Saturday, July 15, 2017


I entered Paris via the Gare du Nord where a string quartet of 4 quite nice looking young ladies from the local academy of music were sitting under the glass and playing Mozart. I got a room in a hotel on the Ave Wagram just about a block away from the Arc de Triomphe.1 I was talking to one of the Eldar tonight and mentioned my first time in Paris. I had just come off wartime steaming for a year in the Persian Gulf and was on my way to the next assignment. This was before I had a home to call my own. I had a month or two and no particular place to be and so I did Madrid and Paris and London in one go.

The first morning in Paris was, IIRC, a Sunday. I can look it up. I used to take notes. We'll agree it was a Sunday. I stood at the Arc de Triomphe and looked all the way down the Champs Elysees and there was, by dawn's early light, not one car, not one pedestrian in sight all the way down to the Place de la Concorde. I'm not exaggerating. There was absolutely nobody at all on that street for as far as the eye could see. That's kind of why I won't go back. One doesn't gloss over memories like that lightly and Paris has changed a great deal.

I remember getting a breath of fresh air in the Marine Memorial Hotel in San Francisco at 3 in the morning and marveling that from my 9th floor room I could not see a living soul nor a car or bus. The window was floor to ceiling and was wide open and still, no sign of life in the city of a million souls. Obviously, not NYC, which I loathe, where, supposedly, nobody sleeps. Trust me, in San Francisco, everybody sleeps, a lot.

When I stayed in London I always stayed in tiny little hotels within a block or two of Paddingon. I could get up and walk to her majesty's palace, Harrods, Tottenham Court Road, the Tower, or pretty much anywhere I wanted to. Purdington's (they call it Purdey's) was a regular stop. I drove them mad by walking in and discussing shotguns and then left, not buying the $15,000 shotguns they had for the sporting sort.

The last time but one the security officer at Heathrow very quietly asked me to join him and we walked to a very private screening area where he asked if he could open my bags. I was nice and said, "sure." He opened them up and started pulling out holsters and empty magazines and one of those flashlights with the 90 degree bend that clips to one's deuce gear and kept on rummaging. I knew he wasn't looking for the pony. He was convinced I had undeclared pistols or machine guns in my luggage. He was young. He kept turning the flashlight on and off as if maybe, just maybe, it was some sort of top secret American weapon. I explained that I left the guns behind but the holsters were mine.

Sometimes, I used the subway or the tube but mostly I was a man fresh off the boat and I liked to walk. I kind of needed to walk. Our secretary once showed me pictures from her and her daughter's trip to Rome. The pictures recorded a visit to every single thing in Rome. You name it, she got a picture of her and her daughter in front of it over the course of a 9 hour layover. They might have walked a couple of feet. Mostly it was downtown tourist bus and ruins and things that ought to be ruined. I suspect that by perambulation, I could have taken pictures of just 3 of the sights. I'm OK with that. I am related to Rikki Tikki Tavii and I like to run walk and find out.

There's a certain majesty in strolling into one of those sidewalk establishments in France and spending a few maddening minutes trying to convince the waiter that you don't want coffee, you want coke and when one says coke one means one hell of a lot more ice cubes than the solitary and lonely ice cube they fished out of the gutter and stuck in the glass. It was more fun having these french debates with woman waiters who were willing to go all-in to explain that there is a worldwide shortage of ice or that the guy with the recipe quit last week and all you are going to get my American friend is that one tiny iceberg. They were so Earnest.


OldAFSarge said...

By trying to see everything, one sees nothing.

I like to linger, absorb the ambiance of a place. It's why I'd rather live in a place, if even for just a month or so, then just visit.

HMS Defiant said...

Me too. Given the option, I will always opt for walking unless it is infinitely painful. With gout, I developed an idea of what 'infinitely painful' really is but if I can walk, walk I will. It's the only way to see a place. I remember going out with the USA in Korea (your old stomping ground). We went up to the DMZ and then we had an Army LtCol 'walk' us over Castle Hill and talk about the battle and the tragedy of that place. It's worth remembering, so I will.
The Army walk all the old battlefields if they can.