A Parasol in Paris; PARTS 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 continuing
The latest update is Segment 39: Ocober 31, 2022
The following segments address 5 different transitions. PART 1: Segments 1-14 provide the transition in ownership of a particular parasol in Paris, and its effect on the owners. PART 2: Segments 15-21 address the transition in a particular Nubian woman, Shayma, as to romance and her business enterprise based upon the created brand of "Anna's Parasol". PART 3: Segments 22-29 addresses the transition from personal to commercial as Anna's Parasol is being integrated into the stores of Galleries Lafayette. PART 4: Segments 30-31 begins the success of Anna's Parasol leading to a transition in the offerings of Galleries Lafayette ... and Shaymaa's companionship. PART 5: Segments 32-39 notes the transition of Shaymaa to a new parasol business and personal adventure.
ALL that follows is fictional as to stories and characters.
The locations mentioned exist.
It was a blustery Spring morning in Paris. The sky was an embracing blue with puffs of clouds racing across the horizon. Impish 7-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 intricate lace on each pane.
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 mom then said that the two would be going to the Le Jardin du Luxembourg for a party. With parasol in hand the two took 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 walking 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 mom were 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 7 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 Titanic 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@example.com 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 mistake, which was his nature. But, he didn’t realize then that his mistake 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 Lachaise cemetery 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 2nd most 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 children of 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. 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 set the 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 slurred speech 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 several 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 here?” Given their velvety, milk chocolate skin, she guessed them to be recent immigrants to France given the rush of Africans to escape the horror of their 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 at the restaurant. 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 shamelessly 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 you 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
Within a month, Ahmed had taken delivery of a wide variety of colorful apparel from his associates in Liberia. As with his samples that Sarah had first seen, the clothing was of the most loose, if not swirling, designs made of the lightest of cotton weaves. The women’s clothings were bright with multi-color, geometric designs, some with sparkling trim. The men’s clothes were totally unlike the clinging designs common in Paris. The shirts were broad about the shoulders and loose along the arms. The pants were handsomely short just above the ankles and loose as well with ties at the waist without zippers. All of the clothes had a patch on the outside resembling the parasol with “Anna’s Parasol” noted just below.
Ahmed’s younger step-sister, Shaymaa, had joined his family in Paris from Egypt. This sparkling young lady with the broadest of smiles had the marketing experience to properly assist him in setting up a website, as well as reaching out to retailers in Paris. She was educated in London and spoke fluent French and English as well as her native Arabic. In addition to her education and marketing experience, Shaymaa had several particular characteristics for her marketing challenges that Ahmed didn’t have. As a Coptic Christian, unlike her Muslim step-brother, she drank wine, dressed sharply as do the young women in Egypt, did not wear a Hajib, and fancied herself on her ability to enjoy and discuss many cuisines, including French.
Shaymaa had left her international marketing position in Egypt to help her brother. Her marketing strategy was straight forward. She would start with the local shops in the Marais and then on to the Left Bank along Boulevard Saint-Germain. Her approach was to get a feeling as to the mores of French commerce by starting small and then approaching the boutique shops along Rue Saint-Honoré, and then onto the major department stores of Galeries Lafayette and Le Bon Marché,
Sarah took an immediate liking to Shaymaa as she had with Ahmed. The two discussed how the simple kiosk in the brocant would be the marketing center for Anna’s Parasol merchandise, but in a respectful fashion so as to not overshadow the atmosphere of the other shops. That meant that the displaying of their wares would be modest with catalogs and business cards subtlety presented on one of the tables. So far there had been no criticisms by the other vendors as to the presence of the Muslims. This was significantly due to the charm of Ahmed who would purposely strolled the market, with Anna in hand, with a true interest in the other merchandisers there. Both he and Anna would be dressed in his wares, and thereby drawing a great deal of attention. Occasionally, Ahmed’s wife, Norhan, would also stroll the market, also with Anna in hand with both in their wares. On sunny days, Anna would have her parasol spinning slowly on her shoulder
As Spring progressed, the visitors to the market increased significantly every day. Usually, only Sarah was there to deal the possible clients. Unexpectedly, one day Shaymaa arrived right before lunch practically skipping her way down the aisle. She held Sarah’s face with both hands, gave a kiss to each cheek, and proclaimed “Sarah, we have a very real possibility with Galeries Lafayette”. Shaymaa continued: “I have met with them yesterday and the gentleman, Monsieur Bodin, was greatly interested in our wares that I showed them. He immediately saw the market for our clothes along the Rivera, especially Nice. He has invited me, along with his wife, to join him in a marketing strategy meeting in Champagne with their major suppliers to address next year’s markets. With your permission, I will do so. I did tell Ahmed and he wanted to make sure you were ok with this. We know that we are here because of your belief in Ahmed, and we honor that.” Sarah was overwhelmed with such a possibility. She had no vision of such an expansion as Galeries Lafayette presented. Afterall, her kiosk at the brocant brought nothing to this marketing effort. In Sarah’s opinion, no French person would have been so appreciative. She had not taken any financial risk but only demonstrated her belief in her perception of Ahmed without bias. Sarah threw up her arms and then embraced Shaymaa tightly. “As the Americans say, ‘you go gir!’” Shaymaa didn’t know that phrase. But understood. Then Shaymaa added: “I want to take the parasol with me in that it is our brand, and Anna has agreed.” When Sarah discussed this at night with her husband, he was totally surprised but still skeptical as to what could go wrong.
The next Monday, Shaymaa was on the SNCF train to Reims, one of two prominent cities in the Champagne district. Reims is well known for the Notre-Dame de Reims with the infamous Chagal stain glass windows. The meeting held at the Mercure Reims Centre Cathedrale was actually procedural and quite short with the crowd released to the banquet room were Roderer’s Chrystal flowed with a pyramid of champagne gasses bordered by luscious strawberries with a Belgium chocolate fondue. Surrounding this champagne temple was a wide assortment of classic French cheeses with some sprinkled with fine herbs bordered again by a galactic perimeter of chocolate truffles.
At the meeting, the brilliancy and length of Shaymaa’s dark hair layered over her statuesque back was extraordinary compared to the other women, younger and older, attending. She stood out as if there was a spotlight on her movements. She was dressed in a brilliant silver version of their wares that seemed to swirl endlessly as she flowed through the crowd. She was well up to this display of her femineity given her international travel to the plushest international capitals in her previous marketing positions. There was no denying her classic facial and mahogany skin given her Nubian descent, especially given her bright eyelid highlights that could not be ignored. (Check out the posting The Less Known Egypt on this blog regarding Nubians).As such, she was approached by both women and men as to her presence there to know more about this extraordinary beauty. ) Being unescorted, she was viewed as fair game by the single men at the event, but to no avail. She had a mission to sell the Anna’s Parasol brand. As such, the parasol was always at her side, and occasionally opened and spinning on her shoulder during the event in the evening on the outside deck. The contrast of the multi-color parasol against her glistering silver dress and dark skin could not be ignored. Nearing midnight, she was approached by Monsieur Bodin’s wife. Madame started; “Shaymaa, my name is Antoinette and Monsieur Bodin is my husband. He has told me about your wares and is quite excited to discuss business with you. Does your dress and …. your parasol at your side represent your wares?” Shaymaa smile and responded “Enchanté Madam, and oui!, they do.” as she swirled for a full view. It needs to be understood that at this point of the evening Shaymaa had a more than generous portion of Chrystal and relatively little to eat given how engaged she had been with the men and women in the crowd. Her natural professional stature was definitely softening. During the evening she had been able to gracefully reject the advances of a number of men … and several women as well. Madame continued, “Shaymaa can you join my husband and me for petite déjeuner in the morning at 9?” Shaymaa slurred somewhat “Wee! merci bo coo, I will be there. Bon Swire” and turned to walk towards the terrace overlooking the city. The champagne had gotten the better of her. She stood directly at the terrace border, took a deep breath, and headed back in to go to her room, but unknowingly leaving the parasol behind. While accustomed to wine, Shaymaa had not experienced the effect that Champagne could have on her statuesque physique. In her room she collapsed face down onto the goose-down comforter and fell fast to sleep. She woke at 7 with a bit of a hangover and called immediately to room service for a double expresso to be delivered.
At breakfast, she again wore some of her casual wares. Monsieur Bodin stood to welcome her to the table. Madame was most gracious starting with “Shaymaa, you were the hit of the party last night with your presence and your sparkling gown. Indeed, you are a great example for what your enterprise has to offer to the clothing market.” She continued, “The addition of displaying your parasol was very clever and handsomely complimented your presence.” Immediately, Shaymaa stood and looked to each side realizing that indeed she did not have the parasol with her …. and no remembrance of the evening before as to what she had done with it. She immediately stood and apologized to explain that she had to check with the front desk, and she would be right back.
The hotel knew nothing of the parasol that had been left the evening before, but promised that they would do an immediate search and inform her of their search. She returned to the breakfast table very distraught as she explained her concern to the Bodins. To their credit, Madam attempted to sooth the circumstances with Shaymaa. But then, Mr. Bodin reached across the table to take Shaymaa’s hands in both of his and said; “Madame, I want you and your enterprise to be part of our offerings … and I will have such a parasol to be duplicated, not just for you, but as part of our marketing campaign to handle your wares. I like you .... and your obvious appreciation of the finer champagnes”, said with a slight smile. “We will talk next week.“
The plight of the original parasol proceeds next.
After breakfast with the Bodins, Shaymaa again checked with the front desk as to her parasol that she had left on the patio the night before. It had not been turned in, and she was faced with explaining the loss to her niece. The only relief from this loss to her niece was the offer by Monsieur Bodin to produce a number of similar parasols, both for her and for marketing her wares at Galeries Lafayette. She checked out and headed for SNCF station. It was a beautiful morning with a slight mist along the Vesle river with the crispness in the air that lightened her dismay. Within an hour she was on her way back to Paris.
Shaymaa had clearly left her mark at the event the night before, including the presence of the parasol. Just past midnight when she had returned to her room, one particular French gentleman, Louis, attending the event found the parasol on the deck. It was clear to him who the owner was. As fascinated as he had been with her physical presentation and manner, he had been one of the few men and women at the event to not approach Shaymaa with at least an introduction. Unlike most attendees to the event, his reason for being there was to promote the wines of his vineyard in Alsace along the French side of the Rhine.
AS A SIDE NOTE: Alsace had gone back and forth over the centuries between German and French occupation. As such, Alsace had a number of the same grapes, but produced wines in a very dry fashion compared to that produced in Germany, including Pinot Gris. Pinot Blanc, and Gewurztraminer. Alsace is also known for Eau de Vies which are colorless (‘water of life’) brandies made from fruits other than grapes.
Upon finding the parasol the evening before, Louis held onto it until the next day as a means to introduce himself to the lady, not expecting that she would be checking out that morning. After waking in the morning with 2 croissants avec beurre, and a café creme delivered to his room, he dressed and went to the front desk so as to inquire as how to catch up with this extraordinary beauty. Unfortunately, he had arrived there shortly after Shaymaa had checked out. As to the clerk at the front desk, there was no doubt as to whom Louis was inquiring about. And, as to be expected between French men, the clerk provided Louis with Shaymaa’s name and email address as listed on her reservation. This is the only information he needed to pursue this woman.
The next day back in his home village of Ribeauvillé in Alsace, Louis took a picture of the parasol sitting precariously on an edge of a patio several stories above a street in the city. He emailed it to Shaymaa’s email address with a message that was meant to be comical without not knowing the importance of its loss to her: “Madam, if you wish to have your parasol returned to you safely, then you must agree to have dinner with me.” signed ‘Louis’. From the picture, Shaymaa was sure it was from Alsace given the prolific presence of flower boxes in the background of the picture, a well-known characteristics of that area. However, his email address was meaningless to her firstname.lastname@example.org. Reading the email, Shaymaa was quite taken back at first. This was just too strange. She mentioned it to Sarah who burst out in laughter. “Dear Shaymaa, only a most interesting man would approach you in such a way. I only hope he is French because that is just too enchanting.” Shaymaa lightened up and started to picture such an individual. No Egyptian Muslim male would take such a tact. But being a Coptic Christian, she was not constrained as to the men she could seriously get involved with as in Islam. With her international travels in her previous position, she had heard it all, but actually not it seems. She decided to engage this individual both because of her curiosity as to this individual and, of course, to retrieve the parasol. Shaymaa responded: “Monsieur, I reside in Paris. I will be at Willie’s Wine Bar in the Opera Qtr. on Wednesday next at 8 with a reservation for 2.” She continued, “Have the parasol in your possession to identify yourself or I will seek you out in Alsace!” This was her bluff to play along. Louis, laughed upon reading her response wondering how she knew where he was.
That Wednesday Louis booked a trip on SNCF to Paris as well as a room in a boutique hotel in the Marais. Reflecting on the manner of dress of Shaymaa, he purposely chose loose fitting clothes in lieu of his tight-fitting jeans and embracing open-collar shirt with a pastel sweater wrapped around his shoulders. He arrived at the restaurant on time and saw no presence of Shaymaa. He went directly to the bar mentioning the reservation that was confirmed by the host. The parasol was at this side on the floor at the bar, but in an obvious position. Upon arriving at the outyside of the restaurant, Shaymaa stood on the street looking through the restaurant’s window. Not knowing who the individual would be, her apprehension immediately dissipated as she walked into Willis and saw Louis sitting at the bar with the parasol next to him. He was quite tall, and handsomely dressed as to her ‘freedom’ style. Before approaching him from behind, she checked out his shoes that were weaved, tan leather, sandals that highlighted his tan ankles given the capri pants he had on. “Oui!” she thought.
Louis was on his second kir royale when he felt a hand on his left shoulder. He turned that direction and then to his right to see Shaymaa in her loose garment over one shoulder but clinging to her swelt body. He started with “Madame, I am your secret admirer and shamelessly proud to be the savior of your parasol.” She responded, “Merci beaucoup Monsieur. You don’t know the importance of the that parasol to me”. He nodded with a slightly whimsical smile. She continued: “We already know each other’s name, it seems. What else do you know about me? He responded: “To be honest, not much. I clearly noticed you from afar during the event in Reims.” He paused and then stated: “I did wish to introduce myself that night, but you were being swarmed by so many that I chose not to approach you. Therefore, finding your parasol, I thought of an individual path to meet you. And, here we are. I do apologize for any discomfort that I may have caused you.”
