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Tourist Eyes

For two weeks my husband and I traveled to London, Paris, Zurich and Bern—familiar haunts where one can drink water from the tap.

I had tourist eyes just the same, framing pictures in my mind—the royal architecture of Hampton Court, the symmetrically laid out gardens with brilliant rhododendrons. It did not take effort to imagine Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn strolling these grounds.

Scanning the London crowds, I tried to define what made them different from Americans. It wasn’t just the red double Decker buses and the square taxicabs that told me I was abroad. It was the faces in all shades and hues, the accents, the clothes—a subtle difference that told me I was not home.

The conversations on our travels were more intense, when having tea, lunch or dinner with cousins and good friends. Not seeing them often makes seeing them now a focused experience. We talk about what matters. Inevitably, politics comes up—the lively British election, how different from our own. Every British taxi driver had an opinion. They not only know every corner of London, but every nuance of the election. One said of the defeated Gordon Brown, “He’s a radio man. Never should have appeared on TV.”

Taking the Eurostar train from St. Pancreas station in London to the Gare de Nord in Paris gave me a thrill. In the Chunnel I was barely aware that we were slipping under the English Channel, a trip I had made years ago in stormy weather by boat.

Paris at night is gilded by light, the landmark Eiffel Tower is magical, the bridges arching over the Seine look weightless. By day we walk through the gardens of the Tuilleries, go to the Rodin museum—and take a trip to Giverney, where Monet lived for his last twenty years and tended his watery Japanese gardens. Like every other tourist, I photograph the famous bridge, draped with heavy clusters of lavender wisteria. We are about to sit on a quiet bench, and see a couple embrace. This is France, after all.

Then a smooth train ride to Zurich, filled with memories of family and friends. My official days as ambassador are brought back by an elegant dinner hosted by the new ambassador who invited us to stay overnight.

The morning after our return, shedding jet lag, I took a walk on the bicycle path along Lake Champlain, smelling the newly mowed grass, feeling the wind smoothing the water, seeing the wispy clouds against the clean blue sky. I told myself to concentrate, to absorb, to savor the moment, to be a tourist here, where I live.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state’s first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton’s VP. She is the author of
Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.

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