Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Sounds of the City

video
Street Music [Click on PLAY button to see video]

Paris is justifiably famous for being an eye-candy kind of city. So much charm it can make your teeth ache. Sometimes you have to close your eyes to give it a rest. And when you do, you discover another city.

After a few months I began realizing there is a distinctively sonic Paris. It began shortly after we moved by noticing the irritating NEE-naah, NEE-naah, of sirens cutting through the hum. At night, before the trains shut down, there was the low rumble of the Metro passing beneath our toes on to, I assume, the Rue du Bac stop.

And then subtler sounds. We lived on the first floor, around the corner from a grammar school at the end of Rue de St. Simon. You could set your watch by their students' comings and goings. Around 8 a.m. there would be the bird-like chirping of little children passing by and later in the afternoon the whooping, cheering and sometimes crying, after another long exhausting day in a French ecole, as they trooped in the other direction.

Around the corner from our place, directly across the street from our front door in fact, was a valet-serviced restaurant with an expense account crowd in the day and after midnight a jolly, well-oiled tourist clientele rolling out the door shouting good-nights to each other as they staggered down the street. Not surprisingly the Americans were the loudest.

Whistling. I have never heard so much whistling, from the straight ahead pucker up and blowing kind to the more virtuosic trilling, sometimes making notes for the sake of it. Hearing a particularly musical warble one day I went to the window to see who it was. Walking down the street with his market bag in hand was a dour looking old guy about my age trilling away. He looked like he didn't have a joyful bone in his body but that was belied by his saucy tunesmithing.

And finally music. Yes there is the government mandated spontaneity of the Fete de la Musique every June, and the calculated charm of the hurdy gurdy man outside the gate of the Jardin Luxembourg. And no street performer can perform on the street without getting a license. But it's always fun. Like the crowd of music students (above), performing near the garish and goofy Palais Royal Metro entrance with a lot of toe tapping verve.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Parisian Scams and Misdemeanors

The Scam

A little less than a year ago my sister Susan came to visit us in Paris and had a truly magical time right up until the day before she left, when she was robbed. In front of me.

By Parisian standards it was a routine crime: pickpocket. She was wearing a small backpack as a purse and somewhere around Bastille, I'm convinced, some creep deftly and quickly zipped it open and grabbed her wallet without me seeing it happen. Later that afternoon, while walking on the Promenade des Plantes that I noticed the bag was unzipped and we made the depressing discovery.

After first having a stiff drink in a cafe, Susan spent the rest of the day on the phone canceling credit cards and going through the dismal exercise of reconstructing her identity. Fortunately she left her passport back at our apartment so that escaped intact and now her experience as a victim of crime in the City of Light has morphed into a cautionary traveler's tale.

That experience got me thinking about how quaint crime is in Paris. It's Dickensian. Very 19th Century. Things can be so quiet that if a pistol is fired, it is front page news. Granted they do have a form of vandalism that is Third Worldish. While car vandalism, say in New York, might be keying the side of it or even smashing a window, here they burn the vehicle. Last year some of the boyz in one hood were not thrilled about the John Travolta movie, From Paris with Love being filmed in their neighborhood and to express their displeasure they set fire to some of the cars used in the movie.

But generally it is a city with a low violence threshold and crime is committed with flair. An American acquaintance who lived off and on in the city for years was telling me how one night he and his wife were having friends for dinner in their third floor apartment. After his guests left he went into the bedroom.

"I noticed my wallet was missing from the dresser. And so was my father's gold pocket watch. And, my wife noticed, so were her pearls. And the window was open. Police determined that a burglar had gotten over an eight-foot wall from an adjacent yard into our courtyard, climbed up the outside of our building - three stories, mind you - into our bedroom, cleaned us out, then left - all while we were in the next room having dinner."

"Impressive," I said. I'm afraid of heights.

"Yes, it is," he agreed, suddenly appreciating the burglar's feat.

SAY HELLO TO MONSIEUR STUPID

Fortunately I have never been the victim of a crime. Mostly because I am too dumb.

Case in point: One day this very charming young woman was walking towards me along the Seine. It was across the street from the Louvre. She paused, squeaked a little squeak of delight, reached down and picked something off the sidewalk. Then she came over to me holding a wedding ring that could have fit King Kong. She offered it to me saying she couldn't use it.

I thought, "What the hell am I going to do with this?" and handed it back, saying. "You keep it. A gift." She kept insisting but I demurred. In so doing I had witlessly dodged one of the oldest scams in Paris.