Shaymaa immediately went into ‘flirting’ mode. “So! Louis, while I am thankful that you have returned my parasol, I should scorn you for placing it in a perilous situation on the edge above the street.” as she glanced over her shoulder while taking a seat at the bar. OK! the game was on. Louis responded quickly. “Madame, I have never really threatened a parasol in my life, but I wanted to get your attention. I do have one question first. How did you know I was in Alsace.?” She responded” Well Louis, perhaps unknown to you, I had checked you out that evening with one of the hosts.” “I’m flattered”, he responded. She paused, “Well, don’t be actually.” as she lightly kicked his shin. “The flower boxes in the picture were a giveaway.” “Sooooo! You are as clever as you were striking that evening … and tonight.” he said looking directly into her eyes. “Now, I am flattered” she responded blinking several times to make light of the point.
The bartender interrupted them to ‘remind’ them that their table was ready. “Madame, would you like to go for dinner now?” She quickly quipped: “What’s with all of the ‘Madame’s’ Louis? Actually, I would prefer to have a drink or two at the bar where I can easily kick you in the shin when you upset me for some reason, as with all of the ‘Madame’s’.” Louis responded: “Vous êtes une dame impertinente, Shaymaa.“ She kicked him again, but in a lighter fashion “Yes! Louis, I do speak French, merci beaucoup!, and indeed I can be impertinent occasionally. Sorry! I am so delighted to have the parasol back for my niece that I guess I am just in a silly mood. I now apologize to you. Kindly order me a pastis, and let’s go to the table.” This time she gently squeezed his thigh as she stood up.
At the table, Louis pulled her chair out and waited for her to sit before taking his chair against the wall. Willies is known not only for its food and wine menu, but for the lineage of posters with a unique one that is produced each year to represent the spirit of the restaurant. (https://shop.williswinebar.com/the-bottle-art-collection/). These posters are presented on the walls with the one behind Louis which was most charming of two wine bottles, a male and female, dancing angelically. Louis hadn’t noticed it, but Shahmaa was really charmed by it, and commented as such. Louis so noted. The menus were presented by the waiter, Madame first of course. Louis asked for the wine menu as well. Louis started: “I don’t recognize your accent. From where do you arrive in France … and why?
The beauty leaned forward in her chair, looked directly at him and stated proudly. “I am Nubian raised in Upper Egypt (Southern Egypt given the Northern flow of the Nile). We are the most ancient people in that part of Africa often referred to as the “Black Pharohs” preceeding the Pharaoh dynasties that are best known across the globe. As such, I am not a Muslim, but a Coptic Christian. We are rightfully a very proud people partially known for our substantially different physical characteristics versus the Egyptians that are classified as North Africans.” Louis cut in, “Yes! I am familiar with your people’s heritage, and I must say that you are a fantastic example of the beauty of your people” he said with a wink. He continued: “I have to be honest that I was so immediately attracted to your presence primarily for that reason not to appear too shallow here. I was also greatly impressed how you handle those men and woman that were gathering around you at the event.” She interrupted: “Louis, I appreciate your compliments, but I must confess that I was in ‘presentation’ mode” for my business and hence much more formal than normal …. the latter of which I have already demonstrated this evening…. pause …. Please set aside that perception of me that night in your mind and let me just flirt with you. There is so little opportunity to do that in Egypt given Islam’s mores. You have already gotten my attention to be loose in conversation by your way of dress, including those fantastic sandals, to be honest here. I request that we just play in our conversation tonight” she said with a most engaging smile. He nodded and said “I love that idea Mad…er.. Shaymaa. I also am usually in my stereotyped French male mode when engaging with French women. They seem to expect a certain level of false charm, if not arrogance, from me. That is not my natural style having been raised in the most charming part of France where Nature’s beauty intermixes with our particular wines and cuisine. We are so much more casual and authentically romantic there compared to Paris.”
The waiter appeared and asked if they were willing to order. Louis looked at Shaymaa for acceptance, and requested the waiter to bring another pastis for each of them and ‘la additional’. It was clear to each of them now that their nourishment that evening would be conversation infused with alcohol. The pastis’s were delivered shortly with a glass filled with glacons to chill their drinks as desired. Louis continued the conversation. “Shaymaa why are you in France, and what were you marketing at the meeting?” Shaymaa briefly explained her brother’s enterprise to introduce his West African’s apparel to France in the name of Anna’s Parasol given his alliance with the French woman that had so graciously and bravely welcomed him to be included in her brocant. She explained that a single parasol was the catalyst for this whole activity, and hence the importance of the parasol to her as to her niece’s ownership, which became the symbol of the venture. She briefly explained that Galeries Lafayette’s interest in their wares and her presence at the Reims event. With that said, Louis raised himself from the bench against the wall, came behind Shaymaa and embraced her while she remained sitting. “Shaymaa, I wish for us to leave now and go to my favorite bar not far from her. But first I need to go to the ‘WC’. I will be right back.” What she didn’t know, is that he went to the bar and ordered a copy of the poster noted by Shaymaa to be placed in a carboard tube and handed to him when he left. When he returned, he bent down to kiss Shaymaa on her right cheek and then sat down. The additional had been placed on the table. Upon his sitting, Shaymaa started. “So tell me Monsieur, what were you doing at the event?” Faking resistance, he stated: “Really Shaymaa? Monsieur?” She shook her head. “You got me there Louis. What’s your story in Alsace? Let me guess. You are either a rascal turning women’s head … and/or live in a castle there … and/or own/represent a winery given the characteristics of that territory.” He laughed and then stated. “At least one of those is correct Shaymaa. That is my mystery for now to entice you deeper.” She titled her head with eyebrows slanted. ‘Really? You indeed have my attention”, she replied. The competition in flirtation was taking on an additional level of seriousness, of credibility. He started: “I am paying this tab for us to continue to another bar where there is a light touch of jazz provided by a group from the U.S. You have NO choice but to accept if you wish to have the parasol returned to you.” “Really?” she stated with false indignation. As they exited Willies he was handed the tube that included the purchased poster which Shaymaa didn’t notice given that the several pastises were kicking in.
He held her hand firmly as he guided her to the right on exiting Willis towards their destination. “How familiar are you with this part of Paris Shaymaa?” She responded that she wasn’t. With that said, he directed her down the steps from rue Des Petits Champs to the Jardin du Palais Royal in an unusually quiet area of Paris. He directed her to one of the benches and asked her to sit next to him. As to be expected, there were only a few couples enjoying the peacefulness of this jardin at that time in the evening. During the day this was a favorite place for many Parisians, obscure to tourists, to enjoy their lunch, if not meditation. The evening was brisk, and she was not so prepared as to her clothing that evening. He embraced her and she settled into his arms easily and turned to face him. He kissed her on her right cheek, and with his left had brought her face around to kiss her lips. What he didn’t expect was the shiver that went through his body. This feeling was unexpected and new to him. He was beyond where he had been before with the women he had romanced in the past.
Being the individual he was, he stood from the bench and faced her. ”Shaymaa, it is time to return you to your hotel. When asked and told of her hotel in the 1st arrondissement, he noted that it was only several blocks away. He reached down with his right hand and raised her from the bench and picked up both the parasol and the tube with his left hand and proceeded to the hotel. She suddenly stopped pulling back from Louis. “What are you doing, Louis? We have just started with a most wonderful evening, and now you are returning me to my place? I think we have so much more to explore about us … and your lips. I love youuuuuuuurrrrrr lips.” “Shaymaa, indeed this was a most enchanting evening for me to be with you. BUT, the multiple pastises have the better of you. When you are back into your room, I will leave you there along with the parasol, this tube, and my phone number. Call me tomorrow please, and I have a favorite restaurant to introduce you to glorious Blanquette de Veau available only on Tuesday at Brasserie Lipp. It was not clear to him that she understood what he said.
They were soon at her hotel. The clerk hesitantly gave him the key with a stern look. He took her to her room, unlocked the door and led her to her bed. He softly kissed her, lowered her onto the bed and covered her with the goose comforter. He placed the parasol, the tube, and his business card on the desk. She was asleep and cooing before he left the room. He returned to his hotel with a picture of her beauty and their conversation circulating in his mind. He knew he wanted to know more about Shaymaa …. and her to know more about him.
Not expecting a call from Shaymaa the following morning, Louis caught the Metro to Gare Nord to catch the 10 AM SNCF back to Ribeauvillé. The winery was quite demanding of him at this time of year, and he needed to be back that afternoon. While he had 2 younger brothers who had with him inherited the winery from their father, the other 2 were not to be counted for the current complex issues of harvesting. He was dressed in his jeans and sweater with only a leather purse on his shoulder in which his clothes from the previous night were compacted. His 6 AM shadow was quite distinctive on his tan skin, especially given his pale blue eyes typical of the people of Alsace.
The train was approaching the Ribeauvillé station when his cell phone rang indicating it was a call from Shaymaa given that he had taken one of her business cards off the table in her hotel room. He answered: “Hello Mademoiselle.” (He didn’t buy into the recent formal practice in France of referring to all woman as ‘Madame’). She blurted: “I am starved Louise, and I demand you meet me for lunch at the café across from my hotel. I mean, after all, you promised me dinner if I would meet with you … you scoundrel. And thank you for returning the parasol.” She giggled slightly. He in turn laughed while quickly reflecting on the conversation the previous night where it was clear as to her charming, engaging manner with him. “Well! Shaymaa, it is your fault that our conversation was so endearing to me, that I decided to take you to another café to so continue. Indeed, it was my fault to stop in the Jardin du Palais Royale and sit next to you to warm you up. …. Which was your fault for the lovely, but very light clothes you wore …. And then it was my fault to kiss you there …. And then your fault for having such inviting lips … and then … Well, you get the picture.” She laughed and started: “Yes, I dearly remember the kiss. I repeat, you rascal… pause …However, what I do remember next is this morning waking up in my bed with the comforter over me and my shoes off and place in the closet. So! Are you good for lunch and the continuation of where I left off last night?” “Sorry Shaymaa you are on your own for lunch. I am back in Ribeauvillé for critical business issues at the moment.” “Oh! I see.” She said shyly thinking that perhaps her fading the night before had turned him against her somehow. Louis sensed her concern, and quickly stated: “Chérie, I really enjoyed being with you last night, as brief as it was. I am very busy until Friday. Hmmmmmm, would you consider coming to Ribeauvillé for the weekend. This weekend is the Fiddler's Festival, aka Pfifferdaj, which has occurred annually for over 600 years. The historic parade is on Sunday afternoon and is a grand display of our people's celebration of food, color, history, and of course wine. I would love to share with you. Also, based upon the apparel you wore in my presence that represents your brother’s venture, bring both male and female garb, as well as the parasol. I will introduce you to some of the top retailers here. This is my village, and I would be very proud and excited to take you around …. And, you will have the dinner I promised, BUT cooked by me.” Unknown to Louis, Shaymaa was shaking her hands in the air with excitement as she spoked through the cell’s speaker/microphone.
The game was still on. She was now giddy for the first time in many years. So much different from Egypt. “That would be great. So you cook? Not use to that.” He continued: “You are welcome to stay in my apartment, or I will reserve a room in a hotel along the river.” She paused: “Louis, you have already proved your character last night. I would only come there IF I can stay at your place.” “Super, I will get the travel information to you for a Friday afternoon departure from Paris. Now Mademoiselle, go get some lunch. I know the café that you mentioned, and I suggest the Croque Monsieur and the house rose at this time today. In saying goodbye I wish to say that I also dearly remember our kiss last night and the amazing feeling I experienced, which I will explain this weekend. Au revoir”. “Au revoir Monsieur.” And they both clicked off.
Shaymaa reached for the parasol, opened it, and swirled around the room in childish glee. Then she noticed the tube on the table. She opened it and rolled out the poster of the two dancing angelic bottles of wine. “Who is this man?” she said out loud and then prepared to go out for breakfast. Two hours later she arrived at the brocant and was greeted by Sarah with the traditional ‘la bise’, a kiss on each cheek, and then noticed Shaymaa’s face. “What’s going on Shaymaa? You appear to be a very different person than before you left for Reims.” “Yes, I am Sarah … I think. But first let me tell you about Galleries Lafayette.” She explained the meeting with Monsieur Bodin and his wife including the breakfast conversation. She also confessed to losing the parasol and her dismay, but then Monsieur Bodin’s generous offer to reproduce for her and marketing efforts. “Fantastique” said Sarah. Shaymaa paused: “NOW, the really amazing news that you have sensed in my face.” She described the return of the parasol by Louis, and the amazing connection she had made with him the previous night ... and then the phone call that morning and the invitation to see visit with him in Ribeauvillé this coming weekend. Sarah was breathless at this point without an immediate comment. The amazing opportunities as to their venture and Shaymaa’s promising romance was just too overwhelming for one, yet alone both reasons. “Have you told Ahmed about your time in Reims?…. and Louis.?” She responded: “I will catch up with him tonight. I am skipping back to my hotel right now. Au revoir Madame.”
That evening when talking to Ahmed about her visit to Reims, he was taken back by the Louis situation. “Really Shaymaa! What are thinking about getting involved with this French guy? You DON’T know French men as I do.” She quickly snapped in Arabic “Allaenat ealayk ya 'akhi aleaziz” (phonetic), gave him 3 kisses on the cheeks (common in some Middle Eastern countries), turned and walked back to her hotel. She thought to herself: “When will my brother respect my independence?” She proceeded to Willis Wine Bar to shake him off with 2 pastises back-to-back. The bartender of course remembered this beauty. “Your beau bought the best poster last night in my opinion. Indeed, the 2 bottles seem to represent you two very well, from what I could tell.” He smiled and said that the drinks were on him. Her anger was subsiding, and she returned to her hotel via the Jardin du Palais Royale. She sat for a while at the same bench as the night before to reflect on the last 2 days.
Friday was approaching and Shaymaa prepared for her weekend adventure. She decided to travel in casual style. She packed 2 extraordinary dresses that well represented Anna’s Parasol’s offerings as well as very loose slacks that otherwise were tight to her hips and emphasized her slender Nubian proportions. She also included a white blouse that was nearly transparent and handsomely exposed the dark skin color of her neckline which would be adorned with classic Nubian jewelry of semi-precious stones. Lastly, she giggled to herself as she added a piece of teddy-bear lingerie of fine silk. On top of that she packed the parasol for safe travel. Thursday evening, Louis texted her the travel instructions including meeting her at the Gare in Ribeauvillé. He also provided the cell phone of his assistant should something go awry, a person named Charlotte.
