Reporter's Note: President Obama is dealing with a good many international issues as we launch into this new year. And that’s the subject of my last little holiday story in my daily letters to the White House.
Tom Foreman | BIO
Dear Mr. President,
It’s been a lovely week off and a rare one as well, I must say. Feels like the past year was far too busy, so it has been nice having some days to hang with the family and write about things I enjoy instead of politics. As promised, I will return to more serious topics tomorrow, but I wanted to wrap up the down time with a little story about the start of a new year a few years back.
My wife and I, in a rare Thurston Howell III moment, took our girls to Paris to welcome the new year. We had some friends who were going and they asked us to join them, and the next thing we knew we were strolling along the Seine, visiting Notre Dame, eating mussels and pain au chocolat. At midnight on the 31st, we joined the massive crowds hovering around the Champs-Elysees, and afterward we crammed into a metro that was so crowded my younger daughter was nothing more than the top of her hat in a sea of people. Several locals found her quite amusing and I tried to make a joke, calling her my little champion. As it was, I ended up calling her my little mushroom which struck them as even funnier. Ah, we Americans are tres, tres amusant, n’est pas?
We stood on top of the Eiffel Tower in the dark, as a snow squall howled around us, and sang songs badly in French as we tripped past sites where Napoleon once sipped his cafes and chased his mistresses. (Who says our politicians don’t have anything in common with the French?)
But my favorite moment was not during the flurry that night as we saw the new year in, but the next day. We emerged from our hotel a little frayed from our nocturnal adventures and strolled over to an ice rink, where Parisians skated and laughed in a drippy rain that had descended. Drops fell from the corners of the little shed alongside the rink, and slight puddles on the ice rippled as the skaters cut through. What drew us closer, however, was a carousel, merrily spinning and playing music close by amid the din.
Our family has never been one to pass up a carousel ride in any climate, and we hustled over to the proprietor, a grinning older gentleman with a stubble of beard, a rumpled coat, and fewer teeth than was his due. He was chatting with a compatriot of similar mien, and I did not want to interrupt, but nonetheless called out cheerily in French, “Excuse me for disturbing you, sir, and Happy New Year. Can you tell my how much a ride costs?” He immediately grinned ear to ear, perhaps a reaction to my far from perfect French, but as best I can tell out of pure joy. “Why for New Year’s Day,” he said enthusiastically, “it is free!”
His overwhelming happiness at greeting an obviously foreign family with an unexpected gift, instantly became one of my favorite New Year’s memories. We climbed aboard and spun around in the rain for a few minutes, watching flecks of water fly from our hat brims. Afterward, we thanked our host profusely, who thanked us in return for stopping by.
As my letters of the past week have shown, I revisit a lot of bygone moments each holiday season, and yet I find myself nearly always ending with that one; a shared moment of humanity, decency, generosity, and gratitude, which spanned cultures and ages.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these little stories. As promised, tomorrow, I’ll get back to business. But one last time before we say goodbye to this holiday season: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Mr. President.
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