Our visit to the Louvre to see the "Mona Lisa" was unsuccessful but there were other treasures and treasured moments to be had, to be sure. Nine year olds get a delightedly embarrassed kick out of seeing naked statuary and I was no exception. The only problem I had was with the security matron at the top of the stairs.
"Excuse me, please. Where is the 'Winged Victory?'" I asked of her politely. The lady looked at me and answered. A confused look spread across my face. German and heavily accented English I'd heard before but this I was hearing was quite unintelligible to my young ears. I looked at Mom, she looked at me, caught the lady's smiling gaze, then looked back at me to explain.
"She only speaks French." Most times kids simply accept the word of their parents at face value, no questions asked. This was different.
"But she's Black!" Incredulous I was as all the Black people I'd ever met to that point were either friends or relatives.
"You're Black American, she's not. She's Black French and you are the foreigner in her country." My first lesson in world politics and cultural diversity. We found the Greek masterpiece, snapped off a photo and pressed on.
We loved the Metro with its quiet rubber tires and artwork at seemingly every other station. My sisters and I loaded up on "Malabar" bubble gum, then all the rage for its ability to hold its flavor and snapping resilience longer than "Bazooka" ever could. Mom liked the rose windows at Notre Dame. Even if we wanted to, which we didn't, it wasn't in the budget to try wine, champagne, snails or truffles either on purpose or by accident.
The last night in France found us out for an evening of French theater, known then and now for its edgy, more relaxed approach to the human body. All Mom knew was that we had tickets to a show, we kids of course knew even less than that. It was billed as an evening spectacle like no other in the finest of French tastes. Josephine Baker once played this particular venue, the Folies Bergere so that made it good enough.
As much as I didn't want to go to Paris I was sold even less on the thought of live theater. Mom had plenty of reserve persuasion left to keep me cooperative and in to our balcony seats we went, mine with a partially obstructed view. The music wasn't to the taste of pre-teen ears and, of course, what plot or commentary there may or may not have been was in French so for us the evening would be all about the visuals.
Nice visuals. Ball gowns, boas and breasts filled the stage at every turn, huge Ziegfield-like processions down ornate stairs, more buxom-ness hanging from chandeliers and me on the edge of my seat trying to peer around the support column in front of my seat for a better view of the entire stage.
Legend has it that Mom yanked us out of that theater before the show was over. That memory is unclear but I do recall catching no end of grief from my sisters who made much hay out reminding me how I didn't want to go to Paris in the first place, how I didn't want to go to the theater.....oh, shaddup, already!