Paying it Forward

vanGogh StarryNightRhone 300

Starry Night over the Rhone, Vincent van Gogh, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

I want to tell a nice story about myself, not to brag, but in the hope that others might do similar things.

I try to head overseas every year or two, and so far my wife and I have been able to do that with our children.  It requires some hard choices; even though I’m a doctor, we drive second-hand cars, own second-hand furniture, and even wear some second-hand clothes.  We think travel is that important.

Back when I was single, I must have hit France eight or more times. I just love Paris.  It’s almost impossible to find a bad meal there, the city is beautiful, and there is history everywhere.  The Parisians aren’t as rough as most people imagine; they are simply busy big-city people, and if you are sincerely interested in France, particularly if you are trying to speak French, they can be quite kind and patient.  (Except for the waiters.  There is a constant, internecine feud between Parisian waiters and the rest of the world.)

And of course, the museums are just jaw-droppers.  In fact, one of my complaints with the Louvre is that they have masterpieces stacked like t-shirts at WalMart.  There are galleries where great art amounts to little more than wallpaper, with great paintings hanging up near the ceilings, paintings that most museums would happily assign to a wall by themselves.  Besides the Louvre, there is the Musée Rodin, the Beaubourg, the Jeu de Paumes, the Musée du Moyen Ages, the Petit Palais, etc.

Oh, and there’s the Musée d’Orsay.  It’s an old train station, which doesn’t sound like much until you see it.  Because it’s a 19th century, gorgeous, ornate train station, beautifully done up to house impressionist & post-impressionist art.  The building is actually secondary however, because the paintings, sculpture, and applied art are eye-poppers.  It’s one of my favorite museums in the world,1)The Kimbell in Fort Worth is another, and to my mind rivals the world’s finest.  Although the collection is quite tiny compare to institutions such as the Louvre or the British Museum, almost everything the Kimbell displays is first-rate. and if I had time for only one Paris museum I would probably pass up the Louvre in favor of the Orsay.

One day maybe 20 years ago, I’m standing in the ticket line at the Orsay, and there are these two young Americans in front of me, probably college kids, a guy and a girl.  I overhear them talking, they’re near the end of their trip, and they’re almost out of money.  They are debating about whether they can afford to get in.  After much discussion, they decide they’d better save their money and start to walk off.

At this point I’ve heard enough.  I intervene and say, “Absolutely not. You will not leave Paris and go back to America without seeing the Musée d’Orsay.  A lot of people have been very generous to me as I have traveled the world, and so I’ll pay for your tickets.”

Needless to say, the kids are pulled by both middle class morality, and probably a bit of suspicion about my motives.  So I add, “Listen, you don’t have to ever speak to me again, but you simply cannot pass up this museum.”  Then I quickly list the generosities that have allowed me to travel, scholarships from the French and Louisiana governments, and various people who have put me up in their homes and who have taken me out for extraordinary meals.

They finally capitulate.  An hour or so later the young man comes up to me starstruck, hurrying on to the next item, and says, “I can’t thank you enough, this place is amazing!”

I said, “Glad you like it.”  And then I discretely walked off in the other direction.

Pay it forward.

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Starry Night over the Rhone courtesy of Wikipedia.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. The Kimbell in Fort Worth is another, and to my mind rivals the world’s finest.  Although the collection is quite tiny compare to institutions such as the Louvre or the British Museum, almost everything the Kimbell displays is first-rate.


  1. Eddie Cazayoux

    Hi Joe, I got caught in that same scam.

    Seriously, the building itself is a fantastic work of art and the more recent interior design by the Italian architect Gae Aulenti – she did a fantastic job. But if you really want to see some of finest French impressionist work in the world, it would be at our National Gallery in Washington. The French did not think much of the Impressionist at first while the Americans were buying it up.

    Paris is a most wonderful city. Even if I am going to other parts of Europe, I like to fly in and out of Paris just to be able to spend a few days there. One of my most favorite things is to sit on the steps of the Sacré-Coeur(which faces south) with an evening picnic (bread, cheese, paté, fruit and wine) and watch the sun going down in the west, the city lights coming on (City of Lights) and the full moon rising in the east.

    • Bookscrounger

      I agree about Paris.

      Do you really think it was a scam, or were you being facetious?

  2. Durl

    Pay it forward can be used in many contexts. One of the first times I drove my parents’ car by myself, I had a blowout at highway speed. I managed to keep the car under control, and was fortunate enough to come to a stop at a gas station. I was pretty rattled, and started to remove the spare from the trunk to begin the process of changing the tire. A very large, very rough looking mechanic walked over and broke into a big grin and said “Looks like you’ve got a problem, son!”. I was young, and a bit shocked at what had happened, and it showed. He walked me through changing the tire, and made sure that I knew how to do it safely. He stayed until I’d finished the job. I offered to pay him, since he’d taken time away from his duties to help me. He flatly refused. He just said “Some day, you’ll find someone in the same situation. Pay me back by helping someone else.”

    That was over 40 years ago. I can’t count how many tires I’ve helped change, nor how many jump starts I’ve given to others who were in the situation I was in. I think about that somewhat scary, but very kind mechanic every time, and I still thank him under my breath each time.

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