University of Minnesota

“If It Isn’t Fun.” – Paris Impressionism

• The beret is an infinitely satisfactory garment: snappy, susceptible to many combinations of poses, warm without a sweat chamber, snug enough not to be snatched away by a coup de vent, yet highly portable in a coat pocket. And it costs only five francs!

• The ancient hospital elevator is made by Otis and moves slowly, yet it is known to flee suddenly elsewhere before the manual gates can be opened. The call lights for the hospital must be the work of an enlightened amateur, with kaleidoscopic color images assigned to the specialist on call. Matched designs on visible panels at the hub of each floor blaze forth in garish colors — but silently. They’re far superior to the noisy loudspeakers used in our hospitals stateside [prior to electronic paging].

• French automobiles no longer appear buglike to me as they speed about, maneuvering stylishly among bicycles, pedestrians, motorbikes, locomotive wheelchairs, grand and shabby horsedrawn carriages, and sundry pushcarts. The public buses are quaint Toonerville Trolley-like machines that can be entered and departed by acrobatic leaps to and from a rear platform. Passenger seating is restricted, the priority determined by numbered tickets obtained from a vending machine. Pregnant women (les femmes enceintes ) and the war-wounded (les blessées de guerre ) are given permanent priority.

• Vistas in Paris are shockingly delicious, particularly on climbing to the light from the dim bowels of the Metro. This morning brought the bright  glare of an almost-forgotten sun on the fresh, glistening streets. The twin buildings guarding the Trocadero, Le Palais de Chaillot and Le Museé des Hommes, are modern and symmetrical with graceful statues, silhouetted handsomely against a ground-glass sky, along their flanks. The dark steel of La Tour projects vertiginously through the mists.

• From Le Trocadero (Place d’Alma), a high-walled old street leaves at an obtuse angle rising toward L’Etoile like a ship’s prow. One muses how perfect a life might be lived in a corner apartment overlooking Le Trocadero and La Seine, as if happiness were really determined by where one is situated.

In these fancy parts of town with their old and expensive apartments, the people one passes in the streets are largely maids, concierges, and streetcleaners, with an occasional loud-mouthed, blond tourist on the way to the permit office or American Express. On balconies one sees the ageless scrubwoman, a rag around her hair, flicking her dust rag over the rail. After she polishes the floor, the final touch is made sliding over it with her light house-slippers. Shoes are discarded on entering the hallway of all proper houses and replaced by classic, comfy pantouffles.

• London has its fog, Paris its brouillard, a still, impregnable mist. Buses creep along through it, but Frenchmen in private cars speed unconcernedly down the avenue, sounding loud claxon calls, flashing their bright yellow fog lights, squealing their brakes.

Journal of New Year’s Day, Paris,1950

On New Year’s Eve, I had the duty at the American Hospital following a long season of holiday parties of no consequence. After duty hours, and at the stroke of midnight, the night staff partied with what I felt was forced levity. Fatigued, I “lost it” on champagne and doodled on my clarinet into the early morning hours.

January 8, 1950

The color and charm of Paris in winter are endless, but we long already for the legendary Paris spring.

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