The way it is supposed to work is when the scammer offers to give the found ring to you and if you are foolish enough to accept, they then say something like, "Hey I just gave you a gold ring, could you spare me some money. Say, 10 Euros." And if you are greedy or too slow witted you give them the money and are left with a yellow metal ring made of brass which is worth a few centimes.

I know this because I was suspicious of her sweet generosity and Googled wedding ring scam Paris out of curiosity. I found small library of citations about mentally challenged/greedy tourists getting taken.

After that the scales fell from my eyes. Wherever tourists walked I noticed there were bad actors picking up brass rings off the ground, sometimes with limited success. One inept guy by the Place de la Concorde was so wretched at this no one noticed him picking up the ring. He could not get his scam started. Another overactor took so long with the astonishment part of her performance that my wife and I had walked way past her before she got to the look-what-I-found part and had to chase us down.

I felt personally insulted one rainy Sunday morning when I was heading out to an Eric Kayser for a baguette when some guy across the street - how lazy is that - held up a ring and shouted for me to look at what he just found. There was no one else out that early so I guess he was desperate. Still, I was really annoyed.

"Do I look that stupid?" I called out, then felt bad because he looked hurt.

THE SCAMMER'S REVENGE

The scammer gods punished me not long afterwards. I was walking along the Blvd. Raspail heading for the Luxembourg Gardens to do my daily run. I was wearing a waterproof windshirt because it was raining lightly and it was cool out.

My fingers shrink in cool weather and my loose fitting wedding ring sometimes slips off. So I decided to tuck it in the breast pocket of my windshirt to keep it safe. Halfway up Blvd. Raspail it stopped raining, so I took off the shirt and tied it around my waist. I had walked maybe another two blocks when a bad feeling crept over me. I checked the breast pocket. It was empty. The wedding ring must had fallen out, on one of the busiest boulevards in Paris no less. The noise of the traffic probably masked the clink of the ring hitting the pavement. It could have rolled anywhere. Merde.

Inch by inch I retraced my steps down those last two blocks scanning every inch of the very wide sidewalk. Nothing. I re-retraced them still with no results.

Like someone afflicted with OCD I kept going up and down, up and down those two blocks. It started misting. Then pouring rain. I kept looking. Nothing.

Maybe the ring rolled under a car, I thought. I got down on my stomach and looked under every vehicle. More nothing. This went on for close to an hour.

Finally I stopped and stood on a corner, soaking wet and sick with the realization that the wedding ring I had for nearly 40 was gone forever.

I was about to step off the curb when I looked down in the gutter. There was what appeared to be a circle of gold. I got down on my knees and peered closer. It was a ring. The ring.

With, I'm sure, an astonished and delighted look, I picked it up. At that moment a very attractive French woman came walking by and seeing this rain-drenched wretch of an old man, hunched over a gutter on the Boulevard Raspail in the classic ring-scammer pose, gave me the kind of withering look that only French women can give.

I was going to say, "No. Hey. I'm not . . ." but thought: Forget it, Doug. It's Paris.




Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Haunted Village

The charred remnants of Oradour-sur-Glane

The region of France called the Limousin, southwest of Paris, is not an area people go to, but one they go through. "It's like one of the flyover states in the U.S. Think of Indiana," is how one American who lives there put it. These days the Limousin is mostly known for its beef cattle and for being one of the most thinly populated areas in France. Its reputation as a sleepy backwater may be something of a liability today, but during World War II when France was occupied by the Nazis it was a blessing. That was probably how the residents of the tidy little market town of Oradour-sur-Glane saw it.

In 1944 they were surviving the war quite well. The village where they lived had no strategic value and, except for rationing, they were only marginally affected by the conflict. On the afternoon of June 10, 1944 it looked like even that inconvenience was due to end soon. The Allies had landed on the beaches of Normandy four days before. The Germans were pulling back. The war in Europe would be over in about six months.

But on that lovely Saturday afternoon, none of it would matter. There are variations on the story but facts everyone agrees with are as follows.

The village was busy that day because all the children were gathered in the schools for a health inspection. The young men were in town because ration coupons for tobacco were being distributed. Around 2 p.m. a convoy of about 180 SS troops, part of a Panzer division, rolled into town. Their commander told the mayor, a retired doctor, to round up everyone for an identity papers check.

