Our Midnight in Paris

Published On July 14, 2013 | By Ethos |

Story by Eleni Pappelis
Design and photo by Emily Fraysse

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Eleni Pappelis traveled to Paris, France, to celebrate her sixteenth birthday.

On July 14, 2009, the streets of Paris were flooded with crowds inching their closer and closer to a parade commemorating Bastille Day, the holiday marking the first day of the 1789 French Revolution. My mother and I stood on the Champs-Élysées, a famous avenue where historic monuments, such as the Arc de Triomphe, are located, waiting for the parade of massive green battle tanks and primly dressed men in dark uniforms with swords hanging at their sides. Four military planes soared overhead, leaving the sky stained with streaks of red, white, and blue to lead the parade’s path.

Coincidentally, my birthday also falls on July 14. The year I turned four, I received a card from my uncle containing two crisp $2 bills and a newspaper clipping revealing that France’s Bastille Day shared the day of my birth. As I matured, my curiosity about the foreign national holiday grew, and my freshmen year in high school, I took French as my foreign language requirement. I hoped one day I could travel to France and use my new language to share in celebrating this historic French victory.

On my sixteenth birthday, this wish came true. My mother and I embarked upon a ten-day journey that would be the biggest trip I had ever taken. Two days after arriving in Paris, we joined a group traveling to Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny.

As we stepped off the bus, my mother and I were welcomed with the honeyed fragrance of nectar wafting from Monet’s Clos Normand garden. Rows of flowers led to Monet’s historic home, and standing in a sea of perfume and splashes of floral color, I knew what my mom was thinking because I, too, was reminded of my grandfather.

My mother’s parents share a passion for flowers that has been passed onto my mother, and I believe on to myself. Before I was born my great-grandfather opened Broadway Florist, a small Los Angeles corner flower stand that has since flourished into Stats, a holiday decor retail store now owned by my grandfather. When I visit my grandfather’s store with my mother, employees immediately recognize me as their manager’s granddaughter because I distinctly resemble my mother.

Looking upon Monet’s garden, I could see the connection between my mother and her father. Wide eyed and face glowing, she could hardly believe the picturesque rows of flowers, and we both easily connected the sweet-scented natural domain to my grandfather and his craft in the floral industry.

Watching her reflect on our family history that day, I realized one of the most valuable things I have learned from my mother is to find and cherish beauty in all that surrounds me. She has two special gifts that I hope to also inherit: seeing the good in everything and being selfless. For as long as I can remember, each birthday I have awoken to a bouquet of flowers from my mother. Even as a student at the University of Oregon, I have often been surprised with flowers when she visits. Our trip together made me appreciate all the things my mom goes out of her way to do for everyone besides herself—including making my childhood dream of traveling to France a reality.

Four days after visiting Giverny, my special day finally arrived. It was a day that had been in the back of my mind for most of my life. After attending the Bastille parade, in true birthday fashion, I was treated to a fancy dinner in downtown Paris before we traveled on foot to the final celebrations. With only a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower behind the city skyline to guide us, we made our way toward the festivities. Thousands of people sharing our sense of excitement trickled through the small streets of Paris.

As we stood at the base of the Eiffel Tower that night, it twinkled as lights bounced along its enormous steel structure. Warm air carried the voices of opera singers Maria Callas and Pavarotti. Over our heads, fireworks showered the sky in synchronization. My mom had helped me believe the entire country was celebrating my birthday with us, too.

Wandering together through Paris after the celebration, I realized that exploring France with my mom was the most meaningful adventure of my life. Although I am fortunate to have traveled to France to learn about Parisian culture, I am most grateful to have recognized the lengths my family would go to give me this opportunity. I am very lucky to have experienced such a beautiful culture with my best friend.

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