Do you remember writing or getting letters from Europe on the thin blue stationery that also served as the envelope “Aerogramme – Par Avion”. When I spent ten months in France, I wrote over 40 letters to my mother and father (my mother so kindly numbered them as she received them).
To set the stage…
I had completed my undergraduate degree in French Literature in 3 years so I decided to spend my 4th year in France. Since I had no money at all to my name, and my parents steadfastly refused to pony up any funds, I had to figure out how to work while I was there. Through the auspices of the French government, I applied for an “au pair” (nanny) position in Paris. Then, at the mature age of 20, after my father so generously co-signed a bank loan so I would at least have money to buy a plane ticket, I went off on my own to Paris – knowing no one at all and with virtually no plans to speak of. ….
Here are excerpts from my travelogue letters…
September 24, 1977 (Luxembourg – Bien Arrive – Stop ) Postcard –Well, I arrived here safe and tired. I slept at a youth hostel last night, so I had to buy a youth hostel card. Maybe it will come in handy. Am waiting for the train to Paris. Everything is going very smoothly. Spending more money than I had estimated.
September 25, 1977 – (L’Arc De Triomphe et La Tour Eiffel) Postcard – I made it to Paris yesterday. I had to change trains twice but each time a guy helped me with my suitcase. Thank God for chauvinism. I wouldn’t have made it otherwise.
September 27, 1977 – I’m having a great time. I’ve been running errands like you have to do when you move to a new city. It’s been a lot of fun. Paris is so expensive you really have to look to find the cheaper places. Sometimes it almost hurts to eat.
I went yesterday to the Accueil Familial..I was slightly apprehensive at first; they seemed to be in a really run down place. But their office was okay. They sent me to a family immediately and I am going to try them for a while (8 days). The husband is working on his PhD thesis in economics and the wife is a secretary part-time. They have 3 children – ages 15 months, 5 and 7.
September 30, 1977 – “I’ve been having a great time here. Mainly just walking around and learning where everything is. I’m staying and working with a family who live in an apartment in the heart of Paris – a really great location for me. They live next to the Seine across from the Louvre & the Jardin des Tuileries – in the quartier next to Notre Dame, the Sorbonne, Musee de Cluny…
I find everything expensive (2014 note: some things don’t ever change!!) I’ll be paid weekly 140F, which is about 30$ per week. …I tried to send you a telegram but it was going to cost me more than $12 for what I wrote so I gave that up. I have yet to figure out how to work the phones.
Some of the things I have found interesting: Workmen everywhere. Almost every street has something torn up or something being restored. That’s the big thing – restoring old, ancient buildings and churches. Dogs everywhere and the results of them as well. They’re permitted in restaurants and that takes some getting used to. Big dogs too, lapping at your feet.
Paris stays busy at all hours it seems like; and it really feels safe. Especially this quartier (7ieme). The Couraults tell me it is one of the safest. But, don’t worry I am still cautious…