The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
I took Ellen with me to the 38th International Exhibition of Caricature, Drawing Press and Humor in St. Just-le-Martel , a medieval village 250 miles south of Paris because many of the cartoonists who were going were friends. And these desert rats had never seen Paris.
After my body scan the TSA guy pulled me aside. “You wear a colostomy bag, sir?”
“No. It’s fat. A muffin top. It’s all flab. Thanks for pointing that out.”
He patted me down. I didn’t care. I was going to Paris on France’s dime with mon cheri at my side, on our way to autumn in the fifth arrondissement. Whatever that means. I read a lot of travel books.
And I, the surly cynic, was prepared to be disappointed by an old, tired, dirty, crowded city. I complained about the language. I voiced my concerns about the French being rude. I even sank to bringing up their “misguided” love of Jerry Lewis. Ellen wore earplugs on the plane and smiled, and then the plane landed.
After one hour’s taxi ride to the heart of the Latin Quarter, to the Hotel Welcome, Bonjour, monsieur, and after unpacking, we dashed back out to take a 16-minute stroll down narrow streets, past aromatic bakeries and ancient bookstores, past the Saint-Michel Fountain, to the languid Seine, where Notre Dame reigned. I was smitten. ”We’re never leaving.”
I used the word “gentil” a lot. The French I encountered were kind. Gentil. Often, I swept my hand up across my heart suggesting my heart was full. Merci.
That week we would explore Paris with Pat Bagley of the Salt Lake Tribune, and his delightful Kate, and Steve Sack of the Minneapolis Tribune and his son and wife. And our best friends, Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj and his lovely wife, Lina. We and our muses sipped wine late into many a night. Did anyone draw, American nighthawks at the Parisian diner? No.
I loved being in love with Ellen in Paris. I was Pepe LePew for a week and half. Poor woman. Mon cheri bought Chanel pepper spray.
Wednesday, the day after arriving in Paris I attended the Very Serious Global Cartooning Forum, as a guest of France, at Paris’ palatial city hall with over a hundred kindred ink slingers from around the globe. Whether Indian, Swede, Bulgarian, Syrian, Israeli,Aussie or French the bond was instant. Among them, one young talented cartoonist from Turkey stood out. He was forbidden from returning home because of his cartoons. He looked lost, reassembling his life as a political refugee in France. The madness of such petty tyrannies haunted our gathering.
We railed about injustice under chandeliers. In the hall I asked the Scottish cartoonist Terry Anderson his thoughts on Boris Johnson just to hear his melodic brogue when he cursed.
I escaped the Forum to find a public restroom where I aligned myself with plumbing on the wall, and froze when I heard a woman in the stall next to me, gossiping, in French, on her phone. And then I saw a man washing his hands. The presence of women was jarring, then civilizing. Bonjour. More women came in. Bon jour, Madame. Brave new world, Excusez-moi, Madamoiselle. North Carolina Republicans would die.
Our Forum’s consensus? Democracy and the Press are endangered, the world’s gone mad and now couldn’t be a better time to break for wine and hors d’oeurves on a Seine riverboat in the shadow of Notre Dame, where Ellen and I watched autumn leaves fall like dying news papers. The Cuban bartender and I spoke Spanish. Ever present was the ear worm “La Vie En Rose” looping in my head since it was planted there by a cafe chanteuse the night before.
Ellen and I ditched the noble handwringing and walked along the Seine, on a fall afternoon, past bookstalls to the Louvre, then down the Champs Elysee (Their Skyline Drive) to the Arche du Triumph. (It’s bigger than our Rattlesnake Bridge.) Parisian dirt looked just like Tucson’s dirt. That was the only resonating similarity between Tucson and Paris. The City of Lights made me swoon. I happily overlooked the imperial exploitation that amassed this wealth. We sat for hours at a park bench watching the sun set behind the Eiffel Towers. When it’s lights twinkled on we had seen the perfect eternal antidote to the passing madness.
Little did we know it that on the next day madness would descend on Paris.
Read the conclusion in next week’s column.