I went for one last walk early this morning foolishly thinking that I might find some quiet streets in Paris to take a few more photographs and reflect.
The left bank at 5:30 a.m. reminds me of that old Jimmy Buffett lyric, “. . . there is a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.” Never more true than this morning in this City.
I don’t know what I was thinking . . . one of my signature brain fades . . but I expected to see a City just waking up; instead, I found it staggering home after a long night.
Oh, to be young. A young couple kissed passionately at the corner of Saint-Germaine Blvd and Rue d’Odeon.. . .. I mean passionately. A young fella peed into the street on Rue de Conde. A poor young lady, who I assume had a bit too much to drink, wretched while crossing Rue Crebullon.
Cigarette butts, hundreds of them, floated down the gutter as a restaurant worker hosed down the sidewalk. Trust me: smoking is not prohibited in Paris.
A group of young waiters gathered at the bar in Le Precope feverishly arguing over something. I made out the word, “foooot-bawl.” Others were placing chairs upside down on tables at Brasserie Lipp.
I stopped to photograph the light from a street lamp as it filtered through the leaves of a tree when a street sweeper approached me, looked up, and asked me what I saw interesting in the tree. He was a friendly guy and we had a brief conversation, each of us searching for words in the other’s language, but he grew suspicious of me when I asked if I might take his picture.
And as I returned to my hotel to pack to head to the airport, I saw another middle aged fella and his wife thumping up the stairway from the subway dragging their wheeled suitcases, spotting a Starbucks and announcing in a loud Texas accent, “Thank god,.” I asked, as only a seasoned traveler of two weeks can, “First time in Paris?” They beamed at the sound of an American voice and said, “Yeah; we musta walked half-a-mile.”
I smiled and good naturedly said, “Light weights.” They laughed, I laughed.
I never stepped foot in France until a a few days ago, but I always thought I would like it here.
As a boy, I couldn’t get enough of The Three Musketeers, the Count of Monte Christo, the Scarlet Pimpernel. I loved the “nose insult” soliloquy in Cyrano de Bergerac. I preferred Brigitte Bardot to Raquel Welch. I thought Jean-Claude Killy was really cool. Hell, I even forgave Claudine Longet for shooting Spider Sabich.
As I grew older, and became . . . probably much to my dad’s frustration and annoyance. . . a pretentious mutant teen age intellectual, I took French when others were sensibly taking Spanish. I dreamt of the Left Bank, Hemingway and the Lost Generation, Picasso, Matisse, and the starving artists of Monmartre, and Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and the existentialists of Monparnasse. I even read No Exit entirely in French in high school; I didn’t understand a word of it . . . hell, I doubt I would have in English . . .but I read it.
So were my expectations dashed?
They’re lousy pedestrians and smoke too much, but I like the French.
I like that there are no skyscrapers in Paris, that there is an army of street sweepers early in the morning and all have brooms and none have leaf blowers.
I like that there are no supermarkets, no chain stores…okay an opportune mini mart could have come in handy the other day . . but at least in Paris all the shops are unique and it isn’t a formulaic sequence of Olive Gardens, Cheesecake Factories, and Pandas Express.
I like the sound of church bells on the hour. We don’t have enough church bells in America.
I like accordion playing street musicians pounding out La Vie en Rose on subways or in subway cars.
I like steak frites and French onion soup. I like chocolate moose (that’s a joke, I know how to spell it), creme brûlée and a country that knocks out pastries and can’t get enough butter, but somehow avoids pandemic American obesity.
I like watching The Tour de France to hear Paul Sherwen override his British accent to pronounce with a French accent the name of a chateau during the aerial flyover of the race.
I like a country that gives a tax break to those who frequent cafés to encourage citizens to get out and talk. I like a country that frowns on brown bag lunches, and that encourages a fella to linger over his hot chocolate and croissant reading a book or the paper.
I like the soft vowels and quiet tones of spoken French. I like that there are flower shops and fruit stands everywhere
I like a city that seems to like kissing (French kissing, cheek pecking, or otherwise) that doesn’t think romance is foolish, and encourages lovers, young and old, to show their devotion by permanently locking padlocks to a city bridge.
I like the kind young lady sitting next to me on this plane to New York, sharing her English/French French/English dictionary with me as she struggles to explain through apologetic smiles and awkward silences that she is a gendarme in the French militaire, that her husband is deployed to Afghanistan, and that this is herfirst trip to America . . . while I struggle to explain through apologetic smiles and awkward silences that my son was twice deployed to Iraq, that I am the proud new gran pere of Jacque, and that this was my first trip to France.
Maybe the first, but I don’t think my last.