SPOTLIGHT: Scènes de la Vie Americaine (en Paris) by Victoria Leigh Bennett

(First 10 Pages)


 It was the mid-1970s.  I was an American long-haired girl, in the requisite blue jeans and frivolous top that made up the female youth costume of the time.  With a study group composed of other high school students, I was staying at a lycée (a high school), in a dorm whose name I no longer recall; we’ll call it the Lycée Voltaire.  It was the summer break for French students, and American and other students from all around were housed in Paris.  Our group had probably two hundred, plus a handful of counselors who were doing their best to contain the general pandemonium and brouhaha of so many potential pieces of jailbait.  Some of the boys had already thrown water balloons down at Spanish prostitutes in Barcelona when we came through there, several of the girls had gotten sick and thrown up on the perilous twists and turns of the bus as it made the hairpin curves an immense number of feet in the air through the French Alps, there had been a great deal of complaining and revolt about the morning service of a breakfast consisting of chunks of heavy bread and butter, with semi-sweet cocoa served in what looked to us like soup bowls.  The counselors were tired, and glad to be in a civilized major city, even though they bore the distinctly uncivilized along with them.

     At this particular time, I was myself in a nervous state, because I’d had to report to the main counselor that another of the counselors, a nun of the old school who shaved her head and wore a wig and a full, tight habit, had made a pass at me in the darkness of a tunnel on the train through Spain—yes, I know, Freudian train in the tunnel, funny to everyone but me—and had continued her determined pursuit in Paris.  The main counselor wasn’t pleased with me, and to understand the gravity of the situation, you’d have to understand that it wasn’t like it is today, with the “Me-Too” movement in relative good health, and with everyone who’s anyone or who wants to be helped able to hope, at least, to find an ally.  It was the primitive Dark Ages by comparison.  But he seemed to have reason to believe me, and it has only recently occurred to me that they had been counselors on the same trip before, and that he may have had previous experience of her foibles, shall we say.  Though I wasn’t Catholic, I’d had no particular prejudices against her before that.  Finally, though, I won my point.  I was allowed to keep my room alone, that she had tried to arrange a co-habitation in for herself.

     That night, I was out on the hall with the others, watching as people gave each other sensual backrubs without undressing, drank sneaked-in booze, threw love notes written in bad French out the window in Midol bottles to passing boys, all to make up for not being allowed to go out unsupervised.  And I was getting bored at the lack of action for myself, when a sudden rush drew everyone away up the hall except for a Spanish boy from another group, and me.  He looked at me, I looked at him.  He put an arm around my waist in a gentle, exploratory fashion.  This seemed all right, so I leaned towards him.  He kissed me; I kissed him back.  And there I was, in the middle of my first real tongued kiss.  I liked it.  I really liked it.  But just then, a counselor appeared ahead, looking around for miscreants.  I gave my name to the boy and bolted.

     Fate sometimes plays strange tricks.  That night, an authoritative knock came at the door.  I jumped up, but then a thought came.  Boy, or nun?  I didn’t dare open it; and thus, I was never to find out.  I lost my opportunity, but not my virginity, in the romantic City of Light.


     Paris was glorious in the summer mornings!  The air was as fresh as a grackle’s wing, which is what it occurs to me to say just because there were some birds which looked amazingly like American grackles, with purple splotches on their wings and a few speckles here and there, roaming and darting free, turning arabesques in the air outside our dorm windows.  Our dorm was built on a square plan, with rooms on all four sides and an open courtyard in the middle.  The air was also heated with a mellow, balmy, helpful sun, throwing its beams into every stray corner and nook, lighting up what had been well-hidden the night before.  Unless someone had had the foresight to clear it away.  But that didn’t always happen.

     On this particular morning, what hadn’t been cleared away, and what was especially glorious, was what had happened to one of the biggest nuisances on the whole trip.  We’ll call him Sonny Melson.  Now, as an adult in my own time, these days, that is, I would naturally try to find out what made him that way, what drove him to be such an annoyance, I might even try to counsel him as to a better course of action.  I would show some sympathy for the miscreant, you see.  But so many times when we are adolescents in a group, we are simply not interested in someone’s problems if they are being a problem to us:  that is an acquired adult perspective, which a few gain early, to their great advantage as kind human beings, while the rest of us more or less muddle along as inexpert “haters,” to use today’s term.  No, let me be fair; it does seem that except for the shooters today, who go in and shoot up a whole school for the sake of a grudge towards a few, and who are considered to have some serious problem which is then treated to the best care it can get in the time and place concerned, it does seem that today’s students are more feeling towards their fellows.  When a person is not a shooter but a minor though constant pest like Sonny Melson, though, I just wonder if their sense of humor wouldn’t also have gotten the best of them in the magical, tricksy air of a Parisian summer, when a punishment so clearly was due.

     Now, Sonny had only bestowed a casual insult on me and left me alone.  We were going through the French Alps at the time, and due to forethought on my part, I had come provided with something everyone had been instructed to pack:  rolls of toilet paper.  At that time in the small towns in various parts of France, the restaurants were simply not equipped to handle the sanitary demands of two hundred or more people, even if they’d been warned in advance.  So, I had done as requested and packed extra.  It followed that in a spirit of camaraderie and goodwill, when I’d had my turn in line at the toilet—and it was not doing well at that time, operating very sluggishly—I cooperatively passed the roll to the next in line, and assumed that she did the same.  The result, however, was that the toilet got clogged, as someone had been too generous with the paper, or the demands of the many, to misquote Mr. Spock, outweighed the demands of The Pew, and so it went.  This wouldn’t normally have been Sonny’s business, but he had wasted a verbal squib on me, too, so I could feel for the spirit and endeavor and bright sparks of wit that had gone about his punishment on this lovely day in July.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s