Jan 232017

1946 Piper J-3 Cub

As a returning veteran I was entitled to four more college years at government expense. I didn’t take the gift seriously until I heard the same educational benefits could be extended to aviation. I could learn to fly—at government expense. Because my eyes were so poor, I couldn’t become an airline pilot, but I could take some less ambitious flying lessons for next to nothing.

I thought we might go to war against the Russians. I didn’t want to walk anymore.

The bass player in the house orchestra, George Ramsby, sang hillbilly songs but had taught flying to many Air Force cadets. He offered to teach me for nothing, and the government would pay for the rental of the training plane, a J3 Piper Cub.

The plane’s top speed was 85 miles per hour. There was no gas gauge. A cork floated on its puny 12 gallon tank, and an inverted L-shape steel rod on the cork protruded to the cowling in front of the pilot. As the inverted L dropped lower, the aviator knew he needed a refill. On a day without headwinds the plane was good for 190 miles—about the distance from a Chicago suburb to Milwaukee.

It was a kite with wings, powered by a motorcycle engine.

What it recalled to me were my brother’s photographic albums of World War One. Spads, Nieuports, Fokkers. The training George gave me was not based on learning to fly from here to there; the object was to get Baron von Richtofen off my tail. I learned stalls, spins, figure 8’s. I had to fly a sharp 360-degree turn and hit my old prop wash when I completed the full circle.

Before I soloed, Tuulikki was nervous. She sat in the car and watched. George said that if she had one lesson she might calm down. He took her up, showed her how to make a banked turn with stick and rudder, and brought her down.

“Skee,” he said, “I know you have a good marriage, so I can tell you the truth. I can teach her to fly in half the time it will take me to teach you. She’s a dancer. She’s better coordinated than you.” Cruel, but accurate.

After some six hours of instruction, Ramsby put me into the pilot’s seat.

“Take her up, do a pattern and land her.”

Palwaukee airport was a sod field with two runways scratched as an X. I taxied to one, pushed the power to full and moved down the field. Without George in the cockpit the plane was lighter, and before I was ready, the Piper jumped into the air.

I had made myself fly.

I was in the air. Caesar, Napoleon, George Washington, Beethoven and Moses could not have elevated themselves to the heights I had reached. I was one with the Wright Brothers and Lindbergh.

Not quite. I was nervous and had a potbelly.

The Cub lands in a three point position. To land a plane as light as a Piper Cub the nose has to be high.  The two wheels and the tailskid have to touch at the same time. That means the landing stick has to push into the belly button and held firmly there. If the stick moves forward, the nose of the plane drops and the Piper picks up speed, wanting to rise again.

That’s what happened to me. My pot belly (which was small, but large enough) and my nervousness pushed the stick down and the plane rose skyward. I bounced twice and George waved at me to go around again.

I did and missed another landing, betrayed by my physique and neural connections. As I made the third approach, I saw Ramsby standing there with a shotgun. He threatened to shoot me down if I could not ground my emotions.

When he signed my logbook, certifying that I had soloed he commented, “If we go to war with the Russians, make sure you walk.”



1946 Piper J-3 Cub: https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/340303315566521164/

Jan 192017

The Friend, A Novel by Perry Wolff

I had done a script or two for WHA, the University of Wisconsin’s radio station.  Live radio production was exciting. Tape had not been invented, and everything was done to precise time. The programs had to be exactly twenty-nine minutes and thirty seconds long. I liked the anxiety, the deadlines, and writing scripts for children. When I returned from Paris I looked for a job in radio. I freelanced some speculative scripts, but found nothing permanent.

Chicago wasn’t Paris, although its population was about the same. It never was a major center for writers, artists or composers. The University of Chicago is on the south side of the city, but intellectually it was a zone unto itself. It read, it criticized, it categorized; but very little wildly creative has ever come from it.

