A Parasol In Paris
The following is the beginning of possibly a seemingly endless number of time slices in the life of a particular parasol in Paris. Each slice has a singular point to be considered … or not!
It was a blustery Spring morning in Paris. The sky was an embracing blue with puffs of clouds racing across the horizon. Impish11-year old Claudette laid on the slope of her front yard imaging various objects in the clouds. Her brief, very-favorite was a bunny with rather small ears that within minutes transitioned to a pony with 3 legs. But for Claudette, all was beautiful as she waited for her mom to depart to the Le Jardin du Luxembourg for a picnic with several friends. This was not a pique-niqueordinaire, but rather an extraordinary one to celebrate Claudette’s 11th birthday. For such an occasion, Claudette was dressed in a flowing skirt and shoulder wrap of soft cotton with a gossamer-like trim that match her blue eyes. Additionally, her mom had given her an extraordinary parasol with silk-screened-printed flowers on each pane and delicate Battenberg lace along the edges.
Claudette had first seen this very parasol several weeks previously when she and her momstrolled down Rue Saint-Honeré lined with stores of Paris’s most famous designers. It was when walking by Hermés’ window case that Claudette pulled her mom’shand back to pause for the view of the parasol. She made no statement, just a slight sound of glee, but Mom made a definite note of her daughter’s interest and returned several days later on her own to make the purchase.
On the morning of her birthday, Claudette was presented with her birthday parasol. She held up her left arm and shrieked “Oui!, Oui!, Oui!”Her momthen said that the two would be going to the Le Jardin du Luxembourg for a party. With parasol in hand the twotook the RER-B to the Saint-Germain des Pres station and walked up the seemingly endless steps to street level. But first, they would stop for a patisserie and hot chocolate before waking to the Jardin. The particular café at the corner of Quai de Montebello and Rue du Petit Pont was the only one that served Claudette’s favorite, the ‘conversation’, consisting of choux pastry and frangipane cream. Claudette loved the richness of the cream layered within the pastry of angels. For her, this patisserie was indeed heavenly.
They sat at a table nearest Pont Neuf so as to view a pride of Paris, Notre Dame, even in its diminished state of roof destruction from the fire in April 2019. Hesitantly turning down a patisserie encore, they began walking up toward the Jardin. Claudette and her momwere holding hands and swinging them comfortably to match the cadence of their steps. Her mom was humming a tune Claudette had not heard before, and Claudette felt her mom’s warm, scented presence unlike when they were home. As they proceeded up the rue, the sun began to bear down on them. It was nearly noon with the clouds having cleared offering no relief. “You understand Claudette, the parasol is most valuable at this time of the day to shade the sun”, her momsaid. “You should open the parasol and slowly spin it on your shoulder.” Claudette did so obediently.
The party in the Jardin consisted of 6 friends and their mothers. They were all so comfortable with each other with the conversations ranging from the dreams of 11-year-olds and summer vacation expectations. One motherpresented an extraordinary birthday cake consisting of 4 baked meringue layers separated by a noisettecrème. (Author’s note: one of my favorite deserts to make for an unque, joyful experience by others – recipe available on request.)
The sky was still cloudless but the humidity was so comfortable, and the party made their way back to the RER-station.Reaching the station on the Seine at the Pont Neuf, the others departed for their individual metro stops. But, Claudette asked her mom for one more moment on Pont Neuf so as to sit at one of the semi-circle, concrete outposts to watch the boats on the Seine. The wind had kicked up somewhat and the two settled into one of the outposts of the bridge. Claudette had closed her parasol so as to lay her head on hermom’slap. She asked her to hum that song again that she had heard earlier. Then she sat up quickly and asked “Am I pretty?” “Yes!, very my Chantilly” and Claudette laid down again. The wind was increasing and some threatening clouds were approaching over the Eiffel Tower. Her mom said it was time to leave, and they both got up and started for the RER station. Claudette opened her parasol just as a burst of wind came through, taking the parasol out of her hand and over the bridge to the river. They both gasped and watch the parasol land on a tour boat moving under Pont Neuf. There was nothing that could be done, but her mom followed the parasol all the way down and saw it land on the shoulder of another young girl.
Claudette was very sad, but her mom said “C’est la vie” and promised that there would be another parasol in her near future.
In the mid-afternoon, Amanda with her American parents and her younger brother, Joshua. were on the Seine boat tour. They were a long way from Kansas with this being there first trip out of state, yet alone the continent. Amanda, being a sprite, pretentious 14-year old, had read a number of books about Paris, including a few romantic novels. She had 1 year of elementary French in school, but had listened to a number of French lessons on tape to capture key phrases, especially such phrases that would impress a French male teenager. She had practice saying “Enchantée” several ways that would seem all so natural and not too forward, thereby revealing her nervousness.
The boat tour was to be a downer for sure in her opinion. After all, it was all about tourists. At best she could expect to meet a British prude, or a German jerk. There was not a chance for a French Pierre or Jean. Grudgingly she strolled the boat’s deck distancing herself from her parents …just in case some French stray male teenager may be onboard.
The tour boat was approaching Pont Neuf, and Amanda walked toward the bow. She had visions in her head from the movie Titanicas in her leaning over the bow spar held back by DiCaprio as the vessel (her female dominance) THRUSTED forward. Under the bridge, the sunlight was diminished, but she noted a young man standing alone at the bow. She was just approaching his right side when she felt something hit her shoulder. She was startled and let out a yelp. The young man turned towards her to see what had happened and saw Amanda touching the side of her head, and apparently in some pain. Next, he noticed the parasol on the deck and understood what had just happened. “Madame, Est-ce que ça va ?” he asked. Still somewhat stunned Amanda said “Yes…. I mean … Oui” Her next thought was instinctive for a young lady as in “Oh my gosh, this handsome young man is French”. With a slight blush, she regained her composure and said “Merci beaucoup! monsieur”. She stuck out her hand and said “Enchantée” in a very confident way. Knowing by her accent that she was clearly American, he said “My name is Claude, it is nice to meet you also. And you are ?”
For the rest of the 2-hour tour, Claude stood with her on the bow providing a personal presentation of the sites, while interjecting somewhat personal questions to get to know more about this American blossom. Approaching the dock at the end of the tour, Amanda was horrified to see her parents approaching her to depart. Quickly, Amanda gave her email address to Claude, a kiss on the cheek, and left him sitting there. Neither of them remembered the parasol that had fallen behind their bench, but they both would reflect on the kiss for some time.
They would stay in touch for the next 2 years. As well as the kiss, Claude would never forget the motion of Amanda’s body as she reunited with her parents. However, 4 years later, Amanda would be back to Paris as part of her college schedule, and … Oh my!!!
3. FINDERS, NOT NECESSARILY KEEPERS
At 11 PM the boat finished its last tour and tied up to its dock for the evening. The next morning, the boat’s cleanup crew arrived by 8 AM to prepare for the first cruise of the day at 11 AM. The cleanup crew consisted of a family of 3, mom and both a teenage son and daughter. This job was the first of 3 each week day for the family as they struggled to maintain a passable living in the outskirts of Paris. There was no slack in their net income that could provide for other than the basics, e.g., fresh croissants and/or baguettes every day, jugs of house wine, pasta, pork sausages, and chicken. Good beef cuts were definitely beyond their means, but the mother created amazing seafood cassoulets, beef braises and the occasional beef bourguignon. Her specialty was the gratin dauphinoise where she stepped outside the traditional recipe and added a fair amount of gruyere when affordable (and a touch of fresh nutmeg). She was the pride of her church’s food fairs, but she never shared her secret of gruyere.
Starting at the stern the 2 teenagers moved forward mopping the decks as mom cleaned up the general trash around the boat. When Jean reached the front starboard quarter, he saw the parasol and called over to Bridgette to check it out. Indeed, this was a very special parasol given its material and design. Bridgette beamed as Jean handed it over to her. With some hesitancy she said, “ I . . . . guess we need to show Mom …. And not just keep it.” Jean agreed, but then again, he could not care less for this item or his sister’s interests.
When the job was finished, Bridgette presented her mom with her found treasure. “And, what should we do with this beautiful parasol Bridgette?”, her mom asked. “Can I keep it Mom?” “Bridgette, you know better.” her mom responded.
Bridgette gave the parasol to the Captain upon his arrival to the boat that morning. The Captain could easily sense her feelings of regret mixed with adoration of such a fine parasol that she could never afford. The Captain said to the mother (loud enough for Bridgette to hear), that he would keep the parasol for 1 week, and if it wasn’t claimed Bridgette would receive it.
The first six days dragged on for Bridgette as the parasol had yet to be claimed. On the sixth night, the Captain took the parasol to the point where it had been left for Bridgette to find the next day.
The three showed up at 8 the next morning to begin cleaning the boat. Bridgette was on edge waiting for the Captain to show up at 10:30 or so. However, Jean had seen the parasol under the starboard bench at the bow when he crossed the plank from the dock. So, he said “Bridgette, just for a change let’s start forward and then move towards the stern? You take the starboard side, and I the port”.
Thoughtlessly, she moved towards the starboard bow, and then … and then…. she saw the parasol. She let out a definite sound of glee, grabbed the parasol and tucked in her arms. However, there was work to be done, and she carefully laid the parasol on the quarter deck bench for her retrieval when they left the boat. Later that evening, her mom turned to her as they were doing the dishes and said “Bridgette, I am very happy that you have such a fine parasol which you will enjoy for many years.” …. pause …. “But, keep in mind that some other young girl is now without it. The important point here is that the right thing was done to get the parasol back to where it belongs, but it was clearly lost to that other mademoiselle. So! it is clearly now yours to enjoy.” This was an understanding of integrity & responsibility as a tradeoff against selfish interests that Bridgette would never forget.
