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In Paris, middle-aged women with figures like potato sacks are probably American tourists

I had an idea the other day that I would be taken to task for writing that “the most beautiful women I have seen are the women of Paris.”

“I think it is in their genes,” I said; “or perhaps it is diet. Most of them look lean and hard, with good legs and small breasts, high cheekbones, flat cheeks, and eyes large and wide apart. And of course they are chic.”

A man who belongs to a club I belong to pulled me aside at a meeting the other night and said, “Have you ever been in Stockholm?”

I admitted I hadn’t, and I suspected what he was driving at.

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“Well, you haven’t even seen the most beautiful women in the world, because they’re Swedish.

I told him I imagined that the Swedish women were very beautiful, and I regretted that I hadn’t been to Stockholm.

He rolled his eyes. “You’ve never seen such beautiful women,” he said.

My barber, when I was in his chair, asked me if I’d ever been to Singapore. I admitted I hadn’t. “I’ve never been anywhere in the Far East,” I said, knowing what he was driving at.

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“Well,” he said, “those Eurasian girls are the most beautiful women in the world.”

He described their lustrous skin, their great, large eyes, their exquisite bodies. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he told me.

Mary G. Nibley of Granada Hills disagreed by letter:

“Your column today reiterates the old myth about ‘chic’ Parisiennes,” she wrote.

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“When we were in Paris a few years ago we saw a lot of scruffy Sorbonne students and lots more of dumpy middle-aged women with figures like potato sacks, block-heeled shoes, dowdy print dresses and no wigs or hair dye. They were frankly their age and lots more relaxed about it than we ‘chic’ Americans.”

Well, of course I was thinking more of the younger women, rather than the middle-aged. Anyway, those dumpy middle-aged women with figures like potato sacks sound more like American women, to me. American tourists are not chic.

And I don’t understand Mrs. Nibley’s complaining that they wore “no wigs or hair dye.” Does a woman have to wear a wig or hair dye to be chic?

As for the girls at the Sorbonne, they were probably American, too. Anyway, at the Sorbonne “scruffy” is chic.

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By the way, Dick Trueblood of Laguna Hills agrees with me about Paris’ women. “‘There is a je ne sais quoi especial to them,” he writes. “Not sexy, perhaps, but totally female. A style distinctly their own.”

As I said, “young women are beautiful everywhere,” and I’m sure that if I ever go to Stockholm or to Singapore I will think the young women there the most beautiful in the world.

Another reader, Catherine M. Gargan of Beverly Hills, was upset by my remark that “if I had but one hour to spend in Paris I would not spend it in Notre Dame, or in the Louvre, but at a table on the sidewalk at the Cafe des Deux-Magots, on the Left Bank, eavesdropping on the other patrons and watching the people walk by. Surely an hour spent lingering there over coffee or a glass of wine is an experience never to be forgotten, more spiritually fulfilling than Mass in Notre Dame. You are reassured that you are alive and living on a civilized planet.”

“Oh, to be able to straighten and enlighten you about this,” said Mrs. Gargan. “Faith is a gift, and the enormity of the mystery that takes place on the altar at Mass is beyond the comprehension of an unbeliever.”

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I am sure that Mrs. Gargan is right, and if I were a believer I would have spent my hour in Notre Dame, instead of at the Cafe des Deux-Magots.

I am delighted to hear, though, from a man of my faith, Ray Bradbury, who writes:

“You’re right! One hour in Paris, if that was all you might ever have in your life, is worth it!”

Bradbury recalls that his first visit in Paris, 31 years ago, was 90 minutes long.

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“I was on my way south on the Calais/Paris/Rome train. On board, my friend Lord Kilbracken suggested that since I had an hour and a half stopover in Paris, I should jump off the train and join him and his girlfriend for dinner. Feeling foolhardy and brave, I took the challenge.

“We taxied across Paris in the blue-gold sunset hour when the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower were bronzed by the fading light. At the Deux-Magots we sat amidst the great conversations, drinking anise, then scrambled down an alley for a fast omelete and a good bottle of wine. Not in the best French tradition, of course; your usual dinner lasts up to three hours.

“But it was all grand, and all a lark, and when the last of the wine was finished, we jumped out to try and find a taxi to get me back to my train. . . . At the station, I ran for and jumped on my coach just as the train was pulling out.

“I looked back at Paris in the fresh night and thought: 90 minutes, yes, only 90! But if I never see Paris again, what a memory!”

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Nina Ingam, of La Crescenta, wrote to say that I was “entirely wrong” in referring to Great Pyrenees dogs as “brutes.”

“They are beautiful and are very loving dogs,” she said.

I say they’re brutes.


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