One center for serious fiction writers was Stuart Brent’s Seven Stairs Bookshop on Rush Street. The circle included Willard Motley, who had published Knock on any Door, Nelson Algren who was working on The Man with a Golden Arm, and me, rewriting The Friend. Motley and Algren didn’t get along because Willard was black and gay, but there was intellectual empathy. Their mutual subject matter was the underside and corruption of the city.

I was the odd man out, engrossed in my novel about World War II. The Friend (later re-titled Attack) is about the compromises I made to get John Robas out of combat. What I wanted it to be about were the reasons men stayed together while in combat. Discipline, to some degree, the fear of being seen as a coward if they obeyed the instinct of self-preservation and ran away, and the psychological bonding of men who saw death together.

The Friend was published in the late 40’s. The New York Times ran it as the first review in the book section. The critic said that my musings on friendship were superficial, but my descriptions of combat were excellent. On re-reading the review fifty years later, the critic was absolutely right.

The late ‘40’s were a time for Norman Mailer and James Jones who wrote many, many, many bloody words. Neither sounds well when read aloud. Terseness, either for the eye or ear, was unfashionable.

Some of the poetry I wrote during the war was published in The American Scholar, the Phi Beta Kappa magazine. The editor of the journal was Hiram Hayden, who was also the top editor at Crown publishers. I received a $250 advance for The Friend.  Hayden, himself a well published novelist, liked my concise style. But he reported to Mat Wartels, the publisher, who was undergoing psychoanalysis. He wanted more rambling Freud than terseness. His notes were so exasperating I told Hiram to send back the manuscript and I would send back the advance. It took courage, but Crown retreated.

Crown had to budget promotional funds either for my work or Styron’s Lie Down in Darkness. Their money went to Styron’s fine novel, and I found myself remaindered in major bookstores. I saw huge piles of my book being sold for a dollar. A kind cashier walked me to the books surrounding mine, and also being sold for a dollar: The Friend lay among Aristotle’s Poetics, Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, and Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Like many a graveyard, used book stores contain notables.

“It’s just business,” she said.

Nelson Algren and I played chess at Brent’s shop. We exchanged views between moves. When I told him I was learning to fly he thought it fascist. I told him he dressed like a Marxist who wanted to be a man of the people. I thought he regretted the Depression was over. I told him he ought to stop wearing jeans and a blue shirt with metal studs. Proletarian writing was finished and so was mock-proletarian costuming. Later, we became closer, particularly when he was researching The Man with a Golden Arm and I was researching my series on narcotics addiction.

Nelson had a French girl friend whose name I didn’t catch at the time. Simone de Beauvoir. He asked me if my wife spoke French because Simone wanted to shop at Marshall Field’s and needed a translator for the prices. In my post-war year in Paris I had heard of de Beauvoir and her lover Jean-Paul Sartre, but they were not celebrities on the north side of Chicago. I didn’t know then that she and Nelson had an affair that lasted over many years. Nelson was discrete. She wasn’t and wrote an account of their affair, which embarrassed him.

“For all her French elegance, it was indecent to write about me as a lover!” he told me a few years later. Communists are often sexual prudes.

Algren was deep in the criminal world. He met with whores, junkies, and went to the local prison to gossip with his contacts. He had been convicted of a crime and had served time in Texas.

Nelson lived next to a steel mill in Gary. He would drive into the city and meet me in at the University of Chicago to listen to Professor Joe Lohman, criminologist. Lohman had some unusual lecturers: criminals who had done time and who could speak about the practices of their professions. A former rum runner gave a lesson on how much it cost to buy protection from the Capone mob and Al Capone’s police before that gang was closed down.

The sessions had a mixed audience — student and spectators who often were ranking members of the Chicago’s Police Force in street clothes. Algren said there still was no difference between the criminals and the badges. The policemen were equally corrupt.

Nelson told me, “I go to the police stations and the jails. Cops and hoods trade gossip. It’s like listening to baseball players talking about who’s playing with who, and who’s been traded where.”