Oradour is not a big place. You can walk end to end in about ten minutes. So it didn't take long for all the men women and children to gather at the grassy fairgrounds on the edge of the village [See photo at top of this page]. There were about 650 people. No one was particularly concerned. The village was under the jurisdiction of German puppet Vichy government and what little contact they had with German troops in the past had been innocuous.

After everyone was present the Germans changed their story, saying they were investigating rumors of arms and ammunition hidden in the village. They planned to conduct a building to building search. To keep them out of the way, they gathered up the women and children and marched them to the village church. To keep an eye on the village men, the Germans broke them down into smaller groups and marched them to barns and garages in the town. They posted machine gunners at each of the six locations.

Not long after this some soldiers walked into the church and set a large box with fuses dangling off it on the altar. Around four o'clock some sort of signal went off. Without warning the machine gunners at each of the six locations began gunning down the groups of unarmed Frenchmen in the barns and garages. The soldiers made a point of shooting waist high to make sure they would also kill any children who might be among the groups. After the fusillade, SS troops waded through the bodies, executing any who were still alive. Then they piled straw and wood on the bodies and set the pile of corpses on fire.

At the church, soldiers lit the fuses trailing out of the box and locked the door. An explosion released a thick cloud of black smoke. The women and children scrambled to the far corners to try and find a place to breathe. Seeing not all had suffocated to death, soldiers shot any survivors, firing through the church windows. They then tossed hand grenades into the church to finish off any still alive and lit the church on fire.

The next day the Germans set fire to every building in the village and left. A handful of people, through luck, courage or resourcefulness had escaped before and even during the shooting, but not many. Total confirmed dead was 642.

The people who came to town afterwards looking for friends and relatives said the air was fill with the nauseating odor of charred flesh. Bodies were so badly burned only 52 were identifiable.

To this day no one knows why this happened given other nearby villages were left untouched. One story has it that the German officer in charge mistook Oradour for another village with a similar name where members of the French Resistance were hiding. Another story is that he mistakenly heard the village had captured and killed a German officer. Since the officer died in battle a short time after the atrocity we will not know for sure.

After the war Charles de Gaulle visited Oradour and ordered that the village be left exactly as it is as a memorial to those slaughtered there. A new Oradour was built north of the site. And so it has been ever since.

We went to visit it. Even today the place is a scene of quiet horror and madness. This was a thorough, efficient, soulless execution of a town. There was just a handful of people wandering the empty streets the weekday we visited. Those few who talked spoke in whispers as they walked past the blackened shells of buildings. Most walked around in a kind of stunned silence. Among the crowd were two young men, tourists from Germany.

Some of what we saw:

Across the street from the fairgrounds: The mayor's car was left where he parked it that afternoon.

It was burned in the conflagration.

The main street of the town: These trolley tracks once led to the city of Limoges.

What's left of one of the village's cafes.

A truck in one of the garages.

According to grillwork over the door, this house had stood here since 1768.

The stone plaque to the left of this door says, "Two charred bodies were found here."

A memorial plaque to the men of the village who died in World War I. It is on a wall in the church. You can still see bullet scars on it from the day of the massacre.

Because the individual bodies were burned beyond recognitions all the corpses were deposited in a memorial in the town cemetery, essentially an ossuary. The age range of those murdered was from one week to 90 years old. Above is a typical memorial. Three generations of a family - parents, their daughter and her two young children - erased in minutes.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Life is Like A Chicken Ladder


It took a while to puzzle out why living in France seemed so annoyingly familiar. One day it came to me. It’s the cultural resonance of the place. Its citizens are smugly self-satisfied about their way of life. None sees the necessity of speaking any language other than their own. And they have an offhanded, unabashed xenophobia. It’s like being in the United States with cheaper wine.

Lately, however, I’ve been worried that the culture that gave us the acidic Candide, The Misanthrope and wristslittingly dreary Being and Nothingness is getting all warm and fuzzy, that their vinagery disdain for things non-French is fading and they are starting to think like the American philosopher and Raccoon Lodge member, Ralph Kramden, who once observed, “We are all brothers under the pelt.”

This epiphany came at a dinner given by my friend, Hilde. A true cosmopolite, she was born in Germany, lived in Paris as a young woman and spent most of her adult life in Manhattan before resettling in a tidy little village in the middle of France. Louise and I were visiting her for the weekend and earlier in the day we had been helping her prepare for an evening gettogether. The table was set and the food ready. She looked at her watch. It was eight o’clock precisely and her doorbell was silent. Everyone would be fashionably late. She muttered something in German.

“What?” I asked.

