Paris. Through My 11 Year Old Eyes.

In August, 1972, my parents took us to France for the first time. I had just finished fifth grade, and with it the novel Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Harriet has no bearing on Paris whatsoever, other than the explanation of why I kept such a detailed journal; I imagined it would be great fun to be a spy.
When I compare my writing with what my third graders can write today, I am almost ashamed. The sentences are stilted and trite. They are incredibly naive. Yet, they give an indication of what Paris was like for a young American girl. They lay the foundation for the first trip I made to the City of Light.

On August 1, we flew on Air France from Chicago to Paris, with a stop in Montreal. Apparently the stewardesses passed out perfumed towels, candy and gum; who knows about dinner? I didn’t bother to mention that except in a post script at the end of the day: “We had a very good supper of chicken.”
For breakfast, on August 2, there was “grapefruit and rolls with their marvelous, creamy, unsalted butter.” (Unsalted butter was a rare breakfast treat which I have continued eating ever after.)
On August 3, I took notice of the Parisian markets. “The markets are stalls or booths and are just open. Also, there can be meat next to fruit next to vegetable. In one fish store there was fish with there eyes still in them and unskinned!
The markets are always open so when the people need it (to) they go down and buy whatever they need. They don’t have refrigerators (can this be true?). For lunch we bought fruit and ate it walking around.
People go in a bakery and buy bread. They go walking around with it under their arms, they just carry it with no basket and no wrapper on it. The shape of it is like this…(a baguette) or…(a round loaf).”
(I think of the American way of shopping in the early 1970’s: huge supermarkets with food so “cleaned up” it hardly resembled its original state. Everything was wrapped in plastic, filled with preservatives, and disguised in convenient forms. Thank goodness stores like Whole Foods are bringing natural foods back to us.)
August 4:  After detailed observations on the size of French automobiles (teeny), and police cars shaped like a “miniature bus”, I went on to describe a Roman church in Montmartre. Evidently we visited many churches and famous buildings; the only one whose name I bothered to record wasn’t even the name but an inscription: Aux Grands Hommes La Patrie Reconnaissante on the Pantheon.
August 6: “We took a train to a place named a name I can’t remember, but it sounds like Versi. (Versailles) We saw the palace of Louis the XVII. The palace was nice, but we loved the gardens! Fountains and evergreen trees in the shape of cones to line the paths in he garden. And, small ponds with lilies and goldfish in them. The fish love bread and everyone feeds them.”

The entries go on and on with a rather tedious quality, so I will end on my final observation of Paris monuments:
August 7:  “We walked into a laundromat. Then we went to the Arc du Triomphe. The French like it a lot, but all it is, is a grand stone carved like a bridge.”
Imagine a sentence about laundry followed by totally discounting the importance of the Arc du Triomphe! It makes me want to laugh to see my foolishness recorded in a diary I ought to toss away. Thank goodness for the patience the French exhibited then, so unlike the feelings for Americans the last time I went to Europe in 2001. But, that’s a story for another day. 
Meanwhile, we have this month of July to explore all things French: food, film, fashion, literature, art…whatever it is that strikes your fancy. I have several posts planned, and I hope you do, too. I’m looking forward to sharing Paris in July with all of you. Bienvenue!
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33 thoughts on “Paris. Through My 11 Year Old Eyes.

  1. This diary is a treasure… I hope you will never discard it. It is so interesting to look back in time through a child's eyes. Children back in the 70s were very different from children today and it's true that we can see that through these sorts of diaries or old letters. This is such a great post. Happy Paris in July!

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  2. Ah, I think your 11-year-old self saw very clearly what was so foreign. I love these excerpts. They were so honest and you didn't know what you were supposed to admire.

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  3. Oh, this is such a treasure! I wish I had written more as a kid – it would have been rewarding to come across something like this. Actually, I'm pretty sure I wrote a lot. But we moved so much I had to throw all those books. I love how innocent and honest these posts are. Your 11yo self loved gardens, which may not be the most popular destination when you are an adult. But the Arc du Triomphe was boring – which is probably a popular destination for adults. It's interesting to see how perspectives change as you grow older.

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  4. Old letters and diaries have always fascinated me, from Anne Frank to my grandfather. Perhaps it is the view they offer into another life, another time. Happy Paris in July, Adria!

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  5. Well, “honest” is a kind term for what appears to me now to be “foolish”. Yet I suppose “innocent” covers it best. There was so much I didn't fully understand, which is why traveling is so glorious. We are pulled out of old understanding into something new. Thanks for visiting, Paulita.

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  6. Every year, I make a portfolio for each child in my class containing all the writing they have done for the year. But, at some point it must get too much for a parent, or child, to save. Especially when a family moves. Plus, how can we store everything we did in our lives. Sometimes, the memories have to be stored in our hearts. And, I think you're so right: some things are just plain boring to kids. 🙂

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  7. My handwriting is nothing like that now, but I still place a lot of value on penmanship. I love technology, as you know, but it can't replace the written note, or journal, or letter, which leaves the actual imprint of the person behind.

