Congested Street, Paris

The first time that we visited Paris we were fresh off the train from Le Havre. I was twenty-two years old and eager to see “The City of Lights”, but without the slightest background knowledge about this capital. Art college was just behind me, and with my new bride and her brother and his new wife, we were off to enjoy something. We didn’t know what that something was, but we were positive in our attitude.

Paris proved to be as beautiful as a movie set, but expensive. Our first night in Paris we stayed in a hotel recommended by Arthur Frommer in his book, Europe on Five Dollars a Day. Twisting up a narrow staircase to a bedroom on the fourth floor, we arrived at a “chambre” where we had to arm wrestle the bedbugs. We felt both exhilaration and apprehension. The several days that followed were filled with meager meals—”the prices!”—and endless walking. We were young and strong, and life was great.

Perhaps our second trip to Paris was more of a pleasure. Almost ten years after our first visit, we were much better equipped to enjoy this beautiful city. By that point, Marilyn had become an avid researcher and had discovered many spots not found in Frommer’s book.

After a harrowing trip on which we missed our London to Paris connection, we arrived in France, bleary eyed and terribly fatigued after a much delayed flight from Toronto. We had “enjoyed” a four-hour wait in London, only to find that our French flight was to leave from a different airport, so we hauled ourselves onto the inter-airport bus. We arrived just in time to watch our flight take off as my bride stood weeping in the airport. It was at that point that we met a senior artist from Toronto with whom I had shared a dealer. I was so embarrassed, and Marilyn was so tired and angry. I’m sure we made a great impression.

Paris, however, made up for our earlier troubles. When we awoke after a delayed night, the sound of a hurdy-gurdy filtered into our room from the street below where a man with a monkey completed this romantic scene. We walked and we ate, this time in lovely restaurants. At Chez Joseph we had a memorably splendid French meal. As we ate, we watched a priest sitting at a table nearby. We couldn’t believe it. He had three chocolate desserts. As we left, the patron asked if we were satisfied. “It must be good and it must be enough,” he said.

The waiters in that restaurant were pleasant, not at all like the stereotypical French waiter who is rude and annoying. There was no need to implement a taming device that our friend has developed. She claims it works well on waiters and taxi drivers who can be offensive in the extreme. She draws herself up to her full five foot two, stamps her foot, and quickly shouts, “Mary had a little lamb. Its fleece was white as snow.” Although the taxi driver has no idea what she has just said, he does get the idea that she has reached the end of her rope.

We have since been back to Paris several times, and still the city resonates in my heart.