Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Vive la republic!

In September 1958, I took the train (3rd class) from Frankfurt to Paris, to make rendezvous with an American girl who was there on a tour. To my surprise, the young women were under strict chaperonage and had to be back at the hotel at 1 a.m. The train to Frankfurt left at 6 a.m., so I was obliged to spend the evening in a manner somewhat different than I had planned. Still, walking around a city till dawn wasn't unfamiliar as a way to avoid the cost of a hotel room, so I set out for the Champs Elysees in good humor.

I hadn't gone more than a few blocks, however, when I realized that I seemed to be the only civilian at large that night. Wow, it was eerie. At every intersection there were two cops with the pillbox cap and the paratroop sub-machinegun--folding stock, held horizontally at the hip, one hand casually on the breech, supported by the leather strap that formed a perfect isosceles triangle.

How many intersections in Paris? Ten of thousands perhaps. Were there 20,000 cops watching me? Whatever their number, the pleasures of Paris were somewhat dimmed, so I hiked to the railroad station (Gar de'l Est?) and upgraded my ticket to 1st class. As always in Paris, the first train out had been made up at midnight or even before, and it was waiting there on the track. All one had to do was climb aboard and go to sleep.

That was the last night of the Fourth Republic. The actual referendum, I suppose, was the next day, and history records that the new constitution got 79 percent of the vote and no riots in the streets. Certainly I wasn't about to start one.


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