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Jack Smith

Graduating back into the real world, he rates at least a gentleman's C

October 31, 1985|Jack Smith

Our tour of Romantic Germany ended where it had begun, at the Intercontinental Hotel in Frankfurt.

Klaus, our driver, pulled up under the porte-cochere with his usual skill, and we all said goodby to Klaus and to Ursula, our guide. It was like being graduated back into the real world; we were on our own.

That evening we were sitting in the lounge with two friends we had met on the bus, Bob and Lorie Blaine of Pepper Pike, Ohio, when three young men in sports togs strolled in. One of them was carrying half a dozen tennis rackets, and we guessed they were from the Davis Cup matches then being played in Frankfurt.

Then Mrs. Blaine, a tennis fan, saw that one of them was the Czechoslovakian player Ivan Lendl himself, the No. 1 tennis player in the world. She bounded up to shake his hand and congratulate him on winning the U.S. Open over John McEnroe.

He thanked her, smiling shyly. He put his hands in the pockets of his baggy pants and looked embarrassed but happy. Why shouldn't he be? He was on top of the world. I had thought of him as bigger and more intimidating. He looked like a schoolboy. I was beginning to like him.

It is strange, the power that celebrities have to excite and touch us when we meet them in ordinary circumstances. We had to get up early the next day to catch a train for Paris, where we were to end our sojourn with a stay of eight days. I am obsessed with being on time--especially in foreign countries; so naturally we were an hour early.

I bought copies of the London Sunday Times and the International Herald Tribune to catch up on the world news. All things considered, I'd rather have been back on the MS Sofia sailing up the Danube and out of touch.

The train started on time, to the minute, and arrived at Paris on time, 7 hours and 7 minutes later. As reliable as the train was, it did not offer the feast that we had become accustomed to. In time a young man came down the aisle pushing a cart from which he was peddling cold drinks and salami and cheese sandwiches on buns. That was about the extent of his commissary. I had a sandwich and two beers, which had to last me to Paris. Once the young steward had come by, he never came back.

In Paris we lugged our bags to a taxi stand and caught a taxi to our hotel, the Tuileries. It is a small hotel, converted from a 19th-Century house, on the Rue de Hyacinth, two short blocks from the Avenue St. Honore, and close to the Tuileries, the Opera, and Place Vendome.

My wife was disappointed in it at first. The lobby was tiny, and she didn't like the tropical wallpaper in the little lounge where we took our continental breakfasts. I think she would have preferred an Empire theme. Our room was adequate, though when I shaved I kept hitting my left knee on the bidet, a facility of doubtful value in any case.

But it soon became home to us and we liked it. We could walk forth from it and be at once in those wonderful streets, so full of life, so full of beautiful women smartly dressed; of workmen already humming from their morning glass of wine; of laid-back young musicians playing violins or guitars or horns with their hats down for coins; of insane drivers; of people going home with long baguettes of bread carried bare in their hands; of young couples kissing on almost every street corner. Ah, Paris in the fall!

There is always a kind of madness in Paris. It has always expressed the tension between the conservative and the avant-garde. I wondered how the city could have allowed the artist Christo, if he is an artist, to drape its oldest bridge, the Pont Neuf, in beige nylon--a stunt that simply annihilated the beauty of the bridge for several weeks.

But of course the Institute cursed Manet for his extraordinary painting of the luncheon on the grass, and it was rejected by the judges of the prestigious annual Salon. So perhaps I am being merely reactionary in disliking Christo's self-indulgent wrapping of the bridge.

But a stunt is a stunt. Even harder to understand was the sculpture in the atrium of Les Halles, the modern, labyrinthine, steel and glass shopping center erected in the place of the old open markets.

This large enigma, carved in beige marble, depicts, as best I could make it out, a creature with four stick-like legs, human feet, enormous human breasts, and a unicorn head; also, a two-faced woman being nuzzled by a pig from whose mouth emerges a large writhing snake. Another nude woman who seems fairly normal lies at the base of this weird group with her head in the lap of the two-faced woman who is being nuzzled by the pig with the snake in its mouth.

I suppose it is allegorical of something, but I don't know what comfort, joy or inspiration it can have for the hordes of shoppers trudging past it at Les Halles. Obviously, Paris is no longer dominated by a censorious institute; but one wonders what fate might have befallen an artist who gave birth to such a monstrosity in Manet's day: the guillotine, at least.

But the next day we visited the Rodin Museum, and I was much reassured.

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