Author’s program note. Today is the day I sign up to receive Social Security. It will be a day when low level bureaucrats will prod me, asking questions they already know the answers to, all designed to prove (or not) that I am the Jeffrey Ladd Lant born 66 years ago in Illinois, into a time and situation which now only exist in my imagination.
I wonder whether the clerk will smile or even look at me when the inevitable queries are asked? I’m not counting on it, for they see a generation advancing to old age, while I consider only myself. I want human contact but will have to do with “sign here” and get the money.
And so, under the circumstances you will understand that I need something quite different; a kind of cosmic pick-me-up composed of equal portions of youth, energy, hope and optimism, all things in shorter supply today, here and now, than then. I need Paris. Since you probably do, too, let me share some with you…. the better to remember and pass a kindred moment when not a single word is required or expected.
“I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles”.
For me, only one song would do for the musical accompaniment to this article; Cole Porter’s seductive tune “I Love Paris”. It debued in 1953, in the film “Can- Can” and like so many of Porter’s haunting melodies it immediately touched the soul of the world; in this case setting us to recall the bittersweet memories of a youth that can only be tapped infrequently, so powerful is even the smallest part.
I like Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition about “this timeless town”. It cuts to the heart… and does with you what it will… just like love itself. You’ll find this bijoux in any search engine. Go now and play it… again… and again… and again. If it’s cold and misty outside and the memories come thick and fast, you are ready for what follows.
In 1967, I was the luckiest 20-year-old in the world. Though the Great Republic was at war, gravely divided by whether we should have more of it or less, I was going to Poland for my Christmas holidays. Now as all the world knows, the way to Warsaw most assuredly goes through Paris, at least in my atlas. Thus I found myself for the first time in the City of Light at the best possible time in life to be there, that is to say whatever time you are there; in my case December,1967 just a few days before Christmas.
My trip, hurriedly arranged which is to say (in the way of young men) not arranged at all, came about because of a notice hung on the campus bulletin board at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where I was spending, and happily too, my junior year abroad. It promised high times and hijinx in Zakopane, the site of the Eastern Bloc’s 1967 Winter Olympics. The trip was sponsored by the Young Pioneers, Communism’s equivalent of the “Best and the Brightest.” The cost could be scrapped together and was just affordable at just about a hundred quid.
Of course we wouldn’t tell parents where it was we were going, much less under whose auspices. Bright young men seek to shield the ‘rents from any inkling that they might have had, were having, or would have a “good time.” That was always the best possible course, especially where Communists… and Paris, mind… were involved.
Our trip to Poland was to have begun in London where we were to meet the tour guide and organizer. He had been a Tory candidate for Parliament in the last General Election; time now hung heavy while he waited impatiently for his next chance at greatness. Like most young, ambitious, aspiring Conservatives he didn’t believe in much of anything; principles, you see, get in the way of success. It was always better not to have too many or to believe them too seriously.
As a result our guide, youthful, good looking and unscrupulous was excellent company and game for anything. It’s a pity I’ve forgotten his name… he’s undoubtedly a retired cabinet minister now, full of sage advice and pompous aphorisms… the Right Honourable the (first) Baron Twitsbee-on-Thames.
Such a man, of course, approved our traveling to Paris first, meeting up with the group later, pleasurably fatigued as men of the world would most assuredly be at that point. He undoubtedly wished us luck… and winked, salaciously.
And so I went to Paris — and to a passionate embrace which has never ended.
Every true Parisian believes there is Paris… and then there is everything else. There is no known antidote to this belief. Once in Paris, walking the Champs Elysee, you are glad it is so. No antidote desired; none imaginable. And that’s as it should be. So I came to see that Paris was not merely a place… but an idea, a dream, a journey, a vision and where, in grander style and sureness of touch, there was a better me waiting for the ordinary me to arrive.
Le beau coup.
I remember everything about those days… no detail too small or inconsequential. Paris is like that, transforming even the slightest of matters into Events, primed with Significance. Paris is, after all, the greatest mise-en-scene on Earth, a place where you find yourself, see yourself as larger than life, mesmerizing, captivating, the very person you have always wanted to be… and now are, to the gratification of self and the satisfying envy of the folks back home.
No other city on Earth, no other place at all holds such power, such magic, and so you, like Josephine Baker sing this: “J’ai deux amours. Mon pais et Paris”; you are suddenly, unmistakably, to your complete bliss a boulevardier au fait with everything in this place which now forever holds a piece of your heart and means to keep it forever with fierce possession.
And so it started in a boulangerie within moments of arrival. I ordered a baguette… and thanked the proprietor for… her beau coup. “O, monsieur,” she said, just for a moment no longer of a “certain age” but young again, with gracious curves well worth the seeing. She patted her haunch, she giggled, she pointed “O monsieur, c’est le beau coup”. I had made her happy. It was a portent of other happy encounters to come.
“Is this what I think it’s for?”
Later that day, I stood with Mark Morris at the ticket counter of the Opera, Baron Haussmann’s great creation begun in1861, a venue fit for God Himself to make music. We barely had enough for two tickets high up in the rafters and needed to count it twice over to be sure of even that.. but there was something about us, two acolytes butchering la belle langue determined to worship everything we saw, that touched the heart of the woman ticket seller.
“Voila’,” she said, an empress dispensing largesse. And so we came to possess a box at the Opera for the evening’s performance, compliments of a Parisienne determined to turn by a graceful touch the quotidian into a lifetime’s happy memory.
Everything was new, notable, marvelous.. including how two young men of decidedly limited means, dressed just a shade better than tatterdemalions had their box unlocked for them, then locked again with them inside. And of how they soon discovered a ceramic pot on the floor festooned with the grandiloquent “N”s of the master who ordered such monumental awe and splendor. Yes, it was used… and so the customs of Paris turned the most natural function into art and protocol.
Last night, first visit. Venite adoremus. Notre Seigneur et Sauveur.
No young person wants to slow down the pace of time. Speed, not savor, is always their order of the day. But then comes Paris and the dawning fear one has too little time, hardly any time at all to enjoy each thing, every thing. And so youth comes to know a secret of age: that the best lived life is patient, paced, distinguished by care not merely celerity. Thus one grows and matures, another of Paris’ insights and benedictions.
And so in my final hours of what I vowed must be the first of many visits, I made my way near midnight to one of man’s great achievements, Notre Dame. I went as a curiosity seeker, for I was, after all, the son of Puritans who would decry my very presence at such a Romish place.
But God was present that night, and I knew why men of vision had dreamed this place and worked so hard to achieve it. Here was a place where one might look for and even find sanctity, belief, peace, and be touched by the greatest light that shown that night in the City of Light. And it was good. I sang the words of the great hymn — “Venite adoremus” — with conviction… Notre Seigneur et Sauveur.
And then it was over. I was, in the middle of this Christmas night, en route by rail to Poland via Belgium enraptured by the greatest reason for loving Paris, the reason found in the last line of Cole Porter’s great tune….
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
About the Author
Now with near seven decades of a successful writing career, Dr. Lant is, he likes to say, in the prime of his prime. Thus does the “scribbling” life he commenced at age
5 continue. Twenty books. Thousands of articles. Untold radio and television programs;
worldwide recognition and enthusiasm, all of which culminated in the publication of
his autobiography, “A Connoisseur’s Journey, being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck and joy”. It was a book that screamed “classic!”, and he has
delighted in the several awards that followed.
To get your copy go to www.writerssecrets.com. You will also want to join his writing course and learn from this master communicator just how you can improve everything you ever write. www.writerssecrets.com
Div. Jeffrey Lant Associates, Inc.
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