The first night on my first visit to Paris found me in a noisy, woodfire-smoke-scented restaurant, (recommended by the late Anthony Bourdain), having dinner with a dear friend and her new man.
Just before midnight, overcome by weariness, I excused myself and set out to walk back to my hotel. It was only a couple of kilometers and, although I was a stranger in Paris, I knew my hotel was located on left bank and we’d crossed the Seine and turned right to get to the restaurant. So, fearless natural navigator that I am, I planned to cross the Seine, turn right, and follow the riverbank back to my hotel.
The moon was full, and the painterly streets were new to me. It was the perfect night for a hopeless romantic to go wandering.
In due course I came to the river, crossed the bridge, and turned right. Then things took an unexpected turn — I ran out of land.
Turns out I was on an island in the middle of the Seine. The Ile de la Cité. Who knew?
Undaunted, I carried on walking around the island and headed back to where I knew second section of the bridge would be.
Soon I saw the bridge ahead and, as I drew nearer, I could hear the unmistakable sound of an old record playing. This immediately conjured up the image of an aging actress leaning on the sill of her apartment window, probably smoking a cigarette as French women are prone to do, with the music emanating from the room behind her.
However, no actress was to be seen and, as I climbed the steps up onto the bridge, I realised the sound was coming from the bridge itself. Nothing could have prepared me for the dreamlike scene I stumbled upon.
On the road in the middle of the bridge there were young couples dancing to old time music that was coming from a little portable record player. The kind with the speaker in the lid. I imagine there was battery involved but I couldn’t see one.
As I say the moon was full and the setting was magical. I sat on a low wall on the side of the bridge to watch the surreal goings on. The music played on. Someone changed the records and people came and went on foot or on motor scooters. There was no drunkenness. No loud voices. No fighting. Nevertheless, I expected the gendarmes to show up at any minute, after all it was after midnight and these youngsters were doing it in the road. But they never did, I guess because no one had complained. It was as if the whole thing had been set up like a movie scene. There weren’t even any cars hooting impatiently to get by on the bridge. Just happy young people being unabashedly romantic in a city renown for being unabashedly romantic.
I stayed for around half an hour letting the joy of it all wash over me until I found I was struggling to stay awake. Then, somewhat reluctantly, I resumed my ramble back to the hotel.
The memory of that night stayed with me indelibly and a few years later, when I was back in Paris sitting at a café in St Germain, sipping wine and watching the world go by, a young woman with tears in her eyes and small tattoo on her right arm walked by and the lyrics of this song began.
ON A BOULEVARD IN ST GERMAIN from the album NAKED TRUTHS