I thought Nelson had gone too far. But I should have listened more closely. The Chicago Police Force got me fired.

I found work at WBBM, the local CBS outlet. I was given the title of producer. I sat in a bullpen with twelve other producers. Most of our duties were to insert local commercials into network shows passing through to the Coast. The announcer arrived, I gave him the copy and he went into the studio. On my cue he read exactly twenty-seven or fifty seven seconds of inserts. One of the announcers for a second hand furrier was Mike Wallace.


Jan 162017

Picture of Tuulikki Wolff on Perry’s desk

The Army and I divorced at Fort Dix, New Jersey. I checked into a Herald Square hotel and immediately went to a man’s store to get clothing any color but khaki. Anything but the faintest resemblance to Government Issue, GI.

Ten million other discharged soldiers had abandoned the obligatory military colors. White, blue, grey, patterned or striped had all sold out. I settled for a canary yellow. The parade had faded.

So had the music. “Hot” had become “cool” or “bop”. The jazz musicians no longer improvised on the melody, but on the underlying harmonic structure. I could follow the wind instruments, but the piano players all sounded as if they were playing Czerny finger exercises in a two octave range.

Love had also faded.

There once was a girl who had cried when I left Wisconsin for the Army. It was understood she would forever wait for me to return. Just before I left her mother had come from New York to visit her daughter, but I had only a few moments with my sweetheart forever’s Mom. Mrs. Estrow must have found me lacking in one virtue or another.

After I was in uniform Margie’s letters were slow in coming. Then she criticized my griping about being a coolie, and cited a friend who had “an interesting time” as a soldier. She hoped I would become an officer soon.

Three months after basic training I had a three day pass and came to New York. I called her and went to her apartment in the Bronx to say hello. She was still beautiful, and I hoped she would revert to that tearful girl who said goodbye. But she hadn’t. Margie Anne chided me because I knew nothing about squints and I was still an enlisted man.

She was dating an ophthalmologist who was a captain in the Medical Corps. Squints were his business. Her mother passed through the room without a word.

There was one more exchange of letters, and two years later, the second day as a canary- shirted civilian in New York, I called her. We met at the Russian Tearoom on 57th street, and she was even more attractive. But squints had given way to inlays and bridges. Her new husband John was a high ranking dentist in that part of New Jersey. She wanted me to know that she, her husband, and her mother thanked me for my service in the military. Her husband had been deferred for unmentioned reasons.


I took a plane to Chicago and a cab to my home.

It was difficult coming back to the bedroom Leon and I had shared. Eight years had gone by. My mother and father had not used the room nor touched the closet. My old clothes no longer fit.

Abe and Bess did not know how to treat me. Our meals had always been eaten next to the stove on an oilcloth-covered kitchen table. Dishtowels had served as napkins. But after I came home from the Army, Bess insisted on serving me on the dining room table, previously used only for company. The napkins were paper, but they were true napkins.  In my boyhood existence at 705 Cornelia, Chicago Illinois, Abe brought his bottle to the table and poured himself a shot of schnapps. It was correctly assumed I would not have a drink. Now he urged it. “You must be having a tough time being home.”

For Abe to talk about any emotional state was unusual.

What was not unusual was for him to buy me clothing. The garment district in Chicago was much smaller than New York, but my father knew the textile merchants on Jackson Boulevard. Before the suit was made, the ritual was to fold out several lengths of excellent wool from a bolt of cloth, and then bring it to the face and wipe it, as if it were a large towel or fur. Sensuality ruled. The tailoring was secondary. Hand-made button holes, of course.

“Nobody uses the lower button on a double breasted suit. That’s five years back,” said Leon, who had written How a Gentleman Dresses Properly for a clothing company.

My parents were happy to lend me the car whenever I dated. The first date was June Provus. It ended explosively in the back seat of the car, just after the first dinner. After her detonation she told me she had to go home because the baby sitter left at nine o’clock. She said nothing about a husband. It was complicated, even scary. I never saw her again.

