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Our one-star petit paradis

A one-star hotel in Paris? When we tell friends this is where we stay, they visualize a combination youth hostel and flophouse.

The truth is quite different. For years we have stayed at a small hotel on the Left Bank and found it perfectly satisfactory. Besides, who can complain about a decent room in Paris, breakfast included, for $55? Our petit hotel not only makes the city possible, but a lot more fun.

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The bed is comfortable, the shower is hot. No TV, no phone, but who cares? We are only there long enough to sleep. French doors open onto a tiny balcony. If the carpet is threadbare and the chenille drapes look suspiciously like former bedspreads, the fireplace with marble mantle makes up for it.

Some disadvantages: The hotel has five floors and the elevator holds only two people. The place is run by the dour Monsieur Marc, aided by a lovely young woman called Patricia, who speaks fluent English. So does Monsieur Marc, but he prefers not to. With a staff of two, who double as clerks, cleaners, and wait staff, the hotel runs on their schedule. On our last visit we arrived at 2 p.m., zonked from jet lag. Our room wasn't ready. "Come back in a couple of hours," said Monsieur Marc.

"But they are tired!" cried Patricia.

"Everyone is tired! I am tired!" sighed Monsieur Marc with a Gallic shrug.

Another drawback is the regimented breakfast. Monsieur Marc tells you where to sit. And don't ask for anything extra. One day a young woman innocently asked for a carafe of water. Monsieur Marc fixed her with an icy stare.

The pluses are many; the greatest is location. Minutes from the Métro, the hotel is near the Sorbonne, the Latin Quarter, and narrow streets bursting with cafes, shops, and markets.

The breakfast room is a gathering place for guests, who share information on sights, itineraries, and experiences and swap books and maps. The hotel's name? Ah, that would be telling! Try the two-star Hotel Troyon near the Arc de Triomphe. We want to be able to stay there again, after all.

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• Diane Barnet is a freelance writer.