In 1968, a year of worldwide explosive protests, Paul Lasser, an American educator, ventures to Paris on sabbatical to write a novel. There he encounters the mysterious “Phantom Lady of Paris.” Though cordial, she conceals a shadowy past that will change Paul’s life forever, a secret history which unfolds amid a backdrop of café bombings, Sorbonne student riots and the drug overdose death of an American “flower child.” But in spite of these events, there blossoms a soulful relationship between the American educator and the walking enigma, The Phantom Lady, all taking place in the metropolis for lovers and dreamers…Paris.
Riot scene from The Phantom Lady of Paris
Year: 1968. Place: Paris, France; Latin Quarter; Boulevard Saint German. There Sorbonne students mass for a demonstration against “the educational establishment.” The protest leader is a communist-trained revolutionary, “François the Incendiary,” a human fireball of rhetoric and rabble rousing.
One of the leader’s aides handed him (François) a bullhorn, and he pressed its mouthpiece to his lips. Immediately, Boulevard Saint Germain transformed into a sepulcher: total silence. “Fellow revolutionaries,” the Incendiary bellowed, “Patriots of France”—he paused, the intermission accentuating silence like an exclamation point—“hear my words.”
Cheers exploded, followed by a chain of chants: “François…François…François!” The speaker once more signaled for silence.
“Comrades,” he continued, “comrades.” Again, an explosion of cheers.
“Quiet, let ‘im speak,” a man yelled.
“The time,” François said, “has come, the day, the hour; the moment is at hand! Not tomorrow, as the bureaucracy would have you believe, nor some unnamed future date. Fellow revolutionaries, now is the time when we must end once and for all the university’s inequalities, dismantle its archaic bureaucracy and curricula and make known to the world our grievances.” With a raised fist, he shouted into the bullhorn, “Now! Now! Now!”
The crowd responded: “Now! Now! Now!” Beneath the din of the throng edged another sound, the wail of police sirens, but the resonance of approaching sirens didn’t deter François. “We have not gathered here,” he extolled, “to capitulate!” His words were now fireballs of passion. “We shall not be moved!”
“Never!” demonstrators responded. “Never!”
“Nor shall we cower,” intoned the speaker.
“Never!” protestors replied.
“Or be intimidated by billy clubs.”
“Or tear gas!”
“No! No!” The crowd chanted louder and louder.
The screech of police vehicles slamming to a stop punctuated protesters’ chants as officers with shields, nightsticks, and gas masks, poured from vans. “Form ranks!” barked the commander. “Double time!” Like automatons, lawmen scurried.
“The presence of policemen will not weaken our resolve,” François the Incendiary orated.
“No!” responded a chorus of frenzied voices.
Officers formed lines on the sidewalk across the street from Gilbert’s. “This demonstration,” the commanding officer bellowed, “is unauthorized. You have sixty seconds to disperse.” No one moved. “Fifty-nine seconds…and counting!”
An educator, Calvin Davis spent a year in Paris (1968-69), during most of which time he sat at outdoor cafes on boulevards Saint Michel and Saint German, observing the endless streams of passing humanity and writing The Phantom Lady of Paris, all the while downing countless cups of midnight-black java. The experience taught him a lot about writing and also how to wear out the seats of a half dozen trousers. So, he’s out of six pairs of pants. No big deal. That’s a small price to pay for bringing such a wonder child into the word…the remarkable phantom lady of Paris.
Calvin Davis is also the author of two other novels; Love in Opposing Colors and The Event at Fourteenth and U: A Christmas Story.
Click here to read the first chapter of: The Phantom Lady of Paris
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