4. Passing the Baton
Bridgette had been taking her parasol to church every Sunday, sunshine or not. As such, she alternately wore her 3 favorite dresses, even without her mom’s coaching. After all, there was a particular young man, Robert, whom she had been trying to catch his attention for some time. He was 2 years her senior and therefore the youth groups of the church, as well as different schools, didn’t provide any other means to socialize with him or his friends.
Bridgette had discussed her “Robert challenge” with her dearest friend, Maria, who’s recommendation was to ‘accidently’ bump into him at church thereby dropping her Bible …. and the conversation would begin. Bridgette was too pragmatic and against such divisive methods. She wanted to be seen and directly appreciated without any false starts – well almost. To be honest, Maria was a bit hoity-toityfor Bridgette in that Maria’s family were wine merchants and Maria had yet to work a day in her life. Robert’s family was also from haute société, and that point was of some concern to Bridgette … as to being acceptable; hence, her initial approach of the parasol and her best dresses at church.
It was during Communion one Sunday that Bridgette was in front of Robert and his family in the intinction process of lining up in the aisle. Appropriately, while waiting in line, Bridgette turned to ‘simply’ introduce herself. Robert was cordial, but Communion required certain reserved protocol. At the end of the service when exiting the church, Robert approached her in the garden and stumbled through some awkward conversation with this raving redhead mademoiselle. Bridgette’s parasol was in full display like a male peacock’s feathers. Robert clumsily stated that he had noticed her during the past month (the same period that Bridgette had been wearing her best dresses accented by the parasol). He asked if she was willing to meet him for lunch at a particular café in the 4tharrondissement within the grounds of the Place des Vosges. “Say, next Tuesday at noon?”. Bridgette kept her cool … paused …and said “Oui! I can do that. By the way Robert, my name is Bridgette” After saying goodbye, Robert realized that she had already known his name. Hmmmmmmmm!, he thought.
They met at the cafe and time agreed to. Bridgette dressed in her working clothes. She did not want now to present a false image of who she was. That is, she felt that she could dress “haut” when appropriate, but she was a working young lady and proud of her work ethics and accepting her responsibilities for her family. To be honest, Robert was taken back by her plainness when they first met at the café, especially given the initial captivating image when she was decked out at church. However, Bridgette was well schooled and read and indirectly challenged Robert as to his education, but in a seductive way. She discussed poetry and impressionism, e.g., the Musée d’ Orsay”, and Robert realized that this mademoiselle had talents and characteristics that he had never considered to be part of a relationship with a female … and clearly not one of the ‘working class’ as he understood them.
Out of habit, Bridgette had brought her parasol for the luncheon meeting. But it had served its purpose already by gaining Robert’s initial attention at church. This attention was shifting her perspective of herself. Now, the parasol was only an object, albeit a captivating one. But, it had turned into a façade that was inhibiting her evolving maturity.
In the outside corner of the café, there was a young lady in her late teens dressed in her Sunday best. While her strawberry-blond hair was long and curled in a fashion that highlighted her petite facial features, her stature was clearly reserved as she sat stiffly sipping her café crème and gently raising the cup to her lips. She looked neither left nor right, but sat rigidly in her chair staring at a Monét print on the wall. The chair opposite of her was ajar to the table and there was a cup and plate with half a croissant in front of the chair. Bernadette had seen this mademoiselle several times before at the café accompanied by a most interestingly looking young man with long bushy blond hair, Capri tan pants, striped t-shirt, and green Chuck Taylors – clearly not French. Clearly, during those meetings there was lust in their eyes with their noses nearly touching as they whispered their most personal, most passionate thoughts to each other.
It was clear to Bridgette what had taken place with mademoiselle. She told Robert that she would be right back. She stood, picked up the parasol, and went to mademoiselle’s table. Robert observed from afar as Bridgette bent down closely to mademoiselle to talk with her. In a moment, the young lady rose to embrace Bridgette and accepted the parasol. Bridgette returned to her table, and Robert asked “What’s up?” “Passing the baton”, she simply replied with a seductive smile and raised eyelids. Robert would never understand how he had been played by this socially-inferior young lady, who was indeed much “superior” in so many other ways – as were their forthcoming 2 daughters.
5. Facing Prejudice
The mademoiselle to whom Bridgette had given the “baton” remained at the café for another 15 minutes or so hoping Svein would return. Claire had known and fallen in love with Svein in their economic courses at the Sorbonne. As a Swede he was indeed very kind and respectful of her … but with a sense of urgency with even the simplest of issues that occasionally caused conflict with Claire’s patience and la-ti-da attitude. This day it had been an issue of how protestors were being handled by the police regarding student rights that set Claire and Svein into conflict. Svein supported direct physical confrontation to be taken against protestors that had blocked Rue Saint-Germain-des-Pres near the Sorbonne. Contrarily, Claire wanted discussions / open conversations to be held between the protestors’ leader, local priests, university officials and the police. The protest had been going on for several days during the day only, given that a nighttime curfew was in effect, and there was increasing level of animosity by all, including the general populous.
With the parasol in hand, Claire paid the tab and exited the Place des Vosgesheading directly West. She “deserved” a pleasure of some sort, and the stores on Rue du Faubourg Saint Honeré came to mind. Within 15 minutes she was passing Cartier, but she couldn’t afford that much pleasure. Next, she passed Omega and then Mont Blanc, and the same rational prevailed. In the next block on the right was Hermes. Surely, she could find a scarf, a blouse, or even a shawl to overcome her insecurity.
In she went slowly strolling the aisles looking for the “right, but affordable pleasure” item. Within several minutes she found a blouse that was edged by a lace so light. She found her size and entered the dressing room to try it on. The blouse really didn't highlight her rather slim, but prominent form. She exited the dressing room leaving the garment there. For several minutes more she investigated purses, belts, and some jewelry. Disappointed, she decided to try a designer store with which she was familiar further down the rue. She exited the store, and within moments her left shoulder was grabbed by a security guard from Hermés. He said “Far enough young lady. I am taking you back to the store. The police will be called and you will be arrested for stealing that parasol.” Claire was totally stunned at first and did not resist being led back to the store. Within several steps however, her senses came back and she jerked back her arm from the guard and stated that the parasol was hers. The guard grabbed her arm even tighter and pushed her through the revolving doors, and then into the security office. All along, Claire insisted that the parasol was hers and that it had been given to her an hour earlier by someone she didn’t know. This of course made her position less credible. She was left alone in the office for 20 minutes until the police arrived. Upon the young officer’s entering the room, she began shaking and again mumbled the truth. The policeman sensed her honesty and asked the guard to come in. He questioned the guard as to the proof of his accusation. The guard hem-and-hawed momentarily, and stated “Look at her, she can’t afford such a parasol”. With that the officer asked for the presence of the salesperson from the appropriate counter. Within minutes, Ms. Dubois was in the office and addressed the policeman’s questioning as to whether or not the parasol could have been stolen by Claire. She stated that a theft was not possible since the last parasol of that type had been purchased several weeks prior by a handsome woman looking to please her daughter for her birthday.
The store manager was called resulting with the guard being fired immediately, and Claire being treated to a shopping spree of 1,000€ that very day. The officer took Claire’s name and contact information for his report and turned to leave. He then turned back, introduced himself as Pierre , and asked if she would consider having a Kir Royal at the café down the street when he would be off duty in 45 minutes. Pierre didn’t have the bushy blond hair of Svein, but his head of slight, but tight curls was something she could run her fingers through, and 45 minutes would be adequate for her to spend the 1,000€. So she responded quite formally “Oui, officer …. err.. Pierre, I would enjoy that”, as her heart raced and her mind was filled with expectation.
Pierre was at the café on time, but Claire was late in arriving. Pierre felt this sense of anxiousness that he had not felt since his romance several years previously with an exciting, actually exotic, beauty of French/Moroccan heritage. That young lady was too head-strong and indifferent to the characteristics that Pierre was proud of, e.g. honesty, integrity, and pragmatic perspective. In short course, Pierre discovered that exotic playing him off against a man from her homeland, an old lover from 8 years previously. Claire was not of that type, that is he thought, given that she was now 15 minutes late.
Alas, Claire arrived in the most extraordinary outfit with the skirt swirling around her as she walked in wearing a blouse with rather revealing cleavage. Hermés had done her handsomely. Pierre was stunned with this young woman’s exoticism in her own way that he had not perceived at first. Claire perceived how stunned he was and knew what he was thinking. This was not the kindness of Svein, but rather pure passion in his eyes. As the conversation started Pierre noticed that she did not have the parasol. When asked, her explanation was simple. It had become a symbol of prejudice for her, and she gave it to the store for a fresh start. She demanded no compensation. Claire and Pierre sat and began a relationship that would see her at least through her university years.
6. A DEVIOUS TOOL
Georgette, Hermès’ store manager, gracefully accepted the parasol from Claire, but there was no way she could resell this used item. After work, with parasol in hand, she walked the 10 blocks to Willis Wine Bar in the Opera Qtr. She had arranged to meet with an American couple. This was the couple’s favorite “Americanized” bar in Paris in that there was little pretentiousness applied to Americans… English Yes, but not Americans. Over the years of coming to Paris, they had purchased 3 of the unique poster selections created every year by the owners of the bar (over 3 decades ( https://shop.williswinebar.com/). Their favorite poster was that of two bottles dancing, circa 1998, now mounted in their kitchen.
