By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 24 Apr 2023



1*0__Y7THZbc1JtGdi0du06w.jpeg One of the two pictures Sanita took on our three month trip to Europe.

Flying into Paris we asked a taxi driver for a hotel. He took us to a rather expensive one near the Louvre. It was morning and they had no rooms till later and told us to just leave our bags by the front desk, which we did with almost all our money in mine. As we wandered about, I began to worry but returning around noon the bags were still there with all sorts of people walking right by them in the lobby.

A similar piece of luck happened on our earlier trip to New York. We hailed a cab to take us to the train station from the Chelsey hotel, (not your safest neighborhood). Loading up I’d forgotten one bag right on the sidewalk by the curb. I realized this just as we unloaded at the station so I told the others to wait and told the cabby to rush me back to the hotel to retrieve it. As he sped back he told me there wasn’t a chance in hell that the bag would still be there, not on that street. But there it was as we drove up, a thing he called a ‘miracle’.

Not willing to pay a hundred a night at the posh hotel, Sanita and I walked the streets to the suburbs and she found a bed and breakfast in a cute house some four kilometers from the river with a weekly rate which came out to forty dollars a night. We took it and walked everywhere, all day it seemed most days, but we loved it.

Then we hit the jackpot of places to stay, by sheer good luck. There was a hostel in a four-hundred-year-old, five story stone house in the old quarter of the left bank, on one of the few winding streets left, never modernized, narrow, cobblestone lanes and every building ancient, crooked and leaning, and to us wildly romantic with a historic strangeness that sent you shivers. We spotted the hostel sign and entered a dim and almost damp stone room. At the desk, a young woman tells they rent bunk beds, two sets to a room for eight dollars a night to student travelers, and that they are almost always full. We almost left but I asked one more time if they had anything else. She tells us there is one room at the very top, with a sink and toilet to it and a double bed, but it’s twenty dollars a night so no one takes it because of the price and the long walk up the narrow, circular staircase.

We see it and instantly rent it, a lover’s den with its old, creaky, sagging brass bed, stone walls and floor and one slit of a window looking down to the street. The walls (you could see from the window opening) are three feet thick, the toilet and sink look a hundred years old but we love it all. A small table and chair are the only other furniture, and one small bed stand with a light. The whole room is only ten by twelve. But all we need it for is to sleep and to make love. This is where our child is conceived, Will, in a four-hundred-year-old room, where Baudelaire or Gerard de Nerval or Paul Verlaine might once have slept.

We stayed there two months, in the bristling center of the left bank, just a few minutes walk to the river and its book stands and food stands, and the Notre Dame.

Sanita began taking French lessons two hours each morning while I visited the Pompidou library. By noon we were together for lunch, then free to roam all afternoon, to the parks and museums and stores, or just sit at some sidewalk street bistro when tired to watch and admire the Parisians go by, in all their stylish attire. I had planned a budget of a hundred dollars a day. We ate cheap for lunch, gyro shops or sandwiches in coffee shops, which left us about forty dollars for dinner which in 1986 got us through many fine doors for delicious meals. And the wine everywhere was cheap and excellent, state subsidized.

One night we stumbled into an American bar on the Isle de France near the Notre Dame and met a young Brit who was teaching English by day. He was talkative and polite and became our frequent nightly companion, showing us other great bars and places. Sanita befriended a cute seventeen-year-old blond from Nevada. She had money, her parents were rich she told us, and they’d sent her there alone to get her out of some kind of trouble which she never revealed. But she was clueless there, like a lost puppy, an anomaly and way out of place, with no French and no friends and nothing to do. She had no interest in parks or museums and no idea of history or even where she was. Sanita bumped into her in some clothes shop trying to speak English to a clerk who couldn’t understand a word. Sanita introduced herself, couldn’t help it, but they became fast, almost inseparable friends.

After that she was with us most days, waiting for Sanita to come out the door where she took her French lessons. Then I’d meet up with them for lunch at some pre-arranged cheap restaurant or stand along the river and we’d go on walking tours, to parks and museums. I did most of the talking, trying to fill their heads with at least a bit of Parisian lore, with little success.

But whenever we passed a boutique window, they were all agog, insisted on going in and spent their time, (and mine, as I sat and waited on some bench) going through every rack of clothes with excited, interminable talk of fabrics and fashions. My only consolation was to ogle all the lovely French women who came in after or rise and help them when they picked out things and needed a translator at the counter. Sanita was frugal and I never questioned her few purchases. Her friend never went back to her hotel without at least one full bag.

I remember an amusing and embarrassing occasion. I was sitting and waiting, bored, when one particularly hot babe walked in, dressed and perfumed to the hilt, while Sanita and her friend were just a few feet away, examining and feeling every item on several shelves of stockings. The woman, whom I assumed was Parisian from her stylish dress, walked straight to a rack, picked out some piece, then to the counter in front of me to purchase it. I thought her outfit, (and her figure) was impeccable, her high-heeled, black boots, her mini skirt, her white chemise and purple vest, except for one detail. She was wearing black, fishnet stockings, an item of clothing I always abhorred as ridiculous, I don’t know why. Perhaps I thought it belonged on a fishing boat.

Now Sanita and her friend were eyeing just such hosiery and I said aloud: ‘please don’t buy anything like what that woman is wearing. They look absurd. It ruins her whole outfit.’ As soon as I say this the woman turns her face to me with the most intense, hateful stare and without even looking at the counter girl says, in perfect English: ‘you take MasterCard, don’t you?’ I blushed a deep red and the girls snickered, while the woman made her purchase and stormed out, purposely brushing her bag against my knee as she left. I was half expecting a slap or a kick.

Never assume anything of linguistic abilities from a person’s dress.

But back to our little blondie. She was simpleminded, naive, gullible and had the prettiest, innocent face of a young blonde. Adding to that she glanced about as she walked like she was always lost, (and probably was), with a confused look, begging help and directions. I wondered how she hadn’t been kidnapped, ripped-off or raped, as she’d been there a month before us, just wandering the streets alone.

Shopping was her only interest. But she still couldn’t quite fathom French money and I had to explain to her Francs versus dollars. She bought clothes and jewelry daily. We often ate lunch together. A few times she had dinner with us, always paying her own fare and asking me what tip to leave. She didn’t drink, though she’d sit in a bar with us, late afternoons. But most nights, right after dark, she would just disappear with her bags to her hotel. We never asked where.

What baffled me most was her situation. What kind of cruel or crazy parents could just fly such an innocent to a far-off place, full of dangers, with no contacts or relatives waiting to take charge of her. It was like setting a babe in the woods. She couldn’t even tell us when she was going home. She didn’t know. She was waiting for a telegram or letter, she said. We left before she did. She reminded me of Mary Beth from my first Starry Plough days. I probably should have called her father myself and had some words with him. But she was purely Sanita’s friend. I was just a bystander often shaking my head in disbelief.

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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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