At college my thesis was to have been a novel, Lake Shore Drive. The central theme was the difference in culture between those who lived on that famous street, and those of us who did not have a view of Lake Michigan. For those of us who lived even west of Broadway (let alone west of Pine Grove) Lake Shore was our goal and our turf. I had estimated one needed as much as $7,500 a year to live in such luxury.

The war separated friends. My closest buddy, Hy Krauss, had not served. He was now a partner in a law firm headed by his father-in-law. His wife, Fran, was a brilliant, beautiful woman who vowed to find her husband’s best friend a woman even better than she.

She did. Janie Rosenquist was prettier than Fran, and lived in a penthouse duplex at 3800 Lake Shore Drive. We double-dated a few times with Hy and Fran. There was some hand holding at the movies, and one long wet goodnight kiss. She liked me and invited the three of us to dinner, served by a maid.

Her father was the top client at the law firm where Hy worked. Mr. Rosenquist wore a yarmulke. Janie held strong political views and was voluble about Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech in Missouri, and angry with the Jewish dissidents who bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. I had noted her bosom was small, but hard, and she had long, lean legs.

At first I didn’t note what Mr. and Mrs. Rosenquist thought about me, but they were very orthodox Jews. There were prayers before dinner in Hebrew, and Judaica surrounded us. They were too rich and too Jewish. I came from west of Broadway. And I didn’t want to be proselytized.

That’s one of the things I admire about Judaism. Proselytizing is prohibited. There are no Jewish missionaries. I was a non-observant Jew but after refusing to be taken prisoner because of the “H” on my dog tag, and after the concentration camp at Ahlem, I knew I was a Jew. If other people thought I was a Jew, I was one. Or to misquote Descartes, “Vous pensez, donc je suis.”

When I called Mr. Rosenquist “mister”, he said, “Call me Bernard.” Mrs. Rosenquist wanted to be “Esther”. The glass curtain was invisible.

In the military there was an obvious brass curtain. Insignia of rank drew a line between enlisted men and officers. You saw it, you respected it, you saluted; not the person, but the rank. The brass curtain was clear.

In America, everybody is informal – but there are glass curtains. But you can get knocked just as flat on your ass by glass as by a brass or iron. I wasn’t going to gain entry into that orthodoxy at 3800 Lake Shore Drive, unless I became a different person and I didn’t want to become what would be suitable for their daughter.

False familiarity is a perpetual American tragedy.

I married a woman who shocked Hy, Fran and Janie.

She was a Finnish immigrant from a Finnish ghetto-community in a Massachusetts factory town. Shy, because English was not her first language. Shy because one had to be a Finn to pronounce correctly Irja Tuulikki Souminen. Mocked by the American children she played with. Quiet, reticent, withdrawn—except when there was a spotlight.

The muses are named for the creators, not the critics.  She studied dancing with Balanchine’s School of the American Ballet where Mr. Ballanchine looked at her very carefully, as had Martha Graham at Bennington College, where she had a scholarship. After we married, her acting astonished Tennessee Williams and Lee Strasberg.

When our son arrived she became a painter. Her works were exhibited, well reviewed, and sold in Paris and New York.

The Finns have a word: sisu. It translates to strong will, guts, She was both diffident and determined. Wives must cook well. She couldn’t cook. Two days after we were married she went back to Massachusetts to take lessons from her mother.

I don’t remember the romantic side of our courtship. I do remember the first kiss, and the only thing I will write about it is that it was it was tender and her fine blonde hair tickled my ear.  You have read and seen so many tales of love, lust, passion and companionship that I need only tell you we experienced them all. She will always be my wife, my love, and my best friend.

I don’t care that I lost Hy, Fran, and Jamie.


Jan 132017

Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

I paid little attention to my cinema studies. The course had been put together, logically, for the French. The use of a French built camera we would never use again, French editing equipment we would never handle, and laboratories with indecipherable developing fluids.

