But staying home wasn't going to ameliorate any sense of loss I might have felt. Besides, one reason for my trip had been to plumb the depths of a lifetime of Paris travel experiences, so it seemed that I might as well see whether the sense of loss that was so palpable in the States would somehow survive the flight over the ocean.
Most American guests were no-shows, and images of the smashed twin towers adorned all the magazine covers in the lobby, but it didn't seem that Paris had changed all that much.
Months later some Americans would see things differently, considering boycotting France because of attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions and the perceived indifference of French officials. But France has always been home to currents of anti-Semitism, sometimes violent. Our narrow escape in 1982 confirmed this for me. Perhaps the trauma of Sept. 11 sensitized Americans to what they could previously ignore in safety.
On my final night in Paris I checked into the Bellechasse. The hotel façade was still simple but more elegant than before. The glass entryway seemed more imposing, with automatic sliding doors (which annoyingly opened without warning every time one ventured within 10 feet or so).
The lobby was the same size, of course, with plush couches and easy chairs and sculptures, but now there was a wide staircase leading down to a well-appointed dining room and garden. Not a cocker spaniel in sight.
The uniformed desk clerk was quite a change from the old days too. I mentioned this to her, but when I discerned the politely bored expression of a young person enduring a geezer moment, I headed for my room. The elevator was new and could hold as many as three or four people. My compact single room had a firm mattress, a nice bathroom and windows overlooking a manicured garden. CNN was always available on the TV. There was a chocolate on my pillow. But as I walked the halls, expensively papered but still dark and narrow, I half-expected to bump into the Colonel.
It was, in any event, a brief and uneventful visit, meant only to satisfy my curiosity. No adventures. No stories. No contact. Maybe there is something about affluence that retards the kind of personal travel experience that resonates within me. The more upscale the Bellechasse became, the less interesting it was.
Or maybe it was me. I had come to revisit my memories but realized that they resided inside me, not in a hotel, which was, after all, only a building.
Early the next morning I got up to catch a cab to the airport. The night clerk, wearing the male version of the hotel uniform, was tired and clearly eager to go home. After figuring out that the $600 telephone bill in his hand wasn't mine, he handed me a computer printout of my bill. I offered him my credit card.
This time he let me pay.
James Dannenberg is a writer and judge living in Kailua, Hawaii.