Wednesday, July 07, 2010

i'm in the mood for paris

In three short weeks, I'll be exchanging this east coast heat wave for a month in Paris, although the temperatures there aren't much cooler right now. But the delicious excitement is building as I contemplate leisurely days to stroll the city and compare my memories from previous trips.

In 1964, as soon as my freshman year in college ended, I flew for my first time to Orly Airport, with only an undated return-trip plane ticket and a hotel reservation for my first night in Paris. Young and adventurous, I simply intended to go where chance led me until my money ran out -- maybe after a few weeks, if I were lucky. But traveling alone and speaking French made it easy to meet many gracious and generous people who were eager to engage with a smiling American. "Europe on $5 a Day" was my guidebook, but more often I dined with and even stayed with families in Paris, in Toulouse, in Pau, in Cannes, and throughout the countryside.

That adventure-filled summer was my wonderful introduction to France. I have so many stories. Towards the end of the summer, in Marseilles, I encountered a group of American college girls on tour. One girl, so bored with the confines of her tour group, broke off for a day to go climbing with me in the hills above the city. In great style, we toted supplies for a picnic by a rocky stream high in the woods, taking in great views of the sea. In return, she gave me her train ticket to Geneva, since she and her friends had decided to go home. On my early morning arrival in Geneva, I used my trusty guidebook to secure a tiny single room on the top floor of an elegant hotel and went off to find the University of Geneva's Institute of Architecture. As I wandered its large echoing empty halls, I happened on a room where 3 young men were working on their diplome projects. Our conversation covered a lot of territory, although my technical vocabulary wasn't up to par, until one of them broke off to phone his family to announce he was bringing a young American home for lunch. By the time we arrived at his family home, his mother had purchased a small bottle of milk to serve with my lunch, since everyone knew Americans drank a lot of milk. After lunch we all set out for an afternoon on the family sailboat on Lac Léman, occasionally being photographed by tourists on other boats passing by. That night I slept under a feather duvet in my small attic hotel room, greeted at dawn with a rooftop view through my tiny window, and was served my continental breakfast on a silver tray with a rosebud and a copy of the day's paper.

Eventually the summer ran out before my money did, and I returned home the day before my sophomore year began at college. Later trips to France to study and visit were never so carefree as that first summer. The times changed, my responsibilities changed, and Paris has changed. I look forward to making a new photographic record of what I see this time.