The course including screenings of the great films the French had made during the Occupation—but they hadn’t gotten around to sub-titles. We misunderstood Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du Paradis, and didn’t get a coherent sentence of Jean Gabin’s performance in Quai des Brumes — “I think that means Pier of Shadows,” someone said. Our translators would shout lines of explanation above the dialog, but their English was often so heavily accented that it added to the confusion.

I had been designated the writer of a film which would have neither dialog nor sound. It was to be called The Sergeant Sees the City, translated as Le Sergent Voit Une Ville. Someone had persuaded Gertrude Stein to sit for our cameras and be seen.

In 1943 when I left Madison, Wisconsin for the Army, I left some wonderful professors. Helen C. White was my undergraduate composition teacher. She was one of the first women to head a large English department in a major university.

I knew nothing about her background, but a course she gave in contemporary poetry became useful to me in combat. What Professor White taught me was that speed-reading might be a way through a history course, but it was no way to read good verse. She suggested I memorize parts of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. I did. She asked me to read A.E. Houseman aloud to understand the rhythms of Greek poetry. (The rhythms of rap are derived from Sophocles and Aeschylus.) So I memorized most of A Shropshire Lad. Unfashionable, but unforgettable.

She later wrote that among her students she admired the poems I wrote, and those of my classmate, Harold Moss who later became the poetry editor of The New Yorker.

Between the two wars the greatest influence on me was probably Ernest Hemingway. His excessive masculinity seemingly affronted Professor White, but she convinced me his short stories were far better than his novels. She made a comment, curious at the time, “He writes tersely, but he is difficult to read aloud.”

One of the sights of Paris was Gertrude Stein’s rue Christine apartment.

We set up lights, ran cables to a noisy generator, and loaded two cameras. She sat below the famous portrait Picasso had done for her.

Side note: I later did a film for PBS on the artist and I learned he had painted her stone face from archaic Iberian sculpture. Her hands were squarely on her knees, copied from Ingres’ portrait of a successful and fully dressed banker – seated on his toilet. Picasso caught her aggressiveness in 1907. As a college girl she was a boxer who hired a male welterweight with whom she sparred.)

At the time she said, “I don’t look like that.”

Picasso answered, “You will.”

(She did.)

In 1945, a year before she died, the small woman seated below the big portrait was pleased by the attention, but bewildered by the crew and the equipment.

She asked, “Who is the writer?”

I was pushed forward. She scared me.

“What have you written?”


“Why, with all the terrible things you did and saw, would you use so constricting a form?” I think that’s what she said.

During combat there hadn’t been anything to write on except the toilet paper I carried inside my helmet liner. I had found I could memorize one hundred and forty syllables in my head, so I composed sonnets until I could write them down. That’s what I told her.

“Recite one.”

I did.

“Very good”. That’s what Gertrude Stein said to me. I remember her words very clearly. “Very good.”

When the crew had finished, she asked me to come back the next day and talk about writing. She wanted to talk about her writing, not mine. I knew she and Ernest Hemingway had been friends, and then enemies, so I did not want to talk about my prose style.

But she brought him up.  “Hemingway may be succinct, but you can’t read him aloud.”

For her there were two kinds of writing: words for the eye, words for the ear. “A rose is a rose is a rose” when read for the eye is not much. But read aloud with any emphatic feeling–sadness, or joy–a rose is a rose is a rose– can be a very simple declaration of an emotion.  Incantation is the beginning of poetry.

I think—(it has been so many years)—she was then defending her essay “Narration”. Read for the eye, it is a jumble. Read aloud for the ear it makes good sense. She read to me for some ten minutes, I think.

But what I recollect clearly:

“I like your poem very much,” Miss Stein said to me

She even recited the first two lines from memory:

 Cannoneer, rifleman, mortarman dead

What are the thoughts you retain in your head?

“Very good” she said again.

