Posted by: 4initalia | April 23, 2009

Paris Scenes

Why are people so snooty about Paris? Strolling, sitting, it’s all good, but the cafes are the best part. There are two excellent reasons to hang out in a Paris cafe. One of them is cafe creme, which tastes like cappuccino but comes in a bigger cup and mercifully, offers more caffeine. The other is that a cafe is your seat for the epic romance unfolding every moment on Paris streets.

Paris is the City of Lovers. In Paris you hear this about once every seven minutes. But technically it’s the City of High Maintenance Extroverts. Parisian love, even Parisian like, is dramatic and public. There are continual confrontations between former flames, seething inamorati, and people who don’t know each other but just feel like making a scene. That’s the whole point of Paris cafes: find a table facing the street, order a drink, and wait for the show to begin.

It happens everywhere. While waiting for our clothes to wash, we had cafe creme at a nondescript sidewalk cafe. Within minutes, a lovely and slim girl in complicated cotton arrived on a motorcycle with a handsome man in jeans and a suavely French sweater. They parted, he walked away slowly. The street was ordinary: a sidewalk, some small shops, some tinnily tiny cars.

A moment later the young lady had claimed the middle of the road as the center stage for her very personal drama. With a toss of her hair and a flailing of long limbs, she launched into an interpretive dance on the theme “He is a Beast and I Will Kill Him!!” Her scarves flew, her tassels fluttered, and he had to choose between two kinds of hell.

He turned and walked into the flames of her fury.

Monsieur Gallant took her arm and gently moved the wreckage of his relationship onto the sidewalk. He soothed her frayed nerves and flying fabric with his manly devotion and a torso clad in fabulous cashmere in a subtle shade of pumpkin. She calmed, and they settled into a dreamy, swaying embrace. This segued into kissing, which conveniently reheated my coffee. Yes, yes, now he understood about putting the cap on the toothpaste.

But non, Madamoiselle Dramatique erupted again over some fresh and searing insult. She now revealed particularly vulgar aspects of his personality and grooming habits. Oooh, I didn’t need to know that about his nasal hair. Under this new barrage, his love-soaked soul was pierced and bled audibly. He threw out his arms, threw back his head and swallowed the sky, to express the utter futility of love and to demonstrate how sparks of sunlight lit up his very white teeth.

And then he was gone. Their love was broken, smashed, little bits of it floated down and landed on my croissant. She stood in the street, screaming after him. He was a cad, her soul was shattered, and she was finished with love. She drew into herself to experience this grief, and my eye caught a familiar large red suitcase bumping along the street; I wondered if the woman rolling it had absconded with our laundry.

But Parisian love does not leave you time to think about the theft of your clothing. The young lady, who had experienced a tragic loss only moments ago, allowed her broken heart to beat almost twice before she found new romance. Or perhaps it was old romance, it was hard to tell. In the moment I had looked away at the suitcase, the young lady was well into the business end of a honeymoon with a different man. He may have been a former lover who happened to be walking by at the precise moment she was free. Or this was the soul mate for whom she had been waiting for her whole life, or for at least four and a half seconds.

Either way, they were locked in an embrace that melted the butter in my croissant; it’s so refreshing that nothing ever gets cold at a Parisian sidewalk cafe. And then he was gone, and she was gone, and so was my cafe creme. They do that on purpose; it’s all over in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.

In Paris the complications of love are on constant display. While waiting in line at the Eiffel Tower, I overhead two men exchanging small talk.

“Are you married?” asked the older man.

“Yes.” answered the young man, who was drop-dead gorgeous.

“Is your wife here?”

“No, she’s at home. Once a year, we each take a week’s vacation, alone.”

“Then who is that young lady with you?”

“She’s just someone who loves to take pictures of shoes.”

Now that’s a euphemism you don’t hear every day. I turned around. She was exquisitely French, thin with narrow bones and perfect skin. She had a camera in one hand, and was leaning into his arm.

No question, that week she got some good shots of a heel.

And love is everywhere. On a tourist boat on the Seine the young couple in front of us was smitten, and sharing it. They sang along with the French songs on the audio tour, chuckled at their own cheesiness, and got everyone laughing with them.

They were in love in the way that makes you know that adoration is the only thing you need to be happy.

At the end of the ride, our boat docked at a pier next to a glass-walled restaurant. Behind the glass was an older couple dressed for the 19th century: his full beard overflowed his wool suit and vest and creamy linen shirt. His high boots were thick leather. His wife looked like a National Geographic photograph of an Andalusian – her dark and braided hair was bound up in a beaded scarf, and a flowing white tunic encased her ample body like upholstery.

The lovers were young men. As the boat docked, the older fellow saluted them, with a deeply respectful bow. He was dressed so out of his time that seeing him move was like watching a statue come to life. He smiled at the lovers and bowed again. The three of them were delightful. The two guys were funny and warm and friendly, and they walked into the heart of a gentleman from another century as we approached a pier.

It’s the kind of thing that makes you think people will be all right, after all.

And then I looked at the wife’s face; it had hardened into stone. As I looked at her, I wondered if she had ever taken photographs of shoes.

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