“Something my mother used to say: ‘Here I am with my neck washed and the aunt’s not coming.’”

“Don’t know that one,” I said.

“But there’s an equivalent in English.”

“Can’t think of any,” I replied. “Maybe: ‘The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.’ No. Forget it. That means the opposite.”

“Who said that? Your mother?”

“Satchel Paige, I think. Or Lewis Carroll.”

“Surely you have something similar,” she pressed. “Everyone does.”

Not really, I said.

She was unconvinced. When the opportunity presented itself, she threw the topic out to her dinner guests, Europeans all. To my astonishment there was a consensus among everyone, even the French – especially the French – that there is a canon of everyday wisdom, a sort of international Poor Richard’s Almanac body of aphorisms and vocabulary we all share.

WE ARE THE WORLD . . .

A Dutch woman suggested one reason was the Americanization of globalspeak:
Le weekend. Le sandwich. Happy Hour. Wi-fi. And so on. “All I hear the young people say is ZOO-pah this and ZOO-pah that,” she said.

“ZOO-pah?” I was lost.

“ZOO-pah.” She looked at me as though I were, as Robert Downey, Jr. so delicately put it in
Tropic Thunder, On Full Retard. She spelled: “S-U-P-E-R.”

She went on. “And the other day I asked my son what he was going to do after school and he said I’m just going to be
chillen. And he went into his room and spent hours on his computer with his friends. Chillen. What is that?”

“Chill-ING," I corrected. "It means to do nothing.”

“But he wasn’t not doing anything. He was on his computer.”

“Basically not working. To kick back.”

“Kick back?” her browed furrowed.

“Well you say window shopping,” interrupted a lively French woman at the other end of the table. “We say the same: ‘
Léche-vitrines.’”

She was correct, technically. But the French phrase is more graphic, unhygienic and, frankly, a little disgusting. It literally means to “lick the shop window,” a fairly accurate description of the avidity with which French people press their faces against the display windows of boutiques.

“And there’s
Chacun a son goût.” In case I didn’t get it, she turned to me and said in slow English: “To itch heez zone.”

“Yeah, yeah. Even I know that one,” I assured.

CHICKEN BUMPS AND SOAP EATING MONKEYS

“It’s the same in German,” Hilde said and let fly a machine gun burst of German.

“Which means . . . ?” I said.

“’It's a matter of taste,' said the monkey as he bit into a bar of soap.”

WTF? That was a stretch, I thought, but I had to give her points for originality. I maintained it was naive to insist that we all drank from the same aphoristic well. Yes, I know there are
web sites where you can get expressions like “Don’t drink and drive.” translated into Polish or Arabic, but I bet some versions will come out like the soap eating monkey.

A few years ago the
BBC polled 1,000 linguists about the most untranslatable words and phrases from other languages. The winner was "ilunga" which comes from Tshiluba, a tongue spoken in the Republic of Congo. The word describes "a person who is ready to forgive an abuse for the first time, tolerate it a second time, but never a third."

Unfortunately I did not have this info at the tips of my
doigts, so the juggernaut of misguided good will and belief in common experience rolled on. The French woman, talking about something thrilling, declared, “I had chair de poule,” and rubbed her forearm to make her point. “Or as you would put it,” she turned to me, “the skin of a hen.”

It took me a moment. “You mean ‘goose bumps.’”

Gänsehaut,” threw in Hilde. “Goose skin.”

“Why do you call it goose bumps,” a younger Frenchwoman next to me asked.

“Because that’s what a goose’s skin looks like after its feathers were plucked.”

“And that’s because you eat a lot of geese in the United States?”

“Actually I think we eat more chicken.”

“So why don’t you call it chicken bumps like us?” she said.

“I don’t know. I don’t really know,” I sighed. “I guess language is complicated. Like life.”

Hilde nodded sagely. “As my mother used to say . . ,” (Oh god, now what, I wondered,) ‘Life is like a chicken ladder, always full of shit.”

To my delight, no one, absolutely no one, could match that, or for that matter understand what the hell she was talking about. But by that time the wine had kicked in and no one cared.

This alcohol enhanced camaraderie only intensified as the night went on and the evening finished with vows of newfound friendships and empty promises to see one another soon.

Just as I was despairing that the arrogant, cynical, parochial, Frenchman was no more, I heard the woman next to me mention to her husband she wanted to say good-bye to the hostess before leaving. “I don’t want to filer comme un Anglais [rush off like an Englishman].”

