Authors: Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
To Patricia Donohue
Everything I know about Paris, I've learned from my Madelineâ¦
There is nothing quite so damaging to one's personal dignityâ¦
Madame Chavotte woke us at seven thirty the next morning, makingâ¦
I have stated More Than Once that I am noâ¦
As it turned out, I didn't need Charlotte for informationâ¦
If any of the French people on the train noticedâ¦
It was like one of those standoffs in an oldâ¦
There was an entrance right in the glass pyramid, whichâ¦
I had viewed more masterpieces than I ever thought possibleâ¦
It was almost a completely perfect outing. Almost. We wereâ¦
True to her Francophilian form, Janet had found us aâ¦
All the way to the airport, I tried to absorbâ¦
verything I know about Paris, I've learned from my Madeline books. I know, for example, that it is not unusual for houses in Paris to be covered with vines. I know that if you are a parentless little girl, you can go to stay with Miss Clavel, the nun, and walk around the city with your yellow-hatted homegirls in two perfectly straight lines. I know that if you develop appendicitis in the dead of night, caring medical assistance is rapidly available.
But the most notable thing about the Madeline books is that Paris served as the author's inspiration. And if Paris can do that for Ludwig Bemelmans, it can do it for me, too. Yes, Dear Readers, my Great Parisian Novel will soon be born, because the time has come for Lily Blennerhassett to get serious about writing. The world
cannot be expected to wait much longer. I have honed my craft by keeping diaries and penning advice columns, but the subjects I wrote about weren't really Life Experiences of International Interest. A trip to Paris, however, is a whole other story. Things of International Interest HAPPEN in Paris. After all, it is the City of Lights. The model for all that is elegant and timeless. The archetype for true culture and sophistication, the kind that we in America lost somewhere between the Big Mac and the Starbucks Frappuccino.
I don't have a plot yet. But I'm not going to worry about that. My job is to search out gems and nuggets of Paris at its most elegant and mysterious. Then I will add them to my Mental Pool. There are heated pools, public pools, aboveground pools, and wading pools, but to my knowledge I am the only individual in my school district with a Mental Pool. This is where I collect all my gems and nuggets and store them for later literary use. My Mental Pool already contains many amusing and baffling gems and nuggets. But I don't think any of them are novelworthy. Mark my words, my Parisian Mental Pool gems and nuggets
be novelworthy. And I will find Extraordinary Characters. Because our little group making up the Mulgrew Middle School Paris Class Trip is not exactly brimming with Extraordinary Characters.
There were eight of usânine if you counted the
chaperoneâenjoying the luxurious accommodations provided by John F. Kennedy International Airport's Terminal 1. Let me describe them to you, Dear Reader:
Traveler Number One.
First, and most important, me. Lily Blennerhassett. I am, naturally, the Official Diarist of the trip. The Immortalizer of our Exploits. The Recorder of our Recreation. The Accountant of our Antics. Nothing will escape my keen eye or my razor wit. Years hence readers wanting more after devouring my Great Parisian Novel will peruse my original diary entries, and Paris will spring to life before them. The pages themselves will smell lightly of Dijon mustard and baguettes. Ernest Hemingway said that “Paris is a movable feast.” In the hands of the capable yet hip Lily Blennerhassett, I predict the city will be upgraded to a Snack Bar on Wheels. So we've got that going for us. And that's good.
Traveler Number Two.
Charlotte McGrath. Locator of Passports, Instant Calculator of euro to dollar value, and Vault of Information regarding the cultural and legal guidelines within which we will find ourselves in France. Also my best friend. Shrink, parole officer, and life coach in one. A must on any transatlantic journey.
Traveler Number Three.
Bonnie Roberts. Astral Traveler, Channeler of Universal Messages, and New Age Wise Woman. Has the tannest feet of any human being not currently famous I've ever seen. Brings new level of chic
to peasant blouses and ankle bracelets. And, notably, sister of Jake. Through the injustice of our society's fixation on birth dates, Jake is literally in a different class from me. He's fifteen, a year older. And therefore not qualifiable to join the eighth (soon to be ninth) grade class trip. He had his own class trip last year actually, to Italy. Please ponder the Magnificent Wrongness of this: I travel to the city known throughout the world for its Celebration of Romance, and for the first time in my life I HAVE a boyfriend. But he must remain at home. Oh, how it plagues me! I cannot continue this paragraph.
