Marceil Saddy once said to me “see the world before it changes too much.”
Saddy was the publisher and editor of the old Sarnia Gazette weekly newspaper and I was a cub reporter, fresh out of the journalism program at Lambton College.
He encouraged me to take time off at some point and go travelling through Europe for several months. Saddy had been all over the globe and he was a big believer in the benefits of seeing other people and their culture. He also told me travel would give me a greater appreciation for Canada.
It’s doubtful if I would have taken his advice if not for a decision made by Air France in the fall of 1976. The French airline was launching its inaugural Toronto to Paris service and it was offering a free ticket to every newspaper in Ontario to help promote that fact.
Saddy, as it turns out, had just come back from Paris the week before. So he offered me the ticket. He even gave me his credit card to use in the case of an emergency. Fortunately, I never had to use it. I feared if I tried I’d be caught straight away. I do not, after all, look very Lebanese.
Once I got to the French capital I was overwhelmed by its beauty. It was November and there weren’t a lot of tourists around. So few, in fact, that when I went to the famed Louvre museum I was able to walk right up to the Mona Lisa. I was the only person in the room, not counting a solitary security guard. The last time I visited the museum, in 2014, it was so crowded I couldn’t get within 10 metres of da Vinci’s masterpiece.
I was only 24 years old back in 1976 and in excellent shape. So I walked all over the City of Lights. That’s the best way to see it, if you can.
There were so many fabulous sites that I don’t have the space to list them all here. But my favourite was Notre Dame Cathedral. I was blown away by the fact that it was 800 years old and that such legendary characters as Joan of Arc and Napoleon had been there. At his coronation as emperor, which was held in the great cathedral, Bonaparte had gone so far as to grab the crown out of the pope’s hands and place it on his own head.
I have been back to Paris five times since 1976 and every time I’ve gone to Notre Dame.
Needless to say, I was saddened last month when the magnificent old church was seriously damaged in a fire. Watching flames engulf the cathedral on TV, I thought again about what Saddy had said to be all those years ago. “See the world before it changes too much.”
It was great advice then and it’s even better advice now. The world is changing so rapidly that who knows what will be left to see four decades from now. So if you get the chance, do a little travelling. See the world before it changes too much.