Why I Moved Here

photo: resto jo goldenberg, marais

Vancouver has no restaurants - or cafés - that
look like this one.

Paris Won Spin-the-Bottle

Paris:- Wednesday, 27. December 2000:- For slightly more than a year I have been meeting new members of the Café Metropole Club on a regular basis. One question pops up often enough for me to think everybody would ask it if they weren't beaten to it by somebody else. This question is, 'Why did I chose to move to Paris?'

What I find odd, is that most of the people posing the question are citizens of the United States, and from what they tell me, they move all over that country all the time as if there's nothing to it.

The United States is a big country with a lot of space to move around. But if you are not a citizen of it, it may be a bit difficult to get in so you can start moving around in it like everybody else.

Still, the United States does have a high level of legal immigration - which should allow a great deal of the world's population to go there and start moving around a lot like everybody who is already there.

At a certain age I discovered that this didn't apply to me, even though I grew up 30 miles awayphoto: cafe la corona from the United States, in Vancouver. Some Canadians find Canada to be too small for their ambitions, and they do manage to migrate to the United States.

The club's café - in case you've forgotten what it looks like.

So many do, in fact, that it is considered to be easy to do. But if you ever chance to have a conversation like some I've had with US Immigration officials - or even the US Border Patrol - you may find that their arms are not 'open,' and you may see - or feel! - more boot instead.

In my time most Canadians were philosophical about this. Most did not want to go to the United States anyway, except to buy cheap gas on weekends. Other Canadians take an even more philosophical view by noting that there is a considerable part of the world beyond US or Canadian borders, including Alaska and Antarctica.

For another example, there is Europe. The first time I got to Europe, my destination was Acapulco in Mexico. Thirty miles from Vancouver, US Immigration officials decided that Acapulco was not my 'real' destination, and declined to let me transit through the United States.

They weren't joking as I thought at first. I quickly found out they were very serious about it; so six weeks later the Italian Lines' Cristoforo Colombo dropped me off in Gilbralter, 500 metres from Spain' border.

I knew I'd get to Europe someday, but I wasn't quite prepared to arrive in advance of my vague plans. However Europe turned out to be a 'good thing' in 1964 and I got hooked on it. My only mistake was leaving it, only to spend another five years in Canada tediously finding out that it wasn't going to get any richer in the opportunity department.

It took a whole year of extra-heavy slogging after the May '68 balloon went up, to get back to Europe; again on a boat - this time a vodka-loaded Russian one - again with a one-way ticket.

This second time, instead of frittering away my small funds on parties in Spain, I went straight to Munich - to get an early start on the Olympics' bonanza.

Even with well-placed connections, this scheme was a flop and I rejoined the ranks of Germany's famous 'gastarbeiters' - for the second time. If you can afford Munich's sausages and beer it is a more agreeable place to be than, say, Toronto, even as a 'gastarbeiter.'

But if you can't afford them, even the docks in Hamburg can look good. On arrival up north I got a better offer than the docks, but held out for something even better yet. This fell through when my cash was down to 20 marks.

On the same day, across town, I hit on another door where I had no invitation, and immediately got a big glass of Scotch and a job. This quickly brought me into the realms of '70's yuppiedom, because cash was gushing like oil at the time. The oil 'shocko' a bit later hardly slowed it down, except for a few no-drive Sundays.

After five years even success can seem dull and flat. I can clearly remember the initial reason for moving to Paris very well, even though the decision to do it was made in the fall of 1975.

Possible new adventures were discussed while on a holiday in Spain. Hours were whiled away in beach cafés and town bars - discussing the merits of Rome, Madrid, London - or returning to Munich - which, after three weeks, left Paris as the lucky winner by elimination.

Eyewitness reports about it were not especiallyphoto: paris accordeon, shop optimistic. But Parisian acquaintances in Hamburg painted it in brighter lights - mostly in comparison to Hamburg - which is not without its own peculiar northern charms if you like fish and schnapps.

I was wearing very short pants when this shop first opened.

Another one of these is the fact that Hamburg has always imported its Bordeaux wines directly from Bordeaux. These enabled me to study French in an agreeable way during the transition period.

So it was, six months after the decision in Spain, that the car was loaded up with the birds and my going-away béret, the bikes were put on its roof and the whole load was rolled into Paris during a Friday night rush-hour in late March of 1976.

Before this, you probably knew about as much about the Friday night rush-hour chaos in Paris as I did, because it was my first time in the city. Until then I had only been in France once - riding from Barcelona to Munich on a 'gastarbeiter-type' Europabus.

