So now that I’m the owner of a boutique tour company, you may be wondering how on earth I started out with the intention of writing a guide book.
The first step toward recovering my life through a new career, getting in touch with my values and adopting a new philosophy involved more than just accepting the constraints of my husband’s annual life cycle. Because, let’s face it, living nine months in Austin and three months in France doesn’t really fit many job descriptions. Trust me. I looked hard.
I resentfully acknowledged there was really no existing job for me (unless I wanted to wave farewell to my two wonderful children every year and watch them head off with my husband to France for the summer, leaving me to enjoy three months of 100 degree heat alone.)
Life is so ephemeral. I wanted to do something to make the most of it and share that pleasure with others. I had to assess my life.
I asked myself, what was the best part of my life at the time? Although doing handyman work and housekeeping in my fabulous bungalow (once a destitute hotel for rats and cockroaches) came in a close second. I decided the best part of my life was spending time with my family in Paris each summer (which, I might note, is not where my in-laws live). I loved planning outings for the boys and discovering a new side of the city through their eyes and their interests. Voila. That established the core around which I would construct my new life goal.
The next step was figuring out how to integrate my husband’s schedule and the thing I enjoyed most into a job.
I couldn’t think of anything. Much less would I dream of starting a company… my family is full of teachers, nurses, doctors, farmers… business isn’t in my bloodline.
But then it came to me. I’d write a guide book to Paris for families! (You might be better informed than I was and see right away that this was far from a brilliant idea… but at the time I thought it was pure genius.)
I know, that when you started reading this blog, that probably wasn’t a detour that you were expecting, but it wasn’t as “out of the blue” as it may seem. After living in Japan the first time (at the turn of the century), I’d spent a year backpacking in Southeast Asia where my path had crossed a Lonely Planet guidebook writer, (an event that happened again later in South America). It seemed like a fun job and I’d sent a cover letter to Rough Guide in hopes of becoming a writer, that started something like “I’ve danced until dawn with drag queens in Japan, swum in phosphorescent algae under a full moon in Vietnam” and ended with something like “and now I’m ready to share my secrets with your readers.” They wrote back quickly saying it was the best letter they’d had in months, they encouraged me to wait until they had a suitable opening. Of course, then I started graduate school, changed my email address and got too busy to follow up.
I figured there was a market for a family guidebook because I’d encountered a huge problem the first summer we spent in Paris as a family when my husband was doing scholarly research at the National Library for an article he was working on, or was it his book… I don’t remember. Anyhow while he was being academic, I was struggling with a huge problem: Paris didn’t seem child-friendly.
What should have been a dream-summer in an apartment just two blocks from the Louvre had ended in monotony. I’d whiled away the summer watching my nine-month old throw rocks down the sewerage drain in the courtyard of the Royal Palace. (Bored in Paris. Poor me, right?)
I only had one child then and hadn’t even begun to think about giving him a brother. My sweet chubby little cherub couldn’t walk far. He was already too heavy to carry for any distance. Most of the subways didn’t have escalators or elevators and the buses were overcrowded. So, the two of us were confined to where we could walk. Not that he would have enjoyed visiting museums or shopping… but I couldn’t even find the kind of children’s park I was used to –no slides, no swings, no climbing structures. I decided they probably didn’t exist in “the city of light”.
My husband was too busy working and didn’t seem to know anymore about children’s places in Paris than his American wife because up until then his experience in the city had focused around visiting friends and family, enjoying the nightlife or seeing the typical sights.
Clearly a guide to Paris for families was needed. I had needed it! And now, I could share the pleasures I’d since discovered on my repeat sojourns with my two sons. I could see my dream play out as though it were emblazed in bright lights on a silver cinema screen. I would be the heroine who saves family vacations, swooping in to spare other novices from the struggle I’d endured that first dismal summer in Paris. Oh how grand it would all be! And profitable, no doubt.
Before starting my epic guidebook, I ordered every guidebook on the market that was targeted at English speaking families visiting Paris. (Fortunately there weren’t many.) I just wanted to be sure there was a need for the new kind of book I wanted to create. Not a child-centered book, but a book for adults who want to discover the city and share the joy with their children in a way that is mutually thrilling and enables parents and children to each broaden the other’s experience… on a budget!
At that point, I’d spent over half a decade sojourning in the city with my children and I’d explored every nook and nonsensical museum in the city with my boys. We’d made many delightful discoveries off-the-beaten tourist path. Once I established that many of my favorite family places weren’t covered by other guidebooks, I got to work.
I resolved to make the next summer in Paris the best ever. I spent the fall, winter and spring pouring over the internet, doing research on French websites for Parisian mothers. I listed every museum and fascination in the city. Then I located all of my finds on an old Paris map I’d picked up for free from the Gallery Layfayette department store. Next I grouped them according to spacial proximity and categorized them by themes when possible and wound up with 36 “chapters” to research.
I chose six “chapters” located near our sublet apartment (by then we had started subletting an apartment in the trendy Oberkampf area) and created a calendar so that each of the six weeks we were in the city was devoted to a chapter.
When we got to Paris, my children were on a punishing schedule of non-stop fun. Every day we were trying out different parks, museums, stores. Everything was done on a super tight budget. Yet, I told my husband some costs would have to earn us airmiles on the credit card. I kept such costs to a minimum by taking advantage of the first Sunday of each month to visit an unreasonable number of museums. (In case you don’t know, the first Sunday of each month many famous museums wave their entry fee.) At this point, we haven’t hit the Museum of Eyeglasses yet… but we’ve been pretty much everywhere else.
It was exhausting having that much fun!
It was also positively marvelous. (And yes, I’m going to tell you all about it but if you like spoilers you can take a peek at what this project eventually morphed into here on my website…)