On Friday, Shaymaa arrived in Ribeauvillé at 5 PM quite relaxed having falling asleep for 2 hours in her 1st class seat on the train. She was greeted by Charlotte as she exited the train. “Shaymaa. I am Charlotte and here to take you to Louis’s house in the city. “Enchantée Charlotte.” She continued: “He had an emergency in the vineyard, which only he could handle… Let me help you with your luggage, s'il vous plaît.” “Oh, OK. Thank you for meeting me.” This was the first surprise of numerous ones for Shaymaa during her visit. Charlotte was a slim and tall blond beauty dressed in a very short clinging skirt and tight blouse with her long hair layered over her right shoulder. Charlotte led her to the black Infinity convertible with the hard top retracted for the short trip to the house. In route, Shaymaa started: “How long have you worked for Louis?” Charlotte turned to Shaymaa as she tugged her short skirt down a touch and then pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “Oh yes, that would be 5 years. He brought me on as office manager after he divorced his wife who had working as such.” No. 2 surprise. Actually, I met him on a blind date just before the divorce, and then he asked me to join the company.” No. 3 surprise. Charlotte continued: “His house is sooooo gorgeous. You will really like either of 2 bedrooms with each having a beautiful view of the city. I prefer not to stay in the master bedroom when the parties have been so amazing that it was best that I stay in the other bedroom.” No 4, and counting.
At the house, the car was parked in a private garage, and the two continued to the upper floors. “Shaymaa …I love your name … in which bedroom should I place your luggage.?” “Ahhhhhhh, just place them in the hallway, s'il vous plaît.” Charlotte gave her la bise and stated: “ He should be here in an hour, so make yourself comfortable. By the way, he really needs a double expresso, no sucre, when he wakes up in the morning. The machine in the kitchen is so programmed. Enjoy your visit, Chérie.” No. 5
Shaymaa opened up her luggage and decided to take a shower to freshen up. The master bathroom was extraordinary as to slate walls and floor with a glass encased shower with multiple showerheads at 3 levels. The bathroom also had two sinks with one surrounded by various exquisite female toiletries and a used toothbrush. No. 6. She removed her clothes, dropping them to the floor, and stepped into the shower. She selected an intense pulsing mode of the showerhead to her upper body and leaned against the shower wall in an attempt to release the tension she was now feeling with the surprises so far. After 10 minutes of the pounding water, she turned off the shower and stepped onto the mat. She dried herself with the thick, soft towels, and then reached for and wrapped herself in one of the two luscious robes handing on the wall. It was pink, and the other white. No 7. At this point she wanted a drink and headed for the wet bar next to total glass wall in the front room that looked out over the city. She realized that there was no privacy as to outside world. The main room and the 2 bedrooms, that she had checked out briefly, were bordered by glass to the outside wall-to-ceiling with no curtains.
Pastis was available and she poured herself a ‘healthy’ portion, grabbed the parasol out of the suitcase and headed to the leather sofa lined with large pillows. There was a light plaid cover at the far end of the sofa, and she pulled it over herself as she lay down with the parasol at her side. It had been a very surprising (disappointing) day for her so far, and she reflected briefly on her brother’s comments. She was now mentally exhausted by her thoughts since arriving in Ribeauvillé and fell asleep quickly.
Louis arrived at the house in the evening at 8:15. While the lights were out in the house, the light from the street via the floor-to-ceiling glass walls outlined Shaymaa asleep on the sofa. He first headed to the kitchen to place the bouquet of baby breath encompassing lavender stems into a vase with water. He opened a chilled bottle of his family’s private pinot gris, and poured two glasses in long stem crystal. He then approached Shaymaa and placed the glasses on the side table to the sofa. He awaken her lightly with a hand on the shoulder. She suddenly sat up becoming face-to-face with him. She was somewhat dazed from the short nap, but responded with a light ‘ummmm” as he softly kissed her on each cheek. “Chérie, I am so sorry for not being able to meet you at the train, and then arriving late home tonight. But, my business is now finished for the entire weekend.” She sat up properly as he handed her a glass of wine. “This wine is from the private stock at my vineyard that is reserved for only family …. and the most dearest friends.” She held up the glass as in a toast and said with a whimsical smile “I am ‘enchantée’ as you French say.
As she was taking her first taste of the wine, several of her earlier surprises came to mind, e.g., used toothbrush, ex-wife, pink robe, and gorgeous Charlotte. She held the wine in front of her face like a shield, as she said “Louis, you are not at fault, but there is a lot for me to understand about you given what I experienced in the first 30 minutes of arriving.” “He was confused, but genuinely not alarmed. “What are you speaking about Shaymaa? Was Charlotte rude to you?” Fortunately, Shaymaa realized that she was pouting at least on the inside, and she had no right to. She was being defensive based upon probably meaningless points. She held her hands to her face, moving slowly back and forth. “Please excuse my previous statement. I am just being selfish, naive, whatever, to expect a virgin Prince in Camelot, if you understand the reference?” He responded: “Not really, you seem to be mixing several metaphors … But, I do think I sense some of your feelings as to realizing things about me by being in my home, but without sufficient knowledge of each of us as to the other. To be clear, I truly expect you have a most interesting background that will both amaze me and surprise me … and could result in some sort of unjustified jealousy on my part.” “You have picked up quite well on my thoughts.” she said as she stood to approach the glass wall. She turned, raised her glass: “This will be an extraordinary weekend you have offered me to enjoy your people, your home, and knowing more about you …. And you about me. I AM an open book for you to explore by turning the pages. Now, kind sir, please retrieve the bottle of that excellent wine and let us sit on your deck overlooking the city and REALLY talk about each of us.”
It was now 2 AM and the conversation was starting to turn to trivial subjects, e.g., What was her favorite species of chen?, How much wine did his winery produce each year?, What are Egyptian guys like?, What is that planet in the sky? They were on their 3rd bottle of wine, with only some paté and pieces of baguette to consume. The conversation was getting somewhat slurred. Louis stood and said “Chérie it is time to go to sleep. I have an extraordinary petit déjeuner planned for us.” He took her hand, and they entered into the house leaving the glass door open for the light wind outside to enter. They approached the 2 doors to the bedrooms and he led her into the master bedroom. She tensed slightly that he could notice in her hand. He reached for her face and gave the softest kiss on her lips. “This is your bed tonight. He turned to leave then looked back. “There is a pink robe in the bathroom fresh for you.” She smiled, “I saw that earlier. Bon Nuit Louis”. He smiled with a wink, “Bon Nuit Mademoiselle“ and proceeded on to the other bedroom.
As is normal for him, he awoke at 7:30 and headed for the shower. His favorite savon was from a family-owned producer in Villefrance sur Mer on the French Rivera. The not-subtitle scent was that of sandalwood. He shaved his morning shadow, dried off and put on some loose linen shorts. He was not one for underwear, or even socks, in his daily activities. He pulled on his pale blue Nice Jazz Festival, 1994 tee shirt, but untucked to hide his carved midframe. Before he would check on Shaymaa, he wanted to have all the preparation ready to minimize the time to cook and deliver petit déjeuner once she was up, showered, and in the Kitchen. The menu consisted of a gruyere souffle with a homard sauce, sage saucisson, and of course warmed croissants. This would be accompanied by both conserves de prune et fraises that a family that worked for him produced. The champagne was the ‘fleur’ bottle from Pierre Joulét in Epernay, and the flutes were in the freezer for that added frosted chill for the first sip.
While waiting for Shaymaa to appear from the bedroom, he reflected on their conversation only hours previously on the deck. He had revealed a great deal about his personal life, as well as she had about hers. He didn’t discuss his ex-wife or the loose relationship he had with Charlotte, too much, too soon. What he didn’t know is that Shaymaa had awakened at 7:45 and was going through the conversation as well in her mind. While recognizing that she had NO right to judge him on how sincere he could be with so little experience with him, she remained somewhat dismayed at the points she had learned upon arrival to his home. BUT, based upon the conversation hours earlier she sensed sensitivity, honesty and sincerity yet to be truly tested. She REALLY admired this man … and she was REALLY attracted to him, both physically and mentally. One word came to mind when she thought about the conversation and his physical presence: ”WOW!”
It was approaching 9, and no sign of Shaymaa. “Hmmmmm, what to do?” he thought out loud. He had plans to taking her through the village integrating both the activities of the festival underway with introducing her to various vendors that may have an interest in her wares. He went to his house-wide stereo and started softly with a playlist of Elton. Seger, Bruce, Rolling Stones, and Pink. This was his ‘motivation’ music, and he had no idea of Shaymaa’s preferences. However, by this time his typical French short-patience had run its course. This mademoiselle needed to be up. He had significant plans for her that could be most beneficial to her. One thing he was sure of now after the previous night, is that he REALLY admired this mademoiselle … and he was REALLY attracted to her, both physically and mentally. He didn’t feel the need to “play’ his conversation with her as was usually necessary with the French ladies in Ribeauvillé.
A little after 9 Shaymaa exited the master bedroom with the pink robe loosely covering her body that accentuated her tall mahogany stature as to both her legs and her open neckline. Her long black hair was still wet from her shower and shined in the kitchen light. Louis could not control his audible gasp. He paused, offered a broad smile with: “Bon Jour! Shaymaa. I trust you had a good sleep.” Having been awake for nearly 2 hours thinking about the conversation the previous night, she took a truly aggressive initiative for her. “Louis, I had a wonderful sleep … BUT, upon awakening, you were not at my side,” she said with the most seductive smile while tilting her head. “Are you NOT French, and yet you deny me of that. Shame on you!” She paused to see his expression and then continued “Are we to be lovers or not?” Louis was not prepared for that, but replied instinctively: “Mademoiselle you are not French, and I assumed therefore you are not familiar with our … ah … ways.” He pulled her into himself and releasing the robe from her body. They returned to the master bedroom and discovered each other as to their individual and mutual passions.
It was 11:30 when Shaymaa untucked and rolled away from Louis. He stirred, turn towards her and pulled her back against him. “Where are you going Chérie ?” She responded in a whisper: “I am starved, and once again you have failed to deliver a meal as you promised.” as she softly kissed his lips. He responded with a strong embrace and stated, “Cherie, you will have that meal as soon as we can dress. What I had prepared is not available now. But, I have a favorite place for us to go.” Standing between him and the bath, she reached into her suitcase and pulled out the satin, pale green teddy-bear she had brought with her. She held it up in front of her bare body: “See what you have missed with your impatient French charm?” “First of all, Chérie, you have been the impatient one here, merci beaucoup!, and I now have something else to think about for the rest of the day.” as he raised his eyebrows with a mischievous smile.
She didn’t shower again, but rather put on his pale blue t-shirt with the lingering sandalwood scent. With the addition of clinging white capri pants and sandals, she was ready to go but stated “By the way, what did you have planned as our petit-déjeuner … and why is that not now available?” He explained that the souffle batter will have fallen by that time, and he would start again the next morning. “However, the champagne is well chilled, and we will start with that.” He slowly poured 2 of the frosted stems and they went out to the deck to watch the village come alive. The food merchants were putting out their wares as well as all of the sidewalks were being swept clean, an absolute practice across all of France.19. Yummmmmmm
They sat facing the Eastern horizon with the sunrise having long passed. He started: “Tomorrow, we will have a full day of enjoying, and perhaps participating if you wish, in the 600-year tradition of the parade. It is full of spectacles and merriment with groups of amazing costumes. But today, we will walk several of the commercial rues with your wares and parasol in hand to introduce you to the village, and the village shops to you, that is after a mid-day lunch at my favorite café.” She responded with “I would like some more champagne, WOW!, and we can start as you suggest. That is my name for you from now on” she said raising the flute to her lips.” “OK, I like that but I was thinking of a similar name for you in French. But, I will stay with ‘Chérie’ for now.” And so they sat finishing off the Fleur bottle.
19. Yummm !
Having finished 2 flutes of fine champagne each, Louis stood and pulled up Shaymaa from her chair on the deck. “I must say Shaymaa, you fill out that t-shirt much better … and appropriately than I do.” “Merci beucoup Monsieur. And, I really like this shirt when you are notwearing it, or anything else.” “Ok, Cherie, it is time to introduce you to the village. Grab your wares and parasol, while I put on another shirt. You will finally get the meal that I had promised, but this will first be only an appetizer for what I will cook for us this evening.”
Upon leaving his house, he turned down a narrow alley that was not lined with any shops. Shaymaa could see some tables outside of an entrance 100 meters ahead. “That is our destination Shaymaa” as he lazily placed this arm around her waist, and not her shoulders given her height common to Nubian women.
The small café had 2 tables outside that were available at that time in the early afternoon. They sat at the left one after Louis had stuck his head in the door and yelled “Pierre, c’estLouis. Si te plait, deux Chevre Chaudet petite carafe rosé avec glacons.” Once seated, Louis described the tour that day for visiting what he thought would be the most appropriate shops. Shaymaa was perfectly accepting of his plans. This was her shining knight today. Within 15 minutes the salads and rosé were delivered with oil and vinegar on the side to be added by them as they desired. Pierre knew that Louis was very clear on not over-dressing the salads. Another petite carafe of rosé was delivered before they were finished with their meals. The €s were left on the table, and they proceeded on her adventure.
As they started their tour of shops that Louis thought most appropriate, he said “Shaymaa, upon entering shop we first say Bon Jour Madame / Monsieur, which is appropriate. At that point, I will introduce you to the owner as my dear person. They will respond with kindness and you reply Enchanteé!, and then you are on your own, I will not interfere in the conversation.” She responded simply “Understood.” And they proceeded accordingly down several of the major streets. Before returning home, they stopped at a Boucherieto pick up a rack of lamb for dinner.
On their return to the house in the early evening, Shaymaa headed directly to the deck to flip off her sandals and collapse onto the chaise-lounge. Louis went to the bathroom to wet a facecloth in warm water and take to Shaymaa to refresh her face, and then her feet. The facecloth was scented with sandalwood, as was the savon in the shower. “I will be back in a moment to deliver the most delicious pinot blanc that my winery produces, again only for family and special friends.” He returned to the kitchen by first setting up rhythmic music by the Gotan Project on the phonograph. He then poured the wine and took one to Shaymaa.
Once back in the kitchen, he pulled out the cylindrical sous vide, filled a medium pan with water and set the device for 60oc for medium. The rack of lamb he had purchased needed to first have the outer layer of fat removed, and then vacuum packed with a rub of sage, thyme, and rosemary with a touch of olive oil. The lamb would take 90 minutes to be cooked in the sous vide, before removed from the vacuum bag and grilled quickly on his indoor grill. This was sufficient time to prepare his accentuated recipe for Gratin Dauphinoise that included two layers of thinly sliced gruyere cheese between the 3 layers of 1/8 inch slices of starch-loaded potatoes from the North of France. Lastly, the 1 cup of heavy cream was poured on top to filter between the layers which had been sprinkled every so lightly with fresh nutmeg. Only the slightest touch of garlic was introduced by first wiping some garlic oil on the bottom of the ceramic cooking dish. White asparagus broiled in a skillet under the salamander would complete the meal. Unlike many folks in that area, a salad at the end of the meal was not to be provided. The final requirement would be a marche de vin sauce for the lamb, of which he kept several pouches in the freezer given the time required to prepare. With everything ready to be started at the appropriate time for dinner in 90 minutes or so, he poured himself a glass of pinot blanc and returned to the deck.