What an insane jungle Paris seemed! I didn't dare look to right or left. In Montparnasse the outdated maps got tossed out because they failed to note the erection of the tower, and the part of the Avenue du Maine that had been placed underground. Pure chance found the borrowed fourth-floor walkup apartment - quaintly artistic! - and, miracle of miracles, a nearby parking spot.

Carrying the bikes up four floors was not impossible and more pure chance found Saint-Germain to be only three métro stops away and some more of it was that Friday evening's restaurant 'addition' - which failed to note the order and consumption of two rather than one ration of 'steak-frites.'

The only stereotype Parisian event of this arrival afternoon was the waiter's annoyance with this 'mistake' being made public. Remember this - waiters do not make 'mistakes,' they are there to help you solve 'problems.'

A final major fluke was buying Monday's Figaro with the ad in it for the apartment in Meudon - which was signed, sealed and delivered on Tuesday. Although a reference was required to open a bank account, this was made a lot easier by putting a lot of DMs in it immediately.

Waiting about three months for the special 'friends-of-Paris-price' bed, stove, refrigerator and other possessions to show up from Hamburg was hardly noticed in the sheer excitement of it all. To sleep on hardwood floors is less uncomfortable than in any park.

Marie Antoinette used to have one of her smaller châteaux where the bottom of our street dipped under the SNCF's tracks. Edith Piaf was said to have dried out in the clinic, right besidephoto: rain, av du maine the château's ex-location. Louis' guards used to pass by just a block away on their way to or from Versailles, and the Gestapo used to torture members of the Resistance in the British Sporting Club in the nearby Forêt de Meudon.

This is the part of the Avenue du Maine that is easy to find.

All of this was far more interesting than living on the sixth floor of a cold-water recycled-brick walkup in 'red' Barmbek in Hamburg; in a area that had been seriously fire-storm bombed to ashes and rubble in 1943 - when the 'Tommies' over-shot the harbor and hit the dockworkers' homes instead.

Since my French was more non-existent than merely rusty, I enrolled at the Alliance Française on the Boulevard Raspail, for five-day a week courses. In that year, most of the other students were from Indochina.

The French 'friends-price' friend introduced me to an editor he didn't know - the 'friend of friends' routine - around the corner from the Alliance, in the Rue de Fleurus next door to Miss Stein's - and within six weeks of arriving I had my first magazine cover on Paris news kiosks.

This editor in turn passed me on to the fnac's 'Contact' magazine, in the Rue de Rennes. Another editor from the newsmagazine 'Le Point' across the street saw my stuff there, and more work was available - all in Montparnasse.

The volume of steady orders forced me to drop out of the Alliance Française - which brought my total failures in learning French up to a lifetime personal record of three.

Tom Moore started 'The Paris Métro' biweekly late that spring and my cartoons were in its second issue. The initial crew were mostly Americans, with two token Europeans and a demi-Hamburger.

One week in early July, Paris news kiosks displayed three of my covers. But it wasn't all rosy - or lucrative - because the considerable work I did for advertising agencies wasn't paid for until the following year - which made me give up on them.

Here I skip ahead 15 years to when the magazine work petered out; after divorce, after remarriage, after buying an apartment far out of town, after being somewhat ill; while having kids, while being a home-dad. What the magazine business did was go into depression, at a time when I had to either restart with it or do something else.

Since the magazines stayed in their depression for years, doing 'something else' is what I do now. Being the 'Internet Reporter for Paris' has its high points because I am also the editor - although I wouldn't want to work for me because the editor has no notion whatsoever of the legal 35-hour work week in France - which is a sore point between us.

I think the answer to the question 'Why did I chose to move to Paris?' is pretty clear - because it won the European city lottery. Or maybe just because it is Paris - although I didn't know what this might be before I rolled into it.

When I try to think of the next adventurous place to go to, my brain locks up. I can't seem to come up with any alternative candidates - even unexciting ones.

This is not to say that Café Metropole Club members' 'Cities of the Week' are even less than unexciting - but mostphoto: cat, dinosaurs, window of them have the disadvantage of being protected from characters like me by the ever-vigilant US Immigration Service. Maybe I shouldn't give up on them entirely, because none of them would require me to fail French again.

Where else can you see cats and dinosuars on sale in the same window?

On the other hand, I haven't exactly failed Spanish yet - only dropped-out, and only once - and there are a lot of fine and sunny places just over the border, fairly close to Paris - where one of my passports is perfectly good for residence purposes.

These days, some club members who ask me the 'why-move to-Paris' question have already bought their own apartments here. If you aren't even going to wait for this answer of mine, I hope you are not merely 'following' me.

I mean, to come here and buy a home, means doing it on purpose. For me, 25 years ago, when the spin-the-bottle stopped it was pointing at Paris. This may not be a sensible or romantic 'answer,' but you may think it is exciting. If you are a gambler.

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