PARIS -- (While on vacation Art Buchwald received limited immunity, and the special prosecutor has allowed him to reprint some of his favorite columns.)
Several years ago, while in Paris, I wrote a column titled "Paris on $500 a Day." The thrust of the piece was that it was still possible to get by in the French capital on $500 if you passed up lunch. My French friends, as well as Americans living in France, thought the article was very funny. But they aren't laughing anymore.
If you don't worry about prices, you can still have a marvelous time in Paris. What you have to do is forget everything and just decide to live for the moment.
I did this the first night I arrived in town. My wife and I went to a small bistro that boasted two stars in the Michelin guide.
When the waiter gave us the menu, I thought he made a mistake.
"I beg your pardon, monsieur," I said. "But I believe you have made an error. You gave me the Bank of France's financial report for the month of May."
"No, monsieur, that is the carte pour dinner."
My wife, who always gets nervous when she sees melon selling for over $15 a portion, whispered to me, "Let's get out of here."
"Don't be silly. We don't get to Paris very often. Let's enjoy it." I studied the menu carefully. "Now we have our choice. We can have the white asparagus or send Joel to college in the fall."
She said, "You mean to say that white asparagus costs as much as Joel's tuition?"
"Yes," I replied. "But they're the large white ones with hollandaise sauce. You can only get them in the spring."
"But," my wife, always the practical one, said, "Joel had his heart set on going to college."
"Look, he can go to school any time. But how often do we come to France and have a chance to order white asparagus? I know if we explain it to him he'll understand."
There were so many dishes to choose from after the first course that I couldn't make up my mind.
Finally I said to my wife, "Remember that house we were going to buy in Martha's Vineyard?"
"The one overlooking the ocean?"
"That's the one," I said. "Let's have the lobster instead."
"You mean you'd rather have lobster than own a house on Martha's Vineyard?"
"But this lobster is cooked in a special cream sauce of the chef's. It could be years before we have a lobster like this again. We have to think of our old age."
"I don't know," my wife said, "I had my heart set on that house."
"Well, I have my heart set on lobster, and, since they're both the same price, I think our stomachs should come first."
The waiter handed me the wine card.
"There's a very nice Pouilly-Fuisse'," I said.
"Can we afford it?" my wife asked.
"We can if we sell the car when we get back home."
"I need a car," she protested.
"All right," I said. "We'll order an inexpensive Sancerre and cancel the orthodontic work on Connie's teeth."
My wife was becoming agitated. "If it's costing this much for dinner, how are we going to pay our hotel bill?"
"What do you think the World Bank is for?"