It was springtime in Paris. A beautiful blonde, I figured she was an American tourist, was taking a picture of the Eiffel Tower. I was 21 and in the Army, drafted during Korea and stationed in Stuttgart, Germany I had gotten my first three-day pass and of course I’d taken the train to Paris. Where else would I have gone?
Back in those days I was almost pathologically shy but it was Paris. I summoned up my courage and approached the beautiful blonde. I don’t really remember what I said to her. Maybe I offered to take her picture with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Whatever I said we spent the rest of the day together. A miracle.
Her name was Carol. She’d graduated college a few years before so I guessed she was about 25, a little older than me but that didn’t matter. She worked for some company in New York City. I told her I was from New York so we talked about how New York compared to Paris. We walked down the Chanps-Elysees and I noticed quite a few Frenchmen glancing at her. We had lunch at a sidewalk café. We crossed over into the Left Bank. We had dinner in a small restaurant. I was wondering what she’d think of the cheap shabby hotel I was staying in. At the end of the dinner she told me her boyfriend would be coming to Paris to meet her the next day. Boy friend? She’d never mentioned a boy friend all during the day. I should have known. In my mind I pictured all of my expectations going up in a puff of smoke. So much for a miracle. My great romantic adventure in Paris was over.
The next day I spent the morning in the Louvre. I had lunch at a café, by myself. I had majored in English at college. I’d read all about Hemingway and the other American writers who’d come to Paris during the 1920’s. I had notions of becoming a writer myself. Maybe after I got out of the Army I’d stay in Europe, live in Paris, write my novel. I couldn’t write about my romantic Paris adventure. If Hemingway had picked up that blonde she wouldn’t have had a boy friend. After lunch I walked to the Luxemburg Gardens. I paid something, maybe a franc, to sit in a chair in the sun. The other chairs around me were filled with old Frenchmen. Sometime later I had lunch in that same restaurant as the night before, by myself. The next day I took the train back to Stuttgart and my dreary Army life.
* * *
The hotel the travel agent had selected for us in Paris wasn’t quite as shabby as the one I remembered from my three-day pass in the Army but our room was the smallest I’d ever been in. Sally, my wife, who knew some French, went down to the lobby to spoke to the desk clerk who didn’t speak English Somehow she managed to communicate with him and we were moved up to an attic room twice as large with a large bed and, when we looked out the attic windows we had a sweeping view of the rooftops of the city, just like in the movies. Sally and I had been married for six months. We lay down on the bed and celebrated our first day in Paris.
For the rest of our stay we played the tourists, faithfully seeing all of the attractions and going to all of the restaurants listed in our Fromer’s “Paris on Five Dollars a Day.” It was a long time ago. I remember that on our first night we had dinner at a Left Bank restaurant. Our meals, some kind of steak, I think, were delicious. They cost about two dollars. After dinner, we walked down to the Seine and looked across and there was the Louvre. I said something like, Hey, here we are and over there’s the Louvre.
On succeeding days we walked down the Champs-Elysees from the Arc de Triomph to the Tulleries, went to Notre Dame and browsed the book stalls along the Seine. One night we went to the Moulin Rouge. It was affordable back then. On our last night we treated ourselves and went to an expensive restaurant, maybe five dollars a meal. It was called Knights of the Round Table, only in French. The waiter brought dish after dish on a cart. Everything was delicious. We walked back to our attic room and made the most of our last night in Paris.
* * *
This time our hotel was a standard one for a tour. We’d gone to Nice, then took a river boat up to Paris with stops on the way. We were in Paris for only two days. I’d just retired. Needless to say, I never did become a writer. I’d gone from New York to California and had worked 25 years for the State in Sacramento. Sally and I had two sons, one a college senior and one about to start college. Two years ago Sally had breast cancer and had gone through the standard treatment of surgery and radiation and now seemed okay.
We decided that we’d take a walk along the Seine. The book stalls were still there. I recently read they were in danger of being taken down. We crossed over and walked to the Champs-Elysees. It was a warm afternoon. The outdoor cafes were crowded and everyone was having ice cream. We finally found a café with an empty table and we too ordered ice cream. In a while we returned to the hotel, where we had the standard tour dinner, not too bad but nothing memorable. We sat at a table with two other couples. One of the wives also had had breast cancer. We talked about our kids. We were all worried about drinking and drugs. As was typical of tours, we had an early start the next morning so after dinner we all went up to our rooms. Sally and I were tired. We got our things ready for the next day and went to bed.
* * *
I’d decided to make one last trip to Paris; or, I should say, my sons and their wives haddecided that I should go. They said it would be good for me. I’d had a hip replacement the year before and couldn’t walk very far at one time. The first few days in Paris were cold and cloudy and I stayed close to the hotel. I found a friendly café and had leisurely coffees there. I thought of that first visit to Paris and couldn’t remember that beautiful blone girl’s name, then it came to me, Carol. I wondered what she was doing now. I remembered that attic room Sally and I had and the view of the Paris rooftops.
On this day the sun had come out. I proceeded by fits and starts to the Luxemburg Gardens, found a chair and sat down with the other old men.