I n a casual e-mail ? Is there any other kind? ? a French friend who is planning to visit us in South Louisiana in the fall thoughtfully asked: "Do you want anything from Paris?"

She didn't know such a question would keep me up all night. Do I want anything from Paris? Does a teething puppy want a sweaty sock?

Yes, please, bring me the entire Left Bank.

What a luxury to consider, spilling a cornucopia of desires, that amazing question. It would be too easy to ask for perfume, a silk scarf or a box of chocolates. But that would be wasting a genie's wish grant.

Maybe spices, or lettuce seeds that my friend John always loads up on and says you can't find anywhere but France.

I think big. I want more from Paris than a lacy hanky or a seed packet.

Bring me, for starters, your aesthetics, the ability to make a simple fish market look like a branch office of the Louvre, or a chocolate-shop window a painting by Degas. I once saw a Paris department-store window featuring refrigerators and other lowly appliances that looked as shiny and pretty as sequined drawers.

An American author wrote that whenever she and her Parisian husband travel, he makes it a point to remove ugly hotel art from the walls and hide it underneath the bed for the duration of the visit, even if that's for one night only. Ugly offends him.

Not here. As you look around at deserted house trailers and litter and illegal landfills and clunky, portable, flashing signs outside of crumbling businesses, you have to wonder where the French hide their seams. Surely they have some, but where are they? Under the beds, perhaps.

So, yes, bring me your artful approach to daily life.

And if you have more room in your suitcase, please pack your French priorities and bring them here. Like the mind-set that prizes writers.

The French think so highly of anyone who struggles to string words together that they put famous French writers' faces on their money. Antoine de Saint-Exup?ry was on the 50 franc, back when there were francs.

You sure don't see Mark Twain on a twenty.

"Intellectualism" is not a dirty word in France. That's why Paris has long been a favorite destination for musicians, artists, writers, philosophers and others who, in our show-me-the-money society, are automatically suspect, fringe and poor to boot.

I also like your emphasis on keeping some things private, even in the lives of your politicians. Bring me a great big sack of minding your own business.

While you're offering to fetch me France, I want your national health-care system. As I just experienced firsthand, Americans are mistaken if they think our trickle-down triage ? which leaves many innocent children and hardworking adults without decent health care ? is in any way better.

For less than $3,000, I had emergency-room service, an MRI, emergency surgery and three days in a first-rate Paris hospital. The MRI alone would have been $3,000 here.

Oh, and bring me food. You can start with the Restaurant Chartier ? not a fancy place, just an excellent one, where five or six courses are standard and affordable.

Throw in your train system; what passes for one here is an endangered species. And, if you please, bring me flair for dressing stylishly on a budget, schoolchildren who are serious about their studies and green spaces for our cities.

That should about do it; you have to get through customs ?

Rheta Grimsley Johnson writes for King Features Syndicate.

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