Saturday morning, July 3rd, was the only day it rained in Paris for more than five minutes since before the World Cup started. Obviously, this freak thunder storm also coincided with Paris’ Chasse aux Trésors / Treasure Hunt. I say “obviously” because I’d decided to participate this year and, little known fact but my claim to fame, I am a magnet for the rain. The chance of precipitation wherever I live increases on any day that is 1) a weekend 2) when i plan to stay outside for more than 30 minutes. After that, the odds escalate exponentially depending on the significance of the event. If I plan to have a formal picnic on a dirt farm, I’ll be sure to let y’all know so you can run to higher ground and build an ark.
Ten o’clock Saturday morning, I struck out with my team, which consisted of Paris Karin (who also happens to be my fiancée) and Anaïs, my 13-year-old daughter. Anaïs is easy to recognize–she’s the one wearing roller blades in the rain on the marble staircase. Karin’s the one walking behind her thinking of all the possible ways to reformulate the sentiment, “I told you so.” Me? Clearly, I’m the weak link.
The adventure started at the Mairie du Dix-neuvième (City Hall of the 19th district) which is five minutes away from our place. Skirting past the wedding parties filling the lobby like too much icing in a 19th century Twinkie, I discovered the first challenge of the contest was to find out where the registration room is located. Once there, I called Karin because the very smiley volunteers explained that everyone on my team needed to be there. She escorted the roller bladed girl-child through the marble halls, across the rain drenched courtyard, up the marble staircase and into the room where I was all set to fill out any forms or swear to any requisite blood oath, only to find out I’d misunderstood the instructions and the presence of my loved ones was not mandatory, necessary or probably even desired.
Among the literature they thrust at us to get us out of the door were these fake newspapers with clues to the puzzles which we were to follow for the rest of the morning. The basic idea of the day’s events was for us to decipher the enigmas outlined in the paper which, once solved, would lead us across the district to our final objective: the Roses of Jericho that the great flood of 1910 washed out of the Jardin des Plantes. I’d like to take the chance right here and right now to congratulate whoever wrote the English text (Karin and I took the English version, Anaïs took the French one for me to carry around just for fun) because, with all the word games and puns, it had to be different from the original French and still make sense. Great job; the effort was appreciated!
We set sail on our two-hour tour that began in the square Armand Carrell, right in front of the City Hall. From there we followed the clues across the street and into the Parc des Buttes Chaumont where we confronted our first–OK, it was the first if you don’t count the rain, the stairs, the city hall–rollerblade obstacle in the form of a hill we had to descend that was so steep Anaïs had to latch onto my backpack to avoid breaking something she might need later. We kept following the indications to an incline that had Mont Blanc aspirations and my offspring had to cling onto Karin to scale the treacherous path.
A few more obstacles like this later and Anaïs was all for switching out the skates for the spare pair of shoes I’d brought along. While we made the change in the rain, I discovered Anaïs hadn’t brought a long a bag to carry the skates like I’d told her to back at my place when I’d insisted that her whole rollerblade folly was a plan concocted by the devil to make my day a living hell. She offered to carry them but seeing her clumsily clutching the dirty skates to her sweater and those soft kitten eyes looking up at me from underneath the brim of her rain soaked cap I knew our fun would end faster than a snowman in the Sahara at noon if I didn’t act, so I wedged the blades into my backpack which immediately doubled in volume and developed interesting new bumps that jutted into my back at vicious angles. Needles to say, this really got Karin’s gloat.
But you know what? From there on out, we had a great time. No, the rain didn’t stop right away, the two-hour walk ran into four hours, one of the shopkeepers supposed to give us a secret code-word didn’t show up to work that day (I kid you not), one of the clues led us to a dead end so I walked into every shop on the rue Lassus asking if they knew anything about the Treasure Hunt until I found the right place and the kind woman asked me, my very American fiancée and my 13-year-old daughter French riddles that soared so far over our heads we couldn’t even hear them whizzing past. (“Je suis Sophie, mais je ne suis pas Sophie. Qui suis-je?” Go figure–and leave any answers in the Comments Section!)
Despite all of these setbacks, we were able to find the treasure. I’m not talking about the dried Rose of Jericho that the volunteers waiting at the end of the adventure forgot to tell us to nourish with the park water Karin had been carrying around for four hours in an Evian bottle we’d pulled from the trash. Nope, the treasure we found kept us smiling even after we settled on the sofa, kicked off our rain drenched shoes and peeled off our soaked socks. The treasure is the memory of the jokes we told, the laughs we had, the places we went, the things we saw, the mysteries we solved and the fun we had even though we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into earlier that morning when we’d strapped on our rollerblades and glided out into the rain.