Chancing a 11,000-Mile Round-Trip
in Midwinter

cartoon: Arrival in '59: Yankess Go Home
'Welcome to Paris - 1959'

Paris: It's for Old Lovers Too - Perfect!

eMail from Gordon B. Greb, via the Internet:
Dear Ric -

Chico:- Thursday, 20. January 1998:- We are home! In my mind's-eye I still have sharp and clear pictures of Paris - memories played back in Technicolor and stereophonic sound -even though many days have passed since we were last there.

That's good, because most of the photos I took came back blurred; out of focus due to the fact I forgot to adjust the right camera gizmo. No catastrophe, that! For what we anticipated would be a troubled trip didn't happen. Having no satisfactory Kodak prints is all I can complain about.

Our two-week wintertime trip to Paris and London turned out perfect. If you encounter the Marquis de Lafayette in your wanderings about Paris, give him our thanks. Tell him that we came from America - an elderly pair from the little city of Chico, California - returning to Gaul for the first time in many years and we loved it. Cole Porter described our feelings many years ago - remember the l953 songs of "Can Can?"

We came, we saw, and were conquered. But the decision to return to Paris didn't come easy. For several reasons in advance of taking the trip, it did not seem like a good idea. While we'd always loved everything we'd heard about France - its wine, food, songs, art, and beauty - but our past experiences in Paris had not been good.

We had had a bad experience on our first visit in l959, but admittedly it was long ago. So the thought of coming to Paris to celebrate our 47th wedding anniversary on 28. December seemed to make sense. Last year we had marked the event in San Francisco at a small European-style hotel and a wonderful French restaurant. So we thought, "Why not Paris this time?" Yes, a good idea, but was it a wise idea?

When Darlene and I encountered Paris 38 years ago we were young and exuberant and stepped off the airplane smiling, expecting the charm, beauty, and romance of a world famous city.

Unfortunately we met disagreeable people: a taxi driver, who emphatically and loudly gave us the raspberry every time we said 'Les Etats-Unis,' some diehard Louis XVI poor losers, who muttered or scrawled on walls, 'Yankee Go Home,' and fast buck artists - card sharps but not Toulouse-Lautrec - who handed us counterfeit French francs in exchange for good American Express travelers checks. Not a good beginning.

All that changed this time, thanks largely to the fact we found Metropole Paris on the Web and when we wrote you suggested we try Café Procope, the oldest restaurant in Paris - more than 311 years old - for our anniversary. You said that in olden times this place gave culinary satisfaction to the likes of those from l'Amerique such as Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Emerson, Holmes, and Longfellow. You suggested it for our anniversary and told us how to get there.

Hurrying with friends from London on Sunday night and moving quickly because it was approaching eight o'clock, Darlene and I walked briskly in the cold night air from the métro at Odéon, and in a few minutes passed under the Christmasy-decorated door of 13. rue de l'Ancienne-Comédie, in Paris' sixth arrondissement. Inside, we were directed upstairs.

For Paris, we were a bit early; finding the long rectangular room half empty when we sat down. But by nine o'clock the place was full of conversationalists, discussing great or trivial subjects: who can say?

The hub bub awakened me to the realization that Café Procope was where French Revolutionists met and agreed upon the 'Rights of Man,' and Diderot and D'Alembert decided to publish their monumental 'Encyclopédie.' Along the walls I could see oil paintings of famous personages from the 18th and 19th centuries, together with displays of documents, mementos, and Out of focua at Cafe Charbon historical artifacts of all kinds. At the end of the room and high above us sat a life-sized bust of Benjamin Franklin, observing us all.

Outside the Café Charbon, Professor Greb and I are caught by surprise. Result: another blown 'Kodak.'

We and our friends talked about nothing important till one of us got on to the subject of electronic gadgetry - problems with an old l995 VCR, an outdated l993 stereo CD player, and such. Earlier I had complained about how hard I had to work to maintain my swimming pool.

Suddenly I felt someone staring down my neck. Slowly I turned my head to look around but all I could see was Benjamin Franklin, staring down on us. "You spoiled brats!" I thought he said. "Have you ever sailed four weeks on the Atlantic in rough seas? Have you tried to read by candle light? Go to my free public libraries and learn the nature of real problems of real people!"

Came the food - Coq au Vin for Darlene, and lamb a la Superb for me! After we looked in vain on the wine list for a Cahors, we settled on a red from Bergerac.

How could revolutionaries have afforded this? If aristocrats dined better, no wonder people rose up. Eat cake! That's it! To be aristocrats, we should eat what they liked. No, we wanted ice cream, then café au lait - coffee with cream. Voila! Fin! We're democrats! Maybe even enlightened republicans?

After that anniversary party in historic surroundings, Paris continued to charm us, holding back the rain 'till year's end, and beckoning us outside under clear skies right up to 31. December.

So Darlene and I spent the time walking the boulevards, traipsing down side streets, even climbing up the steep incline to Sacre Coeur. Nothing stopped us old age pensioners! We looked around at everything, the shops and cafés, the Seine, the Tour Eiffel, Notre Dame, the monuments and realized this was a city made for walkers.

Thus we fell in love all over again. We came home from Paris happy last week, after chancing this 11,000-mile round-trip in midwinter, expecting bad weather, rude people, and terrific expense. We had been worrying for nothing.

Only good things happened. When Benjamin Franklin arrived in 1776, he found Parisians wearing 'lightening-rod hats.' For our anniversary, such protection wasn't necessary.

Au revoir, Gordon

Gordon B Greb©1998

Paris' Bad-Rep Explained
Dear Professor Greb,

Paris:- Sunday, 25. January 1998:- I don't have to take a breath of relief about your trip having been a success; although I always worry when I suggest a restaurant or some other place to spend money. I just have not tried them all and have to rely a lot on what people tell me.

I have lived here a long time and for most of this time I have been trying to figure out why Paris seems to have such a bad reputation.

What you told me about your earlier trip, I believe because it makes sense. I can well imagine how things were for Parisians in 1959. That was then and it's gone. You can remember it as it was, but you can't have it again. 'La Dolce Vita' started the following year.

Today is a different matter, mostly because it is 1998 and not 1959. A lot of changes have been made in 39 years - nearly two generations. Today's Parisians may be a bit glum because of the local situation, but this has nothing to do with visitors to the city - who are warmly welcomed as a positive addition to the 'local situation,' as you have so recently learned.

Sorry about the photo in front of the Café Charbon. I was too ready and you weren't, and the guy coming out the door startled me into shooting too soon. Another defect 'Kodak.'

Regards, Ric
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