IR first visited Paris in July 1979 at the age of 16. A few days earlier, he had got drunk—or at least tipsy—for the first time in his life. The culprit was Pernod and the occasion the July 14 celebrations in Boulogne-sur-Mer. But it was not entirely IR’s fault. His parents had given him too much money for a three-week stay to learn French in the local Ecole Technique. Once sufficiently sober again, IR decided to use some of that money on a day-trip to the City of Light. It was an early-morning start, and the suburbs crossed (including Nanterre, with its multi-coloured tenant blocks) were as ugly as his sour-faced French teacher back in Ireland had described. And what did IR see of the city itself? Next to nothing—or nothing, at least, that he could remember afterwards. There was surely a thrill from careering around the Arc de Triomphe, and some sort of awe from looking up at the Eiffel Tower, but in later years IR could really only recall two halts. One was near the Opéra, where a Kerryman on the same excursion (later to become a pharmacist) bought IR an ice cream and a beer in a bistrot, from where they both looked out at all the Saturday afternoon shoppers go by. And then the evening halt at Pigalle. But afterwards IR could not remember Pigalle as the great den of iniquity so frequently portrayed, but rather as the site of an Arab grocer’s where he bought green bananas. The Kerryman warned IR that they’d give him diarrhea, and the Kerryman was right.
IR was next back in Paris in 1982 on a desultory search for summer work, and again in autumn 1983—an even more depressing experience, during which he wore a hole in the soles of his shoes as he tramped from one hotel to the next looking for work. A glutton for punishment, IR returned to Paris in autumn 1986, managing to hold out in a chambre de bonne at 125, Boulevard des Malesherbes (17th arrondissement) for almost two months on money earned in Ireland. Boulevard Malesherbes may be situated in a bourgeois district of Paris, but IR’s accommodation there was anything but bourgeois. It consisted of a room no bigger than 8 square metres in which the heat rising from the six floors below made it hard to stay awake, even in mid-December. His neighbours on each side were all Sri Lankan, either kitchen helpers or security guards. Apart from a sink in the room itself, sanitary facilities consisted of a Turkish hole-in-the-ground toilet on the landing that was shared with 10-15 other chambres de bonne whose occupants IR rarely saw. Cockroaches were more visible, and periodically l’homme cafard would turn up early in the morning to fumigate the room, leaving the air unbreathable for the rest of the day. On those occasions, there was nothing left to do but kill the time by going to the communal showers down on the rue de Rocher (8th arrondissement), the only place in the neighbourhood where one could have a proper wash (cost = 2 francs).
entertainment was provided by the telephone. IR’s number coincided, apparently,
with the former number of a lawyer’s office. IR received so many wrong numbers
that in the end he often slammed down the receiver each time without bothering
to answer. But on one occasion when he did reply, a male caller simply asked
right from the start: "Bonjour, Monsieur, j’ai un jeune homme à côté de moi.
Est-ce que vous pouvez l’aider à jouir?” By
mid-December, IR had had enough. Georges Besses, the Renault boss, had just
been assassinated, the general mood was ugly and the only job he could find
involved travelling on Saint Stephen’s Day to teach English in a factory out in
the furthest suburbs.
IR cut his losses and, bar the odd excursion, did not plant his bags down in Paris again until early 1993. Ah, those were the days! A bright studio, all mod cons, at the top of a modern apartment block at 230 rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré (8th arrondissement), rent and charges all paid by his company. IR was on the pig’s back. Lonely he was, but there was always the telly and the cinemas on the Champs Elysées.
But the good times were only to last a few months. A change in regime at company HQ back in Dublin forced IR out of rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré in spring 1994. (Not that he was surprised; he had never trusted his employers further than he could throw them). With his rent allowance cut in half, IR moved about 400 metres away, to 23 rue Washington (8th arrondissement), hauling all his furniture by foot from one address to another over a period of two weeks. Up five floors by foot as well, for his new address did not have a lift.
In rue Washington, IR quickly got to know Madame Simone Dru, who lived on the floor beneath him. The occasion of their first meeting had not been auspicious. Madame Dru had knocked on IR’s door complaining of a water leak from his apartment. The problem was quickly solved, and IR and Madame Dru (an 84-year-old widow) soon became friends. She was one of two sisters who had married two brothers, with both couples living on the same landing of 23 rue Washington since 1947. In their frequent chats, Madame Dru talked of the war, of how her husband of a few weeks had been taken prisoner in the debacle of May-June 1940 and had spent five years in a POW camp in East Prussia. She spoke also of how she had lost her slightly retarded only child, Catherine, who fell down the stairs and died on her first day away from home in a special-needs school in Normandy.
lived just beside the glittering Champs Elysées, Madame Dru did not have a
shower or bath, and thus washed herself in a sink. She descended the narrow,
rickety wooden stairs once a day to go the Arab grocery across the street, but
otherwise did not stir from her apartment. Madame Dru’s sister—who always struck IR as far more lively
in early 1995. Contact was lost with Madame Dru in the latter part of the
But IR had to change again in late 2000 when he met a “significant other” and was convinced to buy a place in a somewhat more plebian area, at 16, rue de la Tour d’Auvergne (9th arrondissement). Again, a first-floor apartment, little light, but all shops and services on the doorstep. Again, semi-contentedness despite the frightening amount of dog dung deposited by owners on the street outside. Whatever had happened to the famous "moto-crottes" of the 1980s—motorbikes that came along the footpath especially to hover up dog turds? Determined to do something about this curse, IR made copies of signs threatening fines against negligent dog owners and started to plaster them all over the area at 7am on Saturday mornings. But again “work problems” reared their head, and IR had to transfer from Paris if he was to maintain his job. Why did they not hand him a goodbye cheque instead and set him free? Why did IR not insist on a cheque? We shall never know. IR disappeared into the American wilderness in April 2004.