Not to his surprise, Shaymaa had fallen asleep into a comfortable position with her right hand under her tilted head. Her glistening black hair surrounded her face nearly reaching the deck. He headed to the shower for a quick wash and dressed in soft cotton sweat pants and a thin cashmere pullover sweater. He returned to the kitchen to place the Gratin Dauphinois into the 177oc oven for an hour bake, poured himself more wine and headed to the deck. Shaymaa was stirring slightly, and he kissed her on her left cheek having first brushed her hair to the side. Her eyes opened and again she gave out an “ummmmmm.” Softly he said “You have time to take a shower and join me back on the deck. Dinner will be ready in about 30 minutes.”
In 20 minutes she returned to the deck with the pink robe on. She had also put on first the satin, pale green teddy she had teased him with that morning. By this time, he had again opened up a Fleur bottle and had 2 stems chilled in a bowl of ice. He stood from his chair and greeted her with a rather-pressing kiss to her lips and a quick twirl to sit her in the other chair. She quickly tightened her robe around her so as to not to reveal what she had on underneath. With not much time until dinner, the conversation was light reviewing what had happened that day with her visits with the merchants. “Shaymaa, I purposely stood back from your conversations to let you shine at what you did …. And you were fantastic. I could easy read the impressions with both the women and men. This is good stuff for you and your wares. Twirling the parasol occasionally over your shoulder was an excellent touch.” Please relax here for several minutes as I make the final preparations for THAT dinner I owe you. I will come to retrieve you when it is time to eat.”
In the kitchen, Louis first placed the asparagus under the salamander to broil. He then
pulled out the rack of lamb, cut opened the bag, and place the ribs on the already heated grill. The sizzling of the rack provided a succulent scent unique to such grilling. He pulled the Gratin Dauphinois out of the oven, and waited several minutes to slice the rack into two-rib portions. At medium the ribs had a consistent pink color throughout which is not achievable by roasting in an oven. There were threads of pink liquid that stemmed from the cut ribs to the edge of the cutting board, fortunately with a groove around it to capture the liquid. He quickly nuked the marchand du vin sauce and placed it on the bar bordering the kitchen where they would eat. The asparagus was extracted from the salamander and placed on the bar as well on a heat pad. Dinner was ready with the exception of opening a bottle of pinot noir from the Champagne district. With that done he went to the deck to retrieve Shaymaa. To his surprise she was on her cell phone speaking softly into it. She was startled by his arrival and quickly ended the conversation with “Later.”
Once in the kitchen, his instructions were simple. “There is your plate, serve yourself as to the ribs and a dollop of the Gratin Dauphinois. The asparagus in on the bar along with the sauce for the lamb as you may wish. We will be drinking a rather unique French pinot noir that is quite luscious and ‘jammy’ to the palate – not from my winery by the way.” Being a Coptic Christian, as are all Nubians, she closed her hand in a blessing fashion with an “Oh my God! You are not only a shining knight to this Mademoiselle in distress for this day, but also an astounding chef, me thinks.” He simple shrugged with a whimsical smile and said “Of course. I am French. You should not expect … or accept less.”
They completed the meal with little discussion other than the “yummmmms” and “ahhhhhs” as Shaymaa completed her first serving with a return to the GratinDauphinois. It was now approaching 9, and they finished the pinot noir. “Shaymaa, there is no desert tonight which would have been a classic ille flotant, the lightest of all deserts. There wasn’t time, but I will make that for you in the future.” He turned her head to face his, paused looking directly into her eye saying softly: “I truly hope there is a future.” She was too satisfied with food and wine to pick up on his comment looking for positive feedback.
While sitting at the bar during dinner, her robe had started to separate revealing her legs further on and on as the meal progressed. NO man could ignore this temptation. He stood and proceeded to place the Gratin Dauphinois in the fridge and then returned to swing her up from the chair to direct her to the deck for more wine and discussion. As he did so, the robe separated enough to expose her satin undergarment. He shook his head as in seeking balance. “Chérie,you have a secret that has now been revealed to me.” She didn’t understand what he meant at first, actually thinking back upon his interrupting her cell phone conversation on the deck before dinner. Had he noticed the cell phone call indiscretion on her part? He then touched her upper thigh stating that the pale green satin teddy was on his mind throughout the day. For Louis, this was the most aggressive he had been with a woman of true interest for a long time.
As he took her hand to head to the deck, she softly fell into his arms. She was tired, a bit too relaxed (smashed) to expect any other real interaction with him that night. Instead of the deck, he helped her to the master bedroom and placed her in the bed, robe and all, and pulled up the goose down comforter to cover her. He turned off the lights and retreated to the deck to address a number of texts he had received regarding the winery. At 11, he returned to the master bedroom, removed his clothes, and laid down next to her spooning her right side. Within minutes he was asleep.
20. Fiddler's Festival
Please note that the most recent segments of A Parasol in Paris have proceeded independently of the parasol per se’ for the benefit of romance. Future segments will return soon to the Parasol's progression through the lives of individuals.
Sunday morning, Louis of course awoke at 7:30 still in a spooning position with Shaymaa. He gingerly lifted his left arm from around her to get out of bed. However, she held on. Therefore, he instead snuggled closer and softly kissed her neckline. She was now fully awake and turned suddenly to face him. Again, with that “ummmmm” of hers she wrapped her left arm around his shoulder feeling his bare skin, and then moving it down to his waist. “Louis, it seems that I am overdressed for this moment. She sat up, awkwardly, removed her robe, and laid back down again. “Shaymaa, you are STILL over-dressed, but let me help you.” He raised himself on his right elbow and proceeded first to remove her top followed by the appropriate touches and kisses. He sat up further and slid down her bottoms with her shuffling her knees up and down to assist. “MUCH better!’”, he whispered in her right ear as he lowered himself down next to her.
Nothing more was said for quite some time as they each relishedthe passion of being together. It was not until 9:30 that Louis stirred raising his head from Shaymaa’s left neckline … and her scent there. From the door opened to the deck, the noise of the “Fiddler’s Festival parade’s preparation could be heard with the arrival of the multitudes to line the main street below the house. He sat up with both of them uncovered, and he lightly kissed her lips whispering “Shaymaa, the merriment is rising outside, and I insist that you and I get up to get involved.” At first she was still coming to her senses, and then commented “Oui! Oui! I want to enjoy this spectacular event as you had described to me yesterday.” She was suddenly insistent. “I want to go NOW. I need not shower, but just throw on your t-shirt and my slacks.” “Granted!” he said. “We can get a croque monsieur and expresso each at the café across the street to hold us until lunch.” Within 10 minutes they were out of the house. Her long hair was totally dischuffed, but even more attractive to Louis.
Nothing was said by either as to the night before, but Louis held tightly onto Shaymaa as they maneuvered through the crowd to go to a position on the parade route that Louis preferred which was outside of a patisserie where they could order a particularly unique baquette layered with paté and gruyére, his favorite, and still not miss the parade. Several times he would squeeze her waist with a burst of intensity. After several such embraces, Shaymaa turned to Louis. “What was that Monsieur?” He responded: “Chérie, that was a ‘shiver’ that goes through my body as I reflect on last night. I have no control of that, but surely you know how men are about intense intimacy?” She paused, “I haven’t experienced that before you, but NOW …. WOW!, another reason for my name for you.”
The amazingly colorful parade proceeded for nearly 5 hours with groups of musicians (primarily fiddlers), marching groups in centuries-old traditional dress, and groups with satirical themes. Throughout the parade, Louis and Shaymaa would alternately stand and sit at their individual table provided by the owners of the patisserie. It was clear to Shaymaa that, as the day before, Louis held a position of notoriety in the village as she would be frequently introduce to Louis’s friends that would stop by.
It had been such an exciting afternoon with a parade that she had never experienced before. It was now time to return to the house. All of the shops were closed of course, and Louis stated that they would be eating at one of his favorite restaurants that night. Upon reaching the house, Shaymaa went directly to the chaise lounge on the deck to remove her sandals and relax. Louis was already thinking about tomorrow when Shaymaa would take the train back to Paris. He was losing his ‘cool’ in having been so encompassedby her presence, their lovemaking, … and her scent. The latter was totally new to him, but as real as their embracing.
He proceeded to the kitchen to pour several glasses of Pinot Blanc and then return to the deck sitting on the side of her chaise lounge. “Shaymaa, I have been totally delighted in having you her this weekend. It has been most extraordinary for the marketing of your wares, I believe. BUT I MUST say that it has been exceptional for me as well to know and experience you as the Mademoiselle you are, and I just don’t mean business …. pause ... You are leaving tomorrow because you have important business reasons to do so. BUT!, I want you to come back to explore US.” He paused holding up his glass to click with hers, “Tell me straight. Do you agree?” She responded: “WOW! You have …. Well … kind of have swept me away/ I am overwhelmed with you, and I need to step back momentarily for my own sanity. We are from 2 very different cultures, but my sense of individualism, independence if you will, wants to pursue us. You have swooped me into your life with such open passion, granted that I initiated. Why I did so is so insane in my mind at the moment. To be clear, my thoughts right now are that I could TOTALLY lose myself in you. But then again, I entered your environment of used tooth brush, pink robe, and the ongoing apparent presence of your ex-wife and Charlotte. How REAL are you? …. How well do you know yourself?, I have to question. AND, how well do I actually know myself?”
“Very sobering thoughts Shaymaa. But I would not expect anything less from you.” With a click of the glasses again, and final sips to empty them, he continued. “You get the shower first. For dinner, I would like to see you in that one purple and gold outfit I saw next to your suitcase.” With that she stood and proceeded to the bathroom dropping her top and slacks on the way. There was another shiver as he watched her walk away. As with him, she didn’t care for undergarments. Within 15 minutes she was out and dressed as requested, brushing her hair to the left side. “Chérie, please pour yourself a glass of whatever wine you would like, and I will be out to sweep you from the deck to proceed to dinner.” He turned back to her and said: “Unlike Paris, the village folks don’t wait until 8 for dinner reservations, especially after such an intense afternoon.”
During his absence in the shower, Shaymaa turned on her cell and sent a text to the individual she was talking to Saturday evening when Louis came upon her unexpectedly on the deck. In 20 minutes, he was back and dressed in tan linen slacks, another cashmere pullover, and leather loafers. He pulled her up from the chair embracing her softly with an extended kiss on her lips. “We are off to the restaurant.”
His favorite, traditional Alsatian restaurant was Winstub La Flammerie. Sophie, the female head chef, did not request what they would like and instead recommended 2 favorites of her patrons. Louis ordered the Duck aiguillettes with pinot noir, honey and plum chutney, and Shaymaa ordered the Pike perch fillet with old-fashioned mustard cream on sauerkraut. They both shared a Tart of asparagus au gratin as an appetizer and a bottle of Pinot Noir from Champagne that Sophie insisted upon. Louis responded “Oui Madame! in that Mademoiselle was indeed not appropriate for this Matron.”
During the dinner, the conversation was more business than romantic. Louis wanted to know Shaymaa’s further thoughts about the touring activities on Saturday … and how this may involve her further visits to Ribeauvillé. Typical of her orderly discipline, she pulled out a piece of paper upon which she had a number of notes from those activities. Sensing her seriousness, Louis shifted into business mode and provided suggestions she may consider. Of course, his comments were such to encourage her return to the village, as well as ways that he could be directly involved in assisting her there with her marketing. A second bottle of wine was ordered with both them denying any ability to enjoy the house-made deserts about which Sophie was much less insistent, but disappointed nonetheless.
Upon entering the house, it was back to the deck. Louis said he would be back in a moment. In the kitchen, he poured two small glasses of green Chatruese and returned to the deck. As he approached Shaymaa handing her the aperitif he said: “This morning I remember removing some amazing lingerie from you. I would love to see that in full view. Would you mind?” She took a sip and said, I will be right back.” In her absence, he put some island music on the house audio. He turned down the lights on the deck letting the inside lights providing a light glow on the deck.
She returned making a “runmway” entrance, with a full turn before sitting down. He started, on He was breathless with only a mild “Mon Dieu” as he stood to turn her around again. “I now have my endearing name for you: Ma Tigresse.” You said earlier that your train to Paris is at 10:20. M/y suggestion is that we now retire to the bedroom for a well deserved rest before I get you up for that petite dejeune that I had planned for you on Saturday. “Really?” she proclaimed as she said striking a most seductive pose turning sideways to him. “Perhaps, there is some more ‘discussions’ before going to sleep.” as she kissed his left cheek and pounced to the bedroom. He followed again leaving the glass doors to the deck open for the breeze.
She headed first to the bathroom as he removed his clothes and slipped under the covers. She purposely left the light on in the bathroom as she exited removing first her top and then the bottoms. She slipped into bed and cuddled to his left side. They were both exhausted. With her head on his chest and his arm around her, they both fell asleep.
At 7:30 he awoke and gently released himself from their coupling; she didn’t wake. Moving directly to the kitchen without dressing, he prepared the souffle batter. At about 8, he pulled on his cotton shorts and gently awaken Shaymaa with a kiss on her cheek after brushing her hair to the side. She opened her eyes, looked directly at him and said. “I am leaving you today Wow, right?” “Oui, but we both know that you will be back soon Ma Tigresse. So, I suggest you take a quick shower, dress in your traveling clothes and join me in the kitchen,” ”Oui” she said, half saluting him as the comforter dropped off her shoulder exposing her upper body. He touched her face with his left arm and kissed her neck, and then continued down. “You still have that scent of our lovemaking. How precious! You need to get up now, or you will missyour train.” He said with a seductive grin.
She showered, dressed, packed her suitcase, and joined him in the kitchen in 20 minutes. “Perfect timing, I am removing the souffle from the oven now. I will serve it and you take the sausages and lobster sauce as you wish.
It was now time to leave for the train station. Louis was still only half-dressed. “Louis, … Wow ... I know my way to the station, and I wish to leave you here”. She put her arms around him, tightly embracing him. “As I said last night, there is so much about this weekend that I need to put together in my mind,” He interrupted, “And so do I, Ma tigresse. ” She kissed him passionately, and grabbed her suitcase and parasol leaving the house. He reached out to touch her again, but she was gone.
