Christmas 1982 offered me the opportunity of a lifetime. It was the long-held wish to see Paris.
Four of us packed in tight in Marc’s Citroën 2 CV, the famous deux chevaux, driving through the night of Christmas Day (Saturday, December 25th), having left Perceval shortly after 21.00, Isabelle with her right leg still in a cast, in the front seat. Cisca and I stuffed into the back with luggage between and behind us and some in the small trunk. We cycled cassette after cassette through the tape deck—French chansons, Téléphone, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, the Cure, Simple Minds, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Supertramp (the live Paris album Isabelle’s favourite).
We followed the route du lac to Nyon, then inland through St-Cergue and the Col de la Givrine, and up through the Jura, crossing the border at a little outpost at la Cure. The lonely border guard gave just a quick glance at our passports—two French, one Dutch, one Canadian. Moments later, down we wound our way along the N 5 through les Rousses, Morez, Morbier, and St-Laurent-en-Grandvaux, stopping at Marc’s parents in Champagnole for late night pizza, red wine, and pear licquer, then southwest the D 471 to Lons-le-Saunier and the N 78 to Louhans and the D 978 into Chalon-sur-Saône, northwest the N 6 through Arnay-le-Duc, Saulieu, Avallon, and Vermonton into Auxerre, so far avoiding the Autoroute with its tolls. The fog was growing thicker.
Five kilometres north of Auxerre, Marc noticed the fuel gauge reading empty, the needle bottoming out in the orange zone. He remembered there was a rest stop and gas service on the A 6, the Autoroute du Soleil, just up ahead. We all prayed the last kilometre and in this peasoup could just make out the freeway entrance ahead. We sailed down the on-ramp and there was the rest stop. The 2CV sputtered about 50 metres from the pumps and died. We rolled her in, bailing for snacks and coffee inside while Marc fuelled up.
Then the unanimous decision was made to continue along the freeway, in time passing Orly to the west, our route feeding into the freeway that encircles Paris, on the southside of the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, between Porte d’Orléans and Porte de Gentilly.
We arrived close to seven in the morning, December 26th, at Marc’s grandparents in the 5ème arrondissement, their apartment in a stereotypical Parisian classic stone block building—I seem to remember it was just one block south of the Panthéon. Situated on the southside of the street, it is possible it was the Rue de l’Estrapade as we could see the Panthéon’s dome very close by—I think they lived on the fourth floor.
We received a warm welcome with café au lait, adding the baguettes that Cisca and I purchased fresh from the oven and still warm from a bakery around the corner, slathered with butter and strawberry jam, long pieces dipped into the steaming-hot soup bowls. We all crashed, each couple a bed—Marc and Isabelle sleeping away most of the morning, Cisca and I up again a couple of hours later, eager to hit the streets.
This was a six day holiday, one I will never forget, many sights seen, many arrondissements criss-crossed on foot and by Métro, often reminded of Le Dernier Métro and Le Ballon rouge.
Here I was with my Cowichan Indian toque, W.W. II-vintage blue-grey wool RCAF flight jacket with Canada flag, knee-torn and frayed straight-leg jeans, wool work socks of the grey and white with upper red rings lumberjack variety, and well-worn logging boots, the caulking and soles worn down, the sharp metal points blunted long ago into fat rivet-like nibs.
I remember with fondness Sacré-Coeur, Montmartre, Musée-Placard d’Erik Satie, Musée du Louvre, Jardin du Luxembourg, Notre Dame, Cimetière du Père Lachaise with Jim Morrison’s gravestone, only looking up the centre of la Tour d’Eiffel as it was closed for maintenance, the adjoining Parc du Champ de Mars, the restaurants we patronized, the Champs Élysées, l’Arc de Triomphe, Jardin des Tuileries, Musée Bourdelle, Centre Pompidou, La Défense, the many Métro lines, the Seine, the bridges, the many boulevards and streets, hitting cafés and bars for an apéritif, a glass of red, or an espresso—all these memories revisited years later when I saw Amélie starring the wonderful doe-eyed Audrey Tautou, placing it at number one on my list of top ten all-time cinema favourites, and returning to Paris (my wife’s first Europe trip) for three and four days bookending visits to Höhbeck-Brünkendorf, Hamburg, Berlin, Saint-Prex, Morges, Lausanne, Venezia, Firenze, L’Aquila and the Abruzzo, Beffi, Pescara, Sulmona, Roma, Genoa, and Nice.
We also drove down to Chartres for one day, about 96 km southwest of Paris, with a quick stop enroute in a small village a couple of kilometres west of our route about half way there. Marc delivered something at a friend’s house.
Cisca and I discovered and fit in all we could—first and foremost the famous Cathédral and adjoining streets and alleys, then fanning out several blocks to feed our hunger with croques monsieurs, glasses of red wine and chasers of brandy accompanying an unfiltered Gauloise each—until Marc returned from the long drive to Angers where Isabelle would stay, returning to Perceval several weeks later sans cast.
Our return to St-Prex started off in the early afternoon, arriving late Friday evening, New Year’s Eve, an uneventful ride, few words said as we dozed most of the way—coming to for bifteck avec frites and a glass of some local red, at a little roadside eatery somewhere enroute for Chalon-sur-Saône.