"La Défense! Le pont de La Défense!" Le Petit was practically jumping up and down in excitement.
La Défense, the business district outside of Paris certainly doesn't make me dream. My husband has spent enough time working there to almost detest it. Yet whenever we drive by Le Petit looks up at the skyscrapers, entranced. He insists, even, that we take a certain route home from our weekend outings to the Parc de Saint Cloud so we pass at the feet of the giant towers.
It isn't far from our apartment as the crow flies or even, as I learned on Wednesday, as an almost-five-year-old pedals -- unsteadily -- on his two-wheeled bicycle. Late in the afternoon, we left Mademoiselle with her doting grandparents and headed out on what I thought would be a short ride around an the island in the Seine near our house, but Le Petit fixed the buildings downstream and announced we were on our way to the "Pont de la Défense." "Le pont des tours de la Défense," to use his name precisely: the La Défense towers' bridge, found on the map as the less romantic Pont de Neuilly. I ran alongside him on the wide sidewalk, ready to help him stop at intersections or swerve around pedestrians, and decided to humor him. Why not? We'd go a little closer, get a better view, maybe see La Grande Arche and then go home.
Le Petit is fascinated by geography, both of the world and of Paris, his city. He recognizes Paris landmarks with remarkable accuracy, not just the Eiffel Tower, but the Tour Saint-Jacques and the Hôtel de Ville, the Panthéon and the Palais de Chaillot. He loves studying maps, and can find and name the five continents and all the major French cities even though he can't yet read. He's beginning to exhibit his father's second sense for orientation; when we're out in the car, he knows exactly where we are and in which direction we're headed and whether or not we're taking the optimal route. When he was littler, and less reasonable though no less stubborn, he threw a temper tantrum until my husband drove him through Place de la République.
We got to the bridge, where I briefly thought of turning back. There was traffic, and traffic fumes, and I had no idea how we'd navigate the crowds of business people with Le Petit's bike. But I want to be the mom who does things on a whim, just because they're important to my kid. Improvising isn't easy with a toddler, and now about the best I can do is let Le Petit choose our itinerary when we're out on a bike ride. Luckily for me, le Petit is at an age where wonder comes relatively effortlessly, so my creativity isn't too taxed just yet.
We pedaled and walked the bike slowly up the Esplanade de la Défense all the way to the Grande Arche, the modern mirror of the Arc de Triomphe. We stopped for a long to admire a giant, multicolored mosaic basin with dancing fountains. Le Petit insisted that I take a photo with my phone to send to Daddy. Then he turned around and discovered that we had a direct view on the Arc de Triomphe. "Oooo, look!"
We took the train back, le Petit keeping close and listening to my instructions in the swirl of commuters. We must have amused a few, him with his running commentary of the sights out the window, me with his bike over my shoulder.