Le Ritz in Paris is a long way from the Mills Hotel, a flophouse in Greenwich Village where I once-spent time.
After four days of luxury at the Ritz, I now can barely afford to go back to the Mills.
Traditional Victorian elegance begins at curbside at the Ritz, even if one is wearing a torn seersucker jacket, blue jeans and sneakers when he shows up at the door.
The ratio of employes to guests runs about 2 1/2 to 1, and from check-in to checkout you never touch the handles of luggage, rarely open the door and never adjust your own chair under you when you sit.
At the desk, the concierge greets you with the most sophisticated smile in all of Paris, snaps his fingers and, sounding like a French Foreign Legion drill sergeant, gives orders and you are hurried away to your room.
The twin beds are brass, Louis XVI chairs sit alongside a wide fireplace. The walls are a pale white with touches of antique gold. Wide dark blue drapes cover one wall. No radio or television.
I pulled the drapes aside, swung open the wide doors and stepped out onto the very wide balcony. The view overlooked splendidly manicured formal gardens, with high, bold brick walls and sculptured bushes and tress.
A soft knock on the door. A dozen red roses and a hugh bowl of fresh fruit.
About 4:30 each day, dowagers laden with the family jewels come down to the lobby to be met by young men wearing three-piece suits.
The women sip tea, nip on chocolate eclairs and listen to what sounds like financial reports. Then they scold the men, who repeat at each pause, "Oui, maman."
I sat in the lobby drinking scotch at $5 an ounce, taking in the scene.
But how much luxury can a person stand (even if he could afford it for more than a couple of nights)? One day I smuggled in salami, cheese and bread, right through the same lobby where heiress Barbara Hutton held lavish parties, where Aly Khan brooded over Rita Hayworth while eating sherbet all alone, past maybe the same chair where novelist Marcel Proust sat and sipped tea, wearing an overcoat to avoid drafts.
Finally, a longtime newspaper friend working in Paris came to visit. He looked around, seemed properly impressed, then whispered, "What the hell are you doing here?"
Then I realized and confessed that I felt like a prisoner in a different world. He sympathized, not saying a word but patting the back of my hand.
At checkout time, after having the door held for me one last time, I walked out into the cold rain feeling that I had escaped. Free at last, I looked up at the impressive hotel before getting in the cab. "What the hell," I thought, I stayed at the Ritz."