Memories Of France

PARIS, on the way south we had stayed for a couple of days in Paris. Sophie’s friend had told us of an hotel in the Rue Du Caire, the red-light district, which was closer to our budget than most. Being on a B&B basis we had to take our meals elsewhere. We tended to buy the food near the hotel, to leave the rest of the day free. Sophie would go into the shop and I would stand outside with the girls. One day Linda and I had been watching the Ladies plying their trade, they were standing row on row in tight satin dresses, disappearing with men from time to time into a small hotel opposite the shop. I was quietly timing them and being amazed at the through-put, when Linda, aged 12, hit me with a question I should have anticipated. ‘Daddy, why are all those ladies standing there?’ she asked innocently, staring with interest at the ladies in question. ‘Ah’, I said floundering, then I decided to give half the truth, she would learn the rest soon enough. I explained they were waiting for their men friends to take them into the hotel. Mercifully Sophie rejoined us and we went off sightseeing.

I suffered one culture shock at the Notre Dame. I might have been lethargic about religion to the point of rejection, but old teachings die hard and I had been taught to respect the worship of others. We visited the Cathedral on a Sunday, and found a stream of people going in and out. It was only when we were inside, in the middle of the noisy scrum consisting of excursions, sightseers, people leaving, assumedly having worshipped, people going in to worship, that we found a service in full swing. It left me with a recurrence of the vision of the inside of the Temple in Jerusalem as I had imagined it when as a child I had been told the story of Jesus and the usurers. I had expected the calm and hushed atmosphere of St Paul’s, augmented even, because it was Sunday.

Brush With The French Police In the 50’s we were on our way home. I had looked at the map and knew I was on the main road.. I drove along it, and passed another, angling from the right, giving a cursory glance because of ‘priorite a droite’ , when a Gendarme stepped into the road and made us go into a lay-by. It was cleary a regular occurrence – he had that practised air about his arm-waving. ‘Now remember,’ I said to the family, looking meaningfully at Soph, ‘we don’t understand French, and I’ll do the talking’.. The policeman told us we had breached the highway code and he was going to fine us some astonomical sum. I explained in pigeon French – what else? – that we were on a main road and showed him the map to make the case. No sale. The argument went on for ages as I had no intention of paying a fine and he was steadily getting more heated and Sophie was getting more worried, especially when he threatened to take us to the next town and impound the car. The fact that there was no ‘Halt’ or other sign obviously meant nothing to him, he was probably on a percentage. ‘Say nothing,’ I said to Soph, ‘Let him bloody well take us in, I’ll make an international incident out of it.’ That went down like a lead brick, but just when a real decision was about to be made, along came another miscreant in a Deux Chevaux, who had to be stopped.

The copper was having a field day – that was until the car door opened and a shapely, long, silken clad leg issued, attached to a beautiful, blond dolly-bird – then it was he who had a decision to make. She had a mate who was even prettier if that were possible. Oh! La la! Poor Frog!! He remonstrated to them next, explained; they smiled and she moved the leg, he looked back at us, we looked innocent, and, believe it or not, straight faced, he capitulated, we went on our way. The last we saw was him leaning on the roof of the car breathing garlic fumes into the little Deux Chevaux.

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