Nov 14th, 2008 · Categories: France, Personal, Travel · 9 Comments


I love Paris.

I knew I would love it before I ever set foot in its streets. I knew it my junior year in high school (1961-1962) when I took my first French class. Last May 21, my wife Debbie and I stepped aboard the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse – France’s 200 MPH passenger train) in Strasbourg, France to begin the final leg of a journey that began in Springfield, Illinois 47 years before.

When I was 16, the French language seemed unspeakably sexy to me. The thought of learning it was wrapped in the vague, lusty fantasies of a Midwest teenager. Our teacher, Miss McFadden, did her best to teach us to read, write, speak, and understand French, and some of it stuck with me. I never forgot how to conjugate a handful of verbs. I still remember a brief tribute to the month of March and its often unexpected turns: O que mars est un joli mois, c’est le mois des surprises. The language worked its magic on me, hinting at a world beyond the corn and soybean fields, beyond the grand metropolises of St. Louis and Chicago, a world that revolved around – Paris!

I took two more years of French in college but they seem to have left no lasting impression on me. (To be honest, little of my squandered undergraduate career penetrated my indifference to higher education, at least little of an academic nature.) No matter; like Roy Neary’s vision of the Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I had an image planted in my consciousness. My mind harbored the ghost of a place I had never visited, a place that nonetheless beckoned to me over time and distance.

Oh, I had seen pictures of Paris. I had seen movies set in Paris. I studied paintings hanging on walls in Paris. I knew la Tour Eiffel when I saw it. I had read Sartre and Camus. I had sung folk songs that celebrated life in Paris. I knew a lot facts about Paris but I didn’t know Paris. I hadn’t experienced it on the ground, conversed with it (however uncertainly) in its native tongue, smelled or tasted it, absorbed its colors or its sounds. Like a fond memory, the longing to be there quietly occupied its corner of my mind, occasionally prodding me and reminding me of its presence.

After being invited to leave college for the final time in 1967, I lived in St. Louis and Chicago – and in New York, and San Francisco, and Provincetown on Cape Cod, and Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, and in a lot of places in between. They were all fun or interesting or satisfying places to live. I didn’t pine for Paris. I enjoyed those places; they just weren’t … Paris.

As the train crawled through the suburbs of Paris, I searched the skyline for the one landmark that I could not mistake. We had been in France – in Strasbourg visiting expatriate cousins – for five days. But only one thing would make my presence in Paris real. And then I saw that tall, familiar silhouette in the distance. I knew from my 47 years of preparation for this trip that the the grand Champ de Mars lay at its feet, and that just on the other side was the river that had been flowing through my dreams, la Seine.

My recently-resumed study of French (and the foresight to write down the address of our hotel) saw us from the train station to l’Hôtel Beaugency near the rue Cler without difficulty. That evening we celebrated our arrival in the City of Lights by dining at l’Altitude 95 restaurant on the first observation deck of its most famous structure. At any other restaurant in any other city, I would have said the food was good but seriously over-priced. But the end of a 47-year journey deserves a once-in-a-lifetime commemoration at a meaningful location. It was perfect.

I spent ten more days falling in love with this city. A normally picky eater, I resolved to eat whatever was put in front of me while in France. I was never disappointed. Six of those days were spent on a walking tour of the city. I have never been in a city where every street corner entices you away from your planned route. And when you finally tire of walking, the Metro waits a few blocks away to deliver you within blocks of your destination.

Debbie and I just returned from a visit with the cousins who have now been repatriated after four years in Strasbourg. Talking about Paris and writing about Paris are a far cry from being in Paris. But – for now – I can talk and write about where I’ve been, not just where I want to go.

These and other photos from Alsace, Paris, and Switzerland can be seen here (still many more to come).

This entry was posted on Friday, November 14th, 2008 at 3:50 am and is filed under France, Personal, Travel. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “Paris!”

  1. HoosierTalk Says:

    November 27th, 2008 at 4:01 am

    Nice pictures Mr. Jones.

    France does look pretty impressive especially the Eiffel Tower, kind of reminds me of the first time I saw the Statue of Liberty in person..

  2. Grumpy Says:

    November 27th, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Thanks. I still have a few dozen more to get out on Flickr. I’m going to confess – I lived in Manhattan for a year without ever seeing the Statue of Liberty. I was young and stupid at the time. Now that I’m old and stupid, I wouldn’t miss it.

  3. HoosierTalk Says:

    November 29th, 2008 at 2:22 am

    Yeah unfortunately they don’t let you go past a certain floor anymore. I remember the first time I went I didn’t go all the way up which I sort of regret now as you can’t do that anymore, so in my more recent trip I missed out on that yet again.

  4. anotherlinda Says:

    February 12th, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Your wife was right — your Paris blog entry really takes the reader to France….without having to buy an airline ticket. I’m grateful your wife passed along your url to my readers. I am sure they will love your posting.

    Since Paris is for lovers, I wonder if your readers would like to hear about my recently published romance comedy, SEEING RED? You can read about it at http://anotherlinda/

  5. Grumpy Says:

    February 14th, 2009 at 12:25 am

    Thanks. I hate to correct a visitor (especially a complimentary one), but the URL should be

  6. anotherlinda Says:

    February 14th, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Thanks for correcting my link. Such a careless mistake on my part. Happy Valentine’s Day!

  7. Gounthar Frankfurt (France) Says:

    September 6th, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Dear Mr. Jones,

    as an average Frenchman, I thought I knew Paris. You managed to make me feel like going there once more to see it another way.

  8. Grumpy Says:

    September 6th, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Thanks for the kind words. It’s true that there’s nothing like seeing a city for the first time. The good news is that sometimes you get the opportunity to see a city for the first time – again. That was my experience visiting New York 30 years after I lived there, older if not wiser and this time showing my wife around.

  9. Grumpy Says:

    January 23rd, 2015 at 3:20 am

    Regrettably, l’Altitude 95 restaurant is no more. It appears that it has been replaced by Restaurant 58 Tour Eiffel:

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>