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E-Mailing Through Europe >> Paris August 14, 1998


In Search of Les Francks

Date: Fri, 14 Aug 1998 11:12:47 -0700 (PDT)
From: k p ken@kpny.com
Subject: Ole, Ole, Ole!

Woke up this morning, said goodbye to the Kiwis after inviting them to New York (Phil's friend is running in the Marathon in Oct. or Nov. and he might just take me up on it). I began the morning with the usual routine: lower groggy self out of bed, scratch myself, stumble to the bar, grab a cup of coffee.

A few refils, a few conversations with people not interesting enough to spend the day with, and then a few hours later I finally motivated into the shower. Clean and refreshed I ventured out toward Les Champs D'Elyse to purchase tickets for the soccer game between Paris Saint Germain (PSG) and Bastia.

I found the PSG shop, negotiated the tickets entirely in french (quelle suprise!) and then decided to go on a quest:

Find the apartment, and perhaps the occupants, where I stayed in Paris in 1985 as part of a student exchange program for 2 weeks. Here's what I remembered from 13 years ago:

  1. Their apartment was close to the Trocadero Metro stop.
  2. The son of the family was named Franck.
  3. They were French.

Actually I also remembered that the street name they lived on was the name of a man, and it was a name of someone who didn't sound French. Finally, I remembered that if you stuck your head out the window of my room, cricked your neck to the right until it hurt and screamed "Oh La Vache!" you could just see the Eiffel Tower between the trees.

Sticking out like spokes from the entrance of the circle at Le Metro Trocadero on the map, I found the following male street names: Avenue George Mandel, the father of American comedian Howie Mandel. (Hey, they like Jerry Louis, so you never know). Second, Avenue Paul Doumer. Sure sounds french to me. Finally, Avenues Ramond Poincare and Victor Hugo. Frenchys, both of them. I'm sure I would have remembered if they lived on Av. Victor Hugo. So three choices.

I walked down from the Arc de Triomphe on Avenue Kleber and found the circle that fed each of these streets. True to the map, they did in fact extrude from the circle like spokes. Covering the entire west end of the wheel was the Palais De Chaillot, which is a large rectangular building split in half to make room for a spectacular view of the eiffel tower. So I knew I was in the right neighborhood, but I wasn't ready to scream "Oh La Vache!" yet.
eiffel 
View of one Palais De Chaillot from le Metro Trocadero  

First I walked down Avenue George Mandel. It was a wide boulevard, and didn't seem right. All the apartments were fenced in, and the Francks, as I call them, lived in a walk-up. Interestingly, this is a very upscale neighborhood. The Francks must have been doing very well for themselves. I'd equate their apartment location to a decent view of Central Park or perhaps an incredible view of a lesser NYC park.

I doubled back and tried Rue de Paul Doumer. It circled around into dead-end, so I had no luck there. Finally, with growing disappointment I slogged down the least likely and most french sounding road of my three choices: Avenue Raymond Poincare.

On either side of this street was a cafe, Cafe Trocadero on the left and Cafe Malakoff on the right. Perhaps Malakoff was the non-french name I remembered? On the left side, just after Cafe Trocadero was a small tobacco shop, and between the two was a little walkup door tucked quietly away. Could it be? I walked up and looked at the 6 names on the door. Number 1, no name. Number 2, not familiar. Number 3, indecipherable. Number 4, not french. Number 5, Hrszman.
nameplate 
Le Nameplate de les Hrzmans  

My god, that's it! Franck Hrszman! I once asked him what happened to the vowel between the "r" and the "s". My quest had ended, except to see if they were home.

While looking for the apartment, I had composed a few sentences in my head of what I would say to them, in French, should they answer the buzzer. "Bonjour, est ca-c'est la maison de les parents de Franck Hrszman?" I expected a confused "oui" as a response, then I would continue, "Je suis L'american qui habite avec ton famille pour deux semaines dans 1985. Je m'appelle Ken Press."

I had two scenarios going through my mind as to the response. The first would be that my French was really poor, and instead of saying roughly:

"Is this the house of the parents of Frank Hrszman? I am the American who lived with your family for 2 weeks in 1985. My name is Ken Press,"

I would have said something like:

"Are you the parents who used to beat Frank Hrszman? I am the American who ate asparagus in 1925. My nostrils are Ken Press."

The other, more positive response would have been Madame Hrszman would have squealed with glee, let me in with the buzzer and embraced me with 3 kisses (left, right, left) on the cheek and be so happy to see me. We'd chat over coffee for a couple of hours, catching up on our lives over the past 13 years. Franck would have a happy family, and just happen to be brining his son and wife into the city this evening. Oh, and his wife has a sister named Gigi, who will also be coming. "You must stay for dinner," she will insist, "and of course you must spend the night."

I'd accept the dinner invitation but decline her offer to spend the night because I already have accomodations, and of course I couldn't impose any more than I already have. "Of course it's no imposition!" she replies. "Alors, I just remembered. Gigi herself is staying and since we only have one extra bed, you will have to share the bed with Gigi. You don't mind, do you?"

And with that thought, I pressed the buzzer once.

nothing.

I pressed the buzzer twice.

nothing. nothing.

I pressed the buzzer thrice.

nothing. nothing. nothing.

I waited around for a few minutes hoping Mde. Hrszman and Gigi, returning from a shopping trip to Le Grand Magazin de Lingere would walk up and kiss me on the cheeks. But nobody came by except customers for the Tobacco shop, and I decided to get something to eat at Cafe Trocadero and keep my eyes on the door.

Ordered un biere, roast chicken and a salad and listened to a british couple talk about nothing for a while with my eyes on the door. It was really hard, because the tobacco shop enjoyed nice business and everytime someone fitting Mde. Hrszman's description walked up, I'd perk up and hope it was her. Nothing during the meal, and nothing while I dallied with another coffee.

Oh well. I'll probably be back in 13 years.

I grabbed my bag and continued the day with a trip to the train station to arrange tickets for Munich and a stroll around two neighborhoods I hadn't seen. One, near Republic Metro station was an East Village kind of place, though without the tattoos and body piercings. It was nice getting away from all the tourists and seeing real French people. I wandered to the George Pompedeu square and looked at all the trendy people and shopped for cool clothes. But nothing seemed cheap her, certainly not better than new york, so I didn't buy anything.

Finally I sat in the park and watched a french comedian tell what I think are approximately the same jokes that the dutch comedians told in Leidenspark and that the new yorkers tell in washington square park. He'd say "Je suis un [fill in a nationality]" then he'd do some pantomime and get a big laugh. Then he'd juggle a bit and sing a bit and make michael-jackson-likes-little-boys jokes (it's time for some new material here.)

After relaxing and watching more people my age walk by speaking french but wearing exactly the same style of clothes we have in America, I felt like I was home and hopped the metro to type this email.

Viva PSG!

Saturday's report: Sleeping In, Washing My Laundry, and Packing For Munich!

Talk to you soon, and keep the positive messages coming.

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