Charlie Wales, an American expatriate, is in the Ritz in Paris.
Speaking with the barman, Alix, he asks after several of his friends that, years ago, used to hang out here at the Ritz.
As Charlie lists off names, the barman tells him what he knows. Some of the men have gone back to America to work; others are still around.
Charlie scribbles an address on a piece of paper and tells the barman to give it to Mr. Schaeffer, should he stop by. It's his brother-in-law's address, explains Charlie, and where he can be found, as he hasn't settled on a hotel yet.
We learn that Charlie used to spend a lot of time in Paris before the stock market crash of 1929, and that he used to party pretty hard.
Now, several years later, he lives and works in Prague and is back to Paris for a visit. He takes only a single drink from the bartender, and makes it clear that these days he's not partying the way he used to.
Charlie reveals that he's back in town to see his daughter, nine-year-old Honoria, who is staying with her aunt and uncle.
Charlie leaves the bar and heads through Paris. Every sight he sees reminds him of his former days of debauchery and partying. "I spoiled this city for myself," he thinks concluding that now everything he had is gone (1.28).
We learn that Charlie is 35 and has Irish good looks.
When he arrives at his brother and sister-in-law' houses, his daughter, Honoria, is overjoyed to see him. He gives her a doll he brought for her, and says hello to Honoria's two young cousins, to Marion, his sister-in-law, and to Lincoln, his brother-in-law. Lincoln is friendly enough, but it's clear that Marion harbors a deep distrust of Charlie.
Charlie chats with Lincoln about his business in Prague, and tries to make it clear that he's doing very well for himself.
We see that Charlie hasn't seen his daughter for ten months. He and Marion talk of how things have changed for Americans in Paris since the stock market crash. There are far fewer Americans around, and the Parisians no longer assume that they are all wealthy.
Charlie agrees that things have changed. In the bar this afternoon, he says, there wasn't a man he knew.
Charlie stumbles a bit at saying this – he realizes he has made a mistake in revealing that he was in a bar. As he feared, Marion comments right away: "I should think you'd have had enough of bars," she says (1.45).
Charlie explains that he's given up partying, and that he only has one drink per day. Lincoln offers him a cocktail, but Charlie declines.
After dinner, Charlie leaves his brother and sister-in-law's house and heads through the city again. He passes all the places where he so extravagantly wasted money during the booming stock market of the twenties.
The waste of nightclubs and bars appears to him on an epic scale, "and he suddenly realize[s] the meaning of the word 'dissipate' – to dissipate into thin air, to make nothing out of something" (56).
We learn that Charlie's wife is dead, and that custody of Honoria was given to Marion and Lincoln after her death, though we don't know the details yet.