It was a rainy, blustery June day in Paris, but we decided to go to Montmartre anyway. I was a college student and was visiting my French pen pal for the summer. I was excited about seeing painters "in action" on the sidewalks near the square.
From a distance, I spied a Japanese artist busily at work. My friend was admiring the work of a French painter and was chatting with him in her native tongue. But my eye was caught by the Japanese painter, who was creating a likeness of Notre Dame Cathedral with swift strokes of his paintbrush.
I was captivated. The brilliant oranges, browns, blacks, and grays - all used by process of petite strokes - were breathtaking. I gingerly approached him. In my halting French I explained that I admired his work. He thanked me in French.
I knew I wanted that painting, so I asked him what he would charge for it. He shot back, "Two hundred fifty francs."
"Will you take less?" I inquired.
"One hundred seventy-five francs and no less," he replied.
"Well," I said. "I have only 125 francs - will you take that?"
"Peut etre, mademoiselle," he hedged, "but it's worth 250 francs."
Now I was unsure of what to do. I tried again in my pidgin French. I told him how much I admired his work. Then I told him I was a college student living on a budget for the summer and that I had only 125 francs with me that day.
He softened noticeably. He seemed flattered that I had chosen his work over that of so many other artists that had come out on this gray day. There were many colorful paintings: those that were modern, those more traditional, and those that were surrealistic.
My Japanese painter-friend bordered more on the traditional - that's why I liked his work. But more than that, I could tell that he was putting his whole heart into painting that picture. He seemed so at peace, so calm, and seemed to enjoy what he was doing. I felt inspired just watching him paint that picturesque street scene with Notre Dame in the background.
It still hadn't stopped raining, but it didn't seem to matter. I had found my treasure for the day. It was much better than buying an article of clothing or one of the many other souvenirs such as posters or writing paper that one could buy in Montmartre.
"Mademoiselle," he said gently. "Perhaps you would like this as a gift for someone?"
I had thought of that; I wanted it for my parents, who I knew would display it on the wall in their living room at our home in Indianapolis.
"Bien sr, mademoiselle," he finally relented. "I will sell it to you for 125 francs."
I was ecstatic. We had spoken only a little - especially with my limited French - but somehow I had been able to communicate to him how much I appreciated his work. Somehow, too, he had communicated to me how much he wanted to see someone appreciate it as much as he loved doing it.
I clutched my painting and turned to my French friend. I had made a valued purchase, and that painting still hangs in my parents' home today.