One of the first books I ever touched – long before I knew how to read – came from Paris. My father sent it to my sister for Christmas in 1945. It is inscribed, “To Diana Lee – Love, Daddy” which makes it priceless in my esteem.
My father was in Paris then, still separated from his family after three years of war. He’d seen my sister once before he shipped out to Europe. The book may not have been his firs gift to her, but it’s certainly the oldest one to survive the test of time.
I like to think that he got Hello, Billy: Come and See Paris! from a bouquniste on the street. It certainly is the kind of ephemera bought and sold on the banks of the Seine. My father didn’t talk much about the war, but he loved to remember Paris. The color illustrations in Hello, Billy brought his stories vividly to life for me throughout my childhood. Images of “Paris” and “books” have been linked indelibly in my mind ever since.
After I came home from Paris in 2005 without an antiquarian edition of Rabelais or Voltaire, my sister astonished me with the gift of Hello, Billy on my 50th birthday. I touch it now like a talisman. Turning its tattered pages conjures more than a book and a place.