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An unexpected Paris



The most vivid memories of a vacation are its surprises -- the spontaneous exchanges between people that you won't find in a guidebook.

That was true for me during my first visit to Paris recently. I looked forward to my vacation for months: four days of exploring "Hidden Paris" with a hiking group based in London and three days as a tourist traveling solo.

Rue Mouffetard, known for its cobblestone streets, small shops and restaurants, was a sensual paradise even for those who simply inhaled the flowers, cheese and pastry.

While some of my new British acquaintances were enjoying an espresso at an outdoor cafe, I decided to explore the neighborhood on my own.

Up ahead were open-air stalls with fresh fish and produce. A man in his late 50s or early 60s was dancing by himself on the pavement. Music emanated from one of the stalls.

As I passed, he swooped me into his arms without missing a beat. He had a sweet smile, an intriguing mustache, and he knew how to lead. A fox trot, I think -- no translation necessary. We danced soundlessly like old friends, and when the music stopped, he kissed me on both cheeks. The shopkeepers clapped. Welcome to Paris!

I was having an adventure, the kind you store in your mind and tell your grandchildren about.

The Parisians were a pleasant surprise. Rumor had it that as a group they were rude, especially to those who couldn't speak their language. My experience ran counter to that.

I listened to tapes from the library for six weeks before leaving to refresh long-forgotten high school and college French. That preparation helped me when I approached people for directions. But it did not explain their demeanor, which was invariably helpful.

During my last night in Paris, I went to the symphony, a program of Prokofiev, Bartok and Sibelius.

Julian Rachlin, a 25-year-old Lithuanian violinist, was making his debut with the Orchestre de Paris. Because of many curtain calls, it was late when the concert was over.

The Phillipe-du-Roule metro station was a 15-minute walk. Wanting reassurance that I was going the right way, I asked for directions from two elderly women who were also leaving the symphony. Without hesitating, they insisted on driving me there.

Such encounters warm my Irish-American blood and make me long to return to Paris. It isn't just the Rodin Museum or the Jardins du Luxembourg that beckon. It's the small pleasures of Paris that I will remember.

Susan Middaugh lives in Columbia.


Over the rainbow

Kate Warner, Westminster

I took this picture of the Lower Falls at Yellowstone's Grand Canyon on a family trip. It had just stopped raining, but you could still see snow beneath the rainbow.


Mill Run, Pa.

Donna Dashiell Mayer, Owings Mills

"We're just back from Fallingwater, the home that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the Kaufmann family in 1935, and located in Mill Run, Pa. From Baltimore, we followed I-70 west and stopped in Funkstown to visit antiques shops, had lunch at Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort in Cumberland and dinner at Nemacolin Resort and Spa in Farmington, Pa. We set out the next morning for a two-hour tour of the grounds and unique Wright home."


Gloria Adamski, Timonium

"My daughter, Karen, and I went on the vacation of a lifetime to Hawaii. We stayed on Maui, where we bicycled down a volcano and went to a luau. We sailed to Lanai, snorkeled and toured the island. On our two-day stay in Kauai, we took a helicopter ride. We visited Waikiki, Diamond Head and the Arizona Memorial in Oahu. Hawaii is the best."


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