An American Senior’s Year of Adventure in Paris and Tuscany
In 2007 I reduced my law practice to a few hours a week, and after a
lifetime in southern California, moved to Boston to experience life on the
east coast. I loved Boston, its art, music and history, and not needing a car.
But I had always yearned to experience living in another country. I
considered Mexico and Italy, both of which I had thoroughly enjoyed when
I visited briefly, but it was Paris that was calling me. I had visited twice,
and Paris was so magical, so civilized, so foreign.
I had re-invented myself as a writer, having written more than a dozen
short stories and several essays, and I had almost finished a memoir about
my journey to understand my role in the destruction of my three marriages.
If Boston is a writers’ town, Paris is the quintessential.
So, in spring of 2010 I completed my legal work, totally retired and
prepared to move to Paris. I decided rather arbitrarily that two years would
be the ideal amount of time to soak up French culture. After selling, giving
away or storing all of my stuff that wouldn’t fit into a large backpack, a
medium suitcase and a computer bag, I obtained my Long Stay Visa from
the French Consulate and took off for Paris.
As a writer, it was second nature to keep a journal while I was in
Paris. I also started two blogs, one on travel and another on divorce
As so often happens when one undertakes an adventure, I was in
for a lot of surprises, and writing about them enhanced the joys and
softened the challenges. I stayed for a about a year and spent the last
month in northern Tuscany. In spring 2011 I returned to California.
The most popular posts on my travel blog were excerpts from my
journal, even eight months after the final post. I revised it to make it more
readable and decided to publish it. As I read and edited my journal, I
relived many wonderful experiences, including the art, culture and history
of the civilization that spawned America’s and the challenges I
encountered in living abroad. Themes that kept reoccurring were eating,
walking and writing. So I had my title. I am thrilled to share my
adventures with you.
One Saturday about 8:00 I got on the Metro and headed for
Montmartre. I had been there in 2007 and remembered it for its music.
When I looked around after getting off the Metro and climbing what
seemed like a thousand steps, people swarmed the streets that looked like
a hip Disney World. Unlike my neighborhood in the Fifteenth, where
people always seemed to be going somewhere—to work, home, to visit a
friend, out to eat, to the grocery store, the boulangerie or somewhere––in
Montmartre, whether walking briskly or strolling, they just looked around,
like they were trying to find something or somebody.
The first two cafes I spotted had no empty outdoor tables. Within a
few yards I heard a dozen languages spoken. I found a café with an empty
table, ordered a small pichet of white wine and began people watching.
The first thing I noticed was that there seemed to be few American
tourists. Most were European. I wondered if it was the effect of the
American recession. A young couple sat on the ground a few feet away,
resting, speaking Spanish. Two bottles of wine sat between them.
Couples walked by, wives or girl friends pointing at things. I don’t know
what. There seemed to be nothing around except cafes and across the way
a park with huge trees that covered the entire park, the type of park you
see in European cities and on the east coast of the United States, but not in
southern California. I remembered walking on this street, Rue des
Abbesses in 2007. It felt different not being a tourist—more relaxing—no
need to be in a hurry to see anything. I have two years to see whatever I
want, I thought. It was a relief to not be studying French in my apartment,
though I had my notebook out and glanced at my French vocabulary from
time to time.
A man walked by in light brown leather pants, a darker brown leather
vest, a beige hat with a brim not quite as wide as a cowboy hat, a dress
shirt and a red bow tie. He walked by several times, the last time carrying
a baguette. He must live here, I thought. I wondered what it’s like in
winter when there aren’t as many tourists. I would find out. The tables
were pushed together as close as possible, touching. Had I understood
more than English, I could have heard everything the couples around me
were saying. Most of the people were couples. I saw few people alone. I
guess Paris is a couples sort of place—the city of love, or is it light? It’s a
good thing cigarette smoke doesn’t bother me. A dozen people within 20
feet were smoking. A lot of Africans walked by, some in native costume.
I didn’t know if they lived in Paris or were tourists. It’s sad that the
French don’t treat their African residents any better than we do, maybe
I saw a lot of people pointing to some steps nearby that descended to
another street. When I finished and paid for my wine, I walked down the
steps and followed a street to the right. There was Pigalle. I had heard
Pigalle in recent years—maybe not so recent—had turned into a place to
watch and perhaps get sex, and I noticed pictures and ads for lap dancers
and nude shows and the like. I walked a couple of blocks. It all looked
the same. As I waited for a signal light, a young man approached me and,
in English, asked me to come to his bar down the way and have a drink.
He said there were pretty girls there. Why not, I thought, so I followed
He took me inside, standing close to me, but not quite touching me.
He pointed to a booth with black curtains that could be closed. I sat
down. He said the drink would be ten euro. Just then an attractive
brunette, nicely dressed in black, about 35, I guessed, sat down next to me
and started talking in English. I don’t remember what she said. I do
remember her putting her hand on my thigh. That finally jarred me to the
realization that the place was a brothel. I thanked her and got up. The
man who had escorted me came rushing over along with another woman,
with a very short skirt and low cut blouse. They both urged me to stay,
saying they would provide me with another woman. I told them no, that I
had decided to leave and rushed out, clutching my bag to my body. They
followed me to the door, urging me to stay, but didn’t physically restrain
me. I sighed when I got out the door.
I walked back to Montmartre and heard music coming from a bar. I
went in and sat down. It looked like a hip American bar from the ‘90’s.
Looking around at the male couples, I concluded it was a gay bar, but
nobody was paying any attention to me, except the female bartender, who
asked me in English what I wanted to drink. I ordered a Margarita. Soon
after, a young man sitting at a table with an older woman announced in
French that it was his mother’s birthday and in her honor he was going to
buy everybody—about 8 people––a drink. The bartender told me in
English, but I had understood what he said. I didn’t want another drink,
but didn’t feel like I could refuse. I sat at the bar, nursing my drinks and
listening to the band playing a little French music, but mostly American
music from the ‘70’s.
At 10:00 I was hungry and asked the bartender to recommend a good
seafood restaurant. The place she recommended was crowded, but they
accommodated one person. It was noisy and smoke filled—I had an
outside table. I ordered a salad, escargot and mussels, and they were
delicious, but expensive. I couldn’t afford it often, but I felt like I had been
out to the part of Paris where the artists used to hang out, even if it was
now mostly a tourist destination. I appreciated the history.