Copyright © 2003 by Martin S. Reff
All Rights Reserved

December 10, 1987, Paris

Dear Mother and Michael,

So far we have spent three days and three nights in Paris. We've done a tremendous amount of walking, but haven't been sightseeing. Our first room was in a fairly nice small hotel. In fact all the hotels that I've seen so far are very small. The elevators only fit two people at a time. I can go up with a suitcase, but we can't both go at the same time up with our luggage. The staircase curves like in the Statue of Liberty. Our first hotel was the Hotel Dickens. Paula made the reservation so we would have a place for the first night. It was clean but had two single beds the size of cots in a sixth floor, garret room. You looked out of a slanted window in the wall and saw the chimneys and roofs of the city. I felt that I was really in Paris since it was the image of Paris that I had from the movies. I liked it, but it was expensive and the room was the size of a postage stamp.

We spent the day walking around looking for another hotel. Many offered us a room for one night but not for 5 or 6. Eventually we found this one on Boulevard Saint Michel. The first night here I was so tired I could sleep on nails, but this is the second night and this mattress must be 30 years old and the springs are popping through. Perhaps we will look for another hotel tomorrow.

We are one block from the Seine and the book stalls, two blocks from Notre Dame, and just across the river is the enormous city police station. Today we went to two police stations, the American Embassy, the American Consulate, and Merrill Lynch. We need an identity card which we knew about but it looks like we will have to duplicate everything we did before! Our French friend Chantal is going to help us. Everything is so complicated. Last night we had dinner with Chantal and had a great time.

We visited the boat show yesterday but didn't find any brokers with lists of used boats. Picked up some publications with boat ads, but haven't had any time to pursue the ads. From a distance we saw some canal boats on the Seine and we'll visit a marina this weekend.

We've been on lots of metro trains and some buses. Martin manages very well, however it took us awhile to figure out the ticket system and the money. He had forgotten from years before. I think I am beginning to understand the money.

I managed to buy stamps which was for me a major accomplishment! I even bought a shower hat, un chapeau pour la douche. Today I got this writing paper and envelopes. I am able to figure out some of the signs - lots of ads for American movies and products I know - haven't seen a laundry yet - found an adaptor for my hair drier.

Paris is full of cafés - glassed in during the winter - tiny cups of coffee - but you do get a decent size pot of tea. In the restaurants that we have been in they play lots of American music. Tonight we ate in a tiny French restaurant and they played country and western music!

The city is very big: hordes of people, cars all over, no parking lots. They park on the sidewalk. At night they park in the middle of the street. I couldn't believe my eyes.

We are near the university so there are lots of students and many bookstores. Around the block is the Greek neighborhood with at least a dozen Greek restaurants. We stopped to listen to the music. The band played Happy Birthday to someone. They also played Greek music, but I don't know if they sang in Greek or French! On each block there is a stand where a man makes crepes and people buy them to eat like Americans get hot dogs on the city streets. The restaurants don't open until 7:00 PM so if you are hungry at 4 or 5 you have to eat on the street. There are a couple of McDonalds and Burger Kings open all the time.

It is cold here, but I have a very warm coat and hat and gloves. The French don't dress correctly for this weather and they walk around looking very cold. Our first day here must have been the first cold day because we saw 2 or 3 people looking at and stamping on the thin skin of ice that had formed in the gutters. None of the people were wearing hats but street vendors were busy selling scarves. Today I saw a few hats.

It's exciting being here. Now if we can only conquer the bureaucracy we can start boat hunting.