Traveler Number Four.
Janet Graham. Obsessed with All That Is French. Professional Irritant of the First Degree. Teacher's Pet. Also, insists on her name being pronounced Jah-nay Gra-hahmme. Utterly ridiculous.
Traveler Number Five:
Lewis Pilsky. Computer God. Poster Child for the Internet Generation. Walking Pillar of Geekdom. Not the cutest boy on the block, but he means well. Small for his age, but try to pretend you don't notice.
Travelers Number Six and Seven:
Bud and Chaz, the Football Guys. Attending this school trip because it may prevent them from failing Intro to French. Become animated only when discussing professional sports. Heads suspiciously jar shaped.
Traveler Number Eight:
We call him the Mysterious Tim. Last name unknown. Has attended Mulgrew for
only one year. To the knowledge of everyone I've asked, Tim has never spoken to anybody, though once a rumor circulated that the friend of a girl whose brother used to be in my literature class heard him say thank you to the lunch lady when she gave him extra Tater Tots. Whatever. Can't take gossip too seriously.
So you see, our little Paris group will not be flocking together, as we are not exactly birds of a feather. I'm not sure we're even members of the same species. But variety is the spice of life, or so they tell me. Did I mention my name? It's Lily Blennerhassett, Writer Extraordinaire.
After what seemed to be an unnecessarily prolonged period of agonizing at the gate, we were advised via loudspeaker to board the plane. I know it may come as a kind of shock, Dear Readers, since I have such a worldly air about me, but I had never actually been on an airplane before. The Blennerhassetts live a simple life. It is an unspoken rule in our household that any viable destination of the Blennerhassett clan must be reachable by our two-door Honda hatchback. If a body of water or a mountain range lies in the way, we just don't go there. But the Blennerhassetts as parents are also zealous believers in the Educational Experience, as shown by our family's Frequent Outings to yarn-making seminars and walking tours sponsored by local historical societies. So
they were rather quick to agree that the Mulgrew Middle School Paris Class Trip was the ultimate Educational Experience. That is how I found myself sitting on a 747 between a future corporate executive and a flower child.
“I hope they remembered to get gas,” remarked Bonnie.
Apparently Bonnie had never flown before either. I think transatlantic flight really did seem this simple to her, just a road trip with modified equipment. She probably imagined the pilot standing out in front of the plane with the hood up, checking the engine and unfolding a map of Europe with “Paris” circled in red Magic Marker while sipping on a 7-Eleven Big Gulp.
“Girls, seat belts,” ordered Charlotte, as she counted and re-counted the number of rows between our seats and the closest emergency exit.
As we complied, little video monitors emerged from the ceiling overhead, screens flickering.
“Oooh, television,” I said. Nobody had told me airplanes had TV. I find it impossible not to stare at a television that is on, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. A Writer must keep apprised of popular culture. A Writer must have her finger on the pulse of the masses. A Writer must watch MTV, the barometer of American youth. I needed to know what trend trolls like Lindy Sloane (Singer/Actress/Celebrity Personality) were listening to, what clubs they were getting tossed out of, what color
their hair had turned “for a role,” how scary skinny they'd become while claiming to eat everythingâall the timeâand never work out. I sat back and waited for Lindy Sloane's orange, bony, formerly freckled face to appear on-screen. My seatmates took no notice. Charlotte was intensely studying the laminated safety card she had found in the seat back. Bonnie appeared to be making some sort of origami bird out of her barf bag.
Sadly, they didn't seem to be showing anything interesting on the television. Certainly nothing about Lindy Sloane. In fact it wasn't MTV at all. As far as I could gather, it was an airline safety program about a little family of blond travelers, experiencing what appeared to be moderate to serious plane malfunction with unfailing good cheer. The family members were shown fastening seat belts with twinkles in their eyes, retrieving their oxygen masks and placing them over their noses and mouths merrily, and removing flotation devices from beneath their seats with toothy, affectionate smiles. From what I could see, there was apparently little more entertaining to this family than sudden cabin depressurization.
