After dining sumptuously at La Coupole in Montparnasse, I took the metro to the Opera station near Place de l’Opera and Rue de la Paix. A short stroll brought me to 5 Rue Daunou—Harry’s New York Bar, which stood elegantly as it has since 1931. Downstairs in the Ivories room I met up with my brother and a pair of his Marine Corps friends.
It was the summer of 1959. I had just graduated from Yale and was enjoying my first taste of Europe. Paris was for me relatively inexpensive since I had free food and lodging at the quarters of the Marine Embassy Guard, one of whom was my aforementioned brother. My parents had gifted me with spending money and joined Kevin and me for the first two weeks of the summer. At this point they were back at home in California.
The Ivories was presided over by an American piano player named Charlie Lewis, with whom I had become well acquainted after several visits. Charlie was interested that I was about to assume a California secondary school teaching assignment involving instruction in English, French, and varsity basketball. He loved to discuss the intricacies of English and for several years sent me copies of Punch and other
British magazines that exhibited a precise and elegant use of the language.
“Excuse me. You have a beard and look interesting. May I talk to you?” The asker was another American who was alone listening to Charlie’s music. Ann was blonde with striking blue eyes and about my age. She too was doing her first Europe thing
that summer. Of course, I acceded to her request and a friendship was established that ran to six or seven casual dates.
After chatting, singing along with Charlie, and hearing Bob Kilroy’s brilliant drumming on the seat of a wooden chair to accompany the piano player’s rendition of the Souza marches, our group decided to move on to less toney surroundings on the Left Bank, The Café de l’Abbaye on Rue de l’Abbaye.
This nightspot was owned by Americans Gordon Heath and his iifelong partner Lee Payant. The two entertained as folk singers. The Rue de L’Abbaye contained a number of residences, and to keep the noise down Heath and Payant had instituted a rule that there was to be no applause other than the snapping of fingers. More than a half century later I can still hear in my memory their renditions of “Sinner Man,” “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” and Lee’s solo on “Sam Hall.”
Before going to our hotel and barracks, we walked through Les Halles, the open air market, and capped things off with the traditional soup and white wine around 3 AM. Ann became something of a regular in our group. She was so slender that the Marines referred to her as Skinny Minny, though not in her hearing.
Ann was a northern Californian and lived with her parents in Burlingame, not far from the Menlo Park school at which I would teach for two years. I took her to one or two parties at the Marine quarters on the top of 98 stairs (no elevator) at 3 Rue Rouelle near metro station Quai de Grenelle. The undisturbed view of the Eiffel Tower from the balcony was stupendous.
All good things must come to an end. Late August was the time of my return student charter flight. I don’t remember why but our plane was delayed overnight in Amsterdam. Everybody else had loaded up on tax free liquor at the Paris airport but they couldn’t touch it. I had bought mine at the Paris PX and had it with me in the Dutch motel. I turned out to be a very popular fellow.
I had been teaching a few months when Ann called me to invite me to dinner at her parents’ home. It was pleasant to relive our Parisian experiences. Months later I was teaching my final class of the day when the student who collected the absence sheets stood outside my window waving at me. I interrupted my instruction and went to the door. The all-male students got a roar of laughter when I exited to greet
Ann, who had not warned me she was coming.
At class’s end I went to Ann’s car to be introduced to her cousin Sally, a senior at Stanford. Ann said she was going to San Mateo to see her boyfriend who was entertaining at some night spot. “Why don’t you come . . . and bring Sally,” she said.
It was the same tone she had used for “You have a beard and look interesting. May I talk to you.” Sally, whom I had just met 15 minutes earlier, blushed purple and turned away.
Paris, they say, loves lovers. No, I remained just friends with Ann. After a long courtship, Sally has been my wife for 48 years. Had I not been at Harry’s that night, I likely would never have met her.
We stopped in Paris in 1966 on our way to a teaching job I had taken in Istanbul. Heath and Payant were still going strong on the left bank. Charlie Lewis at George and Harry’s was sad to see I had shaved off my beard. He fondly remembered brother Kevin and all the Marines then departed from Paris. He spoke of Sgt. John Greeley’s ceremoniously shedding his trousers to Charlie’s musical accompaniment. John had on a bathing suit underneath. I must have missed that night.
Today Gordon, Lee, Charlie and even Ann are deceased. Café de L’Abbaye is gone but Harry’s endures. It was supposedly the birthplace of the martini, the bloody Mary, the sidecar and other cocktails.
It’s time to go back while we are still able.