Now that I’m staying with my sister in a house with cable TV, I’ve had access to TCM (that favorite of everyone over 60 and movie buffs alike). To my surprise, the other night they showed the documentary, “Le Joli Mai” which brought back a flood of memories of the time I spent in Paris years ago.
My college graduation gift to myself was a return trip to Paris, where I’d spent a year abroad studying. The promise of the trip got me through the seminar on war, my study of Russian, and a tutorial on French writers, so by the end of classes I was more than ready to escape.
Before I left Buffalo, I dreamt of the name Lamartine. Thinking there might be some meaning in the dream, I looked him up and read about his political life in the second republic and a few of his poems which were less than inspiring.
But when I got to Paris, chance would have my finding the Hostal Lamartine and its cast of characters. The first person I met Josip, followed me as I was going out for the evening, carrying an umbrella and walking me to the metro so I wouldn’t get wet. Josip was on a special grant from Croatia ( then, Yugoslavia) and his preferred snack was poitrine fume, a kind of fatty bacon. He also helped me wash my hair in the sink of my tiny room.
Then there was Max, a professor who had been sent to learn French so he could teach it along with the German he was fluent in. Max had grown up in Indonesia and lived in just about every city in the world. He made the tourists at Pere Lachese cry when he recited the poems of Heine in German. The three of us, Max, Josip, and I went on picnics in the various gardens of the city. Josip claimed my French was better than Max’s though Max had the formal study and I was just hanging out talking to everybody.
The last figure was an elderly man who was a permanent resident of the hostal. He was one step away from being a clochard (the politically incorrect word would be bum). Michel would come to my room and spin his tales all the while letting me put my cigarette ashes in the cuffs of his pants. Michel told me we’d get the patron (not sure who that could be) and his car. We would drive to Brittany and eat crepes and drink rich thick milk. When I left to return to the US, Michel had tears in his eyes.