Then her companion, Alice Toklas entered with coffee. As others have reported, Alice didn’t like men around the house. It was awkward, and I left. We were two generations, far apart. I was anxious to get back to bed with Tina, but I went back to the brothel-cum-barracks and read everything aloud. I made changes.

I wrote a sonnet about being bored in Paris:



In the morning, in the morning,

When the whores are off the streets.

From the window I am watching

Drudges changing last night’s sheets.

We have talked of brave tomorrows,

Crosby leading to the Host,

Ellington for true love’s sorrows,

While we’ve smeared the buttered toast

Before our breakfast—make the choice—

Society demands our voice.

Let us spin the five franc coin

To see which dogma we shall join:

Heads is Marx and tails is Freud,

The milled edge is the Hebrew’s void.


I wrote no more poetry. The sonnets I had tucked away in my helmet liner were typed when I had the boring job of being in charge of quarters of a hotel that had mirrors on the ceilings over the beds.

Sometime in the middle of my Paris stay I woke up in the hospital, Hôtel-Dieu de Paris.  I was told I had not been myself for a week, and had been put on sedatives. It was a case of what would now be called post-traumatic stress disorder, then called battle fatigue. I was asked if I felt any pain. My right side ached. Someone I never saw diagnosed me with pleurisy and dismissed me. Maybe the clerk was kind. Psychological disorders were a sign of weakness and it might look bad on my service record.

For many years afterwards I tried to remember every place I had slept in Europe. First the tents in Normandy, then the bedrolls in an abandoned kitchen in Prummern, then the foxholes in Germany, the garage in Marche Belgium … but as the years passed I could no longer remember.

I know my mind is scarred, but the bleeding has long stopped.



Portrait of Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/47.106, PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=705156

Jan 122017

Palais Garnier / Opéra de Paris Interior. Postcard from 1909

Now that I had money, I bought a four-seat loge at the Opéra. I asked Captain Pinckney and his Ani to the ballet as my guests. There were three in the box the first two visits, but at the third ballet, there was Tina Soubiran who worked with Ani. She was alone because her boyfriend was a French Colonel parachutist in Indo-China.

I found her very,very,very pretty.

Charles said “She needs some companionship. And she wants to improve her English”

”So do I. My French needs work.”

“The rest is up to you, soldier.”

In deference to the French effort in Southeast Asia, at first I made no moves towards Tina. Two dinners were followed by nods and verbal good nights at her Métro stop.

Because of my manners Tina invited me to see a stage version in French of “Raffles.” I didn’t understand the play at all but I picked up an irregular verb or two, and that the French word “con” was not as pejorative as it is in English. I invited her to see a sub-titled film at a local cinema down the block from my hotel. She told me that it was Picasso’s favorite Paris movie house.

“Howdee Pard!” she said after the movie. “That’s how Pablo greets his friends.”

I asked her why she was so amenable. Between fractured French and eccentric English, I think this was what she said:

“You are teaching me English. And my French girl friends are amused that I am with an American enlisted man. There are so many of you. It is like having a pet gorilla as an escort.”



She had gone too far and she knew it.

She said something like this, in a longer version, but this was the exciting essence.

“Two years is a long time to wait for my Colonel. I am lonely. Perhaps you and I should know each better.”

Unlike Andrée, Tina was neither in conflict with Catholicism nor Jean Paul Sartre. We got to know each other much better that night, and the next day, and the night following.

This time it was I who went too far, too quickly. And I knew it.

As an older woman, she rebuked me tactfully, diplomatically.

“Now that we are —as you Americans put it—-seeing a lot of each other—have you noticed that I eat sugar only at night, at dessert?

“You Americans have sugar with your coffee in the morning, sweet drinks with your lunch, a Coca Cola in the afternoon, cranberries with your fowl, and dessert at night. You eat too much and you eat took quickly.

“Slowly, dessert should be eaten slowly. I prefer my treats slower.”

Since then I have taken French diplomacy more seriously.

