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Pardon my French.

It wasn't April in Paris-it was August and I was 16. A clear case of being in the right place at the wrong age-too late in the season and too early in life to appreciate the romantic Parisian air.

Audrey Hepburn is quoted to have said, 'Paris is always a good idea.' As, indeed, it was then, and each time I returned, I hope it will be with Vergel in the near future.

The first time cousin Ninit and I were driven, chaperoned by Senorita Merche, a Teresiana nun, from our residencia, the Colegio Mayor de Padre Poveda, in Madrid, to the San Sebastian railway station, where we were to take our train to Paris, definitely not in primera clase. Had the Teresianas known we would be sharing a berth with newlyweds on their way to their honeymoon in Paris, they'd have gladly paid for first class.

The poor nun coughed and coughed to make our innocent presence known to the lovebirds, but they were too lost in their embrace and French kiss to realize that they were not alone. In the end, the poor nun, who might have made her presence better felt had she worn her regular habit, could only pray the rosary out loud with us throughout the trip.

But then, again, the couple was not just honeymooners, they were French!

Notre Dame de Sion, the convent school where we stayed, was as empty as our own colegio, except for a few Sur Americanas who seemed very much like us. Compared to the Espanolas, who were more independent and more serious students, we looked spoiled and immature.

At peace

Summer of 1956 turned out to be a good time to be in Paris, after all. Paris was at the height of its untarnished glory-unterrorized. Except for the threatened blockade of the Suez Canal, the world was relatively at peace. The Philippines was the wonder of Asia, aptly called the Pearl of the Orient.

Romance had not quite arrived in my life. I was much too enamored with French pastries and freshly whipped cream to be bothered. Notre Dame de Sion was just across a famous patisserie, where I was to discover baba au rum and bought one every day after classes at the Alliance Francaise, four blocks from our dorm.

It was also my first coed class, and, after I had gotten a French haircut at a plush hotel salon and bought my first French bra, fitted to shape and size, a towering Norwegian thought me eligible enough to be asked out for coffee. But how could I oblige, without losing face with the other girls, especially cousin Ninit? A confirmed pintasera, I had already christened him 'fish-lips' before he asked. So I refused politely, 'Sorry but I don't go out yet.' It would have been even more ridiculous if I had said yes and, as the terms of such engagement provided, brought Ninit or Senorita Merche along as chaperone!

I returned to Paris three times, twice before I got married and once before I hit 70, before Blue Cross refused to insure me. The second time, I was with my mom on a religious tour and in Paris only briefly. The third was a sentimental journey, again with Ninit, among other friends, visiting all those places we had visited; she had kept a diary to validate our memories.

France suddenly crept into my consciousness again recently. A renowned French pianist was in town and a hotel was inviting to savor life in France through a ballet offering. Vergel and I missed both occasions, but not the French film festival at Greenbelt; we managed to watch two movies-movies that have made me realize how much of the French life I observed on my Paris trips has changed.

'Geronimo' and 'The Night Watchman' are set in dark places I, in fact, never saw, although both movies made me see a bright side to life-every human heart is capable of altruistic love and can make a difference in another's life. And while the setting may be dark France, the characters were noble French.

Altruistic love

Both movies are centered, in fact, on characters-characters who, in the direst living conditions, and despite the absence of any religious-based spirituality or any emotional support, show a generosity of spirit and a capacity for altruistic love.

The heroine Geronimo risks her own safety to rescue impoverished youths who otherwise would be lost to a life of crime and degradation, and the night watchman, in one valiant and fatal act of selflessness, makes a reversal of fortune happen to a mere acquaintance who showed him some kindness.

We may have seen those things happen in real life, but the French tell about them better.

Actually, we can't seem to get enough French movies on the CinemaWorld channel. We enjoy their lifelike realism and appreciate the candor and lack of affectations, even as we notice how much of life and the world have changed. Coming away from those movies, I wonder whether we have not drawn enough altruistic love from our own hearts to make a difference in a stranger's life. World terrorism may well be one sad consequence and travel itself has, alas, lost its allure.

Still and all, my husband and I intend to see Paris together. I wish to reacquaint myself with the Paris I have been rereading about in 'A French Affair,' a collection of Mary Blume's columns in the International Herald Tribune and illustrated by Ronald Searle, one of Vergel's two favorites (the other is Edward Sorel).

'In the simplest things [the jacket reads] Mary Blume reveals telling detail. In a piece ostensibly about cooking lessons given by two well-meaning aristocrats, she lays bare the acute French sense of class ... by describing the art of window shopping, she gives us a reflection of how the French see themselves.' Ms. Blume a New York native traveled to Paris and decided to make it her home. Who can blame her?

The French have just surprised everyone by refusing to ride the wave of populism swamping the world: they have elected a president who married his teacher.

Vive la France!
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jun 25, 2017
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