Parisian crash course

Paris, about fifty years ago.
After working in Amsterdam for three years, I wanted to go to Paris. As an artist illustrator I needed freelance experience. I also wanted to improve my French. I believe I left Holland in the winter of 1970, but I’m not sure. I was still in a sort of dream..

At that time I had a blue Fiat 850 coupé, (they seem to have since become extinct). It was cold and late in the day as I drove south.
In Belgium the roads were then cobbled in certain places. There was verglas. At one point the car slid hard against a high curb and the shock broke the front right disc brake. I could no longer use the foot brake and it was too late to have repairs done. In any case my budget was very tight. I therefore thought I had no other choice but to continue, and had to rely on the hand brake only. I was scared stiff, but fortunately at that time there was not a lot of traffic, so I succeeded in carefully getting down to Paris.

One of my sisters lived in the 16ème and kindly put up with me until I found and rented a small, virtually unfurnished pied-à-terre near le Bois de Bologne. (500 francs a month. Can you imagine!) I can’t remember buying any furniture so it must at least have had a bed. As there wasn’t a table, and I didn’t have a desk, I began by carrying out my illustrations, commissions for book covers, page illustrations and even film posters, on my square, black, suit-case on the floor!

In the mornings, for apparently a long enough period, I went to the Alliance Français for my French lessons. ‘Officially’ I was a student. I had no work permit or titre de séjour. But in those days, if a young man, (même un étranger) was caught with a girlfriend in a public park after it was closed late in the evening (for example) the police would, tongue in cheek, reprimand the young couple. They might not even demand identification papers. At least that was the case for me at one sweet time..
At the Alliance Française there was a canteen where one could eat quite well for very little cost then.
But in Saint-Germain-des-Prés one could order a menu of steak, frites, salad, a glass of red, sliced baguette and desert for about 10 francs, or plausibly it was even less. It probably was if, during that frugal period I could sometimes afford it.
Apart from that I regularly ate evening meals of sardine and tomato sandwiches.

Trying to get appointments for work was often frustrating as one had to use jetons to telephone in those days. Invariably one was kept waiting by a casual receptionist, (maybe varnishing her nails) so precious jeton time was too often used up fruitlessly.

At one time during this Parisian crash-course (that I would have recommended for all young people) I was quite ill. I had caught a severe throat infection. Eating became extremely painful. Tomatoes especially cause excruciating pain. I had a high fever but was lucid enough to know that I had to do something about it without delay. To this day I don’t know where I went, how I managed to find a doctor, or who he was, but miraculously, this was what occurred. I must have knocked on his door. As soon as he saw me he ushered me into his house. But I remember nothing. Blank. All I remember is that he cured me and expected nothing in return. NaturalIy I shall never forget that. A God sent saviour. Bless him, whoever he was.

Driving in Paris, round the Arc de Triomphe, for example, was a joy in August when most of the Parisians would have migrated south. One feels one has the whole city to oneself. And Paris was beautiful, very special then.

Work wise in Paris, as no doubt in all European cities, there were good people and less good people. The latter took advantage, and the former helped. It was thanks to those who understood and helped, that I was able to take my next step in life. But that’s another, very long, illusive, but certainly more creative chapter.

Text © Mirino. Top Photo with thanks to Coralie, line drawing/letter, with thanks to 'Nathalie'. June, 2021

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