Before arriving in Paris, I got along O.K. with my “school French” as we traveled the countryside where the farm people were gracious enough to speak slowly to me to help me get my meaning across. Often they would speak loudly also, almost to the point of shouting, because their only experience with a person who couldn’t quite understand them was because they were hard of hearing.
But I found in Paris the city people had little patience with me and would simply walk away in the middle of a sentence when I was asking directions or some other question. Of course, what irritated me at first with this is they didn’t know I had spent six months learning their language and it was their fault they didn’t understand their own language. But I eventually came to understand with the French people that the way I was speaking their language, the rhythm and the accent, is an insult to them and that I was butchering their hallowed language to a point where they didn’t like to listen to me speaking it.
I had seen movies and heard about a lot of the places on our map that showed us the place to make our grand entrance. It was the railroad station, the Gare D’Orsay. From there you can see the Seine with all its bookstalls and fishermen and touring boats, Notre Dame where the hunchback resided, The Gardens of Tuileries, the Place de la Concord, the Louvre where Mona Lisa awaits us. The Eiffel Tower was nearby too, and the Arc de Triomphe where we spun around counter-clockwise, just to see if we could escape the circling traffic and get out alive without a crash. We did and found ourselves on the upper end of the Champs Elysees, that’s the famous wide street with all the fancy shoppes and bistros and anything that has to do with world business including the fashion industry.
Good ol’ Lindbergh in 1927 chose Paris to fly into on his flight across the Atlantic and got some very good reception from the French people.
So why not us?
Up to this point, Rudi had more or less taken a tourist type of approach to his own travels to India. He was happy to see there was more dimension available to him with the way I was handling a new aspect of the trip that he hadn’t thought about yet.
That is, rather than just being spectators on our trip, we could get a better understanding of the people and the country we found ourselves in if we could become more three-dimensional to the people through a newspaper article about us.
I didn’t exactly know what I was doing, but he was happy to see me do the job and if it worked, we could both smile. If it didn’t, whatdaheck, we’d just move on.
Up to this point, Rudi had been the take over guy. And I was happy to be a part of the trip. But now I could see I had a contribution to make and Rudi was satisfied about that. I think our time in Paris bonded our relationship a little better and we became real partners.
My first thought in Paris was to find a popular newspaper in town and find their address. A cheap way to find out is to look on park benches, empty café tables, and in trash cans (we couldn’t afford to buy even a newspaper).
Our secret ticket at the big newspaper office in Paris was to flash the newspaper photo and article the Brussels newspaper had printed. But I learned something else and that is in the big cities, like Paris, they always have competition from another newspaper in town. In other words we didn’t have to go into a newspaper office, hat in hand, wishin’ they would do a story on us, like they were doing us a favor or something. Instead we would go in there like we were doing them a favor. After all, interesting feature articles like us sells newspapers for them.
Another thing I learned is, and if you ever take a trip like this, this is important, is to be sure to carry along a journal, sort of like a scrapbook where you paste in handwritten notes from well-wishers and fans along the way, and photos from people who would take them out of their wallet and paste them in my scrapbook.. All the way from Wuerzburg I had constructed ten or fifteen pages already. I kept these diary pages hooked together with two metal rings and people could flip through the pages and look at both sides.
At the Dutch, Belgian, and French border crossing, I asked the officials to rubber stamp the book’s current page with their country’s rubber stamp. This is especially useful because it gives you kind of an “official” look to your trip. Especially if a policeman stopped you somewhere just to acquire what these two guys on a Vespa were all about.
at the newspaper office, you have to remember all these people in newspaper
offices like to get a “scoop” And what we learned was when
we went into the first big newspaper, La Figaro, the feature editor was
off to lunch and the receptionist gave me the editor’s business
card and told us he would be back at 2pm. Well, we didn’t want to
wait around and went to another newspaper office and it happened to be
the most prominent newspaper in Paris, Le Monde, like
the New York Times in the USA.
When he came
out, holding my scrapbook, he said, “Have you been interviewed
by La Figaro ?”
He kept poring over my scrapbook a long while reading the inscriptions people put in there from Germany, Holland, and Belgium and France. He handed it to a reporter at a nearby desk and then it got passed all around the city desk while we talked to the feature editor.