On her way to the gare she pulled out her cell phone and made a call. The person to whom she made the call did not answer, so she left a message: “I am on my way back to Paris, and I wish to talk to you tonight. So please call me at 7 PM, Paris time. Love, Me.”
The cell call Shaymaa made upon leaving Louis’s house was to Khalid in Cairo with whom she had become quite serious before joining her brother in Paris. As with most Muslims in Egypt, he adherers closely to primary Muslim principles, e.g., 5 prayers each day, no alcohol, no smoking and the rules of marrying outside of the religion, In general, Muslim men have freedom but women don’t as to cross-religion marriages. However, Shaymaa being Coptic Christian was too regimented as well as independent to make a conversion even with the increasing pressure from Khalid’s family and friends to do so. Arguably, Egypt is the least restrictive as to rights of women in the Arabic / Muslim world, and the Constitution that came about in the revolution of 2013 provided additional freedoms …. but not enough for Shaymaa. The added pressure of Islam regarding women was a just too much for Shaymaa to consider. Additionally, while Islam and Christianity are much more in common as to their beliefs than ether with Judaism, Muslims believe Christ to be a precursor to the Prophet Mohammad; hence Christ is a Muslim. Muslims also reject the Bible on the basis of their perspective of it having been corrupted over time, whereas the Quran is the final, unchanged and preserved word of God.
As she had requested of Khalid upon her departing from Ribeauvillé, he called her precisely at 7 PM in the evening. Shaymaa was not sure what she was going to say, but the objective was clear. Her strict religious practices were guiding her at this point regardless of her growing relationship with Khaled. AND, she justified in her mind that her brother’s business in Paris gave her sufficient cause to strike out on her own as to both romance and her profession. Indeed, going through her thoughts was to not rationalize her objective given her sudden, if not impetuous, involvement with Louis. But when her cell phone rang, her first thought was of Louis. “Mahabaan Khalid” “Hello to you also Shaymaa”. “Thank you for calling Khalid. I wish to talk with you about my visit so far in Paris and the thoughts that are going through my mind. ... pause …To be clear, I have made some difficult decisions about where I want to be …. and with whom I want to be involved.” Khalid was silent waiting for her to continue. Knowing well the dynamics of Shaymaa’s personality in concert with the Islam/Coptic conflict between them, he already expected what would follow as to them as a couple. Before, she could continue, Khalid took the initiative. “Shaymaa! I love you dearly. But we are not the same as we were as children when we grew up together. At that point in our lives, there was no consideration as to the religious differences between us. As has always been true in Cairo, Muslims and Coptic children grow up together in school and play. But now, my Love, I understand that neither of our religious beliefs can, or should, be compromised by either of us. When you left for Paris, I approached my Imam at the Mosque for his thoughts as to our position as a couple. He was very realistic as to the tremendous difficulties of couples in Egypt that have dealt with such conflict, especially when there are children involved.” Shaymaa was stunned by his insights, and now respected him even more than she had anticipated. “Khalid, I love you deeply, but you are right. We would possibly destroy ourselves directly and in conflict with our respective parents.” “Tell me Shaymaa, if you wish, have you been brought to your realizations by the people, eh men, you have met in your time there?” “I think I have Khalid. But to be honest, I am somewhat scared as to where I am and where I am going both professionally and romantically.” “Shaymaa, my heart is with you always and never hesitate to bring your thoughts to me to the extent you are comfortable. I dare say Love, with tears on my cheek, that you will always make the right decisions in the most difficult situations if you use your mind properly without impulsiveness. With that said, you will understand that I need to end this call now with great sadness but yet joy for both of us. Goodbye Love” “Goodbye Khalid. Thank You! You are always in my prayers.” “And you in mine, Shaymaa.”
After this most extraordinary and candid conversation with Khalid, Shaymaa called her brother to provide a brief update on her Ribeauvillé visit without revealing too much. Ahmed knew nothing of her relationship with Khalid, which would have greatly upset him. Instead, she discussed what her activities would be the next day as to the business. There was nothing said about her intimate experiences with Louis. She didn’t need any more ‘big brother’ thoughts at that point.
On Tuesday she woke at 10, dressed in her loose garb and went to the café across the street from her room. Thanks to Louis’s introduction, she was hooked on Croque Monsieur for brunch. In Cairo, within the spacious City Stars Mall, there is a PAUL franchise famous across France for their light French menu, including Croque Monsieur. But what she had experienced there in the past barely resembled what she had enjoyed in the café across the street. After consuming her first café crème with the Croque Monsieur, she ordered a second café and pulled out the business card for Monsieur Bodin. She called and introduced herself to Monsieur Bodin’s secretary in English. The woman readily switched to English and said that she knew that Monsieur Bodin was awaiting her call. However, he was not in at the moment, but had stated that the secretary should set up a meeting in his office as mutually agreeable. An appointment was set for the next day at 11:45.
The rest of Tuesday was now open for Shaymaa, and she decided to relax at the Jardin du Palais Royal where she had first sat with Louis after drinks at Willis Wine Bar. She went about spreading her marketing material across the length of the bench preparing for the meeting based upon Monsieur Bodin’s comments in Reims. It was clear his primary interest was to outfit their Nice store on the Rivera with the more colorful and loose garments she offered that were best suited for a beach environment.
On Wednesday she took the parasol and her marketing material with several selections of men’s and women’s apparel. She was 15 minutes early, and Monsieur Bodin’s secretary received her most graciously and led her into the quaint, private executive dining room. There were 6 place settings on the table, 2 on each long side, and 1 at each end. She placed her material on a side table at one end and sat at that end position. Shaymaa stood and stepped away from the table as Monsieur Bodin entered with 4 assistants. “Bon Jour” she said joyfully offering her hand to Monsieur Bodin in case he was aware of the Muslim practice that men should not offer their hands to women; the woman must initiate - even though she was not Muslim but which he might assume. They all took their seats with Monsieur Bodin at the other end. He started. “I am very pleased that we can meet again after our breakfast in Reims. I have several critical staff here; 3 Marketing and the head of Human Resources. BUT first, we will enjoy a lunch prepared by the store’s Chef from the Gourmet department in the basement.” He continued: “Knowing some Egyptian cuisine, Chef has prepared several dishes including both grilled, marinated goat and stuffed Pidgeon, which by the way is very much part of the French cuisine in Southern France. In France we have Imperial Pigeons that are significantly larger than those in Egypt. So! to start, would you like some wine, if that is permitted by you. Working her marketing skill she stated: “Monsieur Bodin, you overwhelm me with your kind consideration … and Yes! I would love some wine as I see over on that table. I should tell you that I am not Muslim but Coptic Christian.” “Oh! So Shaymaa, what is your wine preference?” pointing to the bottles. She was very clear and welcoming: “I would like to have a glass of the upper Rhone, Chateau Neuf du Pape”. That should go handsomely with the 2 Plats you mentioned. With the wine poured to all, Monsieur Bodin introduced the others as to name and responsibility and then requested: “Shaymaa tell them about yourself, your brother, and the background of Anna’s Parasol.
She stood and placed the opened parasol on the table in front of her seat. Within 20 minutes, she had covered the major points, including a brief history of the parasol, finishing as the food was being served. She sat as Monsieur Bodin noted: “Excellent! Shaymaa. Let’s begin by enjoying this meal as each of my colleagues takes a turn to provide their individual perspective of what you have presented. My management style is to be openly inclusive and each of these individuals can deliver points that are important to consider”, and so they started. The first three presented their individual marketing thoughts as to male vs. female relative to beach attire. There was some conflict as to the brilliancy of the colors of her wares, but all agreed to the styles AND the fine material that Ahmed could deliver. The fourth individual was the Head of Human Resources, and directly stated, having first received a node from Monsieur Bodin: “To be open here Shaymaa, we are willing to take on your line exclusively. And if you are agreeable to such an arrangement, then we require YOU to be part of our team to first bring these wares to the Rivera and then expand through Southern France, and eventually into Paris. Monsieur Bodin and I have already discussed what may make sense given his knowledge of YOU, your brother’s venture, and your wares. He asked me to make the final decision, AND, my decision is that Galeries Lafayette will form a unique, separate marketing division titled Anna’s Parasol for your styles …. And, we want you to head that as well as your brother to handle manufacturing. This may include expanding to France’s holdings in the Caribbean, and possibly elsewhere in beach communities in Indonesia and elsewhere.” Shaymaa restrained her extreme excitement for once, and simply said: “Interesting… pause … I would like another glass of the Rhone s’il te plait.” The French were amused by her professional, but fake, subtleness.
The wine was provided. Shaymaa paused and then swirled the glass and said “I do believe that this wine is as complex and astounding as your offer.” Holding up the glass to the light and she then took a serious sip having sensed its nose. The others held up their glasses and turned to her taking their sips in unison. In Paris this was a contract respected as nearly valid as a verbal or written agreement. Shaymaa placed the glass on the table in front of her. “Please understand that while I am my brother’s marketing consultant, I must first gain his agreement.” “Understood” said Monsieur Bodin. “I ask that you respond within 2 weeks to start building the summer marketing campaign including our making a multitude of duplicate parasols as I mention in Reims. The capital funding to begin manufacturing will be provided by Galeries Lafayette, I also should mention that along with a salary, which I trust you will find suitable as a Department Executive for Galeries Lafayette, you will be provided with a most-suitable apartment in Marais with access to our executive apartments in Nice and elsewhere for your personal and business purposes. Our customers expect the best from us as to products and service, and we provide our executives with the best accommodations to so deliver. Now for dessert.”
The plates were removed by the service staff as the conversation shifted to her impressions of Paris and French culture in general. Shaymaa lightly introduced her visit to Ribeauvillé and her immense enjoyment of the Fiddler’s Parade without any mention of Louis. During her conversation, she and others were presented with a warmed Tart Tatin avec la crème glacée from the gourmet shop in the store’s basement.
Apologizing for his departure due to other commitments, Monsieur Bodin turned to her and said: “My wife and I are having a dinner party on Saturday at Brasserie Gallopin near the Bourse in the Opera Qtr. for several of our most important clients and merchants. We have reserved the second floor in this finest example of a traditional French establishment. I would be honored to have you and your brother attend. If you are willing, then my secretary will provide the details. Au revoir Madame.” Shaymaa stood, and again extended her hand. “Merci beaucoup Monsieur for your hospitality and willingness to consider and include what we have to offer to the customers of Galerie Lafyette. This is going to be very exciting and profitable for both of us. I look forward to Saturday night. Au revoir!.” With that he exited the dining room along with his colleagues, and she sat down to finish the extraordinary tart tatin. Within several minutes, she gathered up her materials and exited the dining room to obtain the necessary information regarding the engagement Saturday night from the secretary. She had not yet considered how her brother would receive the news of the exclusivity with Galeries Lafayette … and to a lessor extent the proper dealing with Sarah whose openness and generosity had provided the initial entrance into France. This French woman had selflessly opened the doors for the Muslim Ahmed. This was a valuable lesson for Shaymaa as her career would continue in dealing with individuals of different religions and citizenships.
22. A Plethora of Parasols
As addressed in the previous segments, Shaymaa had been through so much since coming to Paris to assist her brother Ahmed in establishing a market for their wares, both clothing and parasols. She was settling into the Paris life, but with her own desires as to socializing and dressing in a casual style that she had assumed in her international positions after leaving Egypt. Being a striking Nubian woman, and a Coptic Christian, she carried herself uninhibited from the constraints and criticism that existed only with the regimented Muslims in her native country. Now, given her meeting with Monsieur Bodin, the Chairman of Galleries Lafayette, as to a business venture with Anna's Parasol , she had to shift into full business mode.
True to Monsieur Bodin's word, it was only 2 months until a corner portion of the first floor of the store in Paris was dedicated to Anna' Parasols. At first, Shaymaa thought that she was only to have a 'pop-up' kiosk on the sidewalk adjacent to the store. But Monsieur Bodin had the desire to have her space inside on the left side of Long Champ's space. He had extended plans for this young woman and her wares beyond Paris should her clothing designs and parasols be acceptable to the Parisians at least. The choice of her space's location was purposeful on Monsieur Bodin's part. Long Champ's space was arguably the most visited of all portions of the store given so many Asian tourists looking for bargains compared to the prices in their own countries. From late morning on, there were long lines waiting to be permitted to enter the space based upon availability. This meant so many shoppers would be in line directly outside of Anna's Parasols resulting in a great deal of attention to its offerings. He was proven right as sales of Shaymaa's offerings increased steadily.
For the first month she spent extensive time in the store training the staff on both the products and the unique means of creation and production in West Africa. Each of the salesladies was selected based upon her ability to wear the clothing in a stylish manner. This included an Asian, several French beauties, as well as two older ladies that could display the flowing gowns with flair.
Training included the use of proper sales techniques based upon her perspectives strongly influenced from her extensive international travels ... as well as her Coptic Christian beliefs. Importantly, the unique flowing designs of the clothing, as well as the extrordinary parasols, were very well priced compared to traditional and trendy Parisian fashions.
At first, only the Asian buyers were visiting Anna's Parasol, but soon the designs of the free flowing garments were starting to be noticed by both the French and European/U.S. tourists. Three weeks after opening, the store received a write-up in Paris' daily, Le Parisien, including pictures of both the enchanting garments and the extraodinary parasols. It was only several days later that France 24, a popular Paris TV station, did an in-store interview with Shaymaa being personally interviewed for an evening broadcast. Shaymaa's bronze Nubian beauty and her accent could not be ignored by all classes of Paris's society. Easter was approaching and Shaymaa spun not just the unique, very-affordable clothing but also themultitude of parasols - an absolute must for any young female for the holiday. Subsequently, Monsieur Bodin, with Shaymaa's agreement, released a string of commercials promoting a "revolutionary shift" in Parisian clothing styles in lieu of the faux-evolutionary cycle every 10-15 years by the traditional Parisian designers.
Within 6 months after opening, Anna's Parasols was turning over its inventory ever month. This was a phenomenal record compared to the boutiques that are normally aligned with seasons. The store was a great success by any appropriate standard.
Beginning with the Fall, Shaymaa noticed a significant shift in the clientele from Asian to Parisian. While the garment sales were increasing at a fairly steady rate, the purchasing of the less-vibrant parasols was falling off somewhat. Hence, she began to review the purchase of parasols as to the type of buyer and the popularity of each of the designs, of which there was a plethora. Afterall, the receivers of the parasols were not the purchasers, but rather young females. Hence, Shaymaa approached Monsieur Bodin with an idea to present a 'Cloud of Parasols' in the alley between the two major buildings of Galleries Lafayette. He was amazed at the idea, and agreed to it. Within a week the installation was made and received great coverage by the media. The increase in the sales of parasols was immediate.