Fascinating French Fact: The American colloquial vocabulary is about 10,000 words larger than the colloquial French vocabulary.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Transaction

Mme/Mr. A: "Do you have it?"
Mme/Mr. B: "Yes."
Mme/Mr. A: "Let's see. (Views object of desire.) OK."
Hands Mme/Mr. B cash.
Transaction complete, the two people glance over their respective shoulders and slink off in opposite directions.
[End scene]

All over Paris on any given day, two or more complete strangers are interacting this way, usually in a public place - on a bridge, outside a Metro stop, at an anonymous bench in a vest-pocket park, on a street corner in a double digit arrondissment, perhaps even in an apartment if they are feeling particularly adventurous - where they quickly introduce themselves, make perfunctory small talk then go through a quick, vaguely furtive exchange of money for goods. Minutes later they scurry off, aflutter with the dark thrill of having met a stranger's needs and their own.

They are the aficionados of La Liste de Craig, more commonly known as Craigslist. Every western country, every city of note seems to have one and Paris is no exception.

I was thrilled when I found it. There were offers of platonic relationships, one-on-one translation classes, used bicycles, used motorcycles, massage therapy, and, for all I know, a French Craigslist Serial Killer. I wasn't really interested in any of those goods and services, but it was nice to know they were out there.Then after a few weeks I started seeing stuff I could use. Hot diggety

MISTER INVISIBLE
The first transaction was typical. It seemed like every few months someone moving back to their country of origin was doing an apartment dump, offering everything from washing machines to flatware. In this instance a young American minister and his wife heading home and offloading much of their French bought possessions. Following his vague directions to a Metro B line stop south of the Luxembourg Gardens I arrived to find absolutely no one. A later phone call to him revealed he he had parked his truck full of stuff two blocks away around the corner.

"Everyone else found it," he said. The implication was I should have spotted it. Lacking X-ray vision and ESP unlike his other customers, I apologized. We re-met. The payoff was a good printer/scanner/copier at a great price which I hauled, sweating and gasping, about a mile through the streets of Paris back to our place.

TWO GUITARS
My second transaction was what for what was described as a "party guitar." Basically it was a beat-up classical guitar. The seller was a bubbleheaded American student heading home. Via email he made, and broke, at least a dozen appointments. All of a sudden I was less interested in the guitar and more intrigued in seeing if I could actually make this deal happen.

The day before he left he decided he could actually do the thing. He gave me the outdoor code and the hall code to his girlfriend's -- not his -- place. A climb to the sixth floor got me to an apartment that was so small we had to take turns turning around. A sulking young woman who was glaring at me was banging and slamming her one cup and spoon as she cleaned them at a teeny-tiny sink, next to a teeny-tiny two-burner stovetop in the microspeck of a kitchenette which seemed to be about two feet away from where he and I were standing in the living/bed/everything room. It was two in the afternoon but it appeared as though he just got up.

"I don't have a case for this or anything," he apologized sleepily as he pulled out the battered instrument. I had anticipated this and pulled a garbage bag out of my pocket to carry it home. "Kewl!" he gushed. He was so impressed it frightened me a little.

The guitar was only 40 euros so I was not expecting a recital hall quality instrument. A good thing. It was awful. Three of its six stings were steel, an atrocity on a guitar not built to handle the heavy stress of tightly wound steel. There was a thumb-size dent in one side, and the fingerboard was pulling away from the body. I strummed it and realized I never heard such and odd sound come from any stringed instrument. It was strangled plank. I sold it two months later on Craigslist for the price of the new nylon strings I had bought for it. I could not in conscience pass this dreadful thing on to another unsuspecting soul for profit. My buyer and I met, of course, near a Metro stop.

But hope springs eternal. Two months after I sold that I saw another Craigslist ad for another classical guitar. This time the meeting was in front of a bar at an anonymous corner in the 17th. My contact was nowhere in sight when I arrived in the seedy neighborhood. I walked into the dark, gritty drinking establishment. The huge African bartender glared at me and gave me a hostile, "Bonjour."

I cheeped, "I'm looking for a friend." I looked around at the room at the few drunks sitting in the dark. "Alors, he's not here." And rushed out like my clothes were on fire.

It was bitter cold.I remember lots of young malnourished looking young people with lotsa tattoos on their necks skulking by. I paced up and down the sidewalk to keep warm and everyone, everyone, who walked by me as I stood on the corner gave me a wary look as though they thought I was a cop or something. Finally a wan, pale young man with a ratty little soul patch on his chin slipped up next to me.

