My First Romance in Paris

My First Romance in Paris
In the days when transatlantic travel was by ocean liner, and a visit abroad was more likely to be a year than a weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to France with a group of female students aboard the SS Frandre. . I loved the rough seas-the high, rolling waves and the way it affected some people on the ship. Many chairs and tables had been bolted down, but I found a free seat that slid against the wall as if it were on wheels. The glamorous shipboard routine of extravagant services, elegant French meals, party games and dances had been upset, but not the high spirits of our group. The last night before docking at La Havre, the sea was still quite choppy, but we did not notice. It was the Gala Evening and we danced on the weaving floor until three in the morning. For the length of the cruise, we six college girls had no shortage of male companions. At my table was Marcel, a French Canadian, who was immediately recruited to give us French lessons. Chuck, who had just graduated from Yale, was a playwright and a poet going abroad to see “life”. Theo, a German, had a charming deep accent and was shy, but not too shy to steal the occasional kiss. We didn’t take he or any other boys seriously because, as Chuck would say, “Shipboard romances, like séance trances, are rather dubious.” The next morning we disembarked and headed for Paris via train. We arrived at the terminal at two in the afternoon. There to meet us, to my astonishment, was Allan. Allan was not a boyfriend; he was more like a charismatic, teenage crush. I had worshipped him from afar since high school, as did many other girls. He was a musician and a Master of Ceremonies at all events and concerts at school. And though I knew him in school, he was three years older than I and we had never dated. Stationed in Europe with the U.S. Army Band, he had arrived the day before, staked out the Hotel Saint Germain, and researched my travel arrangements. Since no one else had come to meet us, Allan gathered our group together and took charge of the baggage and the navigation of Paris. That afternoon, he took us all on a little tour. The Seine was two blocks from the hotel, a little farther down the river was Notre Dame and on the other side was the complex of the Louvre. Somehow, we had managed to find ourselves alone and before the night was over Allan and I walked together on the banks of the Seine, beginning to become reacquainted. The next day Allan sent the girls off to tour Versailles. He and I walked through the Tuilleries, scattered the pigeons in the park, watched children play with sailboats, and examined the rows of French titles in the bookstalls. We saw the morning sun illuminate the rose windows of the Notre Dame. Sound and color filled the cathedral’s cavernous interior, while organ music of Bach reverberated through the stone and glass. We climbed the Tour Eiffel, walked to the Arc de Triumphe, and took the Metro to picturesque Montmartre. We reached the Sacre Coeur at sunset and viewed Paris from its domed towers. My feet aching, I tossed off my Capesios, and waded into a fountain in front of a church, legs clad only in nylons. It was one of those spontaneous acts, typical of youth. I looked into Allan’s eyes, and I knew that was the moment that he fell in love with me. In their travels, one of the girls had made contact with the famous, blind organist Jean Langlais. He invited us all to the Sunday services at St. Clotilde and took us up to his organ loft, which was once that of the composer Caesar Franck. “Give me a theme for improvisation”, he requested. We all looked to Allan. He hummed some notes, to give him a theme, upon which Langlais built a fugue. The thrill of his powerful, rich music; its beauty composed for us, brought tears to my eyes. After a festive dinner with the group, Allan and I went to the Louvre. As the organ concert had made Allan’s morning, my knowledge of art history made the afternoon mine. I swiftly and efficiently led Allan through the maze with a running commentary on Giotto, DeVinci, and Rubens. Then in a small room I came upon a 15th Century fresco. I had seen it before, dispassionately rendered in reproductions- La Pieta de Avignon. I stopped awe-struck, for minutes unaware of Allan or anyone around me, moved to my soul. I said nothing. Allan, with his artistic temperament understood. He stood to one side and watched me and appreciated the art through my joy. That night was our last together. We spent it over chocolate at the Café Deux Magots, quite aware of the romantic situation that we had entered into. We emerged arm in arm, easily mistaken for honeymooners. “We will have to wait until we meet in the States to filter out the influence of Paris.” I told him. I had taken to heart Chuck’s poem and adapted it to this moment: “Parisian romances, like séance trances, are rather dubious.”

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