I don't know about you, Dear Readers, but I don't particularly like being REMINDED of what might go wrong in an airplane when my flight is about to take off. I don't want to come within ten feet of an oxygen mask
or a flotation device. As for the logic of wearing a seat belt in case we take a sudden plunge from thirty thousand feet, well, I'm simply baffled. That's sort of like shutting the barn door after the horse has gotten out, don't you think?
Lindy Sloane travels by private jet.
“Let me see your seat belt,” said Charlotte. “If you leave too much slack, it defeats the purpose.”
I endured Charlotte's examination patiently. I knew from experience not to share my lack of faith in safety protocol with her. Charlotte is strictly a By the Book girl. Whereas me, I'm more of a Buy the Book girl.
Charlotte tugged on my belt.
“Tighter,” she commanded. I made a little motion that simulated adjusting my seat belt.
“Tighter,” she repeated. I did it again.
She was onto my pantomime. She reached for the long end of my seat belt herself and tugged it vigorously, cinching it in. I felt like I'd just been strapped into a Victorian corset and had spontaneously dropped two dress sizes.
“Charlotte! That's my bladder!” I shouted.
“Safety first,” she replied, already back to studying her safety card.
Obviously, any further interaction with Charlotte was dangerous to my health, so I turned to Bonnie. Her eyes
were closed, but her lips seemed to be moving.
She opened one pale-blue eye and took me in.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Establishing a heart link with Michael.”
Had Bonnie met a Boy?
“Who's Michael?” I inquired eagerly.
Bonnie opened her other eye.
“Michael is the governing archangel of safety and protection,” she replied, as matter-of-factly as if she were discussing her shoe size. “I'm requesting a blessing for our flight.”
The archangel of safety and protection? Did we need safety and protection? Were we going to experience moderate to serious plane malfunction like the blond people in the video?
Bonnie examined my expression. “If you're prone to anxiety attacks, Michael is a good angel to call on,” she said.
“Just, uh, put in a good word for me,” I said.
Bonnie nodded serenely and closed her eyes. Her lips started moving again.
I began to contemplate the drawbacks of continuing this seating arrangement for the duration of the seven-hour flight. I looked around the plane. It seemed fairly
full. As I was considering the viability of spending the flight in the bathroom, a wide, sinister shape suddenly loomed over me. I let out a little shriek.
? Why ze scream?”
Madame Chavotte, our French teacher and our trip chaperone. Doesn't the name Chavotte bring to mind a delicate, prancing creature bathed in light? Well, forget it. Madame Chavotte was built like a tank, artillery included. She was as tall as a man and half again as wide. She usually wore a severe expression, which was enhanced by the single graying eyebrow that did not bother to pause over the bridge of her nose. Her hair, steel-wool gray, was pulled back in a bun so tight, it looked like she'd had a face-lift.
Had she asked me a question? The memory of it had been scared out of me. Madame Chavotte was almost always displeased with me. My mouth hung partially open, and I surrendered to the stupor.
“And why do you 'ave ze mouth 'anging open like ze Frankenstein?” she demanded.
I closed it. Overhead came the announcement that we were preparing for takeoff. Madame Chavotte shook her head like she disagreed with that assessment and pointed a thick, powerful finger at each of us.
“Quatre, cinq, six,”
she counted. Then she moved away,
like a rhinoceros suddenly breaking off an attack, down the aisle to continue her head count. I breathed a sigh of relief. Jake was SO right to take Italian instead of French. His teacher, Signor Lucci, was as mild mannered as Mister Rogers. But swarthier.
Over the seat back in front of me, a face appeared like the Loch Ness Monster surfacing from the deep to menace and terrify the innocent.
“Bonjour! Comment Ã§a va?”
I gave Janet my most convincing scowl. It wasn't too difficult, given that with Charlotte's modification my seat belt was compressing my bladder in a most agonizing fashion.
“We're about to take off!” Janet gushed. “Isn't it
“If you say so, Janet.”
“It's Jah-nay,” she said, smiling patiently. “I've got this book you just HAVE to read.”
“I've brought plenty of my ownâ”
But it was too late. Janet was rummaging around in her bag. She produced a hardcover book and waved it triumphantly in the air.
“We've all got to read this.
. You're the fastest reader, Lily, so you take it first.”
I peeked at the title and recoiled.
“You want me to read a book called
Don't Get Fat
?” I exclaimed. “What are you trying to say, Janet?”