"Doug?"

"Yes. Steven?"

"Here it is." For some reason he was accompanied by a wan young boy even paler than he who watched the whole transaction in total silence. Steven pulled out an elegant little guitar - they call them parlor guitars in the States - out of its padded nylon case. It had five nylon strings and one steel string on it -- what is it with these freaking steel strings? I wondered - but it had a lovely tone.

"Very nice," I said.

Then he looked up and down the street before he leaned forward and whispered, "I also have a music stand if you're interested."

I said no and that was that. "So, do you play classical guitar," I asked as he was counting the euros I gave him.

He looked up with a baffled expression as though it were an odd question. "No. But if you're interested," he lowered his voice. "I give lessons in music theory." With that, he and his young silent companion slipped down a side street like two characters from Oliver Twist.

Later I put on a fresh set of nylon strings and played that sweet instrument for a year before I sold it to an American architectural student who was in Paris for the summer. (This was only after I had exchanged frantic emails with a mom in the 6th Arr. who said she was eager to buy it for her daughter, and then abruptly stopped communicating. A typical Craigslist experience.) He said he's probably sell it before it went home. I like to think somewhere in Paris it has a good home, and six nylon strings.

Fascinating French Guitar Fact: For jazz manouche fans, Django Reinhardt's guitar is on display as part of the permanent collection of the Musée de la Musique.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

ART APPRECIATION 102

Just got back from a gallery here in the States where they had a Georgia O'Keefe retrospective. One thing I could not help but notice was the difference in the style of appreciating that goes on here vs. France. In the U.S. art spectators are a wary lot, standing a good three to five feet away and they zoom along, as though cruising the cereal box aisle in the supermarket looking for the right brand of breakfast food. For whatever reason the French by contrast like to linger and when possible manhandle the art. Some examples of what I mean:







Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bye-bye


April is not the cruellest month. June is.

June is the month where our year countdown began.

June is the month when Mlle. Butterfly left to visit her family in Tokyo and as she said good-bye asked if Louise and I were coming back in the fall for more classes. When I said no, I have to say I was secretly pleased that she looked a little bereft. At least I think that was the expression on her face. Or maybe it was relief.

June is the month when one of the neighborhood clochards, the guy who lived in the doorway of the Shell mini-mart, the joker who made wisecracks when he saw me heading off for a run, left. I passed him crossing the Blvd. Raspail. He had his fully loaded backpack on and a sad, preoccupied look in his eyes as he walked east.

June was when Madame Rosa our concierge left, maybe not to return. She had been in and out of the hospital during the spring. She came back looking very frail and stayed sequestered in her tiny apartment by the front door. Gradually she seemed to recover. One day I saw her standing uncertainly outside the front door. "The oxygen tubes are coming out next week!" she smiled. A few weeks later I saw her, as before, hauling the garbage bins to the sidewalk. Even then there was a diminished quality. Then one June afternoon I was coming back to our building and saw a small scrum of tenants out on the sidewalk. An ambulance was parked at the curb. Attendants had crowded into her apartment. Madame Rosa was going to have to go back to the hospital.

June was when we left Paris. With no complaints. It was almost eery how smoothly everything had gone. When our year was up we realized there was no law that said we had to go, so we stayed another six months. When those six months were up, our landlord asked if we wanted to stay on another six months. We did, but it was time to leave.

Hemingway famously wrote, "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." I think I understood what he was getting at, but to be honest I'm not totally sure. For some reason I think of takeout meals and doggie bags when I read that. But I guess "Paris is a doggie bag" doesn't scan.

In any case the quote had no relevance to me, I thought. I lived in Paris, yes -- as an old man. Just how old I realized one evening when I was at a birthday party of younger friends. The husband was turning 30. At one point in the evening I was talking to three of his young guests and was feeling acutely Methusalahish. I was thinking that the cumulative ages of the three of them only barely exceeded mine by a year or two.

Fortunately that feeling did not last. If you substitute "old man" for "young man" in Hemingway's line it still applies. Would it have been any different had I come as a young man? When I first came to Paris I felt unstylish, unsophisticated and poor. When I moved there decades later I still felt that way. Only then I didn't care. It was fun.

The cab was at the curb and we were loading it our six suitcases containing all our worldly goods into it to go to the airport and home. The gray-haired man who worked for Madame Rosa came running out. Madame Rosa was on the phone, calling from the hospital. She wished us bon voyage we wished her bonne sante. I hope she's there when we come back.