The first time my father, Tony, visited Paris, he fell in love. Not (as far as I know) with a girl, but with the city. Then a 16-year-old immigrant from Jamaica who arrived in the U.K. only two years prior, he spent a week there with his high school French class in 1960. And he’s talked about it ever since. He was astonished how “different” the Black men in Paris appeared to be. “They seemed so sophisticated and stylish,” he’s told me many times, “wearing their coats open over their shoulders and smoking through elongated cigarette holders.” They had a confidence, an ease that Daddy had never seen before, and opened his eyes to a reality of which, back then, he could only dream.
So, when the opportunity arose to bring a guest on Viking’s new Fjorgyn as it cruised roundtrip from Paris, I knew I’d take my father. I wanted to walk with him down Rue Lamartine, and (hopefully) to find Café Charbon, where he “practiced French conversation” (wink, wink!) with Emilienne Ruc, the owner’s teenage daughter. It would also be a role reversal. My parents have towed me around the world since I was three. Now, as a professional traveler, I’d be in charge. I used my membership to get us into the airport lounge; fetched us celebratory flutes of bubbly at the bar; and leveraged my frequent flyer status for priority boarding, while Daddy gamely followed along for what would be his first river cruise.
Arriving in Paris that crisp November morning, we were well placed for our trip down memory lane. *Fjorgyn—*which debuted last March—docks on the Seine, in the 15th-arrondissement neighborhood of Grenelle. From our stateroom balcony we could see the Eiffel Tower, only a 20-minute stroll down the tow path; the nearest Metro station just a 10-minute walk in the opposite direction. So, the next day, as passengers set off on excursions to Montmartre and the Louvre, we went rogue.
Again, I took the lead and—using French skills decades fresher than my father’s—purchased a carnet of Metro tickets so we could go in search of his past. Reaching Rue Lamartine, I watched my father’s brow furrow as he searched for a familiar landmark on the now unfamiliar street. His face lit up when, at the end of it, we reached the park where he’d seen those smoking sophisticates. But there was no sign of Café Charbon. Characteristically, my father was more sanguine than disappointed. Also characteristically, I was the opposite. So, with nothing to lose, I asked at a bistro if anyone knew what had happened to Café Charbon. An older gentleman directed us to AJ Musique, the musical instrument repair shop that now stood in its place. With my father standing stoically in front of it, I snapped a photo. It was intended as a fresh image for his memory bank but instantly also became a precious one for my own.