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Saturday, November 14, 2015

PARIS, a Remembrance


Our train from London pulled into Paris on a late afternoon in June 1963. I was traveling with 17 other teens and two chaperons from the western suburbs of Denver to do grand tour that many American teenagers get to do. We got our bags and checked into a small hotel on the Left Bank. It was a walk-up. I shared a room with Bill Roberts. I think we were on the third or fourth floor. I remember the windows opened out to the mansard roofs across the street and sky above. I had never seen a sight like this before. I loved the architecture and could not wait for our adventure to begin.

Our chaperons gave each of us a few French Francs and let us go in search of some Parisian cafe. Bill and I and a couple of girls walked around and found a little place on what I will call a "V corner". The building was like the Flatirons building in New York only much smaller in size. Our chaperons had written a note which we gave to the matrie de explaining that we had so much money to feed the four of us. He shook his head indicating "impossible". One of us pulled out the money and he brought us right inside and sat us down. I think we all ordered chicken.

My prior experiences with chicken was limited to eating my mother's incredible fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy which was a mainstay on most Sundays. When we would go out to eat I would usually have chicken, spaghetti, or shrimp. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s restaurant fare was pretty simple at least where I came from. So I was totally unprepared for the simple but utterly delicious roasted chicken and French fries I ate that night along with a glass of white wine. Yes I could order wine at age 16 and no I had never drank wine before that night. It was one of the best meals of my life. I remember it fondly.

We did all the things teen tourists do. We went to the Louve, Notre Dame, the Seine, the Arc de triomphe, the Opera, the Eiffel Tower, Montmarte, Sacré Cœur, and Versailles. One night we went to the Moulin Rouge where we had another chicken dinner (they must sell a lot of those in Paris), but this time I drank champagne for the first time. In fact I drank quite a bit of it. I got to see nearly naked women for the first time in my life. They wore tiny little bikinis and pasties as they performed onstage. There was some young muscle guy performing with them. His privates were barely covered. I had never seen anything like this in my little life Lakewood, Colorado. The next day the girls said I behaved badly the night before. All I can say is that I didn't get arrested unlike one of the three other boys who did get a ticket for being a disorderly drunk a couple of weeks later in Vienna. I had many great experiences that summer. Paris will always be a treasured memory of my youth.

I returned to Paris twice since my trip in 1963. In the late 1990s I stayed at the Hotel Lancaster and Meurice for a week and made up for inexpensive roasted chicken dinner of my youth by trying to spend as much money on dining as I could. A few years later I returned for my third-times'-a-charm in this wonderful city. On my later trips I went back to the Louve and other tourist spots. But my best memories of  Paris is the early morning and late afternoon walks I would take walking through the neighborhoods where I would see how the people lead their lives.

And then last night all hell broke loose. If you have read my blog for some time you know I often go back to moments in my youth to tell little tales about how a simple little nerd kid who grew up in the America of the 1950s ended up in Key West. I look back on my youth with mostly fond memories. Life was so much simpler then. We got by on so much less. We all did because we did not have all of the "stuff" that exist today. We did not suffer. We did not miss anything. When our copy of the Saturday Evening Post arrived and I saw a Norman Rockwell picture, it was a picture of the way we really lived. Now I know I lived a lot better than a lot of people in this county. We weren't rich, but we were not poor. We were middle class people. My mom and dad both worked. The pictures I saw on that magazine and in LIFE and LOOK magazine were the way we all lived. And that way of life is now gone forever. What happened last night would have never happened in the 1950s. I don't know what has happened to people to make them act so inhumanely.

I live on a little island out in the middle of the ocean. I feel safe. People are nice here. We are far removed from the insanity of the rest of our world.

Pray for Paris.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Gary. I grew up in the late 50s and 60s and look back to those years, as you do, with nostalgia. It seemed simple back then because we were kids. But I would not want to live back there nor would I want to force the children of today to live in that world that we grew up in. A world where African Americans lived in constant fear of terror, gays and lesbians lived in fear of being exposed and having their lives destroyed, women had limited options, interacial couples could be arrested and jailed if they dared got married, and then there was the horror of the Korean War follwed by the Vietnam War. And there was also much violence and terror in the US and around the world. It just came in different flavors. Check out the following link for an overview of past terror in the US - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorism_in_the_United_States. Still love your pics and stories about the 1950s and 60s. Keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

Oh good grief Anon, this is one of the growing problems today - always complaint, always a victim.

Gary, enjoyed your post. Well said.

Gary Thomas said...

Dear Anon, America hasn't changed all that much for blacks or gays in the last 50 years. Segregation is gone but not the hate. Gays can marry but they are still disdained by many.
I know you can't go back, I don't want to go back.
We have too much of everything. Too many phones. Too many cars. Too much clothing, Too many TV networks. Too many fast food restaurants. Too many Starbucks. Too many Kardashians. Too many people. Too many selfies. Too much self-absorption.
I am glad I live where I live. It's more like small town America of old. You just need to overlook the greed of contractors, high prices for everything, and dictatorial local government control over what people can do with their homes. It's pretty easy to turn that stuff off in your mind. Then you can go about your daily life and walk the streets, listen to the birds, smell the ocean (sometimes it isn't so nice), go fishing or whatever it is that you do. But whatever it is that you do, you won't live in fear of some crazy man coming to kill you.
Gary

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Key West, Florida, United States
I first read about Key West in a magazine called "After Dark" sometime in the mid 1970's. But it wasn't until March 1984 that I made my first visit to the island that would become my home. I had two weeks for a vacation and reserved a room at Colours Guesthouse (now Marrero's Guest House) for one week. I thought that if I didn't like Key West, I could always go back to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale for the rest of my trip. But after a couple of days in Key West, that was no longer a consideration. But when I wanted to extend my stay for the extra week I found there was no room at the inn. The guesthouse owner did find me a room at LaTeDa, the infamous guesthouse/restaurant. That's a story I'll write another day. But those two weeks in Key West gave me the realization that I had found Paradise. Key West has been my home since 1993 and my only regret is that it took me so long to get here. I am a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties CRI. Let me help you find your new home or business in Paradise. Living in Paradise is not a slogan, it's a way of life.