Sunday, September 10, 2006

Paris Journal, Part 3 (November, 1955

The street was busy, with little cars & people wandering about, some in a hurry & some not. No one even gave us a second glance as they went about their business.

Perfume shops & candy stores; restaurants (which they call Brassieres, & shook Roger all up) & novelty shops lined the street on both sides. Some of the restaurants looked big & modern, & had little outside windows for people who are just passing by & would like a sandwich or roll.

Most of the shops were small, modest, & quiet. Occasionally a woman would pass us with ridiculously long loaves of bread, carried like a standard.

The importance of a street can usually be judged by its width. The one we were on was average, but soon opened out into Rue Monmartre, a very wide thorofare, which we had come down on our way to the hotel. Here the shops were larger & a bit more elegant, but nothing really fancy.
Sidewalk cafes were still operating, though completely enclosed in plywood & glass. Newsstands were on almost every corner, covered with magazines & newspapers. And every so often along the street were the "Suze" pillars.

They fascinated me and were, in a way, the most typically Parisian things I’d seen. They stand about 12 to 15 feet high, & resemble huge sawed-off peppermint sticks, though they’re always green. Atop them, like a hat, is a metal overhang, supporting yellow glass frames that announce, in black letters, SUZE. They’re used for advertisements—for everything. Yet they always manage to look neat, & the posters appear to be new.

At infrequent intervals were squat round dark green metal structures, open at the bottom which usually show several pair of legs, facing inward. These are the public restrooms, though I only saw men using them. Ah, Paree….

Along Rue Monmarte were many large movie theaters—one picture was playing at several theaters around Paris, & lines of people were continually in front of them. The name of the movie was "Graine De Violence"—an American import, the story of average, happy American schoolchildren originally called "Blackboard Jungle." What an impression of our school system they must have gotten out of that!

Outside each entrance to the Metro—the Parisian subway—is a large map of Paris, with outlines of all the subway routes; very convenient for the French, but almost no help at all to an outsider. We stood looking at it, trying to find something recognizable, when a little man in a tan overcoat walked up and asked "Can I help you?"

We asked how to get to the Arch of Triumph from where we were, & he traced it quickly out with his finger; so quickly that it didn’t really show us much. We said "Merci", & started up the street toward the entrance to the Metro. He passed us & started down the stairs, saying "I’m going that way myself—I’ll show you." We told him no, thanks, we were just looking around right now, & walked on.

About six blocks up the street, in the direction the bus had come, we came to a dance hall which was featuring Louis Armstrong in person. Making a mental note for future reference, we decided it was time to start back to the hotel for dinner & the tour. The street we turned down was one of the very narrow ones, where only two could walk abreast on the sidewalk. Bob & I walked ahead, looking in the shop windows; Bob was looking for a pair of garters to send home for his girl.

I glanced behind us and saw that Roge & Jim weren’t there. We saw them back about half a block, talking with a little man in a tan overcoat.

We had been warned, both by the officer in charge of the trip & our guide, that Paris was alive with Communists who will do anything to get their hands on American dollars. The purpose to which they put them I don’t know, but seeing our little friend whom we’d left heading for the Arch of Triumph, now running into us six blocks in the opposite direction, I felt that something was not quite as it should be.

Bob & I got back to them just in time to hear:

"…400 Francs for an American dollar. You have some with you, yes?"

"No," Bob cut in, "We left all our money back at the hotel."

"You are in Paris a long time?"

"Just got here this morning," volunteered Roge, happily unaffected by it all.

"You have money at the hotel you would like to change?"

"Nope; we already changed in all into Francs" Jim said, glancing at Roge.

‘There are many of you American sailors in Paris?"

"Oh, a few," I said, noncommittally.

"Hey, you know where any good places are—inexpensive but nice?" Roge can, at times, be remarkably naive.

"Oh, yes—the bistros—they are very nice; not expensive—many pretty girls. You would like I will take you there tonite."

"Well, maybe sometime," said Bob.

"Where are you staying?" the little man asked.

"Hotel Swisse—I’ve got a card here…" & before we could stop him, Roge had shown him the green card the hotel had given us to show taxi drivers.

"Ah, yes. I know—I come by at eight o’clock, & take you to these places. Very nice; very inexpensive. There are many American sailors at this hotel?"

"OK—we’ll see you at eight tonight," Jim said, as he grabbed Roge’s arm & started ushering him down the street.

"Promise?" our friend called.

"Sure," we said.

Poor Roge never did quite get the point.

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