It was in mid-October that Monsieur Bodin entered Anna's Parasols with a specific point in mind. He frequently walked casually through the space as his normal method of overseeing Galleries Lafayette's operations. But, this time he sought out Shymaa. Given her tall stature, she was easy to spot amongst the crowd there at Noon. With the expected la biss, he took both of Shaymaa's hands in his and said that he wanted to have lunch with her in the Gourmet section of the store in the basement. When they entered the Gourmet section, they were seated at a private booth separated from the crowd. Waiting for them were two additional individuals. Madame. Longet, VP, Human Resources, and Monsieur Constatine, VP of Operations. Monsieur Bodin made the introductions followed immediatey by the sharing of the pre-opened bottle of the Perrier Joulet Fleur Champagne. Madame Longet carefully filled the 4 flutes along their tilted side and simply said "To Madame Shaymaa and the success of Anna's Parasol!." Shaymaa tipped her flute slightly in recognition of the toast and looked directly at Monsieur Bodin as she tooked her first taste of the extraordinary Champagne. With a pause after the toast, Monsieur Bodin continued. "Shaymaa, the success of Anna's Parasol, especially given your extraordinary marketing, has even surpassed my expectations ... pause.... And I have made a decision that I hope you will appreciate and accept my proposal which is two-fold. First, I wish to incorporate Anna's Parasol spaces into all of our stores across France." Shaymaa's eyes opened widely with an expression of complete surprise. She continued to look at Monsieur Bodin without responding. Monsieur Bodin continued "The 3 of us (nodding sighty toward Madame Longet and Monsieur Constatine) agree that you should be on the Board of Galleries Layfette. We believe that Anna's Parasol can be a significant part of this store's future, and that your insight as a Board Member is critical for our success." With that said, Monsieur sat back in his chair and waited for Shaymaa's response.
Even given Shaymaa's extensive international professional experiences before coming to Paris, she was speechless ... but she was cool and quickly collected as she took an additional sip of the Champagne. She brushed her hair to one side, sat back in her chair, and simply said with a pervocative smile and a wink: "What took you so long.?" Everyone laughed and emptied their flutes. Sausages, cheeses, pate, and condiments were ordered for the table, and M. Bodin got down to the specifics as to what he saw for Shaymaa's activities for the expansion of Anna's Parasol across the store's locations.
After telling Ahmed that evening of her meeting/offer that day, she slept sparingly that night as marketing concepts were continuously conceived in her mind, few of which she would quickly recall the next day.
NOTE: I have now established the third transition from Personal to Commercial for parasols. As such, forthcoming segments will address the personal perspectives of the ownership of various parasols across the populace ... instead of the ownership of a singular parasol. I trust you will stay 'tuned' as I present a variety of individuals that integrate Anna's Parasal's flowing garments and parasols into their lives.
23. A Peace Offering
It was a drizzly day in Paris, and Claude was on a mission. It was the 50th anniversary of his marriage to Annette, and he was looking for a present at Galleries Lafayette that would remind the two of them of their romance at the beginning of their relationship.
BACKGROUND - 51 years prior: Claude was a driver on the Paris Metro and with little surplus-expendable funds. Hence, he courted Annette normally via picnics at the various parks and occasionally cinema near the Odeon Metro station. Often the two would end their date with a kir royal each at the La Fontaine Rue Michel Brasserie in sight of Notre Dame before he walked her to the Metro station there for her to return to her parents house in the Opera Qtr. Claude resided in the Marias with another driver in a small apartment near the numerous art galleries there.
On Sundays in the evenings, they would meet at the Brasserie for a verre Chardonnay and then onto the adjacent Latin Quarter for Bohemian-style foods. Following their meal, they would stroll the short distance to Blvd. Saint-Michel to seat near the Fontaine Saint-Michel where street musicians were performing. With persistent urging from Annette, the 2 would dance to the traditional French tunes when played. Annette was indeed a gracious dancer with the most enticing swing of her body that managed to make Claude look like he had rhythm and moves; he didn't. Annette found his willingness to dance to be very endearing and a very good sign as to a compatible homme.
One Sunday well into their courtship, they sat on a bench facing the fountain. Very near to them, an elderly couple was sitting and occasionally dancing in such a effortless fashion that comes with a history of loving experiences together. It was not clear how the argument started, but Annette stood up suddenly and walked away from Claude heading for the Metro station across the Blvd. Her hands were to her face in grief as she dashed across the street and disappeared into the Metro's entrance. Claude remained sitting with his face lowered. The elderly couple seeing this display, turned to each other with Madame whispering to Monsieur "Ah, the young, how they suffer foolishly." With that, Madame stood and approached Claude with her closed parasol in hand. She touched him on the shoulder, and he suddenly turned to face her, most likely hoping that Annette had returned. Madame started: "My husband and I noticed the situation between yourself and Mademoiselle." Claude quickly sparked: "Annette is crazy and just too sensitive!" Madame paused and then continued: "My husband and I readily recognized the occurrences of young lovers in that we had a number of similar situations in our youth. I expect that what just happened between you two is an adjustment that is needed occasionaly to be made in understanding and accepting each other in the love you two share." Claude was not fully in sync with what Madame was saying. Madame continued: "If you are willing young man, I wish to give you this beautiful parasol as a peace offering to your mademoiselle from you. It is not important that she knows how you came about it." She paused. "When my husband and I were courting, as you are, I walked away from him in this very place over some argument of which I don't even remember the details. As I am doing now, a women had approached him and offered this very parasol for his use to woo me back. The next day, my to-be-husband arrived at my apartment with a bouquet and this beautiful laced parasol. For us, the parasol became a sign of peace and the love between us that remained throughout our marriage and brought out on our wedding anniversaries.... along with a bottle of fine champagne" Claude clicked into the conversation and thanked her. (Actually, Madame had made up this story on the spot to provide an explanation that Claude would accept as 'logical' for his sense of 'manliness'. In truth, the couple had just found the parasol accidently abandoned in a Metro station that evening.) Madame already had 3 parasols that Monsieur had purchased over the years, and she thought this ploy may be valuable for the young couple. Madame bent over closer to Claude and said: "Don't be foolish Monsieur by wasting this precious time with your Love on an argument. Take this parasol and a bouquet to her tomorrow." With a la bise she returned to her husband, and they walked away. towards the Latin Quarter.
The next day Claude met Annette at a Metro station near her parent's home. Awkwardly, he presented both a bouquet and the parasol to her. She responded with tears in her eyes as she held him tightly in her arms. They were married in 2 months.
PRESENT: During the 5 decades of marriage, the laced parasol had suffered in substance and structure. It had been tucked in a corner of the second bedroom closet in their house. It's importance in their courtship had seemingly faded from their memory. It was only the previous day to his trip to Galleries Lafayette that Claude had seen it tucked in the corner of the closet when he was looking for his suitcase for a trip to Alsace that he was planning for the two of them as a surprise anniversary present. Seeing the parasol wrapped only partially in brown paper, he had a flashback to that time when the Madame had given the parasol to him. Suddenly, he had a thought which took him out that drissly day. He wanted to purchase a new parasol that he would offer as a gift for the two of them on their trip. His thought was not that Annette needed a parasol, but that they would take it with them when they still visited Fontene Saint-Michel on occasional Sundays to continue dancing to the live music there. He would explain to Annette what the actual story was to the parasol 5 decades ago, and that they may find a young couple to which they could offer the parasol - as had Madame. If nothing else, Claude is a very sentimental soul. So, on that drizzly day he entered Galleries Lafayette looking for a parasol.
He had seen some of the media reports regarding Anna's Parasol, and headed directly to that corner of the store. Indeed, the space was very crowded with shoppers, but it was not possible to avoid the presence of Shaymaa there. He introduced himself to Shaymaa and asked if he could see some laced parasols. Shaymaa was somewhat surprised as to this elderly Monsieur requesting such an item, but escorted him to that portion of the space that had such a selection. It was clear to Shaymaa that the Monsieur had no particular design in mind, so she made several suggestions. The second one she showed him was selected. He paid with Euros and it was wrapped in a most exquisite way.
Now in Ribeauville having dinner at Au Relais des Menetriers, Claude was anxious to provide Annette with his prized anniversary present. After the dinner that he had especially ordered several days earlier, a particular desert would be served that was Annette's favorite when they were courting. The selection of shish kabobs was a more exquisite version of the meal they had enjoyed in the Latin Quarter that fateful night. At the same time of Ille Flontant being delivered to their table, the wrapped parasol was delivered by the Maitre D. Claude had managed to conceal the parasol in his garment bag during the train trip and then deliver it earlier to the restaurant for their dinner that evening when he made the excuse to go to the Tabac to purchase some cigarettes.
Upon unwrapping the present, Annette looked at Claude with surprise as she dealt with the ribbons. Once she saw it, she wasn't sure what to say. After all, this was their 50th anniversary. Claude reached over and took both of Annettes hands in his and said: "My LOVE, I have a confession to make." He explained how he had received the original parasol and that the offering of the bouquet and laced parasol was not his idea. He explained that they had the 'responsibility' to offer this parasol to a young couple having an argument when they went to the Fountane Saint-Michel for dancing. (To be sure, young French couples are frequently arguing in public.) In time, Claude had become quite the eloquent dance partner for Annette.
Upon returning to Paris several days later, Annette placed the laced parasol near the fire place below the marriage license mounted on the wall to await their outing to the fountain.
With the forthcoming national holidays of La Gete de ia Victoire (Victory Day) in May, followed in July by Bastille Day, Shaymaa had a major marketing ploy in mind to have designed, produced and distributed a large quantity of red/white/blue colored parasols for those celebrations Her plans included not only Paris, but also several other major Galeries Lafayette in Nice, Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille, and Nantes. There also are the internet sales that had to be considered. How many to order became a major decision given her proven record to minimize the cost of unsold inventory against the unknown markets in the other locations. For assistance, she approached Monsieur Constantine that she first at lunch with Monsieur Bodin and Madame Longet, when she was offered the Board position. She didn't want umbrellas, but rather the more eloquent parasols. Everyone had umbrellas, but no one had silk parasols that could be part of the celebrations for national holidays that presented one's pride as an French citizen. Her plan was to make 'Patriotic Parasols' as part of the special garb that French wore during the celebrations for those two holidays. And, she wanted the parasols to be made of silk thinking that she would market them as family hierlooms to be passed on through generations.
For her parasol designs she decided to take a new approach. Until that time she had exclusively relied on Ahmed's sources in West Africa for both clothing and parasols. While their creativity and craftsmanship were extraordinary, she wanted an authentic French perspective for the parasols. Her first possible contractor was in Bordeaux. That company was recommended by a product manager in Galleries LaFayette. However, the first suggestion for a parasol was too obvious and disappointing. Leaning of the amazing history of Lyon and its silk houses that goes back centuries, Shaymaa took the train to Lyon to visit several of the better known silk houses. Instead of going to their facilities directly, she established a number visitation times at one of Lyon's chic food locations, Food Traboule, with its casual, but trendy, food court and open kitchens. With her Galleries Lafayette credentials, she was able to secure a private meeting room attached to the court.
NOTE: In addition to its silk industry, Lyon is still considered by many to be the gastronomic capital of the world since being first proclaimed in 1935 by Michelin's first food critic, Cumonsky.
She had (5) 50-minute meetings scheduled between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. She purposely chose a single point for her meetings so that there would be some notice of the numerous houses she was interviewing; nothing wrong with establishing a sense of competition at this initial point. For each meeting, she first introduced herself with her expanded position in GalleriesLafayette both as to stores and the Board position. Next, she introduce samples of her wares, recognizing that the quality of the silk she showed was very good but still inferior to the products of Lyon - BUT, more affordable for the French populace. Once questions were asked and answered, she requested that any house interested in this parasol market would need to submit at least 5 designs on paper within 10 days, as well as the cost of a quantity of 10,000 and a committed delivery schedule once an order was received. She pressed the point that she was shooting for at least 3000 by Victory Day and the remaining 7000 by Bastille Day. She noted that houses could join, and/or add manufacturers, in a common bid if it made sense to meet her delivery requirements. Lastly she stated that the winning contractor(s) would receive a 40% payment immediately to begin production. She knew that this was an extraordinary offer for typical business contracts. On this point she had not checked with Monsieur Bodin, but she felt confident that this was fair to all. She expected no exception given the reputation of the houses she was considering. He had yet to place any constraints on this Madame's business practices. It turned out that the 40% payment was her first major mistake in her position at Galleries Lafayette.
Shaymaa did not have the experience with or the understanding of the constraints expected of her including the level of financial commitments she was making in the store's name. Until this point, her substantial sales and quick turnover in inventory had not placed challenges to the store's strict financial controls. But this potential order of 10,000 designer parasols was a different situation. That is, Galleries Lafayette's financials are aligned with seasons, and do not include particular holidays with the exception of saison de Noel. As such, each department has budgets as to labor, inventory, and advertising. These budgets have been fine-tuned over the decades of the store's existence. Even the cyclic changes in fashions have been studied and extrapolated as to timing. Additionally, each store has its own variations in budgets due to its location's particular characteristics, most notably the store in Nice with its Riveria market.
In 3 weeks a courier arrived at Shaymaa's space in Paris to deliver a large leather portfolio. It was from L'Atelier de Soiere, one of the prime silk houses that met with her in Lyon. When Shaymaa opened it she was amazed to find not only 10 designs of parasols on paper, but also samples of several extraordinary silk patterns for her consideration. Each design and sample was a rich blending of red, blue, and white designs, both abstract and geometrical. However, there was no listing of prices or commitments as to deliveries. What was included was a letter, penned on a fine silk no less, of the interest of Madame Collier, the house's owner, to meet with her in Paris within the next week. Shaymaa had decided to not discuss neither her marketing plan or pursuit with Monsieur Bodin until she had the first estimate as to costs. Hence, she was anxious to meet with Madame Collier.
