A Different July 4 – Then (Paris) and Now (Sydney)

My son, Paris, July 4, 1992


Having left h-o-t Paris, travelled through hotter Hong Kong (even inside the airport it was stifling), and arrived home last night to crisp winter weather in Australia, we were awakened from our jet-lagged sleep early this morning by a U.S. caller who wished us a happy Fourth of July.

Since it’s been less than 48 hours since we were in Paris, I couldn’t help remembering another July 4, nearly twenty years ago. I had recently been through an intense period of pressure and stress at work and took extra time off for an extended holiday with the family.

So here is a little story of our different July 4.

A Different July 4 – A Paris Story

It was and is a national holiday in America, a day for families to be together, at small-town parades or at the beach or having a backyard barbeque, followed by fireworks after dark at the local football field.

I was in Paris with our six year-old son. My husband and stepson were still in the U.S.; they’d be joining us a few days later.

In the morning, my son said, ‘Mom, let’s take the metro somewhere.’ (This was during his metro mania stage and thus one of our frequent ‘outings’ in Paris.) We decided on the Tuileries Gardens, where I thought we could have a nice walk and there was room for him to run and play on the wide pathways and in the area around the fountains.

When we came above ground at Tuileries metro, we found the open space between rue de Rivoli and the garden’s trees and footpaths taken up with an enormous Ferris wheel turning slowly in the morning sun; a big spinning ride turning very fast; small rides with music boxes playing; and food and game stalls lining the edge of the square.

A sign said Tuileries FETE D’ETE, Tuileries summer celebration. My son grabbed my hand and said, ‘Let’s go on the Ferris wheel, please, please.’ He pulled me through the gate and we hustled down the steps to the temporary amusement park.

From our seats high above Paris, we could see the Eiffel Tower silhouetted against the morning clouds, then the beautiful glass pyramid at the Louvre. Rooftops stretched for miles in the distance and the Tuileries treetops were thick with summer foliage.

Eiffel Tower from Tuileries Ferris wheel, 1992

After the Ferris wheel, we did a spinning ride (which we nicknamed ‘sick spin’ as it was rather too fast for both of us); then my son drove a yellow racecar, then a red motorcycle on the Autoroute à Péage, the toll road ride.

I watched from a spectator seat in a little row of white plastic chairs thoughtfully placed alongside the rides. After the cars, my son rode on a helicopter ride, then found another driving ride, this one a bit faster, with a tunnel and two tracks winding around each other.

Racecar driver, Paris, July 4, 1992

My son pretended to steer his little blue car, leaning to the right and left as he went around corners, beeping the horn when he passed my chair. Then someone shouted ‘Allez, allez,’ let’s go, let’s go. I realised it was a little red-headed boy in a red car going around the track in the opposite direction. My son’s eyes lit up. He beeped his horn at the red-headed boy and called, ‘Look out, look out’ as their cars passed. The red-headed boy’s eyes lit up in return and he beeped his horn back. They both laughed with delight.

In a few seconds, the boys saw each other again, beeped their horns, and shouted at each other, one in English, one in French. I lost count of how many times they each waited for the other to emerge from the tunnel and come around the curve so they could do it again.

Boys and cars, Paris, July 4, 1992

There was only one other adult sitting in the little row of chairs, a plump middle-aged woman in a sleeveless red blouse, short black skirt, and flat black shoes. She had frizzy red hair and I thought she must have been the boy’s mother, or maybe his grandmother. I tried to catch her eye to exchange a smile of ‘isn’t it cute how our boys are getting along even though they don’t understand each other’s language?’ – but she was reading a paperback and didn’t look up.

Mum on the sidelines, Paris 1992

After the autoroute, my son spottted the giant flume ride. I looked up at the slide and, behind it, the tops of the grand buildings with tall windows and wrought-iron balconies lining the rue de Rivoli. I must confess the thought crossed my mind that I might rather be across the street at WH Smith or Galignani bookshops than getting soaked on a water slide. But we climbed the steps and went down the flume three times, my son sitting in front of me as I held him close and we flew down, with water fully drenching our clothes and shoes by the time we finished.

Tuileries giant flume ride, Paris, July 4, 1992

At food stalls with blue and white-striped awnings, we got a croque monsieur, baguette jambon et fromage, Orangina, and Evian. I knew that our family in Connecticut would later have hotdogs and hamburgers, potato salad, and corn on the cob on the deck in our quiet backyard. In the middle of Paris, we had our feast on a wooden bench in the shade, serenaded by organ music from the kiddy carousel.