Captain Pinckney translated their fashion for me. Both women had let their hair fall loosely. For years the French women had piled their hair on the top of their heads. It was a chic sign of resistance. But who had resisted, and who had not?

Ani told me a month later that Tina’s Colonel had returned from Cambodia. She also told me that Tina thought I was nice and wished me good luck.

There were only three of us in the loge from then on.



Auditorium. Postcard from 1909: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palais_Garnier

Jan 032017

April 13, 1946: Closing the Sphinx

The Army maintained our hotel-cum-brothel as a military post. The required Charge-of-Quarters (CQ), a non-commissioned officer, was on duty during regular hours. The former pleasure palace had a built in security system: a button and a two-way speaker from the street to the registration desk where the CQ sat. The doorbell or sonnette would ring at almost any time. A former customer would announce:

“Marie, Je arrive pour Marie.”

“Speak English!”

“Marie! Marie, S’appele Marie.

“Marie NEPAL AH, goddammit!”

The young chickens (poulettes, or old hens, poules) that had used the hotel now had to make other arrangements. They hung out below. In time one approached me.

“Come with me, Cheri.”

“I don’t have any money.”

It was a cold night.

A pause. “Pas pour l’argent. Pour le chauffage central.” (Not for money, for central heating.)

The CQs often knew when the leave trains arrived at the central stations, and we’d pass on schedules of new arrivals. The chicks and hens clucked gratefully.

One of the great American Army tourist attractions (for officers only, but we knew the guides) was Edward VII’s Paris whorehouse, The Sphinx. The King of England spoke French well and had a large potbelly. To hide his paunch the tailors invented the double-breasted suit. Hung from the ceiling of a bedroom in The Sphinx was a leather harness with a belt to uplift the Royal Roundness in spirited times. I was told the brothel was temporarily closed to tourists to avoid embarrassing the English.

Ten months after Paris was liberated the cheering had stopped and a sullen tolerance was noticeable. Yet there were exceptions.

I dined with an elderly gentleman who spoke some English and who had a delightful sense of humor. His daughter, a translator for our group, had become engaged to a soldier.

She was to live in New York State. He had heard only the name of the city.

He asked how to spell Poughkeepsie and I wrote out the letters.

“P-O-U-G-H pronounced Poe, like your poet.”

“Yes. “

But there is also a O-U-G-H in the word ‘enough’, n’est ce pas?” Or is it pronounced “enow?”

“Well, no. It’s enough.”

“And then there’s thrO-U-G-H” Pronounced throw, like a baseball is thrown?”

“Well no.”

He smiled. “To get to Puffkeepsee take a threw train early enow. And you Americans think our language is difficult.”

He became my favorite Frenchman.

I’d never get the language. I’d be at best an observer, a long-term tourist.

French society is always difficult to penetrate, and only a privileged few enlisted Yanks were able to infiltrate the surface.

One was Sergeant Carl Hollander whose French family had invented a method of preserving furs. I walked with him to his dinner on the Avenue Foch. The building was what the French call grand standing, and it means in French money terms exactly what it means in American sports. Hollander went upstairs to meet them and left me on the curb. I decided to enter France without the language passport. I didn’t need verbs and nouns to go to the ballet, the concerts, and the art museums.  I had the francs.

The little French music I knew came from 78rpm records, but here symphony concerts were heard live. No flop-flop between discs. American Jews admired Gershwin, but Ravel had taught him orchestration. So I searched out Ravel, and found him and Debussy and Gounod and Chabrier and Saint Saëns — French music that would stay with me the rest of my life.

The French Ballet taught me to look at more than the ballerina’s crotch and breasts. The athleticism of the males was apparent, but what grew slowly on me was the technique of the ballerinas. Much later, when I married a dancer, I learned the syntax of the formal ballet, and that has made me a balletomaniac, as my son calls us.



The Sphinx, 13 avril 1946 : fermeture définitive des maisons closes