Bob and Jane enjoyed cocktails and discussion each year with Georgette since their first encounter 8 years prior at the cozy restaurant, La Belle Etoillein Villefrance Sur Mer. That evening, the couple was having one their arguments over nothing that came from a decade of familiarity. Georgette, sitting at the next table abruptly introduced herself as the couple’s voices were escalating, and simply said: “You two are sooooooo deeply in love. So! Please, pause, take a sip of wine and let the 3 of us enjoy each other’s company”. The interruption was so abrupt, that Bob ordered another bottle of wine to share, and the two settled back into their mutual adoration mode. Georgette was an unsolicited angel for the couple, that for years they would reflect on every so often.
This year Bob and Jane had a particular reason to visit Paris. They were looking to adopt a child from an orphanage that focused on children from France’s previous colonies, e.g., Algeria, Ivory Coast, & Morocco. When they first mentioned this to Georgette that evening, she was so excited for them, given that the last several visits to Paris they had discussed the possibility with increasing importance as their marriage matured. This time they were absolutely sure this would be a wonderful next step forward.
However, at Willis they spoke of their major concern as to how they could find the appropriate child for them. They wanted a child at least 5 years old that was sensitive, capable of receiving and giving love, and more artistic than calculating. Georgette, being a mother of 3, and the grandmother of 4, recognized their naiveté as to developing a relationship with a child (nature vs. nurture). Regardless of the child’s personality, it was the challenge, duty, and loving pleasure of the parents to bring a child up properly, i.e., with love, grace, and acceptance of others. Georgette, in her wisdom, had an idea that would provide some “false assurance” for the couple that they would do well in their decision making. She paused their conversation and reached down and picked up the parasol. She then opened and placed it over her shoulder spinning it slowly. She said nothing waiting for a question or comment to be presented to her by either Bob or Jane.
to silence. Georgette remained silent and then turned her eyes towards Jane. Jane, somewhat dumfounded, said “Georgette, quite a lovely umbrella you have there, but it seems highly impractical and inefficient for a rain storm. I mean, it is lovely and all, but reallyit’s quite small … and the trim of lace?” Georgette bit her tongue and said in a somewhat socially-superior tone; “Actually, Jane, this is a parasolthat is used by ladies of all ages, including the youngest of mademoiselles as a way to first draw male attention to themselves, and then second, to block the sun if actually necessary”. Georgette continued: “With my extensive experience in dealing with the desires, motivations, and soulfulness of French mademoiselles, I have noted a strong correlation between the admiration of a parasol and the wholesomeness of the child”. Georgette paused and then went on… “I can’t speak as to boys and parasols. But, my guess is that you will find a young individual with admiration of a parasol to be one whose kindness that is matched only by that person’s artistic characteristics.” Again, Georgette paused waiting for either of the couple to comment or question her.
In lieu of further discussion, Bob ordered another bottle of Boudreaux. He turned to Georgette:” Would you mind if we borrowed your umbrell …. errrr … parasol for our visit to the adoption center tomorrow? It is our first day to visit with the children they have there …. and … perhaps the umbrell ….. errrrr….the parasol may be helpful in noting which children that have interests for which we are interested. WOW!, thought Georgette to herself, Bob at least bought into this fallacy that she had contrived, but that method would perhaps ease their decision-making process. “Absolutely Bob, please take the parasolwith you.”, Georgette stated with an amiable smile. Turning towards Jane, she then said “Jane, are you in agreement with this?” Jane raised her head and looked at Bob and said “Bob, let’s do this thing, It won’t hurt to use this means.”
They finished their drinks, and Georgette stated she had a dinner with one of her children’s family in 30 minutes. She suggested that they meet tomorrow evening at 6 PM at Willis to discuss the couple’s visitation with the children. Bob and Jane, both immediately agreed. The tab was paid by Bob, and off they went.
Georgette arrived on time at her daughter’s house in time to share a glass of red Burgundy before beginning dinner of Coq au Vin. During this time Georgette described what she had been through with Bob and Jane. Immediately, her daughter cried out “MAMAN, REALLY? you told them that? … Now you know why I rarely listened to your advice when I started dating.” They all laughed and proceeded to the table. “By the way Maman, even with your devious activities tonight, I will be serving your favorite dessert, Ille Flotante”
7. Oops: Didn’t Expect That
It was the night after Georgette had met Bob and Jane at Willis Wine Bar. The latter two had spent the afternoon at the house of orphans from France’s previous colonies and protectorates, primarily Northwestern Africa. The goal had been to find a young / teen child that they could adopt for their life in the States. And, as they had discussed the previous night with Georgette, they took with them the parasol that Georgette had offered for their use as one tool to assess the characteristics that they wanted their child to have. That is, Georgette had suggested that the beauty and style of the parasol would provide a clue as to the nature of a child as to loving and artistic interests. Georgette focused on these two attributes given that both Bob and Jane were heavily involved in the arts, i.e., theatre, painting, and a string trio. Of course, Georgette recognized the ridiculous prejudice in her action,but knowing the two over 7 years, she saw her action as innocent, helpful infusion to assist them.
Upon arrival at Willis that evening, the two went directly to the bar. Georgette had not yet arrived. Ordering a cognac for each, Jane turned to Bob. “I believe we have made the best decision, but will Georgette understand?” Bob turned sharply towards her and forcibly said “I think she will ….. but, that is something we do not haveto be concerned with” … pause … “This is our life, and it is our family to be. I have absolutely NO problem with the difficulties our selection may make for us relative to the difficulties the child may or may not face.”
Several minutes later, Georgette arrived at the bar and quickly ordered a double cognac straight up. Huffing somewhat having hurried to make up for late departure from work, she turned to Bob, “Well?” Jane responded, “Well ….. we did select a child … and the parasol was indeed very helpful, and”. Bob interrupted sensing hesitation on Jane’s part to continue, “We were introduced to a number of children as they were playing in the courtyard. They varied in age from 6-9, I‘d say. It was suggested by the Pastor that we watch them as a group first and then tell him if there were any particular children in which we were interested. So, we strolled around with Jane spinning her parasol over her shoulder and said ‘Bon jour’ to each child and commenting on their eyes, their hair, etc. to observe their individual responses.” After a deep pause with Bob shuffling in his seat, “There was one child, Lindsey, who took the moment to respond to our comments, and then asked about the parasol. Lindsey asked what it was made up, ‘silk perhaps’ and how did Jane come to have it. From there we continued the conversation asking about Lindsey’s favorite songs, art, hobbies, and friends, etc. We ended up spending 20 minutes with Lindsey. The recess bell was sounded, and all children returned to their classes. Lindsey reached out and shook each of our hands in a very tender but yet firm way which was totally unexpected. With a truly angelic facial expression, the child turned to leave and several steps later looked back to see if we were watching the departure. Simultaneously, we each turned to the other and said ‘That is the child for us.’ Later that afternoon, as requested of the Pastor, we met with Lindsey to just have a comfortable conversation about the child’s overall interests, including dance, sports, and styles of dress. From that, Jane and I developed a very strong feeling of Lindsey’s character that we admired, if not envied.” … pause … “Do you agree Jane?” “Absolutely!”, she responded.
By this time Georgette was clenching her hands over her head like a victorious boxer, with the widest smile one could imagine. She threw her arms around both of them and hugged them so firmly. She returned to her bar stool, took a sip of cognac and asked “How long will it take to secure the adoption of this young lady?” Both Bob and Jane simultaneously let out a slight chuckle. “Actually Georgette” Bob said looking directly into her eyes, “Lindsey is an 8-year boy, with flaming red hair and a soft, almost glowing brown complexion given his Irish and Moroccan heritage. Lindsey was abandoned at the age of 7 in Algeria by his Irish father and with his Moroccan mother dying shortly thereafter. He seems to quite confident of himself, given his age and family circumstances, and with tender thoughts and a strong interest in the arts and life styles as we discovered in a further discussion with him later in the afternoon.
“Oops, didn’t see that coming” said Georgette. She continued “I mean after all the parasol and …..” She stopped realizing her own innocent ignorance of the ‘new, open society’. Georgette took a gulpof cognac, and said “I am very, very happy for you two. Onto dinner…. my treat.”
Bob then added, “By the way, here is the parasol back. Lindsey already has his favorite that his mom gave to him 2 years ago when they were passing through the markets of Morocco.”
Each of them had opened their minds that day as to youth, stereotypes, and the enjoyment of individuality.
8. Goes Around … Comes Around
The day following her dinner with Bob and Jane at Willis Wine Bar, Georgette was in her office in Hermès. Even for this time of year, the weather in Paris had been somewhat blustery with sharp differences between the days as to temperature and available bright sun. Having left her umbrella at work the day before, she grabbed the parasol as her only practical shelter to the light rain in the morning for the stroll from her residence in the 16tharrondissement to the Metro.
