbuster month, with two weddings plus a fundraiser for the Cylburn Arboretum, one of Baltimore's best-kept secrets. I could not miss any of these weekends. June is also the month that Baltimore gardens peak, and I am a garden writer. What to do? What to do?

But how often is it that a young person asks someone 40 years her senior to accompany her on a weeklong trip to the city that is their shared favorite? I have not seen Paris in 37 years. My niece added a push by reminding me of how my husband sometimes follows my lead and now joins me on regular trips to the beach, after she, her mother and brother insisted I join a decade ago. I have always wanted him to see Paris.

With trepidation I booked a flight to Paris via Air France. The email confirmation in French was the first flutter of excitement I felt. Ditto emailing the hotel in French. I have no shame. I have forgotten the subjunctive and do not know any contemporary idioms, but off we go to Paris: I with white hair, like my grandmother, whose French was the first I heard, and my niece, a rising college senior.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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