As we finished lunch, the little red-headed boy ran over to my son and pointed to another vehicle ride, this one with busses going around in a circle. The boys shared the front seat and rode around, each beeping the horn then looking at the other for a reaction and laughing at the sillly noises. When the ride finished, they jumped off without so much as a backward glance at the ride or each other.

Boys in the bus, Paris, July 4, 1992

The sky began to get cloudy, and the sweets stand beckoned with neon signs for gaufres, beignets, nougats — waffles, dougnuts, nougat – toffee caramel and crepes chocolat or sucre. My son chose Barbe à Papa, the perfectly named Papa’s beard, a mass of pink fairy floss (cotton candy) on a stick. He ate it as we walked back to the metro.

Parisian sweets, Tuileries, 1992

That night at bedtime when we were having our chat, he said, ‘That was a good day, Mom.’ I put my arms around him and hugged him tight.

‘It was a wonderful day,’ I said, ‘and a perfect July 4.’

Time Passes

That was eighteen years ago. The idea of our having our own place in Paris was still but a dream, albeit a longstanding, serious one, and the thought that we might live overseas someday was also focused on Paris. We knew we wanted to visit Australia but couldn’t have imagined the path that would take us there to live, or the extent to which we would also fall in love with Sydney.

My little boy is an adult now and I can no longer kiss him goodnight every night.  We’ve been through a lot together and remain close despite the geographic distance between us. Today  he’ll spend his July 4 in his hometown of Washington, D.C., enjoying a three-day weekend.  Maybe he’ll go to a baseball game, as we did with him a few weeks ago when Clive and I visited there.

Almost 18 years later, American baseball, June 2010

Here in Sydney, Clive and I awoke to a peaceful July 4 on the Harbour.

Sydney Harbour morning, 4 July 2010

By afternoon, Sydneysiders were out on their yachts. Darkness falls early this time of year and it may not be a holiday here, but Aussies know how to enjoy themselves and make the most of a beautiful day.

July 4 afternoon, Sydney Harbour 2010

Cheers and for those of you celebrating the holiday, enjoy those hamburgers and hotdogs!

I wish you a safe and happy July 4, wherever you may be.

8 Responses

  1. Hi Carolyn, thank you for sharing this wonderful story, I must say you have a brilliant memory.. 🙂 such a sweet story. Your dream came true about owning an apartment in Paris, which is so great. And your life in Sydney , just what a fantastic place to wake up in 🙂

    Yes such a shame I missed you all in Paris, but my family were sooooooooooooo pleased to see me in Montreal .. I was thinking of you all too .

    Take care and say HI to Clive for me Love anne

  2. Happy 4th of July to you too. (Your son is very handsome).

  3. My husband and I had dinner with a friend on the 4th-no hamburgers, no fireworks but nice to be with friends.

  4. Hi Carolyn,

    Iam amazed and touched by your stories each time. Just so beautiful. Iam sure that your son remembers these happy days in Paris with you.

    I think that you have both evolved in your own ways and it is wonderful that you have places and times spent in these places that are common to you both.

    Take care and I hope that our paths cross again.


  5. I seriously cried at the end of this post — still teary as I type, in fact. What a wonderful story! And there’s your kiddo, all “growed up.” *sniff* 🙂 That was a fantastic read, Carolyn, and I was really touched by it, as the other commenters were, too.

    So glad you made it safely back to harbor, the Sydney one, and happy belated 4th to you, too.


  6. That was fantastically told! I loved the older photos with the story–and so wonderful that you caught all the right photos–your son driving, then the two boys driving past each other, then the mother on the side, reading a book and missing the experience. It is the small things, isn’t it? I keep a little book where I record these small moments that are made magnificent by their perfection.

    What a perfect 4th of July!

  7. This is my 1st time here. What a lovely post! The pictures from Paris look great! I can’t wait to explore your blog more.

  8. Thanks for the lovely comments, everyone.

    Anne, my memory is greatly assisted by a longstanding practice of keeping pretty detailed journals and travel diaries, and of course taking a lot of photographs!

    Nadege, appreciate your kind comments about my son — wish you had a blog so you could post some of you with your son in Paris 🙂

    Linda, glad you had a nice July 4 — being with friends is the important thing for sure.

    Barb, thanks for your lovely thoughts — I know my son does remember those times and the memories are indeed special.

    Karin, also appreciate your kind words – how quickly the little ones become all ‘growed up’ – I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

    Michelle, fantastic that you keep your own little book of moments and memories — I have no doubt you will treasure those in years to come. I find it fun and amazing and often quite moving to re-read those entries and details long after they happened.

    B, welcome! and thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve taken a first look at your blog and look forward to reading more — hope you enjoy your own upcoming travels!

    Cheers all and thank you.

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