San Diego, CA
We'll Always Have Paris.
There were several reasons I decided to take my eight-year-old daughter, Katie, to Paris. High on the list was that I wanted to show her a new way of looking at the world. Our suburban life was filled with long checklists of homework assignments, soccer practice, and art lessons. I wanted to take her beyond where our minivan could go, physically and mentally. Turns out, Katie was the one to teach me about life.
Katie and I visited all of the usual Paris sites: The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur. We ventured off the path many times to discover hidden gems like the artists in small studios along cobblestone side streets. One afternoon while walking along the bank of the Seine River, we saw the iconic Shakespeare & Company Bookseller. Katie was already a true bibliophile so she adored the haphazardly organized collection of books, sepia-toned author photos, and literary events notices that filled the converted seventeenth century monastery. Shakespeare & Company was everything a bookstore should be, including the house cat and cozy chairs. It was the sort of place you would want to settle in for the afternoon during a rainstorm.
Katie noticed cots discreetly tucked into the book stacks and inquired about them with the clerk, a twentysomething Brit with Betty Paige bangs and Doc Marten Mary Janes. The young woman told us that travelers can sleep at the bookstore in exchange for a few hours working in the shop. They called them Tumbleweeds. Or, the clerk added, writers can stay in the studio as guests.
We checked in at midnight with the other Tumbleweeds and were shown to our room, one that had been occupied by Henry James, Anais Nin, and Alan Ginsberg. Apparently, it hadn't been cleaned since. One of the beds was not a bed at all, but a door resting on two file cabinets (of unequal height) with a yoga mat tossed on top of it. In the corner was a sink we later discovered did not offer water, but instead released a tornado of gnats when the spigot was turned. On a shelf was a box of Ritz crackers with a picture of Andy Griffith as a young man.
Katie ran into the steaming hot room excitedly and hopped on her door/bed. I entered more tentatively, hoping that opening the window might help. I struggled with the window to find that it would only open about six inches, but that's all we needed to feel its effect.
That's when it all changed in a moment. My daughter taught me one of the most important lessons in life. As the air from the street downstairs wafted into our room, I said, "Gross, it smells like hot garbage." Katie gasped. "Look! We have a perfect view of Notre Dame." It was then Katie showed me a new way of looking at the world. I realized I would be a lot happier in life if I learned to hold my nose and focus on what is beautiful.
Jennifer Coburn is a USA Today bestselling author who wrote We’ll Always and six novels. She lives in San Diego with her husband William. Katie is now a sophomore in college