The 1st Time I saw Paris or How I learned French in the Hotel Bar
The last time was a few weeks ago. The next time will be in a little over a week, but there is nothing like the first time.
Of course I won't count the first night I spent near Paris, at the Airport Sheraton, or Hilton or whatever it was, because that would be the same anywhere in the world. I arrived at one of the busiest fashion weeks ever and there were no rooms in the city at all. The next day I was able to find a room near the Champs Elysées. Although I had toured many European cities a year or two previous to this trip, we did not come to France.
When awoke to hundreds of honking car horns the next day and the smell, not of croissants and espresso coffees as I dreamed, but diesel fumes, I was still really excited. You know what's great? Being really excited in a strange and beautiful city, with all expenses paid! And when I say all, it will taken on additional significance shortly. I recall getting breakfast downstairs and then strolling around with the other person on this business trip. We discovered all the stuff people discover their first time in Paris. The funny brooms the street cleaners use, the ones that looked like they were just green branches attached to a stick. The idea of a bakery every few blocks, and once the diesel smell wore off, the constant roasted coffee smell. But Pairs, while fantastic during the day, is really magnificent at night.
Especially when the night began with the young Egyptian hotel clerk explaining how he could get us beautiful girls for the evening and add it to the hotel bill in some non-obvious way. I have never paid money for sex. This was the third time I had the possibility of getting it paid for as a gift by someone else, but the idea didn't appeal to me, not in a Nebraska brothel, not in Rome, and not even in a Paris hotel. However my friend agreed to see the woman and discuss terms according to what he thought of her. With this arrangement being made, we took seats in the tiny bar.
There was a French-speaking businessman in a suit drinking and I answered his "Bonsoir" and nodded. He struck up a simple conversation in which I immediately misunderstood the first sentence "Comment trouvez-vous cet hôtel ?" as "How did you find this hotel?", to which I answered "in the phone book" or something. In fact he meant what did we think of it.
The drinks had loosened my self-consciousness to the extent where I suddenly flashed: "I am conversing in French!" This moment was surpassed by more important ones later in my stay, but for the moment I was enjoying this communication. Suddenly the room fell silent. All heads turned to the entrance of the bar where a slim, elegantly-dressed woman stood scanned the few men sitting in the place. This was literally decades ago, but as I set this down, I still get a chill thinking about that exact moment. This was then and is now still one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in person, just a few feet away from our bench. She was obviously of multiple origins, which, when it happens to take the best of each genes, will often produce great beauty. She was, I believe, partly Vietnamese, with absolutely perfect skin. I said she was slim, but she was not skinny. Her every feature, eyes, nose lips... was perfectly proportioned, and at this distance, this was not the effect of makeup. She looked over, walked up to us and sat down next to me, putting her hand gently on my leg in the most natural, but not provocative or vulgar way. Her voice reminded me of the voices of the lovely soft-spoken creatures of Tahiti. She looked directly into my eyes, evoking a feeling I will leave to the imagination of the reader, but it was what she said that surprised me out of the spell.
"Quel est votre signe ?" ("What is your sign?")
Of all the things a woman has ever said to me after the late sixties, when people would ask this 100 times a day, this was the last thing I'd expected from her. I then returned to my proud moment of mastering French, of which my colleague didn't speak or understand one word. I told her, "Cancer, but I am not the who..."
"Qu'est qu'on fait, alors ?" ("So what do we do?") Without gestures I told her "I will stand up, and you will sit next to my friend. The rest is a blur to me, because the significant part was, to me over.
The next day, I didn't ask. He didn't tell. But that evening stands out in my memory as one of the most pleasant French lessons I ever had.