Today is my birthday! (Thank you, thank you) This is my first birthday in the cabin. Maybe we’ll catch Mouse #40 tonight for a present.
I spent three birthdays in France. The first one is definitely one of my most memorable birthdays ever. Mr. Gren was the youth pastor at an English-speaking church just outside of Paris (Emmanuel International Church) and that first year my birthday happened to fall on a weekend perfect for a youth event. And this was an EVENT. Progressive dinner. Through Paris. On bicycles. Mr. Gren had the route all planned out, criss-crossing through the Western side of Paris from Fat Tire Bikes to our three stops — the apartments of three church families who would be providing our meal. We had nine kids from 13-16 years old and two other adults to help us corral them. It was a diverse group: American twins who had just moved from Colorado; an American brother and sister who had grown up in Scotland; a Dutch-German girl who had recently arrived from South Africa; a boy from Iceland whose name sounds like a bird chirp; a Swiss-American girl who had grown up in France; and our other two leaders were from China and England. Such is the nature of an international church!
It was daylight when we started out, but, being autumn in Paris, night fell pretty quickly. Now we were corralling nine kids on bikes in Paris in the dark . If you have never been to Paris, it should be noted that Paris is not a bicycle-friendly city. Cars are king and, although half the population drives vehicles that could fit in the bed of an American pickup truck, Parisians all fancy themselves race car drivers. Or maybe rally sport drivers would be more accurate. Speed AND recklessness! They may never admit it, but I’m positive that’s what they all dream about at night.
One of Mr. Gren’s favorite places in Paris is the Étoile — the massive roundabout that encircles the Arc de Triomphe. Twelve streets converging into one writhing mass of cars, weaving, dodging, honking and cursing. It’s a perfect place to take kids! Anyone with half a brain and a will to live knows better than to actually try and bike through the Étoile. Instead, we went around via crosswalk at the head of each street, which was still plenty treacherous. We only had to make it about half way around before turning off on a side street to head to our next stop.
And not a moment too soon! Bike chains were dropping like flies and the four of us adults were frequently pulling kids and disabled bikes off to the side of the street for quick repairs all while trying not to lose the rest of the group. I was bringing up the rear with stragglers, daydreamers, and other slow-pokes. All of a sudden, the Icelandic kid in front of me was launched over the handlebars of his bike as the gears locked up, nearly causing me to run right over the top of him. Betrayed by the chain again! Hjortur was a tough little kid and was game to keep on going after a quick examination of his scrapes. Not that there’s much choice when you’re in the middle of the road in Paris!
Somehow, Hjortur’s unscheduled meeting with the pavement was the only casualty of the whole trip. We arrived at all our destinations, ate good food, had a lot of laughs. I was even surprised with a birthday gift at one apartment and a cake at the final stop! How can you top a birthday like that? Probably never going to happen, but today is shaping up to be pretty good. Mr. Gren surprised me with baguette and French goat cheese, Lindt chocolates, and a beautiful bouquet of red roses. Happy birthday to me!