07 Apr, 2010 | Posted by: photosource


Click on photo to enlarge


Click on photo to enlarge


Click on photo to enlarge


Click on photo to enlarge

My Story


The address said “Toby’s, 88 Rue Jacob, St. Germain-de-Pres.
I checked our guidebook. “That’s across the river. On the left bank, it says here.” I said. “Let’s try to make it. You want to?” I turned to Rudi.
Rudi answered, but not in a convincing way. “Ja, Engh, if you want to.”
I could see he wasn’t exactly thrilled by my suggestion, and I suspect it was because this guy, Toby, this “artiste” was not the element he had run into on his way to India on his bicycle, and certainly not the social strata he encountered among the hard-working coal miners in Duesseldorf. I think he would have rather spent the time checking out the tire pressure or the wheel alignment on the Vespa. Rudi wasn’t anti-social, it’s not that, it’s just that in the life he knew in Germany, it was a social environment that was very class divided.

He was aware of the carefree life that college students enjoyed in Europe. He had seen it in the movies. And he’d seen it in his travels through the mid-east and he’d seen these class divisions in India. He didn’t fit in. So he migrated more to the lower classes in the cities and the peasants in the countryside.

To get anywhere in the upper level job market in Germany you had to have an abitur – a high school diploma, and he had never gotten past the 8th grade. Back in Wuesterheide he was destined to become what his father did for a living, and what his grandfather was –a dirt farmer.
“You’ll like these guys and girls,” I said. But how did I know? I just said it anyway. I’ve never known anyone who didn’t ever graduate from high school. We all gravitate to our position in life, I guess. I realized then when I saw Rudi’s hesitation that he felt he would be out-classed at the party, just like I felt the strange feeling back in Holland and Belgium that I was outclassed -but this time it was by working people, the people who lived in housing projects or toiled in the fields.
This would be Rudi’s chance. He was being thrown into the fire of “upward class mobility” we used to say back in Maryland. It would be interesting to see how he would handle these exchange students.

Most of them would be American “beats” who had come to Paris to study. Those people are the dropouts, the young people who choose not to go along with society, at least, and the way they saw society was headed.

We did some more grocery shopping and spent some time ‘til late evening in the Bois de Boulonge, a big park in Paris. Rudi got a chance to straighten a minor problem on the Vespa’s steering mechanism. We weren’t really supposed to be doing motor scooter repairing in there and a gendarme came by and told us so but he let us stay when Rudi showed him the newspaper article.
When it started to drizzle we got under the protection of the chestnut trees in the park. Someone told us the aroma from the sweet smelling scent from the wet chestnut trees in the rain was really strong, like the aroma in a cigar store, but I’m not sure if that smell didn’t come from the fast women that were roaming the park for customers. Two of them were intrigued by our scooter voyage and each helped by shielding us from the rain with their umbrellas. We gave them each an apple from our grocery bag. Charming ladies!
On to Toby’s place. Rue Jacob was more an alley than a street. We rang the bell downstairs in the dimly lit vestibule. A concierge came to the door and squinted at us. “They’re in Number 5,” she said, “staring at our beards. She pointed at a window three stories up. It was closed but we could see shadows of people moving against the tan window shade.
We passed through a dark patio and entered into an even darker doorway that led to a narrow stairwell that creaked as we climbed. At the fifth floor we heard voices coming from behind a green door that had at one time a number 5 tacked to it. We paused for a moment and listened to the commotion. A late night party sound, like the fraternity house party from college days. I thought about turning around and leaving. I knocked on the door. No one answered. I heard the sound of a harmonica above the crowd noise and a guitar. Again, no one answered. We tried the door. It was unlocked. So we went in.
Two people had been sitting on the floor near the door. “C’mon on in” a girl shouted over the noise and she and her friend made room for us. “The more the merrier!” She said in English in an English-sounding accent.

Every one was so engrossed in their own personal conversations, no one noticed us. The room was about the size of a 2-car garage. People were scattered about. So much you could hardly see where the floor was. There was no furniture available to sit down so we walked over to a corner. No one looked up. No one paid attention to us. They all kept talking.

All of us were swallowed in a thick cloud of gray cigarette smoke. We stood there for a moment, wondering if we should stay. I don’t think anyone would have noticed if we would've walked back out.

Figures reclining on floor mats, cushions, and boxes. It looked like a frantic auction, with each person there the auctioneer. Girls with long uncombed straight hair. No cosmetics. Tight dark leotards. Men wore striped t-shirts or corduroy pants. Some with berets. I think those were the "artistes."

Most of them had beards some had goatees. The atmosphere was electric but it wasn’t happy. Serious, depressing looking expressions flashed about the room.

Posters, calendars landscapes, and sketches covered fading wallpaper that covered a cracked wall in need of repair. Some of the sketches were done right on the wallpaper. The room did have two windows, but there’s little chance that the renter saw any sunlight. Daytime was the time to catch up on sleep from the night before.

Toby came over and greeted us once he recognized us from earlier in the day. He had a wine bottle in his hand and two cups.
“You made it!” he said. “Cool!”

Toby waved over to a thin guy pouring the last drip of wine from a bottle. “Kurt, come over here.” Toby said.

Kurt was a tall, skinny, gaunt-looking American student studying in Paris, well-shaven and with a shock of black hair that was combed forward to meet his bushy eyebrows. He had been talking with a petite local French girl with short black hair. I figured she was either a dancer or an actress.
“Are you going to recite tonight?” Toby asked Kurt.
Kurt looked down at the girl who had wandered over after him. Before she answered, the room quieted down. A blond bearded guy opened a window and with a Clint Eastwood movie poster began chasing clouds of smoke out of the room into the Paris sky.

Want to read more?


No comments yet. You can be the first!

Leave comment

This item is closed, it's not possible to add new comments to it or to vote on it