C.W. Gusewelle

From a year in Paris, a friendship for decades

A gargoyle watches over Paris from the top of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
A gargoyle watches over Paris from the top of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The Associated Press

Give your heart to Paris and, one way or another, that glorious city will be with you forever.

It was 30 years ago that I went with my wife and our two school-age daughters to live for a year in a rented apartment two blocks from the Seine and write my column from there.

Every day of that year was rich with new experience. For me — committed then to three essays a week for The Star — the words never came more easily.

Some of the memories are indelible.

One is of a Saturday morning spent prowling through shops and book stalls on the Left Bank, when it occurred to me to pass several minutes in the Cathedral of Notre Dame at a time when it would not be crowded with worshippers.

Entering that magnificent structure, I was met immediately by choral music of a beauty I’d never heard before.

I would later learn that, by wonderful accident, I’d happened into the church as the Vienna Boys’ Choir was rehearsing for a concert that very evening.

But there were other memorable strokes of luck.

One was at the Longchamps horse racing track, located in the Bois de Boulogne, the grand urban park not far from our apartment.

On a golden autumn midday, with the weather lovely and the bright fallen leaves of the chestnut trees crisp underfoot, we took the pleasant walk to the track and found we’d gotten there before the horses ran — so early, in fact, that there was only one other spectator in the grandstand.

I approached him, thinking I might want to place a wager of a few francs, and asked him in my stumbling French how the betting system worked.

“You may speak English,” he said — his own English scarcely accented. His name, he told us, was Herve Marc.

The afternoon’s races were fine to watch, though we picked no winning horses. Afterward he led us for dinner to his favorite restaurant — a little cafe named Le Coupe Chou, on the Left Bank, where the roast duck and red wine were outstanding. It was a splendid evening, but it was only the beginning.

Every Thursday in the eight months that followed — until June and the end of our Paris year — he telephoned to ask what part of France we’d like to see that weekend. And each Saturday he came with his car to take the four of us, Katie and me and our two daughters, for a tour through one or another of the regions of his country that he believed we would find of interest.

Is it any wonder then that his friendship and those weekends we spent together are — and will always be — landmarks in our lives?

The sense of that came back with force at a meal we shared one recent evening — just family and friends — at a small but elegant restaurant in our own city — one whose menu is incomparable and where French is freely spoken.

And as long as the evening lasted, we could believe ourselves in Paris once again.