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Jack Smith

How are you gonna keep Frenchwomen down on the farm after they've seen Paree?

November 06, 1985|Jack Smith

Young women are beautiful everywhere. But I believe that the most beautiful women I have seen are the women of Paris.

My wife thinks that is because all the prettiest girls are drawn to Paris from the countryside, while the plain girls stay at home on the farm.

I'm sure Paris is a great magnet for the young and beautiful, just as New York and Los Angeles are. But I doubt that this phenomenon explains the special beauty of Parisian women.

I think it is in their genes; or perhaps it is diet. Most of them look lean and hard, with good legs and small breasts, high cheekbones, flat cheeks, and eyes large and wide apart. And of course they are chic.

Whether dressed for cocktails, the street or for work, they are smart. Parisian women don't overdress. Their clothing is simple and elegant, and they walk as if they were going somewhere.

Many of them go about with dogs on leashes--lap dogs or poodles and sometimes enormous brutes such as Great Pyrenees. Dogs seem a part of their ensembles; they are allowed everywhere, even in restaurants, where sometimes they may be seen with their muzzles sticking up through their mistresses' knees, begging tidbits, which they are surreptitiously given.

The street life is indescribably diverse and cosmopolitan, but the sidewalks are amazingly clean, except around the Metro stations, where people drop their canceled tickets on the stairways.

One reason for this cleanliness, we found, is that the sidewalks are constantly swept. More than once we were nuzzled from the rear by a monstrous street-sweeping machine that was sweeping the sidewalks, with revolving brushes and water. I think the men who drive these machines enjoy their power, spinning them about with panache, and making passes at stylish young women.

Of course the streets are mildly dangerous. We were warned of pickpockets, and once on the Rue de Rivoli we were accosted by an exotic team which, I believe, was after my wallet. They were dark-skinned and dressed like street people from "La Traviata." They were a young woman and a boy of 12 or 13.

The woman walked straight toward me, holding up a piece of cardboard which I quickly saw had no message on it. The boy came around on one side and crowded into me. Before it was too late I realized that the cardboard was to screen off their hands while they went for my pockets. I said, 'No!" and pushed my way clear.

A day or two later the same pair, this time accompanied by another young woman, accosted my wife on a Metro platform and followed us onto our train. When we sat down they came down on us, this time the woman holding a folded up newspaper instead of the cardboard. Her confederate jostled me from one side, while the boy crowded in on the other. I shoved the woman from my side just as the train started. She lost her balance and almost fell. She scowled at me as if I had been ungracious. Then, suddenly, all three made for the doors and when the train stopped they darted out.

I wondered why that same group had picked on us twice. Did we look like easy prey? Actually, my wife had been robbed of her wallet by a pickpocket on the London underground a few years earlier, and we were alert.

Paris traffic is insane; or at least it seems insane. Perhaps there is some subtle system to it, and it all makes sense, but to a foreign pedestrian it is like playing Russian roulette to venture out into an intersection.

Many of the intersections have extra streets coming into them, at odd angles, and just when you think you have it made, a little Renault comes whistling around a curve from an unexpected avenue and bears down on you as if determined to wipe you out.

These little cars, ripping through intersections from various directions, miss each other by inches. The clearances are breathtaking. I wondered how they managed not to collide, and then one morning I saw it happen.

I was standing in line, waiting for the Louvre to open. It had started to rain lightly, and the streets were wet. I happened to be looking out on the Rue du Louvre when I saw a white Renault sedan on a collision course with a white work van.

The Renault was racing down the Rue du Louvre at the usual break-neck speed, and the truck came out of a side street and into its path. A young woman was driving the Renault. She hit the brakes. Her tires planed on the wet street. Inevitably, though it seemed to take minutes, she skidded straight into the left front fender and door of the truck. Crunch! Somehow I found myself laughing. So they were human after all.

I abandoned the Louvre and watched while the young woman parked her Renault and walked back out into the street to confront the driver of the van. Three men in blue overalls came out of the van. They looked in dumb astonishment at their damaged vehicle, then watched anxiously as the woman approached, outstretching their hands as if to say, " Mon Dieu! What can one do with a woman?"

The young woman was in red; she looked chic and dramatic and competent and very French in the gray street, arguing with the three woebegone men in their blue uniforms. It was a lovely scene.

As the French say, c'est la vie.

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