Americans in Paris

We spent ten days in Paris in June. The weather was very unlike a normal June. Almost every day we had rain, clouds, and sun. The rain came suddenly. heavily and lasted between fifteen minutes to two hours. It came sofly at one time and as a waterfall like downpour at others. It was hot when the sun shone; it was chilly when the clouds blocked it; it was damp and uncomfortable in the evening after a late afternoon downpour. Umbrellas were necessary but sometimes the rain came so unexpectedly and heavily that one was wet before the umbrella could be opened.

The people of Paris seemed little bothered by all this weather fuss. They went about doing what they had to do. The awnings on the stores and restaurants, the easily located Metros and the multitude of trees offered shelter when needed.

The oft-repeated statement that the Parisians are hostile to Americans has always proved unfounded to me and even more so this trip. They gladly suffered my poor French while they happily answered me in English. Many of the young French waiters or workers at hotel reception desks had been to America or England.

The oft-repeated story about the ugly American in Paris proved to be correct. Breakfast at our hotel was how we started off the mornings. Usually we would sit at our table talking mindless of the people at other tables who also enjoyed their meals in a quiet manner. One morning approaching the breakfast room loud talk and laughter could be heard. An American couple with their two college age daughters were speaking so loudly that all in the room could not but be disturbed by their bluster. I remembered seeing or reading of an incident like that in the past about some folk from Texas. I wondered whether this group was from the Lone Star state. Sure enough, one of the women was wearing a T-shirt that advertised an event at the Texas A & M campus. At one point they stopped talking and were looking at their electronic devices. The silence it brought made whispers seem loud. It brought an air of relief and peacefulness.

Not that Paris outside the breakfast room is silent. It is a noisy place. For a few nights we had a room on the second floor (the American third floor) which was over one of the small bars. The bar was so small and inconspicuous that we did not notice it. One Friday night informed us of its existence. The young customers overflowed the bar and were outside on the sidewalk. This is not unusual I would learn for people to be standing outside the bars with their drinks. I suppose it follows along with the custom of almost every bistro or restaurant having outside seating. This Friday night we were kept awake until after three in the morning by the loud talk of the young people gathered there since we like to keep our windows open at night. Yes, it is a treat to be able to open the floor to ceiling windows in all the hotels.

Paris is huge and each of the twenty arrondissements a little different from the other. Although workers were striking there was little sign of it. A huge all day long parade of strikers in the Montparnasse area was hardly noticed. I walked over to see it. The strikers were very noisy – a parade of taxis continually brayed their horns – loudspeakers on truck played music and shouts. It was peaceful at that time – 8:00 p.m. but there had been damage to the store fronts. Watching the news later that evening it was clear who caused the damage. It was not the union people but the anarchists in their black with their black flags who joined in the march for the sole purpose of destroying and rioting. I recalled it was the Paris Commune of the 19th Century that helped birth the anarchist movement whose goal is simply to destroy the established order. It has no answer for what will happen after that.

We know of the terrorist attack there. There is a strong unobtrusive police and army presence. All bags are searched entering into department stores by private security personnel. The people go about as if oblivious to the threat and the strike. The subway system is enormous and may be the one place that is vulnerable to the terrorists. To protect it is almost impossible as it has too many customers with luggage, back packs and bags.

Paris having had the Nazi occupation – we stood in front of the home of the leader of the resistance who was captured in 1944 and executed at Buchenwald – the student uprisings and violent labor disputes for the most part has toughened itself to continue on about its business as usual. It really has no choice but it does so in an open manner not letting these troubles interfere with it zest for life.

We were there at the start of the European football championship Euro 2016. The fans from Ireland, Sweden, Turkey and Croatia paraded about with their country’s color. Those of England and Russia were sent as far away from Paris as possible. All in Paris blended in well and peacefully.

It was an interesting trip this time. We did not go to the main attractions such as the Louvre or cruise on the river. We did much walking and exploring but mostly enjoying what we consider one of the great pleasures in life which is sitting with people enjoying a baguette, pate, cheese, and wine at a sidewalk cafe or sitting in Luxembourg Gardens. Or, perhaps when the weather is hot at a small outside cafe table nursing a cold beer. Paris is best appreciated by walking through it and enjoying its food. You are constantly surprised walking by a building to discover it was the home of Gertrude Stein or the convent gardens of Theresa Labore or the Église Sainte Ignace hidden behind storefronts on Rue de Sevres, or that James Joyce stayed in the same hotel you were in.

Paris faces more strikes. The president has suggested he might ban them. Who knows what will happen then. The terrorists lurk in the darkness hoping to dim the City of Lights; Paris will host the Euro 2016 championship with its dangers presenting a tempting target.

Paris has seen worse and survived. It will do so again. It is a welcome treat and a reminder of life outside America.

7 thoughts on “Americans in Paris

  1. Bon voyage indeed. A friend returned bragging of his tour of the Louvre. Despite my telling him I thought that was French for toilet, he carried on his brag announcing how impressed he was with the Impressionists. I joined him in that offering that I had seen Rich Little in Vegas. Welcome home…Sullivans at Castle Island awaits!

  2. Delightful to hear about your trip, Matt.

    Regarding the Texans at breakfast: It sounds as if they were, shall I say, unrefined…or even uncultured.

    To quote a former professor of mine who spent some time at U of Houston – “Take away all culture as we know it, and what you have left is Texas.”

    1. GOK:

      Professor Commanger of Amherst Collge a noted historian advocated moving the Jews from Israel to Texas and the Texans to Israel and suggested that would bring peace to the Middle East and a great benefit to America.

  3. Matt, welcome home. Paris is a beautiful city. Such history, art. We Americans sometimes forget we may not have become free without the help of the French, Lafayette, Rochambeau, DeGrasse. And how much richer we are for the likes of Manet, Monet, Debussy, Sartre, Camus, and Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. I remember that song about Montmarte: “It was Montmarte, it was Midnight, . . . . A small cafe, Mamselle, our rendevous Mamselle, the violiins were warm and sweet and so were you Mamselle” I know I spelled Mamselle wrong, but I’m late and got to run. Au revoir!

    1. Bill:

      Thanks. The best thing about the French is they don’t like the Brits all that much and now you can see why.

  4. Matt, those individual vignettes of Parisian life fulfill the larger episodes of experiences in the city for a truly rich trip. I remember one such event while walking in the Marais. We stepped off the side walk into what we thought was an alcove. The niche opened up to perfectly manicured, inviting courtyard of a mansion–open to the public—that was a museum dedicated to Jewish Parisian pre-war life. One of many little events that we hope to experience again (soon).

    You’re right. Parisians are a lot more hospitable than the Southie crew.

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