The next Tuesday, Shaymaa and Madame met for dinner at a very traditional French restaurant, Brasserie Gallopin (Shaymaa's favorite), near the Bourse. Shaymaa wore one of the more fanciful, cotton dresses in her shop and brought with her the original Anna's parasol. Madame was already there, and it was clear to Shaymaa as to she was by her extraordinary silk gown and scarf. Shaymaa initiated the introduction given Madame's age and they were sat at a table in the back dining room primarily reserved for Parisians, unknown to tourists. It was clear to Shaymaa that Madame was somewhat surprised to be interacting with such a young, non-French woman representing Galleries Lafayette. At first, Madame was rather formal in their conversation, but she soon realized that this young woman knew her business as the conversation continued from casual discussions to more structured business points. Shaymaa, while anxious to hear the prices to be offered by Madame, avoided directly asking her. For Shaymaa, she saw this as a subtle means to control the conversation to her advantage.
Dinner of chateaubriand pour deux, with a marchand du vin sauce, along with broiled white asparagus had been delivered, and consumed casually as the conversation continued. They were on their second bottle of Chatneauneuf du Pape Rhone when Madame finally brought up the prices for 10,000 silk parasols permitting a mixed selection of the 10 prints that had been sent for Shaymaa's review. True to Madame's formal nature, she presented Shaymaa with an envelop with the offer inside. Casually, Shaymaa placed the envelope in her purse without opening it - again a control perspective, she believed. She said that she would review the offer in the morning. With that Madame asked for the le addition. Shaymaa thanked Madame for the dinner and the offer, and then offered to pay for glasses of champagne. Madame stated that she had to catch a train back to Lyon in 30 minutes and therefore must depart.
Back in her apartment, Shaymaa was a bit nervous about reviewing the offer given what would be clearly a very great amount. She was correct in that the offer simply presented the amount of 1,500,000 €. It was at this point that Shaymaa truly realized that she had gone too far without consulting with Monsieur Bodin. She called Ahmed for his usually-comforting thoughts. Listening to her as to what had happened over dinner, the price, and her lack of involving Monsieur Bodin up to that point, Ahmed could hear the panic in her voice. As in his normal straightforward way he said: "Sister, you are now in the big leagues and you have you made your first thrust to handle your amazing responsibilities. You need to meet immediately with Monsieur Bodin with your plan and explain honestly what you have done up until now. Keep in mind, you HAVE NOT, made any actual commitments as to quantity or up-front payment. Galleries Lafayette is not legally committed at this point. With your explanation, you will ask that you be assigned a business manager for your activities from this point forward for amounts of over .... say ... 100,000 € I know he will understand and will likely be pleased with your marketing plan for "Patriotic Parasols". Shaymaa slept uneasily that night. She thought about pursuing the other silk houses to encourage their offers. NONETHELESS, she had to get to Monsieur Bodin immediately.
The next morning she called Monsieur's personal assistant requesting a meeting at his convenience. When asked, she said it was about a very interesting marketing campaign that she was considering. A meeting was scheduled for 1 that afternoon. She dressed in a formal business attire for this meeting. Her long hair was swirled on her head with a conservative business suit, open blouse at the neck and replacing a tie with a silk scarf over her left shoulder. She had never looked older than now. This was her test of a presentation as a young executive, and she was very nervous at first. But, she had worked out the profit margin for the 10,000 parasols based upon what the she believed the product could deliver in revenue It was at least 1,000,000 € given the quality of the product she wanted to purchase.
Monsieur Bodin prided himself on bringing unique talent onto the management team, and Shaymaa had been his favorite in recent years. Hence, he was looking forward to hear about Shaymaa's new marketing plans, as his personal assistant had informed him. Shaymaa was introduced into his office and was offered a chair at the table there where the staff would sit. The assistant asked if she wanted something to drink, and she said "No, s'il vous plait". Monsieur Bodin then entered from another room and provided an la bise before sitting down across from her. "I love your outfit Shaymaa", he said with his kind smile. "What's up", a phrase that he had heard in an American movie the night before. He spoke in English with her knowing that she was uncomfortable in her French when details were being discussed. Shaymaa followed her brother's advice and was straightforward in presentation of how she had pursued this new market of "Patriotic Parasols". He listened without comment until she got to the closure of a 1,500,000 € investment with a net profit to likely exceed 1,000,000 €. All he said at that point was "Hmmmmmm" without indicating satisfaction or displeasure. She quickly followed with her request to have the assignment of a business manager for purchases over 100,000 € . Monsieur Bodin got up from his chair and went over to her and placed both of his hands on her shoulder.s "Shaymaa, I actually underestimated you as to your marketing skills.. Indeed you went too far on this effort without my involvement, but you recognize that now. I truly trust your judgment .... subject to my review. .... Congratulations, Shaymaa you are doing very well, and you have my approval to proceed with your bidding for contracts for the entire 10,000 parasols. Once you have closed the deal(s) with the suppliers, we will celebrate your amazing efforts." With that, the meeting was over and Shaymaa left very light of foot.
Victory Day was 3 months away, and the marketing campaign for heirloom "Patriotic Parasols" was underway for only the Paris store; the Anna's Parasol spaces in the other locations were still not completed. Eleven weeks before the holiday, Shaymaa ordered a special selection of dresses from the West Africa suppliers that were to be designed in variious patterns of blue, red, and to emphasize the flowing form of the clothes. The plan was that the saleswomen in Paris would be given such gowns to wear, not only during their work but also as they wished outside of work. Aligned with her Nubian heritage, Shaymaa would be wearing an unique, so-colored gown with her long hair wrapped in a matching headdress. In Paris the Cloud of Parasols in the alley between two stores had been replaced with streams of the 3 colors that presented a broad French flag.
She had significantly exceeded her advertising budget suggested by the assigned Business Manager. She explained to her that she saw these efforts as a 'standard' she was establishing for the store as to promoting both the parasols and clothing for national holidays. Clearly, she was challenging the store's financial principles given her passion in her marketing practices. While Monsieur Bodin was made aware of Shaymaa's activities, he did not intervene. He recognized that his permission to purchase 10,000 parasols for sales across the various stores and internet deserved exceptional considerations in making the best of this most unique campaign.
Having accepted the offer from L'Atelier de Soiere, the first shipment of 3,000 parasols had arrived from Lyon 4 weeks prior to Victory Day with the clothing from West Africa arriving 2 days later. Within 3 days, Anna's Parasol's space had been totally converted to the new campaign. A broad advertising spread was made in the major newspapers as well as promotions on several TV stations. Additionally, Shaymaa had been invited to be interviewed on several TV morning shows, which she accepted. The game was on.
On the Monday 3 weeks from the holiday weekend, the store opened with an extraordinary rush of shoppers at the corner were Anna's Parasol was located. Her sales personnel had been well trained by her as to what she expected and how to efficiently deal with the expected crowd with several additional caissiers in the space. The store's Marketing Department had invited several of the local TV stations to be present for the opening. On his own, Monsieur Bodin had arranged for additional security to ensure that the expected crowds were properly managed. He had chosen several individuals to be specifically responsible for assisting elderly citizens as well as families with young children.
The day started and the crowds at first were substantial, but controllable. Security had been able to manage the excessive customers on the same basis that was done with Long Champ's space in the past, but with a significant exception. It was anticipated that there would be a number of elderly customers given the WWII association with the holiday. As such, these folks were directed to the exit end of the space where they could be provided entrance on a more frequent basis. Shaymaa had directed two of her added salespersons to visit these folks when in line with examples of parasols that they would see within the space. Often, this in-line exposure resulted in many sales without the elderly folks actually entering the space. These sales were done with mobile credit card devices with young persons hired to bring the merchandise to the customer outside of the space once paid for. Specially designed bags had been ordered for quickly wrapping the parasols for the customer to carry their purchase.
Towards the end of that first sales day, the lines of customers to enter the space had disappeared. The elderly customers had been gone since around 3 PM, and the primary customers were now the 30-40's females that were interested in the clothing and not the parasols. The sales constraint has now shifted to the availability of dressing rooms for the women to try on the clothing. Shaymaa had trained her salesladies to be highly complimentary, but suggestive, as to how best service the customers in making decisions. For the clients that were finding it difficult to make a decision, the salesladies were told to introduce Shaymaa into the situation that could provide excellent advice to the benefit of all to close the deal. Interestingly, the 2 facts that Shaymaa had both an extraordinary appearance as well as not being French, seemed to provide additional credibility to her recommendations (similar to those that speak the Queen's English when presenting points to Americans ).
At the price of 275-375 € for a Patriotic Parasol, the marketing ploy of it becoming a heirloom was underway. Undoubtedly, the forthcoming Bastille Day would absolutely secure its position for generations in Parisian families. The other regions of France would have to be developed as well. Shaymaa was well up to the challenge. For her, the next area would be the Rivera via the store in Nice. The beach perspective was particularly interesting to her.
On October 17, 1961 at least 200 Algerians in Paris were slaughtered by the police, many by drowning when thrown into the Seine. These Algerians, with the status of citizenship, were peacefully protesting discriminating practices by the French government stemming from the war between France and Algeria. This war that began in 1952 and then ended in 1962, resulted in Algeria's independence. This was a most damning statement about the French government that was not reported in the international press. The current President of France, Monsieur Emmanuel Macron, is making the first effort since the massacre to reconcile with Algeria and the Algerians people, (referred to as Pieds-Noir (dark feet)), across France. It's just conincendal that France's Presidential election is April 10-24, 2022.
Currently, there are over 1 million citizens of France with Algerian heritage with 800,000 Algerians living legally in France (30,000+ in Paris alone). The memory of that event has clearly festered over the decades since resulting in eruptions of anger over the decades. Hence, in the late Spring, 2021, it was announced that President Macron of France would oversee a commemoration on the 60th. anniversary of the tragety on October 17.
The Story (truly fictional)
It was a month until Samila's 15th. Birthday, 3 days before the commemoratory service. She knew that her family would be 'peaceably' demonstrating their Algerian heritage on that day, but only within the tight Algerian neighborhood in Paris's 20th arrondissement. For the 'pure-French' Parisians, this arrondissement was considered to be the slums on the outer edge of Paris whose inhabitants were still not respected as to their true rights as citizens. The intention across the arrondissement was that the demonstrations would not go beyond its boundaries so as to minimize further conflict with the police. However, for several weeks there had been meetings by the Algerian youths there as to what else they could do to vent their anger regarding their inferior status as Parisians, as French citizens. Many of the youths were involved with the effort, but not all. The adults were not included in this activity for fear by the youth that the parents would not approve and attempt to squash.
Samila, a striking Algerian teen known by her community for her independence, did not participate in such planning. She was determined to come up with an alternative for the activities on that day that would demonstrate both her ancestry and pride of being a French citizen. Her racing auburn+ hair and her style of dress was as enticing as it was revolutionary relative to the 'stylish' French teens. Her deep seated eyes emphasized her unique beauty compared to the trim facial features of the Parisian women. There was no looking away from her when engaged in conversation. Additionally, her body was not 'Parisian slim', but enticing as to its natural curves.
Samila had the unique status in her neighborhood of attending a prestigious private school in the Marais for which she had a full scholarship given her scores in national testing. In addition to her independence from the other youth with Algerian ancestry, her attendance at this school placed her aside from the others in the arrondissement for which she was not shy to display. Her social groups were not her neighbors, but rather the students in the school, especially Jacque, a blond, blue-eye male of 'natural' French heritage. Like Samila, Jacque was a very independent individual as to perspectives of life ... and science. In short, Jacque was a nerd in the minds of his classmates.
Samila and Jacque had begun their relationship in civics' class when the teacher began a series of lectures on the 1961 slaughter. The young teacher had presented an explanation of the tragedy that was significantly different than Samila's community had carried forward over the decades. Given her blunt personality, Samila raised a number of challenges to the teacher being the only individual of Algerian decent, but not the only Muslim. As such, her challenges were not readily accepted by most of the other students, including some snickering by the group of boys in the last row of the class. Jacque was not part of that group, but not willing to come to Samila's defense as to her points. After one particularly aggressive day of Samila making her points seemingly uselessly, Jacque asked Samila to join him at a brasserie in the historical Place des Vosages just outside of the school. Normally, she would have rejected this advance, as innocent as it was, given the normal conflict between their individual cultures. But, she agreed. Samila still wished to push her points regarding the tragedy. She was still seeking acceptance about the massacre with anyone that would listen, and Jacque seemed willing to do so. He ordered a cafe creme and she a mazagran (an Algerian sweetened coffee serve with ice).
She shared with him the intense feelings of anger and frustration of the Algerians in Paris, whether citizens or legal immigrants. The discrepancies in being treated fairly still existed to a great extent since the demonstration in 1961. Jacque was clearly not aware of many of the details that she provided. Jacque openly admitted that the the Algerian stereotypes in 'proper' Parisian society held firm prejudcies against the Algerians, referred to as Pieds-Noirs (dark feet).
Her presentation of points to Jacque had been intense, but straightforward. But, it was the time for the two to separate for both had responsibilities at their homes before dinner. Samila stood up quickly and placed her chair against the table. "I have one more thing to say to you Jacque ... and to all. I AM PROUD TO BE OF ALGERIAN DESCENT ..... BUT, I AM ALSO PROUD TO BE A FRENCH CITIZEN. Somehow, I wish to present that during the day of the commemoratory service." With that, she turned to walk away. Jacque quickly stood and lightly grabbed her right arm. "Samila, I will work on developing an idea regarding your desires which I will present to you tomorrow after school. That is, if you will join me here again." She tilted her head with a whimsical smile while brushing her long hair to one side. "That sounds very interesting. So! It's a date." Jacque sat back down as she left and leaned back in his chair casually looking up at the sky. Immediately, he had the solution for Samila. As she walked to Chatelet-Les Halles to catch the Metro home, she relaxed slowly releasing the intensity of the discussion in civics' class. She was starting to think more openly about Jacque given their conversation.
Once home she immediately began to prepare the dining room for dinner. She had 3 siblings, one younger sister and two older brothers, and the conversation at dinner was normally by the parents regarding the next day's activities. She knew that both of her brothers were part of the youth group that was planning some sort of demonstration during the commemoratory service, but she had no details. She also was sure that her parents had no idea of what was being planned by the youth. At first, she thought to dare not mention her meeting with Jacque given his social status. That evening her Mom had prepared a traditional dish of Tajin Zitoun (chicken with olives), a favorite of the entire family, but with a French Tart Tatin for desert. Samila took the entrance of the desert to make a bold statement for this family proud of its Algerian heritage. Unlike Algerian mores, she stood and tapped her glass with her spoon. "Mama and Papa, I wish to say something,." All stopped to listen to this sudden disruption. She paused and then continued somewhat nervously. "After school today, I had a mazagran with Jacque in my civics' class. It was my desire to express my frustrations with being both Algerian as to ancestry and yet a French citizen. I am very proud to be both ... pause ... It is my generation that has the opportunity to meld these two characteristics to find UNITY both in Paris and across the country. ... pause ... It is my desire to demonstrate this on the day of commentary service, just as this meal does." With that she sat down and finished her tart tatin without looking at anyone in particular. The two sons simply looked at each other with quizzical expressions. They knew better than to challenge Samila, especially in front of their parents who had conssitently given free range to Samila to be herself. The parents, themselves, had already mellowed somewhat on the tragedy 6 decades previously and wished not to take exception with Samila.
