Dusk was falling over Paris. Sally tried to hail a taxicab from the curb to no avail. Rick stepped into the street, as if his size could command a car to stop. A few honking horns and hands in the air pushed him back onto the walkway.
Sally laughed, Paris traffic is a lot more like Kathmandu traffic than say, Danish traffic.
Sally took hold of Rick’s elbow to move him along. Let’s walk.
Ravenous. That’s what she was. And she was going to eat, drink, perhaps even smoke, just to prove Rick right on all counts. She was in Paris for Christ sake, and Rick was getting too involved in his own romance.
Creative impulse has built Paris, Sally muses, under her breath. It exudes from every crevice, alley, window, perfume, piece of art and architectural detail.
Rick spun as if to check. While a deep, dark noooiir thriller is brewing in the shadows. He tried to sound scary, and pointed to the Notre Dame that loomed ominously above mundane street life.
Right. She took his arm again. There’s so much to see and experience here, Rick, so many stories to discover and unravel, let alone the one we’re to write, but now my inner hedonist is screaming for stimulants and sustenance.
A taxi stopped. Yeah. Rick opened the door for her, and she crawled in. She told the driver to take them to Chez Julien, a lively and chic restaurant, she had been to once before. A special night. She liked the decor.
Rick was quiet, watching the city zoom by in technicolor. He seemed pleased with her taking the lead.
She didn’t know what to think, but the desire to tease, provoke, bite back at him was growing beneath her skin, like a rash that needed to be scratched. Were they going to spend the next 30 days like this? Her showing him Paris, the little piece of Paris she knew anyway, him eagerly taking it all in, as curious about the two of them, as he was about the story they might write. Might. Right.
How the hell did they plan Paris? Rick uttered. Here’s nothing ugly or out of place. No grid, no highrises, no freeways. And yet, millions of people manage to move about, across rivers, through tiny alleys, around traffic with no rules, half of which are ignorant tourists like me. I don’t get it.
An appreciation of beauty. Sally stated. This, the premise of this magical place. Why go through all the effort of making things, houses, streets, clothes, perfumes, food, if not aimed at moving your senses in pleasant directions?
American cities are anything but beautiful, Rick lamented.
They’ve been planned for efficiency and progress, Sally said. She’s only been to LA, San Francisco and New York, but all in between was nowhere land for her.
Right. Rick talked to the window still. But here, you feel time, history is breathing down your neck, you know you’re but a minute in a long line of events and generations. He turned to look at her.
She could barely make out his eyes in the dark, but noticed how the highlights on his cheek, hair and shoulder shifted color with the city lights outside from red, to green, to yellow. They were making their way across the Seine. She’d hoped they could see the Eiffel tower, but they were too far off and at the wrong angle.
America was invaded and slapped together over a few hundred years by a bunch of immigrants and escapees, looking for a better future. But what defines a better future? Rick was still musing.
Then, the taxi stopped and before Sally could respond, Rick had pulled out his wallet. Let me get this.
They were lucky to get a table at the Chez Julien. Amidst the mirrored walls, chandeliers and set tables Rick seemed extra careful in his moves. He took in the marbled ceiling. It’s all so feminine here, he said, I feel like I’m bull in a China shop.
Sally laughed. Welcome to the Belle Epoque. Try saying the words. Belle Epoque. You can almost taste it.
Belle. Epoque. Good times? It wasn’t clear if he’d posed it as a question or were tasting the words. How do you know this place anyway, Rick asked.
A tall beautiful woman came to their table. Sally was happy to not answer his question, or maybe it wasn’t even a question, more like a subconscious wondering. The woman had red lips and slick boyish black hair. What would you like? Her accent was thick. Sally loved the way the French spoke English.
What do you suggest? They talked back and forth a bit without involving Rick. Surprise us? Sally then said to her, closed the menu and looked at Rick. He rose an eyebrow, or two, and smiled at the woman. Why not?
Soon she returned with a bottle of wine, a basket of bread, and a few appetizers. She poured a few drops of wine into the goblets and nodded slowly, Enjoy your meal, it will be here shortly.
What a day. Sally said, holding her glass up to her nose, inhaling deeply, as if a true connoisseur.
Rick lifted his glass to take a few rapid sniffs. Smells good to me.
Sally let the wine swirl in her mouth to awaken all her tastebuds. She sighed, This is so good, She leaned back in her chair with her eyes closed. She felt her limbs, her head, suddenly so heavy. It had been a while since she’d spend a full day with a stranger. The intensity was getting to her.
Sally, c’est toi?
Startled, Sally and Rick looked at each other, and then up. A guy had stopped at the table and was starring at Sally.
Her face lit up. Herve! What a coincidence. She rose. He held his arms out for her. She disappeared into them. Oh, those arms. He hoisted her a bit off the floor, as if to give her a swirl. They exchange intimacies. So happy to see you. Where have you been? Were you going to tell me you are in Paris? He released her, but kept hold of her hands.
Her cheeks had undeniably heated up. Her lips curled and she looked down, as if to keep her secrets. She let go of his hands.
Herve looked at Rick, nodded and stuck his hand out. Bon Soir.
Rick half got up from the chair to shake his hand. Rick.
Oh, yes. Rick’s a friend from America. We’re doing a project here. For a month. Sally rattled it off a bit too quickly and felt awkward and amused at the same time.
Herve released Rick’s hand. Everyone’s doing a project in Paris. I should be interested in hearing about yours. But not now. He grabbed Sally’s upper arms as if to raise her up so he could better kiss her cheeks. Mon cheri. I expect to hear from you. He flashed a smile at them both, motioned farewell with his hand, and backed away.