My mother was a Francophile. She attended a convent school run by French nuns and she was always very fluent in the language, even writing in French to friends. She made certain that our childhood included trips to Paris. That was all about walking endlessly, street food, elegant food, blue collar dining, and the edifying march past the great art works of the world in kilometers of museum galleries.
Just now I’m sitting at her little provincial writing desk looking through the rain drops on the window, or are they tears?
When I was on a fellowship in England I took a study break with classmates. Why not go to Paris for a long weekend before the fall term starts? What better place to enjoy the last long days and stay up late.
We took the hovercraft to Calais and then the train right into the heart of the city. I’d proposed we book into the little Art Nouveau hotel in the Rue Cambon that my parents loved. Naturally, we couldn’t afford it and ended up elsewhere. We all decided to stay until we ran out of money.
Paris is the one place in the world that has put the highest polish on the pleasures of urbanism. And it knows how to love young people. There is music everywhere, stupendous and inexpensive dining if one knows where to look, and all the youth of Europe, the native and the foreign, so excited about life and love and walking the boulevards that no one wants to go home.
By about two in the morning most of my friends were beginning to flag, but a few of us decided to climb up to Sacre Coeur to sit on its broad steps and wait for the dawn to break over the city. It’s a long hike, and becomes more like mountaineering at the end of the climb. You only have the energy to climb those vertiginous steps when you are in your 20s.
After some misdirection we finally reached our goal after 4:30 in the morning. We sat on the highest step in front of the church, huddling together in the misty pre-dawn air, all of us still full of laughter and conversation.
Finally the pale glow of dawn began to spread on the high ridges above the rooftops. Suddenly there was light, in the city of the same name.
At the time the term for that hill made very little impression on me. Mont Martre. The Mount of Martyrs.
Je suis triste.
- Michael Guarino