In the 1950s, the popular American swoon singer from New Jersey, Frank Sinatra, wowed his public with his rendition of “I Love Paris”.
“I love Paris in the Springtime, I love Paris in the Fall, I love Paris in the Winter when it drizzles, I love Paris in the Summer when it sizzles, I love Paris best of all.
I love Paris every moment, every moment of the year. I love Paris, why oh why do I love Paris?
Because my love is here”.
A catchy melody, very romantic. I regret that I never sang it to my wife.
After the third day of our meeting aboard ZIM Line’s ship “Theodor Herzl” in Italy’s port of Naples, I invited her to meet me at the central offices of American Express in Paris near the Place de l’Opera.
We walked along the Champs Elysees, visited in the Tuileries, taxied to the Louvre and to Napoleon’s palace at Malmaison, and strolled along the ancient streets of Le Marais, a section of Paris frequented largely by Jews.
My soon-to-be bride was fascinated by the wide boulevards and the magnificently manicured public gardens. For her it seemed to be a paradise. We shopped for gifts for our parents. I bought kislav leather gloves for my mother and she bought 2 bottles of Replique, a popular French perfume with a strong scent as a gift for her mother, never knowing that her mother disliked the fragrance but did not have the heart to tell her. The shop, Chunn’s, was owned by an active Zionist named Nathan Alberman.
As he conversed with my wife-to-be (even though she did not yet know it) they discovered that he was a good friend of her uncle who headed the Jewish community in Roanne. Consequently, she was given a discount on her purchases. I was not.
Standing there and coughing heavily, one of the sales ladies came over to me and wrote down the name of a “cough medicine” which she thought would help me. The other salesgirls were giggling with glee.
At the nearest pharmacy I presented the note requesting the cough syrup. The pharmacist looked at me and asked who the medication was for. “It is for me”, I replied, “for a bad cough”. He asked who had given me the name of the medication and I told him it was from one of the salesgirls.
He smiled and said, “Excusez moi. Monsieur. This is not for a cough medicine. It is for women to use during their menstruation period. Someone has played a very bad joke on you”. A very bad joke indeed ! Rahel covered her mouth with both hands hoping that I would not notice her wide smile. But I did !
In spite of Frank Sinatra’s love song as a tribute to Paris, it was never one of my most admired cities. As a student living in Tours and commuting to class at the Universite de Poitiers, I had occasions to take the express train from Tours to Paris, a one and one-half hour trip. The Universite de Poitiers was founded in 1431 by Pope Eugene IV and chartered by King Charles VII. In the 16th century it ranked second only to the Paris Sorbonne. It was renowned for its school of theology and it was there that I attended lectures given by illustrious professors.
Guez de Balzac, Rene Descartes, Francois Rabelais and Sir Francis Bacon had been students at Poitiers.
Situated in the Loire Valley, like Tours, a land of magnificent castles and palaces, the region of France where the purest dialect of the French language was spoken, it was romantic and steeped in medieval history.
There were no Jews living in Poitiers but there were several living in Tours which had a small synagogue. One Friday night I walked to the center of the city and located the synagogue whose door was padlocked. A neighbor in a nearby building saw me and shouted to me, “C’est ferme. Le Dieu des Juifs est en vacances”…. It is closed. The God of the Jews is on vacation.
It happened to be a Friday in the summer months when the synagogue was indeed closed for vacations.
After graduating in 1958 with the degree of Doctor of Literature, I never returned to the region of the val de Loire and only twice to Paris. Once with Rahel and once alone.
I often think of our first dates in Paris, how we went shopping in Montmartre for etchings of the Eiffel tower, the Arch of Triumph, the bridges over the Seine and the intimate outdoor cafes…. etchings in frames which still hang on the wall over our beds.
Some weeks ago I was taken by surprise to receive an announcement in the mail of the 60th reunion of the class of 1958. Regrettably I will not attend but it might be possible that a few days in Paris strolling along its wide boulevards will bring back the glorious memories of the young lady from Tel-Aviv who shortly thereafter became my wife and who gave me 56 years of joy.
And I’ll try to hum Frank Sinatra’s love ode to Paris as I amble around its streets. C’est la vie, mes amis.