December 17, 1987

Dear Vonnie and David,

We've surmounted our biggest obstacle today. We acquired our police identity cards, a temporary "carte de sejour." After filling out six application forms, providing six photos, two letters of financial resources - in duplicate, a doctor's certificate, etc. in the United States and having been granted the long term visa, I ignorantly thought we were home free. However in the passport, stamped on the visa, it says we must report to the police within eight days and get a carte de sejour. We made trips to three police stations, two trips to the Office of American Services at the Consulate, two trips to Merrill Lynch, one phone call to the United States office of Merrill Lynch - much worry..We acquired new letters of financial resources, a rent receipt for eight nights in our hotel, notarized statements by the American Consul, new photos, xerox copies, etc., etc. We finally received a "convocation" (a summons) to appear at the main police station on Dec. 17, 1987 at 11:00 AM. The fact that the police building was used by the Nazis and has dungeons and torture chambers and looks it, of course does not daunt us! To go near or in any consulate, police station, Embassy, etc.practically requires a strip search.

This morning we arrived at 10:00 AM, waited outside on an enormous line until 11:00, then got into the courtyard and waited on a line in the courtyard until 11:45. Then we made it into a vestibule, which was only the first circle of hell. We presented our passports to the guardian of the gate and got papers to fill out. Then we got admitted to the waiting room. There were no signs or information, but lots of refugees. Africans, Asians, Arabs everyone and anyone who wanted to stay in France. Of course 12 noon is lunch time so half the clerks left. Names are called. French names, African names, Asian names, Chinese names, Algerian names, etc. It doesn't matter. You couldn't recognize your own name any way, the sound system is so bad. After your name they say guichet (gee- shay), meaning window and a number from 1 to 16. Try as I could I couldn't hear the numbers either!

By this time I wanted to visit the restroom. At 2:00 PM I ask the guardian of the vestibule. I can ask a simple question in French, it is understanding the answer which is impossible for me. I interpreted his answer to mean that I should exit the room and go to another part of the police station! After waiting from 10 AM to 2 PM to get into the room one doesn't want to leave, but I found a back door and succeeded in finding the restroom and then snuck back through this back door. At 3 PM our names were called by St. Peter! But Martin had to go to one window and I had to go all by myself to another. And my French is limited to a vocabulary of 25 words. The woman was nice and tried to communicate with me but when I tried to find my four photos among all my other papers I couldn't. They were lost! She told me to go back to the section of the station were the toilettes were and I would find a photo machine. Actually there were two photo machines. I had two 10 franc pieces. I went into a booth and put in a coin but I moved during the picture taking process. Since it said that developing took five minutes and I was panicking I decided to take another set, so put in my second and last coin. I then got out of the booth to wait for the pictures and while waiting discovered - to my horror - that I had taken color photos. What I needed had to be black and white. Now I had a 20 franc bill but had no idea of how or who or where to ask for change, but somehow managed, and took a third set of photos. This was getting expensive!

I rushed back, snuck in the back door again, and gave in my photos. Then we waited some more until our names were called again. At last we received the golden fleece, our very own temporary carte de sejour. Eventually the final ones get sent to the address we gave as a residence, which is only the hotel we are presently staying in. So we will have to come back here or somehow manage to get them.

On our way out I showed Martin the restroom and the woman attendant hands me my original photos! They had fallen out of the folder of papers I had been carrying.

At 4:30 we collapsed in a café and had a hot chocolate. But we had a great evening. Tomorrow we will pick up the rental car and Martin is going to try to survive in Parisian traffic.



December 24, Flers in Normandy

Dear Mother and Michael,

We left Paris on Dec. 23rd. Things have been delayed, first due to getting our legal papers and second due to our health. We have both had horrible colds that have been very exhausting. I thought I was getting better, but I had to stay in bed this afternoon. I read an article that said airplane air was the culprit for spreading germs. But that was a couple of weeks ago. The weather in Paris was always damp and overcast with very few hours of light and practically none of sun.

But on to other subjects. On our last few days in Paris we found the yacht basin at the foot of the Blvd. de la Bastille. (The Bastille was torn down but there is a monument.) There is a canal lock from the Seine into a 4 or 5 block long marina in the canal, right in the heart of Paris. A nice building houses the dock master's office, yacht broker's office, small marine store, laundry and bathrooms. The broker had only one steel boat to show us right there and the fiberglass boats were overpriced.

