He was sure it was the right place, though now all modern apartments. He remembered a cobbled street, tall narrow buildings, steps to the main doors, wrought-iron handrails. The basement windows at pavement level, covered with an iron grid; shoe scrapers. The pavement vibrated to a passing tram reminding him of another time.
He knelt on the window seat in Uncle Auguste’s basement apartment waiting for the trams to reach the cross-roads, their bells clanging and screeching wheels clattering across the junction. That was what was wrong with the tram that had just passed; there was no clanging bell.
Across the boulevard there were still old buildings. An elderly woman appeared and threw a bucket of steaming water at the pavement. He crossed the boulevard and realized she was scrubbing excrement.
“It is everywhere, madame,” he remarked, avoiding being splashed.
“The same dog everyday, ”she snapped. “ Pardon monsieur. It is not your fault. The owner is to blame. One day she will get the contents of my bucket over her head.”
“It doesn’t get better,” he replied. “everywhere you go.”
“The merde, that has changed,” she announced, leaning on her brush.
“Changed madam?” He wondered where their conversation was going.
“They spoil their dogs. It’s messier these days. In the old days, before the war, merde was solid, easy to sweep up.”
“No butcher’s scraps these days,” was all he could think to say.
“Spoiled they are, just like children.” she began to scrub again.
“Tell me, madame. Did you know Monsieur Auguste?”
“Mais oui. He would not let dogs do their business outside his pension. It’s what killed him.”
“Oui monsieur. He chased a dog with his broom, didn’t hear the tram. Tragique. The dog escaped.”
“The new trams, they don’t seem to have a bell,” he answered with a tinge of sadness.
“They leave nothing alone,” she turned and walked towards her door.
“Thank you, madame. It was nice talking to you.” he raised his hat in salute.
“Mind how you go, monsieur. The pavements are treacherous.”
“The merde, monsieur. The merde.”
He gazed at the pavement all the way back to his hotel.