How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree? Wide-eyed wonder abounds as we tour the City of Light and then head for the Loire Valley.
I saw the Eiffel Tower first! Look, Notre Dame! OMG, Nutella! Nutella crêpes! Nutella milkshakes! Is she a supermodel? She's definitely a supermodel. He must be French. He's wearing a scarf.
Having endlessly extolled the virtues of a genuine French baguette - crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle, ever so slightly burned on the bottom -- I suppose I'm to blame for two students buying two-foot long baguettes and downing them as we stroll the boulevards. All part of the culinary adventure that is France.
I thought the Mona Lisa would be bigger. That statue's just famous 'cuz she has no arms. Hot chocolate is only 2 euros! And they serve it with whipped cream! I definitely want to study in Paris. I just love the Seine. Can we do a boat tour?
Time to leave the hurly burly of the city and her anxiety-producing, camo-clad, machine gun-wielding guards, for the hinterlands. So many chateaux, churches and country pleasures await.
Why don't Chartres' spires match? Is the stained glass really 1,000 years old? Did people actually live in these chateaux? It's freezing inside! But look at the size of the fireplaces.
Just in time, we've escaped a quick spring squall in the mellow light of a salon de thé. In the shadow of romantic Chambord, I'm enjoying a crêpe with a student: crème de marron for me, caramel du beurre salé for him. We savor our final bites, the skies clear and a perfect arc en ciel materializes from one horizon to the other across the grounds of the chateau. Nathalie, our French tour director, stops at our table and suggests a title for my next book: "A Rainbow Over Chambord." Pourquoi pas? Why not?
What are those huge trees? Why is their bark peeling so much? Are those trees in the square dead? They look like angry old people shaking their fists. Why do they cut off all their branches?
I recall the first time I saw the closely pruned - pollarded - French trees in the seventies. They made me sad, looking as if they'd been abused, the barren sentinels barred from reaching their natural height and breadth. But as I learned back then, such drastic cropping yields lush lollipop trees in summer, providing thick, summer greenery and dense, cooling shade. I explain to my students about the trees and this leads to discussions of French rationality and affinity for order, English versus French gardens, the philosophes, and the French penchant for debate. All because of an angry black tree in a village square.
I love this hotel! The one in Paris was way too modern. This one has charm. Our room is so cool. It has a back door! On peut sortir? Can we go out, Madame Bohr?
I steal away on my own after dinner - I leave through my own back door -- to lose myself in reverie and take a solo look at the chateau. Azay-le-Rideau, built on a human scale, one of my favorites. Grand enough to be called a chateau yet small enough to be accessible. I imagine myself living there, tapestries warming the walls, carpets softening the floors, surrounded by a duck pond. On my own for a few minutes, I'm transported back to the '70s, conjuring the feelings of the romantic young student I was. Smitten then; I'm smitten now. My beloved France.
Once again, time to board the bus. This time amid uncontrolled giggling. "Qu'est-ce qui se passe?" What's going on?" I ask. They can barely speak. "The bus driver. Peeing by the tree. I saw things I didn't want to!" Cackles. Guffaws. Innocents abroad. Innocence in France.