I could see the buzz going on. Our trip must’ve plucked heartstrings or touched a nerve because a couple other news people began listening to the interview and how an American and a German were traveling the world together on a motor scooter and were headed to Africa. By the time it was time to take a picture of us and the scooter at least a dozen of the newspaper staff decided to come down to the Vespa on the street and get into the picture with us! When the article appeared in the late afternoon edition of Le Monde, it was like we were given a key to the city. People started saying hello and “bon voyage” to us. Le Monde must be a popular paper.
Rudi was amused by all this and even though he struggled to understand the language or my questionable translation of French into German, he kept in a good frame of mind because he could see the magical effect the newspaper article had for us.
Riding down a street in Paris, at stop signs people would wave to us from their cars, and others would honk their horns, which by the way, was forbidden in Paris at that time. The police, the gendarmes, would just smile when that happened. Our scooter and our guitars became our visa to the “city of lights.”
The feature editor had given us a gift of a tour guide in English , “Where to Go and What to See” Although we weren’t in the league to have lunch at La Tour d’Argent or Le Grand Vefour or stop in for cocktails at The Ritz or The Cremaillere , we did find a grocery store and bought a bag of croissants, some cheese and a small bottle of wine. We sat on an Avenue Montaigne park bench , just across from Christian Dior.
It couldn’t have been a better description of two weary travelers at peace in Paris, relaxed on a park bench,, fleecy clouds above in a friendly blue sky, traffic whizzing by, pigeons gobbling up crumbs at our feet. The French talk about their liberty and national pride and we were getting an insight into what it’s like to be a French person. I was to learn more about their liberty in a short while, almost getting my face punched in the process.
I left the bench to get some marmalade from our saddle bag and I could see Rudi was striking up a conversation with a tall, slightly graying businessman, suit and tie, who was standing with his arms casually folded, as Rudi was flipping through my journal describing our trip in broken English, French and German. “Do you think you’ll get to the Congo?” the man was asking Rudi just as I arrived with the marmalade.
“This is my friend, Rohn Engh.” Rudi motioned to me.
He nodded to me and introduced himself as Louis Schwartz, an American employed at Dior as a shoe designer. “You fellows must be really having a time of your lives,” he smiled to me with his arms still folded.
him a croissant. “Thanks,” he answered. “I just came
As the three of us stood there talking, I couldn’t help thinking of the contrast, Mr. Schwartz in his fashionable suit and glistening shoes and whiff of cologne and we in our tattered jackets and corduroy pants and whiff of three days without as much as a shower. But I could see that was of no importance to him.
you get to New York?” He asked
around to clean up the paper bags about the bench , and over in the park
I noticed a woman staggering along the pathway. I thought
she needed help, at first, but after she weaved over to what looked like
a homeless man slumped on the sidewalk against a park bench I realized
she was drunk.
About the time I clicked the shutter I felt a poking finger tapping on my shoulder. What’s the idea? Taking a picture of that helpless woman? “ I looked up to see a plump, half-shaved face of a man in his early fifties.
was just taking a picture, sir” I replied as politely as I could.
I could smell
the foul odor of his breath as he moved closer.
Then suddenly, the struggle for the sleeve of the homeless man ended when it ripped from the grip of the tugging woman. Like a one year old, just learning to walk, she toppled backwards and fell on her ass. I couldn’t resist another r picture. Click!
I dogged around some of the men who had begun to gather to get her upright, and snapped another of the scene.
This infuriated my inquisitor who followed me as I walked away and all but shoved me to the ground. I knew now that he meant business. I tried not to show him I was afraid.
“I ought to take that camera away from you and break it up!” He shouted loudly, using the familiar tu in his French that meant an insult.
There was nothing I could do. He was right. I had invaded the woman’s privacy as an individual, her liberty. That was as serious as stealing from her. In France, I was learning you don’t do that. Or maybe on the rest on my trip?
A crowd was continuing to gather. I tried to pretend I wasn’t the center of attention. I started to walk slowly away from the melee. When I got a safe distance, I quickened my pace. A few black walnut tree pods hit me in the back and my head. I turned to shout something to them, but it only encouraged more pellets.
Rudi had been watching the whole scene and laughed, “Engh, you’re going to get yourself killed one of these days doing that!”
I arrived at the Vespa, a young American wearing a beret walked up to
us about the same time, “Hey! I saw that crazy scene. Like
you were too cool, man!”
PARIS AT NIGHT
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