I was finally on my way to France. Paris!
But first we stopped at Goose Bay, Labrador, for fuel. I suppose gas was cheaper than New York?! But then, we were off again.
Our next stop was Reykjavik, Iceland. In the short time I had to look around, it resembled photographs I’d seen of Scandinavian countries. It was so green, while Greenland was so icy. It was like the contradiction in English: “We park in a driveway and drive on a parkway!”
Off we flew again. So far, it was very leisurely and relaxing. I was getting more and more excited.
Finally, we landed in Luxembourg where we transferred to a train. The compartments were like those I’d seen in old movies. I shared mine with a married couple. He was Sicilian and didn’t speak any English; but she was American, having graduated from NYU.
I loved seeing all the places we passed. I couldn’t help but think of the back lots of movie studios which replicated these buildings and villages. But these were unselfconsciously real!
Some people were not enjoying the scenery as much as I was. We’d been flying all night, but a lot of these passengers were more or less local. Maybe it was like the Long Island Railroad for them.
As the morning wore on, we passed through beautiful countrysides: Luxembourg to Metz to Bar-le-Duc, Châlons-sur-Marne, Meaux, etc. and ultimately Paris! The landscapes looked like Monets. I wondered what it would be like to live here and be so familiar with all of it that one could sleep and not devour every passing view. I was certainly not sleepy.
We finally arrived in Paris at the Gare du Nord where I got a cab to take me to the small Hotel Lisbonne near the Luxembourg Gardens. My friends Herb and Margo De Ley were staying there and had recommended it to me. Not speaking any French, I’d written down the address and handed it to the cab driver. When we arrived, and he told me how much to pay, I was at a loss like hundreds of uncomprehending American tourists before me. I held out a bunch of bills, dollars that I’d exchanged for francs, and trusting, let him take the fare.
The hotel was in the student quarter not far from the Sorbonne where my friend Herb was beginning a long career as a professor of French. I was in good hands.
The first thing we did was take a short visit to the Louvre which was overpowering and impossible as a short visit. And besides, there was a whole city I’d been dying to see!
We went to lunch at a fantastic restaurant, A La Belle Époque, la Brasserie Vagenende on the Boulevard Saint Germain, a beautifully restored (or maintained) example of Art Nouveau. I assumed it had not changed since it opened.
We took a trip on the Metro where I got to see real, everyday Parisians. They really did look very different than New York straphangers. And look, someone really wearing a beret! A French beret for sure. It was true!
As it got later, we returned to the Latin Quarter, Boulevard Saint-Michel near the hotel. The students and a large crowd were still celebrating Bastille Day from the day before! People were doing the Twist! It had crossed the Atlantic from Dick Clark, Joey Dee and the sleazy Peppermint Lounge, and everyone was deliriously celebrating their first real peacetime Independence Day since the end of World War II!
They’d had their own Vietnam War losing French Indochina and then the long Algerian War which was just ending. It was all exhilarating and what a finale to my first day in Paris!