The Corner

Euroderb (Cont.)

You come to Paris as ill-disposed as you could possibly be, your head full

of anti-French prejudice (imbibed, in my case, with my mother’s milk), and

the darn place just goes and seduces you. If Rome is unlovable, in spite of

everything it has going for it, Paris is unhate-able, in spite of its being

the capital of France. In a day of pleasant experiences, we yielded to only

one brief spasm of Francophobia. Standing on line to get into Notre Dame,

Danny asked me why the figure of Christ in judgment over the central portico

has both arms raised, palms outward. I gave the Francophobically-obvious

answer. Yes, Im ashamed of myself.

Not that French people are much in evidence here in August. The first few

people we interacted with here were: Turks (owners of the only restaurant

open when we arrived, after midnight – very cheerful & friendly & cooked us

a fine meal); the Francophone West Africans who run our Montmartre hotel;

and the Moroccan guy in charge of the local Internet café. We took dinner

in a Chinese restaurant near the Eiffel Tower, the proprietor a mainlander

from Zhejiang Province. He and Rosie sat happily chatting in Chinese. (Are

there many tourists yet from the mainland? she asked. He doesn’t see many,

he replied. They’re coming, but mostly in tour groups – i.e. not restaurant

customers.) The French decamp from Paris in droves during August, of

course, as the Romans do from Rome. Still, even allowing for this, one gets

the impression that the beating commercial heart of this city is not very

Gallic.

A day of heights: up to the top of Notre Dame south tower, then up the

Eiffel Tower. The rest of the day we mostly spent on one of those open-top

tourist buses with headphone commentary on the sights – a very good way to

get the basics across to the kids, and very relaxing in the divine Parisian

weather. Everyone – including the occasional Gaul we meet – is very

friendly and helpful; manners, contrary to everything you hear, are

exquisite; the city is clean, orderly, and obviously well-run; the sights

are all efficiently tagged and signposted; there is a surprisingly high

proportion of beautiful young women manning (womanning, I guess) ticket

booths and information desks; English is widely and willingly spoken;

nobody has stolen anything from us; and the weather is heavenly. We sat in

the Tuileries yesterday evening and watched a flamboyant sunset over the

Place de la Concorde. I’ll say it through gritted teeth, but I’ll say it:

I love Paris.

My French is astonishingly serviceable, considering that I did just one year

of the language, and that the year 1956-7. It’s an easy language to

pidgin-ize. You just take the English for whatever you want to say, shuffle

the words around according to what you can remember of French grammar,

substitute appropriate pronouns and articles, and — voilà! “Acceptez-vous

le carte credit?” It probably sounds hilarious to a French ear, but who

cares? The meaning comes through. My stock has risen considerably with my

kids, who now regard me as an accomplished linguist.

I miss the opera connotations that add flavor and spice to Italian, though.

Every time I saw a fire extinguisher in Rome, with the word “estintore”

attached, I got a little flash of that lovely melancholy aria from La

sonnambula: “Ah, non credea mirarti, si presto estinto, O fiore…” and

so on. Not many such poetic echoes with French.

Another day of sightseeing here, then off through the Chunnel back to

London.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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