On bright & dry mornings Georgette would often take the bus along the Avenue des Champs Elysées. Although the bus took significantly longer than the Metro, especially during the morning hours with high traffic, she enjoyed seeing again and again the various sights along the avenue, passing around the Arc de Triomphe, and then further down turning at the corner of the Petite Palais and Grand Palais. She continuously challenged herself on the ability to imagine (but without any proof) who those people were boarding the bus at the various stops as to their heritage, their profession, and most interesting, their type of lover. The African women in their colorful, long garb and headdresses were so gorgeous that they were complete in Georgette’s mind. But, those with a moderate amount of skin color were often confusing to her, especially when there was no hint of Asian or Indian characteristics. She would usually settle on Persian in most cases. That was her default given a romantic encounter of several years in college with a most striking Iranian. Then again, there were the occasional extraordinary dark, tall and handsome Nubians that she had come to know and now missed since her visit to Upper Egypt, again in her college years. There was no guessing required for these people, as it was for Chinese vs. Japanese or especially Mongolians, all of which were part of the rich blend of cultures present in Paris.
On this day a young man got onto the bus at the Palais stop. He had captivating curly blond hair, Capri tan pants, a striped t-shirt, and green Chuck Taylors. Clearly, he was not French, but indeed quite handsome and interesting. The bus was crowded at that time in the morning, and as this young man walked down the aisle, Georgette quickly picked up her package and the parasol on the sit next to the window and moved over to make the aisle seat available. He was heading toward the back until Georgette looked up suddenly and made eye contact accompanied by a quirky smile. He paused and then sat down next to her and awkwardly said “Bon Jour Madame.Comment allez-vous?” She quickly responded, “très bien et toi“. Then recognizing his Nordic accent she said in English “Hello, young man. What brings you to Paris …. And from where?” In excellent English, he said his name was Svein and was from Sweden and attending the Sorbonne. Georgette noticed a slight drop in his voice as if he was suddenly reflecting. “Are you Ok Svein? Please permit to say that you look somewhat sad, or perhaps distracted, and that is not allowed in Paris” Georgette quipped. He responded “Yes actually, my love of 3 years has just left me over some very simple matter …well, that is what I thought.”
Georgette asked what his lover’s name was. He quietly let out “Claire” and looked towards the windows on the other side of the bus. There was not enough time for Georgette to engage him further in conversation. So, she made a broad assumption as to what was going on, or rather what was NOT going on relative to Claire. So! She handed Svein her business card and placed the parasol in his lap saying. “Svein, with the little you have said, I expect that Claire is forever gone from you. However, given my perception of you, NO young lady would walk away from you unless there were serious issues for her regarding you. Right now politics is a most unfortunate divider. Anyhow, there are so very few French woman, of any age, that would not desire this parasol as part of her wardrobe. So!, my suggestion is that you rent a dog from [email protected]and relax on the Pont Neuf in the early evening hours with the parasol in hand and the rental dog at your side … and …. you will soon find a number of Claires that will be more aligned with your personality and desires.” She paused and then continued “Yes!, should you ask, the rent-a-dog site is in English because French men don’t have the insecurities as non-French men, especially American men when dealing with French women – of any age.” She turned her head looking directly into his eyes with a soft touch of her hand on his left cheek, followed by a kiss on his right cheek. “Give me a call in several weeks to discuss how you are doing, and then I will share, if necessary, the secrets of the complex concepts of pursuing French women that you could not possibly know since you are not French.”
Georgette’s bus stop was next. She bent over and again gave a kiss to each of Svein’s cheeks, and simply said “Au revoir mon fils.I await your call”, as she laid the parasol on his lap. She stood up, pulled the “stop” chord and exited the bus.
Svein eyed the parasol with skepticism. Really? could a small umbrella, … parasol … whatever, charm a French woman. That didn’t make sense to him. Swedish women are too practical for such fanciful charms. But, then again, there is nothing to be lost with taking the parasol to the celebration at the Pompidou Centertomorrow night.
This was the weekend encompassing the le 14 Juillet, a.k.a. Bastille Day, the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. The military parade (the oldest in Europe) would again take place along the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, as it had for the last 230 years. Svein had enjoyed this display of arms and military personnel the last 2 years while he was attending the Sorbonne. This parade was so flamboyant compared to the subdued military presence in Sweden. The first parade he attended was also when he first met Claire, with whom he would have an engaging and wonderful relationship, that is, until several weeks ago at a café in Place des Vosges. He had walked out on Claire when they got into a heated discussion about demonstrations at the Sorbonne. Claire had become too liberal for him … or rather … he had simply ignored their conflicting characteristics in the early part of their otherwise romantic relationship. Indeed, love can be blind at first. Svein enjoyed structure and abhorred meaninglessdiscontentment. Claire was of the opposite mindset. With the demonstration, he had had enough of her misguided judgement, and walked out of the café leaving the remains of his café crème and croissant.
Leaving Claire was a desperate action by Svein given his more moderate personality as a Swede. He was indeed a certifiable WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant) by nature if not nationality, meaning that he did everything that had to be done without assistance, i.e., he was self-sufficient.
Whereas Bastille Day celebrates the pursuit of Freedom for the citizens of France, for Svein it was the beginning of his freedom from Claire and her overlyliberalways. Actually, as it turned out, it was the beginning of freedom for him as well from his overly conservative, Swedish-driven WASP attitude. This attitude had inhibited him throughout his adult years as to freely enjoying and accepting the differences in the human race across the globe. “Really?” you ask. Read on.
The cocktail celebration was being held at the Brasserie Georges located atop the Pompidou Center. Matched only by the Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur in Montmartre as to the expansive view of Paris. Without any stated dress code, only a few were not dressed in some assortment of blue, white, and red of France’s flag. Fortunately, as it turned out, Svein was dressed in faded blue jeans and an open-collar linen shirt that hung down over his waist. Svein entered at 9 PM and went directly to the bar, his security blanket. He ordered a “martini, straight up, with olives.” The bartender, cocked his head, and indeed a few moments later delivered a glass of warm white vermouth with nicoise olives. So, so wrong was this drink, that Svein then remembered that “Martini” in the US referred to gin or vodka, and not the vermouth maker. Refusing the “maritini”, he then asked for a Manhattan. The bartender was still confused as to what that was. Finally, they settled on pastis on the rocks. Svein was now social drinking Frenchstyle. Given his out-of-place garb, only a neon sign on his head displaying “I am Not French” could have been clearer to everyone there.
Next to him was an attractive, short hair, 30-something lady in a long clinging gown of the appropriate colors. He was well familiar with the svelte and cool French-standard madam when staying at the French Rivera during July and August. He found them to be indifferent to his casual dress style and pragmatic conversation without solicitous comments. Nonetheless, he turned to the lady and introduced himself, somewhat awkwardly, asking if she had enjoyed the parade in the afternoon. “Parade? What parade?” she responded. “Oh! You mean THAT display of super-charged testosterone? I mean even the female soldiers ….. How insulting to our world-renown female reputation.” … pause …. She turned sharply to link their eyes and continued. “Women parading in uniform is on the same level of insult to our culture as if our food depended on artificial flavors, instant mixes, and low-fat substitutions for dairy.” She continued, “Yes, women played a major role in the revolution, but to reduce themselves to military dress is simply too far for our culture.” Wow”, Sven thought to himself, “this is perhaps the most passionate and outspoken French lady I have ever met.” She abruptly stood up and said she needed a cigarette and would be back shortly. Quickly Svein responded “Can I join you on the observation deck?”
One point that Svein had noted about French women when in Villefranche Sur Mer, is that they didn’t seem to be true as to their commitments, at least not with him. There were a number of broken promises from various ladies with whom he had started conversations and ending with that they would meet with him the next night at the water-front bar in the Hotel Welcome - and they didn’t show.
Withdrawing the Camels from his shirt pocket, he offered one to the lady with a “My name is Svein. I am from Sweden attending university here”. She responded, “Clearly you are not French, Monsieur given your dress and lacking linguistic skills – and Camels – REALLY!” … pause … “But, never mind, my name is Abelia, and I am French with no particular skills it seems other than to repulse French men with my aggressiveness.” Svein made eye contact, gave a slight smile, and said “I noticed! Abelia.” With that, she sat on a stool at the edge of the observation deck, and leaned back against the barrier. “I like you Svein”, while turning her head towards the Eiffel tower and inhaling on her cigarette.
Svein was now on point with this tall, unique French woman. He asked, “Should I like you?” and then turned away towards Sacre Coeur. They were now with their backs to each other. There was now silence as they finished their cigarettes. Several minutes later, Svein said quietly, “Abelia, please join me at the bar”. She turned to face him, and with a firm chin, she took his arm and back to the bar they went silent all of the way.
Two flutes of champagne were ordered by Svein without him asking what she may like. He felt that she had given him some level of respectfulcontrol over this situation. And he was SO RIGHT. What Abelia had been looking for, but continuously disappointed by French (and especially Italian) males, was respect in developing a relationship. Svein was demonstrating the possibilities. For her, she was not the average French woman in MANY ways as Svein come to understand, and she was looking for a male that would appreciate and accept that.
To add some levity to the conversation. Svein stated that he had been told that French woman could be swooned by the present of a parasol – like Superman’s kryptonite. Abelia didn't understand the analogy. What she did know, is that she was a bit tipsy and had already gone much further in revealing herself than she had ever done before. So, she stood up, gave her business card to Svein and stated clearly “I don't need a parasol. But, I think I need you … and you MAYneed me. Meet me tomorrow at Willies Wine Bar in the Opera Qtr. at 6 PM, and let's exploreUS. Ok?” He stood, placed his arm around her waist and pulled her against him and kissed her on each cheek, but passionately. Whispering in her left ear he said: “I will be there, and I KNOW you will also be there.”
