Remembrance of Things Past…

Memory is such a miraculous, mysterious, and elusive thing. It’s the glue that supports relationships and links us to the past. Quicksilver. A slippery source of joy and recollection. A place we go for love and safe haven, sometimes true and sometimes false.

Occasionally the picture of a street or restaurant embeds itself securely in my memory but when I revisit the scene later the reality doesn’t conform. Often, I discover the restaurant I pictured so clearly on one corner is on a different corner two blocks away.

These thoughts were triggered today when I discovered the crew hotel I stayed in as a young Pan Am pilot was just a short distance from the apartment that Marilynn and I are renting in Montmartre. I had “forgotten” about it until I saw the name – Hotel Terrass – on an advertisement in the neighborhood.

It’s been years since I thought of the Terrass. It was different than most of our crew hotels. I remembered the rooms as small and old fashioned, but today when I stopped by it was not at all as I remembered. The lobby is quite elegant, polished marble floors and blond wood paneling, with a small bar tucked in the back, period furniture throughout. So much for my memory.

Nevertheless, the visit triggered a related memory – not exactly Proustian, but my madeleine – my recherche du temps perdu.

It was 1967 and my first trip to Paris as a Pan Am pilot. I had been to Paris earlier when I was bumming around Europe on my own. I felt like I knew it well. I had walked from one end to the other, and on this first Pan Am layover I was anxious to reconnect with it.

The crew bus drove us from Orly and dropped us at the hotel mid-morning. I was excited and anxious to see the city again. I would have gone out alone, but Paris is better if shared. There was a beautiful Japanese-American flight attendant named Margaret on the crew so I asked if she would like to have dinner that night. She said yes and we agreed to meet in the lobby after we caught up on our sleep.

I didn’t have a plan, but the neighborhood around the Terrass is famous for its bistros and small food shops and within a block we found Le Basilic, ivy covered and inviting.

Le Basilic 3

I don’t recall what we ate but it was a beautiful spring evening in Paris and I had a lovely companion to share it with.

As we were finishing dinner, and not wanting the evening to end so soon, I remembered a Cave bar on the Left Bank. I’d discovered it a couple of years before. It was just off Boulevard St. Germain. I thought I could find it and asked Margaret if she was up for extending the adventure. She was, so we descended to the Metro and headed across the river.

I don’t know its name; maybe it didn’t even have one. I found it by accident when my friends and I saw a couple going in an unmarked door on a narrow street near Odeon. When I asked the doorman if it was public or private he didn’t answer but looked us over then stepped aside to let us in. It was our go-to place for the next few nights.

Some internal navigator led me right to it again. We knocked on the door, were checked out, descended some stone stairs and entered a series of small rooms carved out of the rock. It was just as I remembered it; small round tables, trendy young professionals, and very expensive Cokes. Margaret and I listened to the chatter and danced to the DJ’s latest playlist in what must have been a wine cellar in medieval times.

Cave Bar -chez-georges

As we talked and danced to the DJ’s mix I learned that she was from San Francisco where she trained as a ballet dancer. In her early 20s, she gave it up and hired on with Pan Am to see the world. She was tall for a Japanese woman, quiet and stately, very self possessed. As we talked, time was suspended and by the time we left the Cave it was early in the morning.

Despite the hour we were wide-awake, so I asked if she wanted to see the famous wholesale’ market at Les Halles. She was game so we jumped back on the Metro and made our way to Les Halles. I had never been there, but knew it was famous for its market stalls and small cafés. I was having a great time and wanted to keep the night alive by finding a café with French onion soup on the menu. We wandered through the market for a while watching the produce, meat, and seafood vendors set up for the morning. Eventually we found a counter where we sat on stools and slurped our onion soup amid the hustle of vendors and smell of morning coffee.

It had been a busy 24 hours and we were starting to feel its affect, so we flagged down a cab and made our way back to the hotel. We said goodnight just before sunrise, and that afternoon flew back to New York. Our paths never crossed again.

That Paris evening was magic for me. Margaret was the perfect companion, and though we never met again, she will always be part of a special memory. Les Halles is gone too, along with the late night onion soup and gesticulating food vendors. I feel lucky to have seen and tasted it. The wholesale market moved to the suburbs in 1971 and was replaced by an underground shopping precinct with an open-air sunken sculpture garden. I’m sure it’s lovely but it isn’t Les Halles.

Remember, Margaret, “We’ll always have Paris.”

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