Monday, December 22, 2003

The first time I saw Paris
In the summer of 1986 I cashed in my Bat Mitzva winnings and took a plane to Europe. On that trip I visited England, France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. But the focal point of my trip was Paris.

I got off the train in Paris at five o’clock in the morning. The first thing I saw was an elderly drunk lady, being brutally hauled out of the station and thrown into a police van. Then I went to the toilets, where I encountered the most elegantly dressed lavatory attendant you have ever seen.

I had a great time there. I knew my way around in no time, and even managed to get along with the Parisians with my non-existing French. I couldn’t hide behind my shyness there, you see. That’s the beauty of travel. I had a little Berlitz phrasebook. Once they could see I was making an effort to speak French, it turned out they could speak English after all. The friends I met up with, veterans of the Alliance school in Tel Aviv, did know French, but were far too self-conscious to use it. So I was the mouthpiece, funnily enough. Not knowing French turned out to have its advantages. I couldn’t understand what some of the men on the street were saying to me. I could tell it wasn’t very nice.

What seemed strangest to me about Paris on that first visit, something that really baffled me, was what I didn’t see, because it wasn’t there: Probably the most important building in Paris, the city’s most significant symbol – the Bastille. I just couldn’t grasp its absence, even though I was aware of the historical facts, having read all the right historical novels.

Today, older and more aware of the vengeful and destructive nature of man, I am far more surprised that the Russian revolutionaries had the wisdom and foresight to prevent the destruction of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.