A French Moment... A Personal Tribute
I thought long and hard about doing some sort of tribute to the people lost in the madness of terrorism in Paris. I didn't want to do a Meme with some mushy saying or poem. I didn't want to post the ban-the-bomb (peace) sign newly drawn with the Eiffel Tower in the middle. I didn't want to post a candle burning. But then I thought about what I felt inside when I watched the horrible events unfold on TV over the weekend...
You see, Paris has been a part of me for so long now. I can't help it. I sold everything, left my job as a top photographer in a large studio in Manhattan back in 1974 and moved to Le Bell France. I lived in Paris in the 19th arrondissement near Parc Butte Chamont--right next to the the neighborhoods where the shootings and bombings happened. I had a tiny, one room garconnierre apartment, six flights up, no lift, with a Turkish squat-down toilet in the hall shared by an old lady across the hall who used it to empty her chamber pot. I remember a nearby neighborhood filled with immigrant Arabs--looking like a slum. I also remember the Arab men hanging out by the hundreds on the Boulevards in the area--no jobs for them. Even the street-gutter sweeper jobs (the kind with hand made twig brooms) at the time were taken by Frenchmen.
I shopped for wallpaper and paint and baguettes and chicken and cheese and umbrellas in its markets and les Grands Magasins. I got sick and went to doctors there. I drove everywhere in that City of Lights on my 50cc Mobylette. In fact, I drove around the whole country on my orange colored Moby and saw most of the country... about 5000 miles worth. I stayed in Five Star fancy hotels and 3 dollar a night 1 star pensions where meals were included.
I've had lunch in Roman arenas and saw roman temples and even a pyramid. I saw so many castles on the Loire River that I grew bored with them. I saw and heard people playing music on hurdy-gurdys, accordians, Indian squeeze-box keyboards, mandolins, guitars, flute, cellos, French Epinettes (a type of dulcimer) and one man band rigs--all for free. I learned how to drink and appreciate wine in many of the most famous wine regions. I ate peaches the size of grapefruits. I learned to drink my "Coca citron" without ice. I had hundreds of sheep pour out of a gate like liquid pours over a waterfall.... blocking my path, but why would I mind?
I camped in a farmer's field (almost getting run over by a harvester next morning) and set up my tent stream side along with a gypsy horse drawn caravan, only to waken the next morning and see a small boy riding this huge workhorse around the morning misty field... I almost cried at the sight. I camped, rain deluged, for 4 days in a river valley plagued by millions of tiny frogs--under every step I took. I camped on the sands of the Côte Atlantique right next to huge concrete bunkers from WWII. I rode the téléphérique up to Mont Blanc and then the cable car over the glacier to Italy. I walked through an ice cave. I swam under the Pont du Gard, a 2000 year old Roman aqueduct and walked across its top tier. I've been to where Picasso lived and to the bedroom where DaVinci died. I saw the magical glow of the Mona Lisa, Monet's Water Lilies, Van Gogh's self-portrait and Renoir's luscious nudes. I even visited the inspiration for the Disneyland castle--Mont St. Michele. I've seen the Coast of Normandy where so many Americans died and where a bombed flat village was totally rebuilt stone by stone by its citizens. I've smelled the lavender and roses as I drove down from the foothills of the Alps into the perfumed town of Grasse.
The French are nice, warm people--once they get to know you, that is. They are French, after all. I made friendships. A jewelry designer. Another photographer. A cartoonist. A suburban window salesman. A young soldier. An international diamond smuggler and the head of a worldwide record label (believe it or not--both the same person). A musician. A bread baker. A motorcycle mechanic. I even ran into Julia Child and her husband once--while we waited online at the American Express office changing traveler's cheques into Francs. I even shared a small meal in the humble medieval dwelling of an old peasant woman who made a living by carving wooden shoes--she saw me having a pastry on the back of my Moby and invited me in to share some home made wine. And in Paris, the laborer who purchased my Moby before I returned to the States invited me for drinks and then to his home where his wife and family set out a huge feast just for me... yes, just for me. Thank you Joseph.
I worked a bit in Paris, too. I went on business appointments to show my portfolio around. Zoom Magazine was tops at the time and they loved my work. The largest studio in France wanted to hire me as their still life department's studio manager. The Chef (Boss) sent his personal secretary with me to the Prefecture de Police to get my Carte de Travail but I was turned down and given 30 days to leave the country. You see, the world economy was in the dumpster back then and Paris wasn't letting any new workers in--except the immigrants from it's Muslim friend countries. Unlike today, where most of their power needs are met with nuclear or solar, back then they were dependent on the Middle East for 90% of its power needs. So I returned to the U.S. with about 500 bucks in my pocket and a great experience behind me.
I've returned several times since. Once along for 6 weeks after I had already established my own advertising studio in Manhattan. I wanted to check out the possibility of moving back to Paris and opening a studio there. It had gotten way too expensive even to consider by that time. In '74 when I lived there my apartment cost 46 dollars a month and I could have bought a country fix-up villa for around 10 grand. By the Early Eighties, even a tiny studio would have cost $1200 and a house in the countryside would have come close to half million or more. To duplicate the 5000 square foot studio I had in the Flat Iron District in Paris would have cost over a million. So I came home.
Lisa and I had our honeymoon in Paris too. Those memories are very special to us... a romantic hotel room overlooking the Seine and the Notre Dame. We still remember the Tweet, Tweet, Tweet of that traffic policewoman near the Quay...
Paris--and France itself--is part of me. Actually, my Voyager friends might think this is odd to admit, but France is more inside my soul than Italy is. This weekend, Lucas asked me to talk in French after hearing of the nightmare there. So I spoke for several minutes in French and realized that when I speak French (and I speak poorly, I admit it.... though my accent is pretty good) I actually find that I think in French. When I speak Italian, I still have to ponder and translate in my head before the words come out.
So my tribute is my memories.
Thank you, Paris for becoming part of me. Thank you France for giving me so much during my Voyages.
I feel your pain. I shed French tears.
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