We have a calendar in our kitchen that has a different picture of a landmark in Paris for each month. This month's landmark is the Arc de Triomphe. Turning to that picture this morning as I stumbled toward the coffee machine spurred a memory from May of 1975.
Kerry and I spent three days together in Paris in the spring of 1984. It may go without saying that we had a wonderful time. I mean, if you can't enjoy three days in Paris in the springtime with the woman you love, then you might as well hang it up . . . you're never going to be happy. That trip to Paris was not my first, however. My father and I spent a few days there nine years earlier. He pulled me out of my senior year in high school for a quick tour of Germany. After spending a week and a half seeing the sights in Hamburg, Berlin, and Munich, we took a flight to Paris and he introduced me to his favorite city. That was 40 years ago this month. Naturally, the memories are fading a bit, but I came away from that visit with some understanding of why my father, a man who grew up in rural Missouri, loved Paris as much as he did.
One evening in particular stands out. My father and I were walking along the Champs-Elysees toward the Arc de Triomphe and a giant party broke out. A Parisian team had just won some sort of national rugby title and the faithful were in full party mode. You could spot them because they were wearing the team's colors - blue and orange as I recall. People were honking horns, leaning out of car windows and cheering, and otherwise celebrating that day's victory. As we got closer to the Arc de Triomphe we noticed a white Peugeot station wagon parked in the middle of the Champs-Elysees and clogging up traffic for blocks. The back of the station wagon was open and it had a keg of beer in it. Several rugby fans were surrounding the car toasting each other. They were also toasting a bride and groom. The newlyweds, in full wedding garb, were standing just beyond the station wagon having their portrait taken with the Arc de Triomphe as a backdrop. Traffic had come to a complete stop as others joined the rugby fans and the newlyweds to celebrate with them. I was 17 years old at the time, and as I wandered the streets of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, my boyhood literary heroes, I happily imagined my life as an expat in such a remarkable place.
Years later, when I was writing The Heraklion Gambit, I inserted a short scene set in Paris in the spring during which Nick Temple and Vanessa Porter spend some quiet time together. The landmarks I reference are a few of the many I encountered both in 1975 and in 1984, because on both trips I was able to feel, as did Nick and Vanessa and undoubtedly countless others, "the transcendent experience of spring in Paris." And I'm thankful for the memory jar brought on by a picture in a simple but elegant kitchen calendar.