Paris, 1969

Paris, 1969

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It was a sign: walking though the old Sky Host
Inn in Atlanta, a husky Edith Piaf singing “La Vie en Rose” gave me a
taste of France before I even left the States. It was June 1969, and I
was a 20-year-old small-town southern girl all alone on her way to
Europe for the first time: first to work in London, then on to the
continent. I wasn’t going on the Grand Tour wearing my pearls; I was
wearing a Villager suit, carrying matching luggage and the travel bible
Frommer’s Europe on $5 a Day.

Quelle
horreur when I arrived in New York – all those students traveling on my
charter flight had on blue jeans (but from Bergdorf’s) and were
carrying backpacks. Nobody wore blue jeans in the South except for
work. I introduced myself to a girl from Indianapolis by saying “We
need to get to know each other because we’re the only ones dressed like
this.”

I might have been Snow
White when I left the US, but by the time I returned, I had strayed!
Landing on home soil, I was wearing the top to a pantsuit that barely
covered mon derrière and a pair of $2 sandals bought in Berlin.
Scarlett had left the plantation!

When
I left my job as a typist at Selfridges in London, a new male friend
(not boyfriend) and I boarded a boat train for the trip to the
continent. The more affluent passengers had sleepers that transferred
to the boat at the Channel, but we had to physically swap over
ourselves, first from the train to the boat and then back again to the
train at Dieppe. We arrived in Paris at 6:30 a.m. on July 22nd, full of
thoughts of “oh-la-la.” I had studied French for two years in high
school; Sandy knew all of “Carmen” in French, so we knew we could get
around par excellence à Paris! The wonder of youth!

We
walked and walked in the St.-Germain area looking for a hotel listed in
THE book. Our first learning experience: combien des lits? The price
depended on the number of beds! After a fit of laughter, we figured we
could share a bed for $3 a night. The room was four flights up, the
bathroom was on the floor below, but we did have a sink in our room.
The matching luggage had been left behind in London, and my belongings
for a month, in a tote, included a piece of plastic and a sponge for
bathing – this was good planning, for a bath was 80 cents. I’d bathe at
the sink, then sponge up the water dropped on the plastic. My next real
bath was when I hit the Mediterranean five days later.

There
were no formidable gastronomic memories for a $5-a-day traveler.
Sharing a lunch of shredded carrots, cucumbers, cheese and bread, and
une bouteille du vin for $1.10 each was our idea of a wonderful picnic.
We’d spread thick paper towels from American Express, get out the Girl
Scout collapsible cups and the knife/fork set, and delight in our
setting. A park bench provided a great nap site after the wine. We
found Restaurant Jean on the Boulevard St- Germain that served 2 splits
of wine, beefsteak, spaghetti, potatoes, salad and all the free bread
we could eat for $2.20 – dinner in a real restaurant for the price of a
picnic at lunch. The flies were no extra charge. We’d always have a
bottle of wine in the room to put us to sleep after laughing over the
day’s experiences.

Student
artists on Pont Neuf had drawings on the concrete asking for money. The
chairs at Luxembourg Gardens were always full. The 1/2 ounce of
Shalimar perfume bought at Guerlain cost $8. The bathrooms at the Air
France terminal had waist-high stalls that men and women shared, but
when you gotta go, you gotta go! Le Chien Qui Fume and Les Halles were
open for that bowl of onion soup late at night.

When
I walked down the street at Versailles, my southern politesse showed.
Polly Platt not having written Savoir Flair! 211 Tips for Enjoying
France and the French in 1969, I smiled and spoke to everyone. Bonjour
Madame, Bonjour Monsieur. A handsome man dressed in a powder blue
one-piece leisure suit said to me “Bonjour, Mademoiselle.” Anybody who
had ever heard him sing “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” would have
known him – Maurice Chevalier! His hair was as white as his pictures,
his smile as illuminating, and he was carrying that cane. He gave us an
autograph, but being total tourists as that point, we forgot to take
his picture.

My diary details
every cost for my trip to Europe that summer. The train from London to
Paris was $16.80, the total for 6 days in Paris was $42.05, which
included six cents for use of toilet and lavatory, thirty cents for
admission to Versailles, splurge of egg custard twenty cents, coke on
the Champs-Elysées for forty cents but only twenty cents elsewhere,
$8.00 for Shalimar, $3.20 for historical books and prints, $7.30 for
postcards, stamps, and cables. After deducting the books and mail
items, my per diem for room, food, and tourist expenses (luggage
storage, toilet, metro, etc) for the six days was $3.93/day. (Please
note in November 2003 I overspent this amount – considerably!)

Paris
in 1969 still had the Robert Doisneau qualities, but in color. It was
easy to tell the different nationalities, it was not such a homogenized
world. No matter that I’ve returned to Paris many times, that first
visit gave me a taste of what life could be – and I’ve never stopped
living. Vive la France!



Deborah
Head first went to Paris in 1969, and has returned many times
since. Just the air in France “gives me reason to live”. Click below to
read her full bio.

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