10. Complex Simplicity
Not fully known to Svein at that time, as revealed later, he had been introduced to and enticed by a new threshold of reality by meeting Abelia. Ironically, this was a reality based upon a fascinationin which he was caught up in this brief encounter. “What is the reason for this attraction… … and … why her?” he mumbled looking into his bathroom mirror the next morning. His facial shadow was now several days old and suggested a presence of physical and mental maturity that was not real. After all, his personal heritage aligned squarely with the conservative, often criticizing characteristics of his homeland. While he was proud to be a Swede, he understood that such characteristics could make him unacceptable in Paris.
As he prepared pan perdufor breakfast using thick slices of brioche fried in butter and oil, after being dipped in whipped brown eggs infused with vanilla extract and a touch of sugar, his mind continuously circulated Abelia’s comment upon departure the night before: “I don't need a parasol. But, I think I need you … and you MAY need me.” Only the sizzling of the sage pork links as squirts of pork essence would occasionally escape, would break his concentration on this extraordinary French woman. As to directness, she was similar to Swedish women in that manner. But unlike those women he knew in his past, she was also insightful as to him. His perception of Abelia was that she was the essence of ”self-actualization” as he had been introduced to in his behavioral science courses at Sorbonne. With her singular statement, she had exposed her needs openly and directly. And, in fact, she had identified a primary need of his as well. “Wow!” he said out loud.
He prepared a café crème on his De’Longhi, and with the pan perdu and maple syrup in hand, he edged into the 2-chair table on his petite 2ndfloor balcony. His deck overlooked Marche des Enfants Rouges, a 16thcentury structure that was built as an orphanage for children who wore red garb donated by the Christian churches; Hence the name. Now the complex is a gourmet food market, and it was at this time in the morning that merchants hustled to display their produce on the street-side tables and benches. It was also this time of the day that Svein so enjoyed the scent of Paris that was throughout the city. This was a scent that was a subtle mixture of floral and herbal notes that had not yet been diffused by vehicle exhaust, restaurant kitchens, and pedestrian crowds. Once the market table had been set up, he would have a second café crème and watch the city’s street maintenance crew as they opened the hydrants and swept the trash to the drains.
That afternoon, Svein was having lunch with a dear friend, Liam, from Sweden who was also attending the Sorbonne. As with any self-supporting student, Svein had a favorite sandwich shop which for him was only two blocks from the Opera. This back-street, store-front served various versions of baguettes sandwiches. Of course, the store had the expected jambon & fromage, as well as tuna, and lettuce / tomatoes with slices of boiled eggs, a French standard. BUT, unlike any such shop known to Svein, they also had baguettes filled with a slice of coarse country paté snuggled by slices of gruyere. So simple, but yet so extraordinary – that is, with the addition of a touch of sea salt.
He decided to not discuss Abelia with Liam given the unique and sudden feelings he had. Rather, they discussed the World Soccer Cup in Nice in several weeks. Actually, Liam talked about it while Svein was concentrating on the parasol suddenly. Indeed, Abelia had been somewhat indifferent to the object. She had said quite abruptly, “I don't need a parasol.” But, she needed him. As Liam continued his diatribe on the soccer games in 2 weeks, Svein grinned noting that at least, he was more acceptable to this woman than a parasol.
In the evening Svein had arrived at Willie’s Wine bar early. It was his strategy to taste, and thereby become familiar with several wines to hopefully present a façade to the lady, a French lady, as to his lack of wine experience. He learned that white Burgundies are primarily Chardonnay, and the reds are primarily Pinot Noir. He also found the white Bordeaux’s to be too acidic and grapefruit-like as to be expected from the primary grape, sauvignon blanc. He was starting to realize, but not necessarily understand, the formality of France’s wine culture. For example, the price hierarchy of the white Burgundies based upon classification such as Grand Cru and Premier Cru. These governments designations were based upon rather subjective, century’s old geographic separations and not necessary aligned with the quality of the ‘terroir’, the essence of wine making.
Abelia arrived at 6:30, late as he expected, given her independent, if not rebellious, attitude from the night before. He had told the barman to deliver 2 Kir Royals on her arrival without his asking for them. Svein was taking a formidable position with her, but only to a level that he thought would not challenge her independence. Oops!, he was wrong. He had gone too far with the Kir Royals. She turned to the barman, “Pastis avec glacons, grand, s'il vous plaît.” The mistakes by Svein continued as he stumbled through his use of French. The breaking point was when he ordered a Pâtes not realizing it was NOT a number of patés, but rather pasta. Svein blushed at his mistakes, which was his nature. But, he didn’t realize then that his mistakes actually endeared himself even more to Abelia. For her, Svein didn’t exhibit, yet alone, possess the arrogance, pretentious characteristics of the French or Italian men with whom she normally associated.
Not recognizing Abelia’s increasing interest in him, he struggled to strike a chord with this lady, Svein pulled out the parasol and offered it to Abelia with a quirky smile and a sense of seriousness as a demonstration of his interest in her. He simply stated “I have this lovely Parasol that I came across recently that is better kept by a lovely Parisian woman such as yourself, rather than myself. I offer this parasol that you that you said you don’t need, but that you may need me at some point. This is my amuse bouchefor our forthcoming relationship I trust, if you will.” That was the closure for Abelia. She adored the complex simplicityof this monsieur. She perceived that he was an induvial that would be comfortable in his native environment, but willing to struggle to find acceptance in Parisian society. Abelia accepted the parasol gracefully with a smile but without comment. She realized that Svein didn’t need to be rejected on such a simple offering given that she was use to much more impressive, yet fatuous, gifts from her numerous courtiers.
The evening at Willis was somewhat awkward at first for Svein, given his errors, but absolutely captivating for Abelia. She sensed his apparent concern as to his performance. So, being the independent woman as she was, she got up from the table, approached Svein, and slowly licked off his meringue mustache from the ille flotantdessert they had just finished. She stepped back, tilted her head as in making a closer examination, and said “I missed a spot” and then bent over again to sensually kiss his lips. Now, she was in control. He had played the role the night before, but Abelia, was now directing their relationship. This is what she did very well given the opportunity with the right male.
Abelia was not willing to go further with Svein that evening. With an additional, but lighter kiss, and a touching of his left thigh, she said that she would be at the main entrance to Pére Lachaise cemetery at 5 PM tomorrow. She walked out, but looked back at him with parasol twirling on her shoulder. Indeed, he was watching her exit, and she threw a kiss with a flirting twist of her hips as she exited Willis.
11. A WildE Life
Abelia awaken at 8 the next morning to the light rain on the railed deck of her 2ndfloor apartment. Weather permitting, she kept her French doors to the deck open, as well as the windows. She also had no curtains blocking those doors or any windows. Sleeping, and moving through her apartment was usually done wearing only a thong. French women of her gneration were not to be constrained by unnecessary clothing. Occasionally, when she would pass by the opened French doors, she would hear a whistle of approval from an apartment across the way from a young, rather handsome male, most likely a student. She would turned towards him, give a twirl and continue on with her business. Obviously, he was not French in that he never approached her in the street … or left a bottle of Bordeux at her door. “His lost”, she said to the mirror in the hallway in passing as she turned to view her profile.
In her postage stamp of a kitchen she first made a café crème and proceeded to prepare her Parisian-style omelet that had been slowly cooked in a smattering of butter and filled with jambon, gruyere, and diced green peppers. Her omelets were particularly good with a velvety texture given the addition of water and heavy cream when vigorously beating the eggs. The omelet would sit for a moment on the plate as she split, buttered, and then toasted a croissant. Her jam of choice was that of rhubarb, spiced with orange peel and a touch of cinnamon; a recipe from her youth in Provence. It was at a small table by the French doors, that she enjoyed her petit déjeuner and mentally set up her schedule for the day only. The evening plans were rarely planned and left to happenstance as the day progressed. But this day was different. She had a full day’s schedule.
She toyed with her omelet as she reflected on the night before with Svein and the kiss that was so gentle, yet pressing. Her initiation of that kiss was unusual for a young French woman in Paris. Maybe in Nice or Provence with the influence of those ‘unrefined gypsies’, it may be acceptable there. However, Svein had responded in kind and, as per her spontaneous suggestion, she was determined to meet Svein at 5 at the main entrance to Pére Lachaise cemetery.
Before noon Abelia had decided that a picnic at the Parc floral de Paris would be most delightful. The rain had long past, and she went to the local market to pick up 3 granny smith apples, saucisson sec, double-crème brie, and brioche rolls. At the wine shop she bought a bottle of Languedoc blanc given both its excellent complexity and reasonable price. While she was an excellent cook well practiced in country French cuisine, the fact of being single shied her away over recent years from so many recipes that were meant for family. So, this was to be a very simple picnic, that is, except for the dessert. The apples were to be used for a rustic apple galette in which she excelled given what she had learned as a youth. Specifically, when making the crust, freeze the butter, and use a grater to shave small pieces into the flour mixture with only the minimum of ice water added to pull the dough together. Lastly, chill the dough for several hours to develop the archipelago of butter patches that provide for the crisp, flakey final product.
She had a stylish, but practical, weaved picnic basket that she had purchased several years earlier at the home store of Galleries Lafayette. Into it she placed the wine that was well chilled and contained in an insulated, stainless steel vessel, and then the galette. She had rejected bringing a salad, as would normally be expected, because of her insistence on serving salad directly from the fridge to ensure the crispness and lightness of the mâche lettuce. What she purposely did not do was to bring Dijon mustard for the sandwiches. That would to be too much for the Swede, she thought. Just some freshly made mayonnaise would do. Lastly, she grabbed the parasol and placed it in the basket with a single lily.
