Summer of '76

the hotel

Carensa was thrilled to be in Paris.

With the youth hostels all far out in the suburbs, she found herself in a small hotel on the Left Bank. It was one of those 1 star hotels that put new meaning into the term “adventure travel.” Walking down narrow hallways and up creaking stairs, lit by bare lightbulbs hanging in their cords from the ceiling, she felt more like a character in a John le Carré novel than an American in Paris, and she would not have been surprised at hearing zither music from one of the rooms.

She had called her girlfriend V from the train station to ask about bunking at her apartment up the street, but V made some explanation about how the concierge would be quite upset about such an arrangement. Carensa guessed that there was a story there. Knowing V, she wasn’t entirely surprised. So here she was, at a crummy little hotel, high up under the roof. In fact the sloping ceiling formed one of the walls of her room. The floor sloped too, the bed creaked, and she had already decided to use her own sheets. But she was on the Left Bank in the Latin Quarter, a stones throw (or really two or three) from the Notre Dame. In Paris and thrilled to be there.

After leaning her backpack against the bed, making sure that act would not cause everything to collapse, she left the room, climbed back down the five flights of stairs and walked out of the hotel under the watchful eyes of the old woman at the front desk.

She walked into V’s apartment house under the equally watchful eyes of the concierge. That is, she didn’t actually see her, but she just knew the woman was there, somewhere beyond the half open door next to the little mailboxes inside the entrance gate. She hurried up the few flights of stairs and rang the doorbell.

After a minute or two, the door opened.

Carensa found herself face to face with a round, copper-toned face surrounded by a huge mass of curly hair that could rival any afro she’d seen back home for size, even though this was not an afro but rather a giant, shoulder-length mane of tight curls seemingly shooting out in all directions.

“Allo?” the strange girl said.

“Hi, I’m Carensa, a friend of Vic … V’s. Is she here?”

“Oh, V! Mais oui, come in.”

story excerpt