As a municipal employee
my father was in an enviable situation. We had a small but adequate
apartment on the second floor of one of the newer apartment complexes in
Grenoble, with a balcony that opened on the Cours Berriat, a large tree-lined
boulevard, with a view of the snowcapped Belledonne peaks. These
mountains proved to be a particular attraction to me, and I became an avid
mountain climber and skier. My brother has always claimed that there
was no mountain too high to be adequately sized up from below, but my own
love for climbing was not just about the "other side" and the view from
above. Rather, I have long suspected it was a theological ailment,
especially as I have learned that many clergymen, including a Pope, have
been avid mountain climbers.
Grenoble offered skiing
and mountain climbing on weekends with the Club Alpin, which I joined
with some of my fellow students. Basic caution was impressed upon
me early. On the descent from the Grande Ruine in the Oisans, when
his rope of three neglected to take elementary precautions and secure one
another in the prescribed manner, a friend and both his companions were
killed when one of them slipped. In mountain climbing one does not
make a mistake twice. I have never climbed even the simplest rock
surface without a competent companion, or, for larger climbs, without a
professional guide. Only once did I violate this rule, in the belief
that the ascent of the Mont Blanc was just an extended walk. I got
lost on a glacier, caught with large boulders whizzing by on both sides.
I had to bivouac overnight not far from the summit.
Another friend of these
days was Paul Faure, a lanky skeptic. Together we shared some days
on the slopes, discussing basic human problems, friendship, and the dream
of a better world. Years later I was able to introduce him to life
in the United States when he came to visit me, and I arranged for him to
see friends all over the country. A Colonial Administrator by profession,
Paul served as a Captain in the French war in Vietnam, and entered diplomatic
service after that, which made him an occasional visitor to Washington.
He retired recently as the French Ambassador to the Organization of American
States. As with Georges Berthoin, our minds have never changed wavelength
in half a century. We have met sometimes after ten or twenty years
and understood each other as if we had never been separated. I have
found this to be a mark of true friendship.
With the second Baccalauréat
behind us in June of 1942 came the time to choose a university. My
brother would take the easy solution. He applied for a License in
German, in which we were as fluent as in French. There would be no
challenge involved. This was not the road I wanted to take.
I toyed with the possibility of a medical career, but the requirement of
another year of science made this questionable. Law seemed to be
too dry, but Philosophy could have some attraction. The first weeks
of the Summer passed without a decision.
One evening I had gone
to bed late. Outside it was quiet and the room was lit from the street
below. I was only half asleep, when I heard a soft voice say,