Several arrondissements away, Svein had awakened at 10:30 with a hangover. After Abelia’s departure from Willis’s Wine Bar the night before, he had stayed for several more glasses of red Bordeaux, very foolishly followed by a shot of absinthe. “What was I thinking?” he mumbled as he lumbered out of his bed. His mind was turning over to make sense of what he remembered of the evening as to the following:
- Abelia ACTUALLY met him at Willis. He had had some doubts about that happening;
- This French woman came on to him;
- He was to meet her at the Pere-somethingcemetery at 5. “Really?” he thought “a cemetery?.”
He dressed, went to the café across the street from his apartment, shoved down a chocolate croissant and drank a double espresso with the thought that the caffeine would reduce the hangover pain. Having been caffeine free for a year or so, the double espresso was a sure cure for such moments. He was off to class.
He met up with Liam after class and discussed the occurrences of the night before. Liam explained to Svein that the Pére Lachaisecemetery that Abelia had mentioned was indeed a very distinguished location for romance and reflection in Paris. Other than the disquietly, attractive setting of the cemetery with its complexity of paths, the major draw, especially for older women, was that both Jimmy Morrison and Oscar Wilde are buried there. “Make sure you go to the tomb of Oscar Wilde. Its amazing.” Liam added before they separated. At 4:30 Svein had changed into comfortable jeans and his favorite loose linen shirt, and headed to the Metro.
They both arrived at the main gate of Pére Lachaise cemetery within minutes of each other. Again, Abelia took “control” upon meeting Svein, by lowering her basket to the ground followed by placing her arms around his waste, pulling him in and kissing him on both cheeks with a “prrrrrrrrr” in his right ear. Svein wasted no time in pressing her more firmly to his body and simply whispering “Oui!.” He held her for a moment more and then grabbed and held onto her hands as he twirled her around and away and back to him again. He let go of her hands and with both of them facing each other, he looked towards to the ground and humbly said: “I have been thinking about you today.” Abelia, reached out and raised his face to look directly into her eyes saying softly: “Qui monsieur. You have been on my mind as well.” They both paused staring at each other. Svein broke the silence: “What’s with the basket?” She responded: “This is our picnic for the evening that we will enjoy in a park not far from here. But first, I want to share something with you in the cemetery that speaks to the romantic spirit of Paris for so manydifferent types of lovers.” She continued, I welcome you to walk with me to the tomb of Oscar Wilde. Are you familiar with his writings … and with his lifestyle?” Svein responded: “Somewhat. I did read The Picture of Dorian Graywith his amazing use of paradox after paradox. I also remember some points regarding his lifestyle. But, continue Mademoiselle”. Abelia did so: “There is a particular reason that I want you to see this tomb that we will discuss during the picnic. By the way, the French government prohibits the use of ‘mademoiselle’ in official documents. Only Madame is appropriate. The Republic wants there to be no suggested discrimination in approaching women based upon age.” “Oops!’ Svein responded only to get the most charming smile from Abelia as she said softly “You may try using ‘Chérie’ ”
With her arm tucked into Svein’s, they entered the cemetery and walked up the path that led to Oscar Wilde’s tomb. On the way Abelia noted that there are 800,000 souls buried in the cemetery including celebrated individuals such as Jim Morrison, Chopin, Moliere, and Edith Piaf. As they approached Oscar Wilde’s, Svein stopped suddenly taking in the visual of the striking,12 ft. soaring figure sculpted from a 20 ton of very fine, marble-like limestone. To him, the figure exhibited both Indian and Egyptian influences. Abelia noted: “Besides the celebrity of the encased soul, the tomb is also known for it having been once covered with lip marks by thousands of women and men. However, due to the increasing erosion of the limestone used, the lip marks were removed in 2011 with the tomb encased in a glass structure.” As they moved closer towards the front of the tomb, what Svein first believe to be smear marks were in fact lip marks on the glass, of course, with several brief messages. Abelia remained silent waiting for Svein’s comment as he slowly translated some of the brief messages. After several minutes, Svein turned and faced Abelia with a “Hmmmmmmmm!” He reached to take her right hand in his, and said: “Merci beaucoup, Mademoiselle, ahhhh Chérie”… pause … “I am anxious for the contents of your basket … and I am anxious to discuss this experience with you as you suggested, especially given some of the comments on the glass”. He continued, “Is there anything else you would like me to see or know at this point?” She shook her head as she reached into her basket and pulled out the parasol. She opened it and flipped it into the air so as it would float down through the open top of the structure and land next to the tomb. “I expect that after our picnic conversation, that you will agree to my leaving this parasol there for it to be retrieved and enjoyed by another Wilde enthusiast. She pulled him around and they held hands walking towards the exit.
It was a comfortable walk to the Parc floral de Paris. They were entering from the West on the way to the Le Bosquet restaurant. They passed through the Jardin Des Papillions with Abelia being disappointed with such few butterflies present. At the restaurant, they turned to go down the lush green grass slopes to the artificial lake doted by Swans. Abelia pulled out a blanket, and gave it to Svein to layout while she emptied the basket. First, she pulled out the lily, raised it her nose, and then threw it at Svein as would a young girl flirting. “First, we have some wine Chérie” as she opened the vessel and poured two glasses. They clinked their glasses and sipped the wine. Next she pulled out the brioche rolls, slices of saucisse sec, and the brie and proceeded to make 2 sandwiches. Svein reached for his cell phone to capture this activity. But, Abelia turned and said “No! No! Cherie. To take pictures now would suggest no future memories.” She really wasn’t being that serious, but Svein put the phone back in his pocket.
While enjoying the sandwiches, Abelia started the all-revealing conversation to be. “Svein, did you find any of the messages on the tomb to be of particular interest to you … or to us possibly?” Svein was not sure about her question as to it having particular relevance. “Well, yes annnnnnnd no.” He continued in a moment, “It seems that you are testing or challenging me in someway. If you are wishing to understand my position on homosexuality, then I will say that I am not of that nature, but do not have any negative feelings about such sexuality. I mean really!, my gay friends for the most part in Sweden and at the university are such via nature. I have two very dear friends that may have been nurtured in some fashion, but that is not important. They are all dear for me and part of my life.” Abelia reached out and held Svein’s left hand as she took a long drink of the wine. She turned to face Svein and said “Actually, Chérie, my first name was Abel before the transformation”. Svein smiled, picked up his glass and said “Cool! Now, about that galette.”
12. Memories Never Forgotten
The rain in Paris for several days had driven the public to the metros even though for many the buses were the favorite transport given less crowds and particularly scenic routes. Arguably the most favorite bus routes were those along the Champs Elyse’s as well as Montmarte in which is located Sacrê-Coure, a roman catholic church and minor basilica that is the 2ndmost visit monument in Paris. As the highest point in Paris, it is not only an endearing religious symbol to Parisians since 1885, but also associated historically with politics and culture.
Josh and Jane (referred to collectively as the ‘Js” by their friends) only had 2 full days remaining in Paris before returning to San Francisco. They both were children of the 60’s music scene, and the social, mental, and physical liberties associated with the flower childrenof that time period and that City in particular. Jim Morrison, as the leader of the Doors, was their idol, and on this trip they were determined to visit his grave at Pere Lachaise. They had actually brought their tied-died shirts and jeans from that period.Granted, Bill was stretching the limits of the shirt, and beyond that for the jeans by leaving the 2 top buttons open, whereas Jane had actually loss some mass over the years given the toll of cigarette smoking on her physique. But, with no concern as to their presence on Paris’s streets (they were both shameless and unpretentious Americans in their 70s), they put on their shirts and bell-bottom jeans and headed for the Metro.
The rain had reduced to a mist and neither brought an umbrella. Subconsciously, in their opinion that would be insulting to their half-century ‘flower child’ mindset. They entered Pere Lachaise and made their way to Morrison’s tomb via a complexity of the paths of the 107-acre property. The direct path they chose went past the tomb of Oscar Wilde, and the massiveness of that tomb with the 12 ft. soaring figure could not be ignored. They stopped to take in the structure. Neither really knew who this Wilde guy was, amazingly, and Josh pulled out his iPhone to google. As he did so, Jane noticed the open parasol in the corner next to the tomb behind the glass structure that had been abandoned. She pointed out the parasol to Josh, but he was indifferent to that comment even though she suggested that retrieving that item would be a great remembrance of their visit there. He looked up from his phone, noticed the position of the parasol within the glass structure as well as the narrow gap between the ground and the bottom of the glass and said: “Really Jane?” With a negative tone, he continued: “Indeed, Mr. Wilde was an extraordinary writer of his time as I just googled. But, let it lay and go on to our idol”. She hesitantly agreed, and in several minutes, they were where they had planned to be.
Jane had mixed and brought their favorite beverage in the 60’s, ‘Purple Passion’made from grape juice and vodka to properly setthe stage from that time. They sat, they drank excessively and took some hits to reflect on their memories of their Doors’ concerts. This moment was so pleasurable for them, given that this trip was an absolute stepping stone in their life. They finished their drinks, stood, and bowed towards the tomb. Down the hill they proceeded to exit, again passing Wilde’s tomb.
