Nous Sommes Tous Les Parisiens
Nov 17, 2015
We are all Parisians
I am a Francophile. I love all things French–the arts and architecture, the food, the land, the people. My love affair probably began at birth…in New Orleans, that most French of all American cities. In college I concentrated on France in my history major and studied the language. I met Lev on a blind date in summer 1962, just a few days after he returned from his first trip to Paris. When we became engaged, he informed me, “We will have a country French house.” In New York for the 1964 World’s Fair, we naively set off on Lexington Avenue, announcing to antique dealers that we wanted to purchase a French chest. We finally found an affordable 18th-century walnut commode in a dimly lit shop on a side street. It’s still in my living room, three houses later, the first of a houseful of French country furniture, every piece with a story of how we found it, reminders of trips from Victoria, TX, to New Orleans to Normandy.
My first trip to Europe began in Lisbon and ended in Paris a month later. Perhaps because we entered from Spain, on the Mediterranean, and zigzagged across France for a week before arriving in Paris, I was never offended by rude Parisians. In the countryside of France, we had to rely on my schoolgirl French for few spoke English. I can never forget putting our car in a ditch while attempting a u-turn on a secondary road along the Loire River. “Nous alons a Tours,” I stammered with lots of hand gestures to the truck driver who stopped to help us. He flagged down another passerby; and the two men got in the ditch, picked up our tiny German Ford, turned it around and set it in the right direction to Tours. They would not accept pay.
So why would I care if a shopkeeper on the Rue Rivoli in Paris scolded me for not speaking French when I came in to buy gloves? Rude cab drivers in Paris? No different from New York. We stayed at the old dowager Lotti, near the Louvre; and every afternoon I had three-layer chocolate cake and tea brought to my room. We walked from the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre back to our hotel and discovered croque monsieurs at a cafe frequented by schoolboys. We bought a Chinese Export platter on the Left Bank for 500 francs (5 F:$1), faience plates at the flea market, a dress for the baby girl we expected at Dior. We cruised the Seine on a bateau mouche while dining on the French national meal of steak, fries and green peas. We saw can-can dancers at the Moulin Rouge and took a day trip to Versailles. And I fell in love with Paris.
I’ve lost track of all our trips. Did I stay at the Lotti, Bristol and Plaza Athenee two or three times? Then there were stays at the Intercontinental, Meurice and Montalembert. Each trip—new discoveries and old favorites. Driving trips through the Loire, where we spent Easter with missionary friends in Tours before going on to Brittany and Normandy; along the Riviera; from Burgundy to Provence. Cruises along the Mediterranean, Atlantic and English Channel coasts, as well as up the Rhone. Trains to Avignon, Toulouse and the Netherlands. On that first trip, we discovered the charming inns of the countryside, grouped together in what is now the venerable Relais & Chateaux. On two trips with friends from Colonial Williamsburg, I retraced parts of Thomas Jefferson’s itinerary through France in 1785.
My first trip to Europe after Lev’s death was with friends to The European Fine Arts Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, the Netherlands. I chose to fly to Paris alone and spend a few days at the Bristol, where Lev and I had stayed on our last trip. It was a bittersweet time, but I was awash in good memories. I have returned almost annually since, sometimes alone, sometimes with a group. I still need to explore the Dordogne in the southwest and much of the east along the German and Swiss borders. I want to go to the Christmas markets of Strasbourg and see the French Alps. I want an apartment in Paris, where I can take day trips by train to all the places that Ina Caro described in Paris to the Past: Traveling Through French History by Train. I want to take the Eurostar from London. I grieve for France, and I want to be there.
VIVA LA FRANCE!
Note: My scheduled blog, “Cranberries: For Sauce and for Breakfast,” will be published Thursday. Today I had an urgent desire to write a love letter to Paris.