The Corner

Gay Paree

In yesterday’s Impromptus, I recalled a terrorist incident from 1982: The Abu Nidal people, probably, attacked Goldenberg’s delicatessen in the Marais district of Paris. They killed six people, including two American tourists. More than 20 other people were injured. Just a day’s work, or a moment’s work, you know.

Well, I have a letter from a reader, which I just can’t resist sharing with you. The 1982 incident was grim, but the letter is gay, recalling events from long before. (Sometimes I miss the old use of “gay.” Sometimes it really is le mot juste. But now — gone with the wind.) (There used to be a golf champion named Gay Brewer.)

Okay, the letter:

I was living in a cheap pension in the Latin Quarter that filled up with American college students in the summer. One Sunday, I was talking to a couple of American Jewish girls and I told them about Goldenberg’s on the rue des Rosiers. They didn’t really believe that Paris had a delicatessen, so I offered to show them.

Two amusing memories of that day:

We were eating lunch at Goldenberg’s and a woman at the next table heard us speaking English. She turned and asked us, in a strong New York accent, “So, you’re Americans?” We confirmed that we were. (Remember, now, Paris was known as the culinary capital of the entire world.) She then said, “Isn’t this place wonderful? It’s like an oasis in the desert!”

Okay, here’s the second story, the second memory, though that one’s hard to top:

After lunch, we bought some bagels and asked about cream cheese. The waiter said that the closest thing in France to cream cheese was a product called Samos 99, which we could buy at the laiterie just up the street. When we arrived there, the woman behind the counter was talking to a customer, and they were speaking Yiddish. I asked in French for Samos 99, and she snapped, “We don’t have it.”

As unlikely as it may seem, I had learned passable Yiddish while serving in the Air Force, stationed in Arkansas. A housemate had a mother who sent him clippings from the Jewish Daily Forward. So, I switched to Yiddish and said, “But they told us at Goldenberg’s that we could buy it here.” The women looked startled — I look about as Gentile as it’s possible to look — and she said, “What did you ask about again?” I said, “Samos 99.”

She turned around, plucked it off the shelf, and handed it to me.

Life can be beautiful, when extremists, whose oxygen is hate, aren’t trying to kill you.


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