The Left Bank And All That

In the morning we crossed the bridge to the island and paused for a look at Notre Dame. Phyllis went inside and lit a candle and had some words with the Management.

We walked on across the river and climbed the steep hill by the Sorbonne and hung a left at the Pantheon, around past the Lycée Henri IV and the lovely old church of St. Etienne-du-Mont, to the Place de la Contrescarpe at the top of the Rue Mouffetard.

The Contrescarpe was something of a special place for us, because we both had loved A Moveable Feast. Phyllis used to say that Hemingway was particularly good at writing about food, and using it to evoke the atmosphere of a scene; and visiting his old Paris haunts - on foot, the way he did it - makes you really appreciate what he was talking about. Climbing up and down those steep old streets, you work up a raging appetite; and there you are, surrounded by all those fine cafés and bistros and patisseries and boulangeries and so on, seeing and smelling the greatest food in the world...it must be a brutal thing when you've got no money. I remember San Francisco was like that for me, a long time ago when I was young and broke....

Fortunately we didn't have that problem now. We went into a nearby patisserie and indulged ourselves with some altogether sinful and decadent chocolate pastries; then, having staved off immediate starvation, we did some more leisurely shopping in a series of establishments, working our way gradually back down the big hill, picking up cheese and bread and sausage and olives and finally, down by the Boulevard St. Michel (or, as we hip international types call it, the Bou' Mich), a bottle of decent red wine, crossing over to the Jardin du Luxembourg just in time for lunch.

It was another gray day, but at least a bit warmer; the rain had moved on during the night, and the wind had died down to a mild breeze. We sat on a bench by the pond and made enormous sandwiches with chunks of baguette and threw the scraps to the ferociously aggressive Parisian sparrows who converged at our feet, pecking and quarreling and now and then chasing away pigeons many times their size.

The flowers were still bright, but the trees were starting to turn, just a little, to their fall colors.

Done, we wandered across the Jardin, pausing to sympathize with this poor fellow: bad enough that he can't remember where he left his clothes, now he's got a pigeon sitting on his head as well.

I took us down the Rue Ferou to St. Sulpice; Phyllis was rather impressed that I knew my way around so well, after only a few day's visit over a year ago. To tell the truth I impressed myself. I hadn't been at all sure I'd remember, but it was like coming home. Although in fact Paris isn't a hard town for finding your way around; certainly nowhere near as confusing as London, or Ankara.

And on across the river again, past the Louvre, to the Tuileries. "You'll like this," I told Phyllis. I had no idea....

The Tuileries were (was?) pretty quiet, not many people around; just a few couples wandering along the walks or sitting under the trees, and even fewer loners.

Up by the pond things were a bit more scenic (those London-and-France ensembles again) but still not exactly lively. The guy with the wagon of toy sailboats for rent was nowhere around.

But then I saw her. Again.

After all this time, to find her again...and in the same place, our place.... She seemed a little cold at first, no doubt reproaching me for having gone away and left her last year; but I could tell she was mad with joy at my return. Just too much a lady to indulge in tasteless public displays.

I looked around for Phyllis. This wasn't going to be easy, introducing the two great loves of my life, but it had to be done.

But where had she gone? A moment later I found out.

"Look," she said. "A man gave me these. A man just walked up and gave me these flowers."

Flowers hell, she had herself a regular jungle there. I fought down an urge to cry, "Sire, Birnam Wood approaches!"

"I don't know who he was," she added. "Just some total stranger. He said something in French but I couldn't understand it. He wasn't asking for money or anything, though. He just smiled and walked off."

All the way back to the hotel she kept murmuring happily, "A man gave me flowers. A Frenchman gave me flowers!"

That evening we stood on the balcony outside our room and watched darkness fall along the Rue de Rivoli. "Enjoying yourself?" I asked.

She nodded. "I love it here," she said. "It's beautiful. The people are so nice."

It began to rain again.

*******

NEXT: LAST DAY IN PARIS

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