We found another place selling boats, but Paris is not the place to get a boat, which of course we knew. We had only come because of the Paris Boat Show and to get some leads. One lead gave us the name of a man in Normandy who had two steel canal boats. Martin called, but then because we were both sick we didn't leave until the 23rd. It has been an unbelievable experience. The first was just exiting Paris! All roads lead to Paris - just try to find the one you want, while in the midst of Paris traffic, in order to leave. We planned our route with care but then took what the Fates decided. I saw the outside of Versailles! We didn't plan to, but at least enjoyed the sight. We really weren't far from where we wanted to be.

We had a good road through the country side and the small villages. The visibility was not the best, but good enough. The villages were lovely, rolling country side, lots of cows and horses. Versailles to Houdan, Dreux, Verneuil, L'Aigle, Huras, Argental, Briouze and then Flers in Normandy.

We met this bearded young man at the gare (railroad station) in Flers which is in the Orne province on the Normandy peninsula south of Caen. We didn't know where the boats were because the nearest river or canal was fairly far from Flers. We followed him to his house. It was extremely foggy and you could only see a few feet each side of the road. We followed him for 10 minutes and then he turned into a farm road to a little village of 9 stone cottages. He is rebuilding and adding on to his. There is one large living room with a fireplace and a large plank table. The kitchen is off to the side and he is in the process of finishing another big room. I went upstairs to the bathroom. There are probable two bedrooms upstairs. Big TV, VCR, and small computer that seemed somewhat out of place. His wife couldn't stay long. I believe that she was teaching a gymnastic class.

She had prepared a lunch for us. She put out a plate of herring, a big loaf of bread, cooked some potatoes and small steaks! Then there was cheese and coffee.

The man, Lionel Heuze, speaks quite a few English words. He had been to England recently to pick up a boat. He used to work as a boat mechanic. He had bought two old boats - 40 feet long (12 meters) in Marseilles and had them transported by truck to an abandoned iron mine building nearby and was in the process of rebuilding them. Then he would put them back in the charter trade. We drove to this huge, barn like building and found one boat inside and one outside. He had just started working on the one inside but I could tell that he was good. The engine was out, a small British diesel, and he was installing lots of new parts. He was sanding and recoating the steel and going to add stainless steel cleats and stanchions to the deck. He had redone one head with a new shower, etc., and was refinishing the inside cabin wood, and replacing kitchen equipment. We were impressed. Although the boat looks horrible now you could see how it would look later. We spent a lot of time and went back this morning. If we bought it he would fix the cabin the way we want it and put in heat, etc. But we want to see what our money will buy in Holland or Belgium first, so we said we would call him in three weeks if we were interested and talk price.

We drove back to the town of Flers, which is hardly on the map, but is actually a large town. Perhaps it is the size of Bellmore. It has a good size downtown shopping area. There are four small hotels and we took a room in the newest and best. On the street it looks like the typical old French house but they have added a brand new wing in back and have lovely sitting rooms and beautiful bedrooms. There is a big yard for parking and a lovely white cat.

We found a great restaurant last night, one front room, but very elegant. The father was the waiter, all dressed up. Perhaps his wife was in the kitchen. They had two young sons who couldn't stay in the kitchen but kept coming out to watch the foreigners and to see what their father was doing.

Tonight all the restaurants were closed. We looked all over trying to find an open one and finally got to a store just before it closed and bought a loaf of bread, and ham and cheese and ate in the room. I slept 2 or 3 hours during the afternoon and then we took a short walk. Lots of last minute Christmas shopping was going on. We found a large hardware, stereo, appliance store and looked at the French appliances.

If I am better we will drive on tomorrow. If not we will rest here on Christmas and then go off toward Belgium. Lesley arrives in Paris of Jan 7th and expects us to meet her, but I don't think we will be there. Maybe she can take a train north.

Merry Christmas


1988 Letters