Walking the streets of Dijon in the snow last weekend, despite the mushy mushroom moistness of my not-waterproof boots and sopping-wet socks, was perfect.
Just like I remember feeling on our yearly November trips to New York City as a child, Essie and Isla were humming with enthusiasm, plugged into the people, the lights and the action.
We licked practically every store window we passed. Isla stopped to lick a few without telling us and gave me a fright when I realized she was no longer with us. That one window display with the moving, breathing polar bears kept her pliant little mind very busy as she contemplated how those bears got into the store,where they pooped, and whether or not they were dangerous.
We hadn't intended to stay the night, but just to have lunch and visit the Christmas Market and maybe buy Esther a pair of new boots as an early birthday present. The market was dull by Bavarian standards, but there was vin chaud. We stuck the kids on the Santa train for two trips while we cradled hot styrofoam cups and smiled as we felt the hot wine go straight to our toes.
Boot shopping consumed us as the snow consumed the streets. We went into a half a dozen shoe stores, filled with 3,000 variations on the same damn theme, city boots. How does anyone decide?
Esther and, then Isla, both found what they liked, in the same shop. We bought them, and they wore them out of the store, stopping on the sidewalk to spray them with waterproofer.
Funny how a new pair of shoes can change your stride, your attitude, and your entire demeanor. Another disconcerting example of how money does indeed make you, at least temporarily, profoundly happy.
We tried, really we did, to go home, until, stuck in a slow- road- to- nowhere traffic jam on the way out of town, as it snowed harder and harder, I willed Ian to turn around and head back to the little city of light.
Once we found a hotel, and faced another restaurant meal, oh bummer, I dove through a rapidly lowering window of commercial opportunity and explained to my family that I just had to go out and buy myself some dry shoes, and socks, as well.
I raced along the slippery lit-up streets and alleys, doing flybys in a half a dozen shops and ending up in a Gap, of all places, shopping for pants I really wanted, but didn't need.
I tried on a ridiculously tight, yet vaguely- flattering, pair of stretch jeans and wondered, in that tiny dressing room, with my soaking -wet socks leaving a puddle on the floor, if I could really get away with them. It's times like these when I could use a girlfriend. Esther had wanted to come with me, but I knew I needed to hurry so I turned her down.
When I tried to find a larger size, the saleswoman said, "But if you get a bigger size, they will be....bigger."
"Exactly," I said.
"But, those you are wearing are perfect."
"They're not perfect," I said, "They're too tight." Then I thought, "And I'm not a teenager, or French."
But she was right. The next size up was too big. In a bold, rebellious move of optimism, I bought the tight ones.
Dizzied by the choices of fashion boots, and feeling as if combining tight jeans and fashionable boots on the very same day was just too cliché, I found a pair of practical, waterproof, high-end shit kickers, and sprinted back to the hotel to show off my booty.
Everyone, even Ian, approved.
Three girls and three new pairs of boots, one pair of tight-stretch jeans and one man who will never understand us, poured smugly out into the magically- glowing streets in search of a restaurant for dinner.
We wandered, hand- in -hand through the labrynth of cobblestone, with me stopping to occasionally pull my shirt down, because I could feel the air blowing through the gap between it and the low-rise waistband, why do I do this to myself?, until we finally stepped into a warm, casual gallete/crepe restaurant. Once inside, Isla and I became instantly smitten with the young waiter.
I was stealth, but Isla was shameless.
She did everything she could, short of punching him, to get him to look at her. I can't blame her, really. He was adorable, very sweet and boyish, very French. Am I setting my girls up for eternal discontent? Will they forever be searching for a boy who speaks French and knows how to wear a scarf when they get back to America?
We had a delicious, warming, cheap meal in the glow of red- beaded lamplight, then headed back out into the night.