It was three o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of the month of April. My phone rang and it was the area manager of Air Canada calling. After the usual greetings he asked, " How's your weekend?" "No particular plans" I replied "Why?"
It turned out that he had a promotional meeting the following week about a new airline program for Paris as an Air Canada destination. He wondered if I would mind flipping over to Paris for the weekend, get some good shots and have an audio visual presentation ready on time for that meeting. Can you imagine anyone minding going to Paris for a weekend? My answer was a very definite "Most Certainly."
Arrangements were made for first class seats on a 747 leaving Mirabelle Airport in Montreal the next day, Thursday, 8.30pm to arrive in Paris at 7.00 AM Paris time. A car would be provided to stay with my assistant and I for the weekend to take us wherever we wanted to go. As a special treat, arrangements had been made for us to have front row seats complete with champagne at "The Lido De Paris" one of the world's greatest nightclubs.
Normally when I traveled on assignment I was placed in only the best five star hotels a fact with which I was quite delighted. On this occasion however we were booked into a budget property. The idea was to promote the concept of "Paris Pas Chere" or Paris need not be too expensive. When we first arrived at the hotel my first impression was that this was a dump and I wouldn't recommend it to a bum. However, this was an assignment and at least we flew first class to reach the dump. All the special treatment I had gotten used to had turned me into quite a snob I guess, it can tend to make you forget how the ordinary people live.
The place didn't even really look like a hotel from the street. The front looked more like the entrance to a cheap boarding house. Reluctantly I gave in and entered to register. I couldn't wait to see the room.
In fact, the room turned out to be quite delightful in an austere sort of way but it was very comfortable and clean. The hotel dining room was unique and likewise very comfortable and the people were friendly. Actually, once I came back down to earth from my snobbish attitude I realized it was great.
Our guide bid us good night, suggested that, we go out on the town for the evening and, he would pick us up bright and early to begin our shooting tour of the sights of Paris.
I had heard that Paris was called by some "The city of Lights" I also knew that at least a few of those lights were quite red. Prostitution in Paris was not as it is in Canada an, enjoy at your own risk leisure activity. No, in Canada that risk included the very strong possibility of arrest, being robbed or even mugged by some of the girl's handlers so to speak. You might also pick up some dreaded problem or at the very least be found out and splattered on the front page of the news with a red face to match the red light. Paris on the other hand was a very different matter. There was a whole area right out in the open where the ladies sat in open windows, on the hoods or fenders of cars, leaning in an open doorway or even just wandering up and down the street. The name of that street was "Rue St Denis."
When I was a member of the United Nations Emergency Force in the Middle East in 1956 and 7, we used to spend weekends in Beiruit where they had an even bigger area than Paris devoted to what we shall call "Place D'amour."
It is hard to describe a place like Rue St Denis because it is like another world. I can't remember if it was two, three or more blocks to the other arched end of the street. What I can easily remember is that there were hundreds of girls every step of the way. There were also several other streets running off Rue St Denis with even more girls displaying a most generous sample of what they had to offer.
I quickly discovered that the one thing that was absolutely forbidden on this avenue of potential pleasures of the flesh and that was the camera. I had two of them around my neck and a big black bag with even more equipment. The result was that the ladies kept me under close observation with the same kind of interest with which I viewed them.
About every three steps or so along the street there was a girl standing, leaning, peeking out of windows, over balconies or in some cases reclining on the hood of a car. The thing that struck me most about this human feast before my eyes was the fact that there was not one girl who was anything less than downright beautiful. I mean, they could easily have been movie stars or models. I really could not understand why such beautiful women would choose this kind of life. I knew that taken on sight alone, these beauties could easily capture a man's heart. In this case however it was not the heart they were there to service.
My friend and assistant on this particular trip who I shall call "Dick" his wife may read this story at some time was a very well built and very good looking fellow. As such he was viewed by Les Femmes De Le Nuit ( ladies of the night) with considerable interest. As for me, well it is no secret that a fat man sparks little interest from the fair sex. I did however command even more attention than my friend because of my cameras and even more because of my size.
As we wandered down the street I could hear the girls snickering as I passed along with hushed comments and just plain good old laughter. This reaction was nothing new to me. As a fat person it was just a normal reaction. You never do get used to it but you learn to let it slide.
As well as being beautiful and extremely desirable I could see that the ladies were also very friendly, all part of the job I guess. They loved to talk and many had questions for me from "where are you from" to "how did you get so big?" The real big question (if you will pardon the pun) was "how much do you weigh?" It has never bothered me to talk about my size and weight if I felt that the interest was curiosity rather than contempt. I have encountered both with great regularity.
That evening we wandered up and down, all around and here and there. The setting was a marvelous source of entertainment and unless you wanted to test the wares, looking was free. There certainly was a lot to look at.
The say that some men are attracted to legs, some to the breast, some to rear views, some to faces and hair. Believe it or not, there are some men who are even attracted to personality. Regardless of what female feature offered the most attraction in a sensual way, Rue St Denis was a visual banquet with thousands of courses set before us.
We must have exchanged conversation with several hundred lovely ladies that evening. I was having a ball. It was clear to me that I would not be able to partake of this feast of love for two reasons. One, in asking several of these angels of the night what a sampling might cost for me they would reply " by the pound sir." For me, that would be one hell of a price. The second reason was the fact that most of the girls occupied rooms several floors up very steep stairs in the old buildings that had been on those streets for hundreds of years. Not an elevator to be had in any one of them. Even if I had the money and was willing to invest the extreme effort for me to climb the stairs, I would be far too winded to act or even more likely, dead from the climb. So I satisfied myself with dreams and visual gratification.
Sad is it not that old buildings rarely have elevators, it might have just made the difference on the kind of smile on my face.
This is just one very memorable aspect of our visit that weekend to Paris, there were of course many, many others.
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