Some people explore via food tours or shoe shopping. It seems my destiny is to discover the world one optometrist at a time.
What do Paris (France), Portland (Maine), and Yarmouth (Nova Scotia) have in common? Not much, to be honest. But I’ve come to see them through a new lens – if you’ll pardon the pun – thanks to local optometrists.
Some people see the world through – here’s that pun again – a specific lens. They explore destinations via a particular filter or set of experiences, discovering cities via food tours or shoe stores. I hadn’t thought that approach applied to me until I realized I was getting to know the globe via eye health facilities, one city at a time.
It’s not that I’ve had any ophthalmological crises. Nor have I ever crushed my frames or smashed the glass on my eyewear. Instead, I’ve had the bad luck of breaking off the little plastic nose pieces or having the tiny metal screws that hold everything together turn loose. It sounds like trivial stuff, really, except that it’s not. I might as well have snapped my frames in half because I’m running blind without a functional, comfortable pair of glasses.
As such, after ten-plus years of travel writing, I know it’s not the concierge or maître d’ who will solve my biggest problems while I’m on the road; it’s the optometrist. Paris, Portland, and Yarmouth are just a few of the spots where I’ve required an urgent repair to my glasses. Despise the fact that I’m not a local patient, I’m always warmly welcomed, I’m sorted out right away, and payment is refused.
In this situation, this quagmire of eyeglass issues, I am the very definition of a sitting duck. Not only do I need an urgent repair, but I need it NOW. My timeline as a travel writer is often incredibly unforgiving. In Yarmouth, for instance, I had that lunch hour and that lunch hour only to get things sorted out before I moved on to my next destination. In Portland, I hit the streets early to get to the optometrist’s office just as it opened (and before the ferry left town). Frankly, these offices could have charged me just about anything, and I’d have to pay. But money, it seems, is insulting to optometrists when a stranger is in a crisis.
The first few times this happened, I thought I had just got lucky with a kindly small-town clinic. But by the time I needed help in Paris, I started to believe there must be a universal quality that makes optometrists travel superheroes in disguise. Is there some kind of code of conduct I don’t know about? Did they once charge for minor repairs and realize it was more trouble than it’s worth? Maybe if you have to deal with eyeballs all day long, popping on a new plastic nosepiece is a delightful break in routine? In any case, I’m grateful.
In Paris, my eyeglass problems were a turning point in my trip. The eyeglass shop was located on Rue du Bac, which soon became my favourite street in the city. It was positioned across from a branch of Angelina, the famous Parisian patisserie. Further up, I found fromageries, roast chicken stalls, tiny florists, and charming produce vendors. Had I never snapped off that nose piece by accident, who’s to say if I would have found some of my favourite spots at all?
I’ll tell you, it was a bit intimidating to walk into an eyeglass shop with a giant poster advertising Chanel frames in the window and even worse to speak to the beautifully groomed man with the expensive yet casual haircut and the relaxed tailored shirt in my halting French and hand over my cheap, grubby, smudged glasses while wearing leggings and an oversized shirt. Yet he could not have been more professional, rising to the occasion like a proper gentleman when confronted with a street urchin. I had to follow up my visit with a stop at the pharmacy, and my combined experiences made an indelible impression regarding Parisians’ kindness, helpfulness, and professional pride. Don’t listen to anyone who says the French aren’t friendly. When you are befuddled, bamboozled, and blind, they’re the people you want in your corner.
With all the trouble I’ve had, you’d think I would start travelling with some spare glasses or maybe an eyeglass repair kit. If only! As a matter of fact, for close to 15 years, I did indeed have a tiny eyeglass repair kit in my little emergencies pouch. It featured a cheap magnifying glass, some microscopic spare screws, and a plastic screwdriver. Alas, it was purged from my supplies years ago when I was removing dozens of tiny items, which collectively wasted a lot of space and weight. Should I add it back? It’s not a bad idea, especially if I travel in economically developing countries with a dearth of eyeglass shops conveniently located across from patisseries. And maybe I really should pack a spare pair of glasses. It seems like the sensible choice.
But for now, I’ll take my chances. Eyeglass problems have been the tiny catalyst that allows me to see the world more clearly, one kind encounter at a time.
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