    How brave to ski in Switzerland! That must have been terribly exciting, Diane.

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  8. This is such a treasure! How wonderful that you've kept it all these years. I'm impressed with the beautiful penmanship, too, and chuckled at “In one fish store there was fish with there eyes still in them and unskinned!”

    In fifth grade I was totally preoccupied with Harriet the Spy and remember “allowing” myself to reread it once a month, lol!

    Thank you for sharing these precious journal entries!

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  9. It made me sad that you seem to be judging your 5th grade self so harshly here. To be ashamed of your naivete, or to think of throwing away your notebook — that really bothered me.

    Then, I remembered my 5th grade class photo. To the best of my ability, I've rid the world of those things. One of the most satisfying days of my life was the day I tore every one I possessed into tiny pieces and threw them away. I thought I was ugly then, and when I saw the photos again, I still thought I was ugly then.

    It was a phase, just as your journal was part of a phase. But I think your journal's far more worth keeping than my photos were!

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  10. ps… I still can't read your blog without effort,, even after enlarging the text, but I've discovered that the email I receive gives me both text and photos in a perfectly readable format. Then, all I need do is come over here and leave a comment. A good solution for me.

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  11. I loved this post! How wonderful to have diaries from when you were so young. I thought your 11 year old observations were rather astute 🙂 Thanks for sharing with us! I'm really looking forward to your posts for Paris in July!

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  12. Whatever else you may do, keep the diary. How many kids on a first trip to Paris get to visit a French laundromat? Those are priceless “kid” observations (I asked my French niece, visiting two years ago at age 11, to name her five favorite things about her two-week trip to California; “Cool Ranch Doritos” narrowly edged out “Yosemite” for first place).

    Your perfectly sensible description of the Arc de Triomphe also reminds me of Richard Lederer's great student blooper history of the world, in which one young student referred to the Egyptian pyramids as “in the shape of a huge triangular cube.”

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  13. An absolutely delightful post! I especially like the notice of the laundromat followed by a “meh” about the Arc. I hope to see Versailles some day. I dream about it

    Don't throw that diary away. It is just too precious 🙂

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  14. Thank you for reading them, JoAnn, and understanding about the allure that Harriet held. I should try reading it to my class next year to see if she's still well received. Beautiful penmanship has always been important to me (I must have been harnessing my inner teacher at age eleven).

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  15. I'm sorry to make you sad, Linda. I guess I've always been my harshest critic which is a double edged kind of thing. It's spurred me on toward excellence while at the same time causing frustration with my limitations. By the same token, I hardly think your picture should have been torn up. I've seen little (microscopic 😉 pictures of you in some blog icon at one point, and your beautiful spirit shines through your beautiful face. Plus, don't we both use Aveda's Flax Seed gel? xo

    As for the darn font and it's readability, I've contacted this template's designer to no avail. Perhaps I will return to Blogger's templates sooner vs. later. Thank you for sticking with me. Truly.

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  16. What a perfect response to my post: Dorito's almost in a tie with Yosemite! It made me smile as much as the “triangular cube”. Wonderful stuff!

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  17. As an adult, the only thing in remember about Versailles is the Hall of Mirrors. And, of course, the fabulous gardens. I do hope you get there some day. But, as I recall, you love perfume as much as I, and one can't miss the oils and scents from Grasse, either.

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  18. What a joy to read! Thank you for sharing this. I also kept a diary at a young age, but have sadly misplaced it. And your handwriting puts my current 3rd grader's handwriting to shame. 😉

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  19. This is so delightful and charming!! I kept a diary since I was 7ish and I can't help but howl at my early concerns. I have an entry about the fall of the Berlin Wall (I was 10ish) and I was more concerned with plotting to run away than with “some wall Mom and Dad are happy about being torn down”.

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  20. so funny! I hope you have climbed up l'Arc de triomphe since, and enjoyed the great view of Paris it gives you, while sparing you the crowds waiting for the elevator at la Tour Eiffel

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  21. What an incredibly lovely post! Congrats for that! I am planning on writing my own post for the challenge this weekend, although I have already started reading “Un homme efface” 🙂

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  22. I still write a handwritten diary when I travel: they are such a pleasure to read back through. But your diary is amazing – what things children notice that adults perhaps would not. It's adorable.

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  23. Oh Meredith you can never throw this away – it is just divine! And I think you are being way too hard on yourself. You have made some very accurate observations from an 11 year old's perspective I think! You have inspired me to share some of my journal writings I think..

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  24. I am completely in love with this post. What perfect observations! And my, how we change! (I loved the laundromat/Arc bit — and “Versi” — the palace was nice. This post warms my heart and fills me with joy in so very, very many ways!

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