Upon approaching Oscar Wilde’s tomb, Jane grabbed Josh’s right hand to stop and turn again to take one last view of that exotic structure. Again, Jane said with slurredspeech given the last half hour, that the parasol had become even more important to her. This desire had nothing to do with Oscar Wilde actually, but rather the true beauty of the parasol enhanced by their lack of sobriety. So, in the least stable way, Josh got down on his knees and used a loose branch he found to attempt to reach the parasol and drag it to the side of the glass structure. No luck there, and Jill began to giggle increasingly at his efforts became more ridiculous. Given his body style, his effort reminded Jane of a beached whale which added to her joviality. Josh finally gave up, stating that retrieving the parasol was an impossibility.
It was noon, and the cemetery’s maintenance crews were beginning their work shifts. As such, Roget was on duty and approaching the tomb to sweep up the trash from the weekend. He noticed Josh on his knees and rushed to his side saying “Stop! Stop!, what are you doing.” It was clear to Roget that these were tourists by their unusual dress and their ridiculous actions. His thought was that only “ugly Americans’ would be so lacking of humility and presence of mind, or with too much arrogance or ignorance, to be so disrespectful to tombs. He was right, and he wanted to bring a halt to whatever was going on. Fortunately, Roget spoke better English than Josh or Jill did French.
Jill was still giggling as Josh was attempting to stand and at the same time brush off his bell-bottoms. Being the more stable of the two, Jill responded to Roget that they were attempting to retrieve the parasol that clearly had been abandoned. Roget, looked sternly at the two and said “Move on Monsieur and Madame. You have no rights here. Not even Parisians would attempt what you are trying.” As such, Jill took a hold of Josh’s arm, pointed her chin sternly downhill, and they proceeded singing their favorite Door’s song, ‘Riders on the Storm’.
Roget was not particularly interested in the parasol, but understood that others would make such attempts to retrieve it. The Parasol had to be removed sooner rather than later. However, the key to the glass structure was back in his office, and with a mumble of “Stupid Americans” he walked back to get the key. He returned 15 minutes later to find a young couple also attempting to retrieve the parasol. “Mon Dieu” he said out loud before yelling at the couple to leave. Roget was an older gentleman with little patience, and called his wife, Sandra, to let out his angst. She asked about the parasol as to style and colors as she had a particular interest that at first confused Roget. He responded in detail in an indifferent fashion, followed by her directing for him to bring it home. “It will be a perfect item to add to my wares to sell this Saturday at the my kiosk.” So he did.
Antiquaire Brocant Paris was arguably the most charming, if not prestigious, flea market in Paris that was visited by all classes given the variety of discarded or antique articles of the rich society of Paris that shifted endlessly in the years in furnishings and clothes to stay in style. Sandra had a small kiosk there where she spends her weekends picking up the extra income needed to support that of her husband to afford their apartment in the Marais that they both adored. This area other than including the Hotel de Ville, was also a gay-friendly neighborhood. They really enjoyed the lively nightly spirit that prevailed into the late hours on the streets and the tucked away squares with resident-only cafes and restaurants. The Seine was the Southern border for the Marais, with 2 bridges to the islands Cite and St. Louis that left the Marais spirit behind.
Upon returning to his apartment, Roget presented the parasol to Sandra. He did so by twirling it on his shoulder and turning around as she opened the door. “Really Roger?” she said in a whimsical manner, as he entered and going to his knee to offer the parasol over his left arm as if it was a gift presented to a Queen. “Stand Monsieur, and be recognized by your Mistress”, as she relieved him of the item. Known only to themselves, fantasy had been a key aspect of their 25-year marriage and their 27-year romance. Back to business, Sandra inspected the parasol noting the Hernes’ tag. “I will assuredly sell this on Saturday at my kiosk, and we will use the €s or so to enjoy dinner at Brasserie Gallopin”, their favorite for classical French cuisine and service – but only in the back room unknowing to many that was reserved primarily for the informed.
On Saturday Sarah was at her kiosk at 7:30 in the morning setting up for the day. Her primary wares were copper kitchen pans, antique, carved hardwood picture frames, and various watercolor paintings and aged photos of Paris and Parisians. She figured that she would get at least 80 €s for the parasol given the Hermes tag and its excellent condition. She placed it in a prominent position on one of the tables closet to the walkway. The crowds had been light that day, and the parasol had received relatively little attention before noon.
One print she had for sale was a B/W portrait of a family from roughly the 30’s. The stiff parents stood with their arms around a girl with the Arc de Triumphant in the background. In placing that picture next to the parasol, Sarah reflected on her deepest sadness in her 25 years of marriage, and in her life. At that time Sarah and Roget had lost their first and only child due to delivery complications. Gloria would be about the age of the girl in the portrait. Sarah felt a shiver in her body as she shook her head to rid herself of the thought. It didn’t work as she took a handkerchief to her moist eyes. After 24 years since the birth and passing of Gloria, Sarah was incapable of avoiding the heartbreak.
It was now 2 in the afternoon and Sarah had just finished her croque monsieur and flask of gaseous water she had brought with her. Unlike any city in the world, Paris is known not only for the purification and taste of its public water, but also the free availability of gaseous water in various parts of the city.
A woman with a young girl was approaching her kiosk. Clearly, by their dress, they were locals and relatively poor at that. She thought, “Really? what are they doing her?” Given their velvety, milk chocolate skin, she guessed them to be recent immigrants to France given the rush of Africans to escape the horror oftheir homeland. Once in front of the table, the woman said in broken French “Parle vous Anglaise?’ Sarah said “Oui” followed by “How I may help you Madame and your daughter.” Relieved that she could continue in English, the woman said “My daughter and I have been here for 2 years without my husband, her father, Now, we are preparing for his arrival in several weeks in that he has just received his work visa. He has not seen his daughter since our departure, and I want to present to him the beauty of our new life and his daughter.” “Surely”, Sarah interrupted, “being in the presence of you two will be all of the beauty he needs.” “Yes, of course you are correct Madame” with the woman speaking closely to Sarah. “But it is my daughter’s desire that she presents a ‘special” first image to her father”. Speaking even softer, “She has, … ah … matured recently, and her Papa is the light of her life.” The mother continued, “I am looking for a Fleur de Lys pendantor piece of jewelry to add to her clothing.” Sarah asked hesitantly: “Madame, how much do you want to spend.” The mother paused and said “I am willing to spend at most 15 €sfor such an item. The mother was well familiar with bartering, but with her daughter at her side she wanted to make her best offer with what she had.
Sarah didn't even expect that amount given the condition of the two. She started her response with “Madam, I really don’t have such offerings given the type of items that I sell. But, two kiosks down is an attractive display of jewelry that may be of interest to you and your daughter.” As she said this, she noted that the daughter had picked up the parasol, and had immediately opened it with an outburst of pure joy. Her mother turned to see her daughter’s face, and then turned back to Sarah. “Will you take 12 €s for this petite, impractical umbrella?” Reflecting again that Gloria would have been about the age of this girl before her, her emotions welled up inside her. She paused for a moment as she looked away, and then back. At this point in her emotions she would have made a present of the Parasol to the girl. But as a merchant, Sarah respected the art of bartering and maintaining the respect of each party in the transaction. “Sorry, I cannot accept less than 18 €s.” The mother replied “Please Madame, I am a very hard working woman for my daughter, and ask that you accept only that which I have, which is 15€s. given that I need bus fare to return home.” Sarah smiled at the girl well speaking with the mother. “Very well Madame, the petite umbrella, which we refer to as a ‘parasol’ is yours for 15 €s.”
On returning home that evening, Roget asked Sarah how the day had gone, especially regarding the parasol, as he was thinking about which plat he would order. Before she could respond, he went on to say he could at that moment imagine the taste of his favorite plat, Poitrine de cochon rôtie au romarin. “Of course I will order a serving of gratin dauphinoise.” Although a favorite potato dish throughout France, gratin dauphinoise was most unusual at this restaurant for its engaging creamy texture. During a previous visit, he had asked for the recipe, and the Chef explained that there was particular potato from Northern France that, when baked with heavy cream (with a touch of nutmeg), produced a melted gruyere flavor in the layered potatoes. “Lastly!”, he continued I will have tarte tatin, avec glaces vanilla this time instead of Chantilly.”
Sarah sat down at the kitchen table across from him. She explained the situation and waited for his response. Roget looked took up his iPhone, and simply said “Well, we haven’t been to La Bousssole on the rive gauche for a while. I will make a reservation for 8:30 since they don’t even open until 8.” I do like the roti pouet, and the gratin dauphinoise is actually quite good given that they add gruyere.” There was a moment of silence before he stood up and pulled Sarah into his arms: “I understand, and I love your dearly. We are both sad with our remembrances, but we are OK Chérie, Oui?.”
