Everyone including me is thinking about Paris. Paris is one of those special places on earth that belongs to everybody. I've been lucky enough to visit Paris several times ... as a college student, as a honeymooner, as a parent, etc., so I'd like to re-visit those times and my experiences of the City of Light, the Capital of Civilization, to help remember what we have to now fight for.
PARIS for a College Student
I studied for a semester in Dublin, and there was an interval of about a week during the term. I had the choice of going to France for a week, or saving my money to buy new speakers for my stereo when I got home. Fortunately, I made the right choice and went to France for a week. In those days (1971), a person could go to France for a week for only $200.
I went alone. Travelling alone is a deep experience. I remember some things with frightening clarity. I remember one cheap hotel in the meat-packing district that was so foul that I could spend only one night there. I remember squashing a huge bug on my leg in a youth hostel on another night. I remember seeing Miles Davis and his legendary Fillmore Band with Keith Jarrett, Jack de Johnette, and Gary Bartz at the Palais de Chaillot. Both shows! I remember being so sick with the flu waiting for the train that would take me to the warmth of the Riviera that I actively wished that I could be home in the States – at that very moment. I remember being alone with the Unicorn Tapestries in the Cluny Museum and thinking, "This is just like the one at the Cloisters!" It was all unforgettable.
PARIS for a Honeymooner
The Tiny Goddess and I went to Paris on our honeymoon. (Doesn't that say everything about how much I truly love this city?)
We were young, but we were always good savers and got a nice, inexpensive package to stay at the Crillon, one of Paris' legendary hotels, right on the Place de la Concorde, right by a Metro stop, in the heart of everything. It was gloomy February (we were a second-semester couple) and rained quite a bit, but hey, it's Paris. Year round, it rains one out of four days there.
Our one special trip out of town was to Illiers-Combray, the childhood home of Marcel Proust, about two hours southwest of Paris. (If I haven't mentioned it before, the TG is a fanatic Proustienne. I'm just an enormous admirier.)
Of course it was rainy. But we bought the ubiquitous madeleines from one of the many bakeries in town. (Recently, I found out that the madeleines were Proust's third choice as the memory trigger that unleashes his first ephiphany, after toast-with-honey and biscotti.) We went to Tante Leonie's house and saw young Marcel's bedroom and his magic lantern. We overlooked the garden where the adult parties took place while Marcel was tucked into bed, unable to sleep. We went to Pre Catalan, the park where he played and first met his first love Gilberte. It was small, when compared to its huge place in his personal cosmology.
I remember getting drunk on rice brandy at a Vietnamese restaurant. When they found out that we were honeymooners, the refills flowed freely. But the alcohol didn't hit us until we were out of the restaurant, staggering down the Champs d'Elysees, back to the Crillon.
PARIS for a Parent
When Calder's Father was fourteen and the Flower was ten, the TG and I did a very smart thing: we took the whole family to Europe on the three-week, "Western Civilization 101" vacation: London, Paris, Rome, Florence, and Venice.
It was a privilege to be able to show my kids Paris and the other sites and cities. (I'm a responsible, comprehensive parent: we also took them to Stratford-on-Avon for a "Twelfth Night" from the Royal Shakespeare Company.) There are still photos up around the house of the Flower in front of a Renoir and Calder's Father sketching in the Capitoline Museum. We took them to Angelina's on the Rue de Royale for the best hot chocolate in the world, trying to balance kid things with adult things.
I remember that it was the hottest summer in Europe in almost six hundred years. That number has subsequently been eclipsed, but it was a true scorcher for us. But you want to give your kids the best that you can manage. Introducing them to wonderful places and things is the duty – and blessing -- of a parent.
PARIS for a Second Honeymooner
The TG and I have been lucky enough to go on quite a few "second honeymoons," but our week in Paris a few years ago was spectacular. First of all, we used a travel agent. In the days of Expedia, Priceline, TripAdvisor, etc., many people think that a travel agent is unnecessary, but they are wrong. I've used those Internet travel sites for simple trips, but for anything complex, a knowledgeable, well-connected travel agent can make a good trip into something special. She picked out a boutique hotel in a perfect part of the city, priced so that we could afford a junior suite. She got us window seats at the Jules Verne Restaurant, Alain Ducasse's restaurant on the second level of the Eiffel Tower. We've had some nice views at meals we've eaten, but all of Paris at your feet is a pretty spectacular. And the food was good, too.
We spent almost the entire week in Paris, but we did take one side-trip to Chartres to see the astounding Cathedral. I'm a huge fan of stained glass, and the windows at Chartres rival the windows of Saint-Chapelle, which is saying quite a bit. (Chartres was also key for Proust and his translations of Ruskin.)
But mainly we wandered blissfully around the 1st Arrondissement, eating ice cream from Berthillon, and said, "Someday we've got to live here."
My next trip to Paris
Who knows? There is no Paris trip in my immediate future. But I'm hotter than ever on French culture. I just finished Andrew Roberts' 976-page biography of Napoleon. What a life!
Maybe Paris will have to wait a few years until the TG and I can take our grandson Calder on another "Western Civilization 101" vacation. Isn't that what all grandparents should do?
Paris belongs to the world. The recent massacres will only stiffen the resolve of civilized people to battle and conquer religious fascism of all kinds.
Meanwhile, here are a few very French hors d'oeuvres:
EDITH PIAF – SINGING "LA VIE EN ROSE" -- LIVE
EDITH PIAF – SINGING "NON JE NE REGRETTE RIEN" -- LIVE
CHARLES TRENET – "LA MER" (original version) – the source of Bobby Darin's "BEYOND THE SEA"
CHARLES TRENET – "LA MER" (a strange swing version, with English subtitles)
JACQUES BREL – "NE ME QUITTE PAS"
"LA MARSEILLAISE" – with French lyrics – sung by MIREILLE MATHIEU
"LA MARSEILLAISE" scene in 'CASABLANCA"
NATALIE DESSAY and LAURENT NAOURI – Duet from "THE UMBRELLAS OF CHREBOURG" – right under the Eiffel Tower
The Young Marcel Proust (in a TV movie) in the actual garden at Illiers-Combray
A featurette (in French) on Illiers-Combray, with shots of Tante Leonie's house, the Pre Catalan, both Swann's Way and the Guermantes Way, and plates of madeleines
Proust – The Madeleine Scene (on audio book) – Genius at work.