The driver was talking to the reflections of my Mother and I in the rear-view mirror of his mid-90s Samsung sedan.
“It’s a quick trip to Syria. We can make a day trip out of it if you want to go to Damascus.”
It was a tempting idea. Mom and I had come up from Petra to Amman, Jordan to meet the family of one of my Father’s friends. We planned on staying another day in Amman but we were having trouble finding the local centers of urban culture that seemed to leap out at us in Istanbul and East Jerusalem. I knew that Damascus was beautiful and safe for travelers and I imagined we’d have more fun there than we would in dusty Amman. We didn’t go and I regret it.
I was excited and nervous to go to a barbecue at my PI’s house, just outside of Washington DC. I was just getting settled working in his lab and I wanted to make a good impression so I spent an hour or two laboring over a particularly arteriosclerotic batch of pimento cheese. Everyone who worked in the lab and many of my PI’s friends and family were in attendance. It was a wonderfully cosmopolitan crowd: I overheard conversations in French, Romanian, Hebrew, and Chinese. Somebody was demoing a DNA sequencing device and companion iPhone app in the kitchen. I started talking to the fiancé of one of the postdocs in the lab on the back porch. She had just flown in from Paris and we started talking about her work. We both studied the same field (metagenomics) but her particular area of expertise was in the bacterial populations that grow on different kinds of exotic cheeses. Our conversation was memorable for being as intellectually stimulating as it was French. I wanted to introduce her to the southern concoction I brought along, but to my pleasant surprise my casserole dish had been scraped clean.
My Father and I stood in the middle of the Champs-Élysées looking west towards the sun setting behind the Arc de Triomphe. The Champs was bustling with all kinds of people shopping, eating, drinking, and walking around for no reason, like we were. We used our last billets taking the metro from FDR to Hôtel de Ville. We walked from the metro to our hotel and Dad commented how the cafes in Paris always seemed to be packed, no matter the time of day or the day of the week. The entire time we had been in Paris it seemed you couldn’t go wrong picking a place to eat - the food was always unique and delicious. (Parmentier de canard? Sure, why not?) We washed up a little in the room and then went out and started walking north on Rue Vieille du Temple (which I constantly confused with Rue du Temple). We walked for a while because I wanted to scope out a bakery I had read about years before in The New Yorker. It was a gorgeous August evening and everyone was out. We walked to the Bastille down Boulevard Beaumarchais, so at some point we must have been a block away from Bataclan. We made a right on Rue Saint-Antoine. “I forgot how much I like it here,” Dad said, “I hope we can come back.”