13. Marketing Icon
Two Saturdays later at the brocant, the woman (in full burka) and her daughter reappeared at Sarah’s kiosk at noon. But this time, the father was with them. In excellent English, given it being the primary language of his country, he said: “Madame, my name is Ahmed and this is my wife Norhan and our daughter Anna.” As a Muslim man, he did not extend his hand to a woman, but instead put this two hands together in the fashion to represent honor and peace. Sarah said, “My name is Sarah, and I am glad to see that you are able to reunite with your family here.” She continued, “Anna was so charming to my eyes, and with mixed feelings, reminded me of my daughter that passed away at birth and would have been of nearly the same age as her.” She picked up a serviette, turned away and patted her eyes. Ahmed continued: “In my country, I was a merchant of fine textiles, and I recognized the quality of the parasol you sold to Norhan for Anna, as well as the Herme’s label. She also told me the price of 15€ that she paid.” He continued, I am a very honest and proud merchant and sell AND buy with integrity. Hence, I was concerned until now why you had sold the parasol for what you did, but I now understand. That was very gracious of you Madame. Merci beaucoup!” He turned to
Anna and said “You may keep the parasol now my child.” Anna turned to Sarah, smiled and brought her hands together with a sweet bow. Sarah noticed that all were dressed much more handsomely and colorfully than before. Norhan’s burka had striking colors included rather than the expected pure black for Muslim women. Notably, Sarah said: “Given your burka Norhan, I guess you are a Muslim from West Africa …. perhaps Morocco?” “Madame, you are very close. Actually, Algeria. What you see of the colors in my burka are traditional in my country to distinguish us from Muslim women elsewhere.” She continued: “Since Ahmed’s arrival last week, he has been visiting various brocants as a possible business for him to import the fine textiles that exist in Western Africa. I suggested to Ahmad that we come here to seek your thoughts on how to do that.”
Sarah paused because she thought that such a pursuit would be very difficult for immigrants given the tradition of the established brocants across Paris. While Paris was a mixture of so many cultures, especially those of their ex-territories, she believed there was clearly an unspoken social hierarchy of some mixture of wealth, education, and nationality. Sarah started, “Ahmed, I don't really think I can advise you well. I am French, and you are not, and therefore you may experience great difficulty to obtaining a kiosk in a traditional brocant where the best opportunity is.”
“Oui!, Madame. I expected as much. “But,” as he stood closer to her with a generous smile and a scent of cinnamon and clove, “I wish to show you the cloth that I can bring to Paris as well as the products of artesian seamstresses in my country that can deliver extraordinary women fashions that I believe cannot be found with the traditional merchants along Rue de Honere, for example.” He paused and then sitting even closer, he pulled out a well-worn, leather-bound portfolio of his wares. He paused as he handed the portfolio to Sarah. “Madame, this is the age of brilliant colors across the globe, and I believe my wares can find a, what you say, ‘fraise” market here. BUT, I need to display them away from the traditional merchants. I believe this brocant can be an excellent start.” Sarah clumsily open the portfolio, and surprising herself with a glee, said “Amazing! Ahmed” She continued to turn the pages of scarfs, headdresses, flowing gowns and skirts that whirled with excitement in her mind. What she saw was not the haute cuisine of Paris in fashion shows, but the extraordinary assortment of garments that, in her opinion, would catch the eye of the majority of Parisian women looking for affordable distinction in their daily activities.
Sarah quickly shifted into business mode, and she placed the serviette on the table and looked directly into Ahmed’s eyes. Her mind considered the empty kiosk next to her, and she said “I have an interesting proposition for you … and me. Permit me to seek out some information and come back to me in 2 days here.” I can tell you now that the marketing of what you have will be based on the fine quality and extraordinary colors of the parasol. That will be our symbol of exciting, swirling, but affordable fashions for the majority of Parisian women.
Sarah extended her hand to Ahmed, which imitation was acceptable to Muslim men, and he accepted it in a most appropriate fashion. She said au revoir to Norhand and blew a kiss to Anna – who returned it as well. Sarah then said directly to Anna that she would like her to draw several pictures of the parasol, simply and with many colors. Anna was surprised, but delighted with this request, and said she would do so. Norhan agreed.
Two days later, Ahmed appeared alone to meet with Sarah. He explained that Norhan was introducing Anna to her new school that day. Sarah bowed slightly to welcome him and said that she had spoken with the management of the brocant. “I have great news.” She started. “The management had no issues with me expanding my kiosk. “But”, she noted. “they did not question me as to why, apparently assuming that it would simply be an extension for my current wares.” Ahmed understood the opportunity, and also some risk to Sarah, as to what she was offering. “Madame” he started. Sarah interrupted “Sarah, please”, “You are being very kind and helpful. Also” he smiled, “Anna has been busy painting various parasols with water colors. I must say as a proud father, that she has several that are extraordinary and that will represent a fresh appearance for our offerings.” Sarah smiled, “I figured that would be the case. I could see creativity in her eyes … as well as her pleasure to please you. So! you three come back Saturday and we will make this happen.”
That evening, on her way home she stopped at her favorite patisserie near the Louvre and purchased a baguette and 2 servings of Baba au Rhum for desert. Once home, she made blanc de veau, her husband’s favorite plat of hers, and opened an extraordinary Sancerre. He was just finishing his plat by dipping a piece of baguette into the remaining cream sauce. Sarah, turned to him as she stood up from the table; “I have some very exciting news to share with you, Chérie. But, first dessert, avec Chantilly, and a verre petite of 2008 Chateau D’Yuem.” This late harvest wine she had purchased when she first opened the kiosk.
On hearing Sarah’s news, Roget remained silent for several minutes. At first, this disappointed her as to his lack of immediate enthusiasm. But Roget had never been an ambitious type, actually quite conservative, as she experienced when she first announced her desire to open the kiosk 8 years ago. He took a rather long sip of the desert wine and turned to her. “Sarah, why are doing this? The textile and clothing markets are unknown to you. And, you have no true knowledge of this family, their history, their background … and they are Muslim!” She immediately snapped: “Muslim!? What are you suggesting? Muslims in this country are a major, and essential part of our culture and economy now.” Roget put his hands to his forehead and said quietly: “But”. She snapped again: ”BUT WHAT?” The silence was deafening for several minutes. Sarah tempered her anger, and started to speak slowly, softly, but determined. “It is clear that Ahmed, the father, is an extraordinary individual, both as to personal and business ethics. He presented to me a portfolio of textiles and clothing unlike that we have in Paris, at least, for which he is well established in West Africa to procure and deliver. For me the blending of quality material, design, and price is amazing. The only risk for me is to address the prejudice and small minds of other kiosks in the brocant with their pretentious attitudes. I care nothing for that possibility.” Roget looked at her directly: “So! you are willing to risk your successful kiosk to associate with Ahmed and his wares?” Sarah snapped again: “ABSOLUTELY!” Roget paused, shook his head slightly as in clearing his thoughts and then said: “So be it Chérie”. He smiled endearingly. “Some more of that extraordinary wine, S'il vous plaît ”
Two days later she met with Ahmed at a café in the Marais. He arrived at Noon with a bouquet of lilies, which by Islam traditions, is only meant for funerals. Sarah knew enough of Islam practices to take this as having double meaning. First, it was an offering of appreciation, but it was also a sign that he was flexible in dealing in this new environment, that is to some extent. Upon first seeing Sarah he said “Comment ca va?”. She responded in Arabic: “ ‘ana saeid”. Ahmed turned his head slightly and smiled. She had arrived earlier and was drinking a glass of rosé with glacon. Ahmed was a bit surprised by the ice in the wine: “Madame … ah ... Sarah, you put ice in your wine? “Oui Ahmed, in Provence ice is normally added to this light wine to keep it chilled given the heat”. Then she asked him to please sit, and asked if he wanted a glass of wine. He responded “Non merci Sarah.” He smiled. “A café crème would be perfect for me. I do abide by such religious practices as that.” Since their first meeting, she remained quite charmed by his character and sincerity in the words he spoke.
Ahmed opened his French men’s leather purse off his shoulder, and took out several pieces of paper. On each was a water color painting of a parasol. The first was an exaggerated parasol with non-uniform, extended dimensions as one would expect of Salvador Dahi. The pastel colors where quite subdued earth tones, again Dali-ish. Sarah did not respond waiting to see the other paintings. The second painting was impressionistic, Monet-ish,with a rainbow of colors in each of the parasol’s panels that, with water colors, blended effortlessly. Again, Sarah did not respond. Ahmed was not discouraged by the lack of Sarah’s expressions. He understood and accepted her type of marketing demeanor and presented his final offering. With an air of pride, he presented Sarah with the final painting. This parasol had panels of bright, bold primary colors that amazingly blended at the edges. Additionally, as with the actual parasol, there was a border of translucent gossamer that could have been painted only with a most delicate touch … and imagination. Sarah’s eyes opened widely with a joyful “Magnifique!”, as she reached to take it from Ahmed. “Oui!, Sarah. This is my favorite as well.”
Sarah placed the painting on the table followed by both hands palms down. “Anna painted these?” “Yes!” he said with a broad smile. She continued: “First, please tell Anna that I am totally amazed with her artistic talents. There is a market there alone. Second, this painting is the basis for our marketing effort. But, for now we need to get down to a marketing plan, including financing of creating the kiosk as well as developing an inventory of your wares.” Ahmed didn’t hesitate with his response. “Sarah, as I said, I am well established in this business in Western Africa, and I have many trusted associates that will gladly support this effort both financially and with production. To be clear, Sarah, you will not have any financial risk here.” He paused, and looking directly into her eyes, he softly said: “I greatly appreciate the social issues that you are willing to take on with joining with me in this effort. We will succeed, in shá Allh”. Sarah knew the ubiquitous Arabic phrase, but her faith was solely in both Ahmed and herself.
Sarah first looked down and then picked up her rosé and gently touched Ahmed’s café crème cup. “My new friend, if you are willing to accept the challenges that you face at this brocant, then I am proud to accept you as my partner. So! now we need a name for this venture.” She paused and then “I suggest ‘Anna’s Parasol’”
Ahmed stood up, smiled even more broadly and accepted Sarah’s hand