The next day in school, Samila did not see Jacque until civics' class. She perceived that a number of the students were treating her differently than before her challenging of the teacher's 'facts' regarding the Algerian demonstration. Whethe she perceived truly or not, Samila was even more emboldened to express her points about the massacre. Unfortunately, the teacher had intended to move on to other topics desiring no more interaction with Samila. However, before the teacher could proceed, Jacque raised his hand and was recognized by the teacher: "Yes Jacque, you wish to say something?" Jacque stood, which was not required, and turned to the class instead of facing the teacher. "Madame Perrier, is it not true that our President is now taking several steps to recognize the injustice of the French police, the French government, in handling the demonstration of 1961. Not only has he ordered the Commentary Service in several weeks, but he has also established a commission to investigate the discrepancies that still exist today ... pause ... We the youth of this country have to buy into this NOW to ensure a lasting change to this country's discrimination practices. ... pause ,,.. Algerians lives matter, whether they be French citizens or not." With that he sat down with a number of the students looking at him in total surprise of this 'nerd' speaking out as he did.
The teacher was clearly in awe of these unexpected comments as well. She stood up from her desk and went around to its front. "Jacque, your points are excellent and indeed deserve our attention now. Do you have a suggestion how this class can represent the respect and 'unity" that you are suggesting.?" He stood again holding a carrying case at his side., "Madame Teacher, I will be meeting with Samila after school to develop a plan that we will present to the class tomorrow." The teacher turned to Samila, "Is that correct Samila?" Not having any idea of what Jacque was planning, she stood and said "Yes! Madame Teacher, Jacque and I have a plan that we will finalized after school today and presented tomorrow." The 2 sat down as the teacher raised her hands in the air as a sign of joy, "Tomorrow then, you two will have this stage of promise... pause .... Now onto the ramifications of the Napoleonic war on the marketing of Champagne, Who can discuss the role of Madame Clicquot during this period?"
The class ended, and Samila and Jacque left together to go to the same brasserie as the day before. Once there, Jacque ordered a mazagran each for Samila and himself. Samila was pleased with this ever-so-slight sign of unity by a French man. "So! Jacque do you have an idea to demonstrate 'Unity" on October 16th, now that you have committed us two in front of the class? Without responding immediately, he left his chair and went behind Samila's, lightly touched her chin with both hands and tilting her head up. "That is my idea Samila." She had not noted the numerous parasols over the rue in their first meeting there. She didn't understand what Jacque was suggesting as he sat down and pulled a 'patriotic parasol' out of a carrying case. He had purchased the 'patriotic parasol' at Galleries Lafayette on his way home the night before. "Samila, it is my idea that members of our class, as well as, hopefully, a number of the youth from your community will make a marching display carrying both the 'patriotic parasols' as well the Algerian flag aside the French flag. I mentioned this idea to my father last night, and he really bought into it, literally. In that he is part of President Marcon's cabinet, he is willing to purchase 20 'patriotic parasols' for those willing to will at thtually, he is also willing to use his influence with Monsieur Bodin, the CEO of Galleries Lafayette, to see if they will share in the expense to promote the 'patriotic parasols' substantially below cost to the Algerian community as well." Samila was aware of the 'patriotic parasols' as being promoted by Galleries Lafayette for Victory Day witn even more emphasis for Bastille Day. Indeed, the concept was catching on in Parisian society, save the Algerian community up to that point,.
Samila was not totally accepting of Jacque's concepts at first. She knew well the deep prejudices that existed in her community that primarily resonated in the youth that had been endlessly told by their parents the story of the massacre. But then again, she thought, not all of the youth were as much rebels as were her brothers, With further thought, she believed that were a number of youth that were tired of the endless conflicts with the police at the 'drop-of-a-€' without any true meaning other than 6 decades-old hatred. In her heart, she wanted to buy into Jacque's idea. But, how could she proceed in her community to win support for the march? And, how could the two of them proceed with their class the next day?
Samila turned to face Jacque directly, and presented both of her hands to him to hold, which he did tenderly. "Jacque, I love your sole to seek unity between your people and mine, We are all citizens of France, and I truly seek such unity ... pause ,,,. My position is that you present your plan to the class tomorrow with me standing next to you. In return, you will join me in several days to present this plan to a representation of the youth in my community that I will bring together. I believe each of us have a great challenge to make this pursuit of unity happen ,,,, But, i LOVE IT, and my heart and soul are totally engaged." Jacque responded simply. "Thank you Samila, this will happen... and I LOVE IT as well." Samila was overwhelmed with what she had to do.
The Commentary Service took place as planned on October 17th. In the far corner of the area there was a group of youths carrying 'patriotic parasols' intermixed with other youths carrying the flags of Algeria and France. The service was seen across France via numerous TV stations. It was widely received as a posiive effort to pursue UNITY.
Charlotte was making her first attempt at a lemon soufflé. This 16 year-old had offered to make dinner for her parent's 20th anniversary as her present for this celebration. The plat she had already prepared in the morning was the classic Coq au Vin for which she had used a recipe she found on the internet at www.americastestkitchen.com. She had been told by a classmate that the American recipe was foolproof. No one needed to know of this choice of a non-French recipe, she thought. She also prepared some carrots roasted with a blood orange glaze that were added to the completed Coq au Vin. The Coq au Vin was indeed excellent at her first tasting when it had cooled down. It only needed to be reheated in a skillet for serving. From the wine cabinet she had chosen a red Bordeaux for the recipe which was listed as being primarily malbec (unique for a Bordeaux) - one of her father's favorites. Indeed, that was an excellent choice given the richness of the result.
One of her challenges in preparing the meal was in finding blood oranges for the carrot glaze as well as Meyer lemons and fresh raspberries for the soufflé. She also decided that for the soufflé she would drizzle a raspberry sauce from which the seeds had been strained. These three items were to provide an accent to her preparations. While not a perfectionist, she did pride herself on her 'extra's and differences' in what she did, including her dress and activities compared to the other teens in her school. It was this distinction that led her to an unique experience when visiting Galleries Lafayette's to shop in the gourmet area in search of the three fruits.
Upon purchasing the fruits, she took the escalator up to the ground floor exiting in front of Anna's Parasol. At first she noticed the crowd in that section and was curious as to why. She had not seen all of the commercials and the TV exposês on this location, including the marketing of 'patriotic parasols'. She entered the area looking at both the amazing flowing dresses and then the parasols that were now centered in the area, including those hanging from the high ceiling. A young French saleswoman approached her and asked if she could be of assistance. Charlotte said that we just looking, and then the saleswoman gave her a brochure on the parasols for her further consideration - just in case. Charlotte first looked at the brochure noticing one particular parasol. Casually she circled the parasol with her pen and then placed the brochure in her shopping bag. After several more minutes in the shop, she left to catch the Metro to her home. Once home she placed the bag of fruit on the kitchen counter for her use the next day. By chance, the brochure had slipped from the bag when it fell over on the counter. Off to her room she went to do some more internet search on parasols. This 'difference' was now a new interest to her. She even called her closest friend, Martha, to get her opinion about this trend as she had perceived it given her visit to Anna's Parasol. Martha's viewpoint was rather indifferent. But then again, Charlotte accepted that perspective as a balance against her moments of excitement.
The next morning, Charlotte's Mom came down to the kitchen early to prepare croque monsieurs for the family. This was a specialty that she did for certain celebrations, including anniversaries and birthdays. At first, she didn't notice the bag of fruit or the brochure that had slid out of the bag. While preparing the béchamel sauce for the croque monsieurs, she saw the brochure and the circled parasol. Knowing her daughter well, she expected that Charlotte was seriously interested in that parasol. She noted its description and item# and placed the brochure back into the bag. Since her early teens, her parents had included Charlotte in the celebration of their anniversary, including a present for her. Her mother now knew what she wanted to get Charlotte.
Dinnertime was approaching, and Charlotte had set the table with the linens and China normally used only for dinner guests. There was also a mass of 20 red candles of different heights in lead-crystal holders serving as a centerpiece. In between the candles there was a rolled paper tied with a red ribbon containing a poem that she had paraphrased from what she had found on the internet the night before. She would read it after the prayer at the beginning of dinner. Lastly, she lit the candles and randomly placed stems of thyme about on the table top that were left from what she had purchased for making the Coq au Vin. At 7, she called her parents to the front room from upstairs and asked them to take a seat as she was preparing a G&T for each of them and herself before dinner would be served. Music of Josephine Baker was playing softly on the CD, a favorite of her parents. Additionally, she served a board of cheeses and thinly sliced meats to enjoy with the drinks during the light catch-up conversation.
When it was time for dinner, all 3 entered the dining room. There was a hint of glee in her Mom's steps as they approached the table. Each setting had both a glass of water as well as a verre Bordeaux that, again, was her father's favorite. Once seated, her Father started with a prayer and then Charlotte unrolled the paper in the centerpiece. Without explanation she read the poem:
Who said love doesn’t have an address
It stays at my mom and dad’s place
Who said no one knows how love looks
It’s all over my mom and dad’s face
Happy anniversary to the couple
Who falls in love again and again
Without you both in my life
Everything would be in vain
Her Mom held up her wine glass to make a toast. "Mon cheri! Once again you have overwhelmed your parents. Bless you!" Charlotte sipped her wine and then went back to the kitchen to prepare the plats. She was a bit anxious as to the next service,
With the Coq au Vin avec glaze carrots consumed, Charlotte stated that she had made a special desert for the evening. "Really?" her father stated as he poured more wine for each of them. Within minutes, Charlotte was back with the individual lemon soufflé servings.
Once all were done with the desert, Charlotte took the dishes to the kithen and then returned in several minutes with glasses of green chartreuse, avec glacons, for each of them as an apres-dinner compliment. While Charlotte had been gone, the Mom went to the library to obtain the present for Charlotte that she had hidden there earlier in the day after returning from Galleries Lafayette. The present was placed on the table in front of Charlotte's chair. Upon returning, Charlotte was clearly surprised with the present being there. She placed it on her lap as she sat down. She looked at her parents with puzzelment while excitingly pulling off the ribbons and wrapping.
It was not a 'patriotic parasol', but rather an exquistily-laced one particularly stylish as Charlotte would enjoy as a 'difference'. Her father spoke: "Charlotte, thank you so much for an extraordinary evening that we will never forget. This parasol will remind you in the years ahead of how we are so proud of you, and so happy that you are included in our life."
The months of July and August are the 'vacation months' across France with the beaches of the Rivera swarming with half-naked women and men in speedos. Tourists know better than to attempt to stay on the Rivera during those months, Even the Italians that enjoy the beaches of Villefrance sur Mer and Beaileau sur Mer don't wander from their own Rivera beaches. It was with this point in mind that Shymaa held a discussion with Monsieur Bodin about moving forward with Anna's Parasol in the Galleries Lafayette in Nice and Cannes ahead of the other major locations across France. Her pitch was focused on a marketing campaign of selling larger laced parasols that could be used for beach umbrellas. She made it clear that this was not the market for the 'patriotic parasols' that was succeeding so well in Paris. This Rivera market required a new set of parasol designs made of wind-bearing material rather than the silk supply she was getting from Lyon. This meant a new capital investment program and marketing campaign for this "FUN" market. In her pitch she mentioned that there would also be a new design of beachwear stemming from the flowing clothes that were selling so well to the stylish Parisians. But, the first step was the marketing of Parasols. The beachwear would soon follow.
Monsieur Bodin was once again amazed with Shymaa and asked her to make a presentation to the Board at their monthly meeting the next Monday. She anticipated his request and was prepared for the presentation, including some drawings of both the parasols and beachwear that were aligned with this "FUN" market. She had already dealt with the business manager assigned to her to develop a financial plan. The opening statement for the presentation would be "FUN", as simple as that.
Her concepts in concert with her natural exuberance easily sold the Board. One of the Board members spoke up once the Board had reached its agreement to move forward and stated that she knew 2 suppliers that could be considered for the FUN parasols. With that said, the meeting was over and Shaymaa was underway for intensive work for the next month to make her plans happen.
In 2 days she took an AF flight to Nice to first check out the store there, and then onto Cannes by train. With her was a senior product manager, Robert, that she expected to be very competent for the work she had in front of her. During their visit to each store, they scoped out the space that she desired as well as identify a local lead that would represent her directly when she was not there. After a very long day, the two returned to Nice for the trip back to Paris the next day. After checking into their rooms in Nice around 6, Robert suggested that they go to one of his favorite restaurants in Villefrance sur Mer that was just a 10 minute taxi around the mountain, literally. She quickly agreed being both quite hungry as well as beginning to like Robert for his talents as well as his personality ... and physique. Indeed, Robert was at 10 years her elder and not married and Shaymaa was very impressed with his casual, but thorough nature. Within 20 minutes they were seated outside of La Belle Etoile in Villefrance 2 streets up from the waterfront where the taxi dropped them. Tamarra, the wife of the Emanuel, the chef/owner, recognized Robert and lead them to a table outside in the narrow alley bordering the restaurant. Robert recommended the fish plats on the simple principle stated by Emanual: "The fish on your plate tonight was swimming in the Med this morning."
After dinner, they had to walk to the Square to obtain a taxi home. But first, Robert suggested a wine at the bar attached to Hotel Welcome at the water edge. They sat at one of the tables on the edge of the waterfront with the lights from the far shore glistening on the water. With a local white wine ordered, Shaymaa suddenly removed her shoes and went to the lower lip of the street to dip her feet in the very refreshing (chilly) water. Robert was impressed with this spontaneous action and in several minutes joined her. He made several casual comments about the fish that would nibble at her feet when in the water. This caused her to giggle slightly for the first time in months as she leaned back with her hands on the step behind her, keeping her feet in the water. Robert got up and quickly returned with the glasses of wine left on the table. He made a toast "To all of the fishes in the sea. May they be attentive and kind to our feet." Shaymaa smiled, winked at Robert and drank thoroughly to this toast finishing her wine. Robert did the same, purely out of respect to her, and waved to the waiter saying: "Encore!, s'il te plait" Now onto their second glass of wine there, and considering the bottle of wine at dinner, Shaymaa had quite relaxed and stared up at the Moon partially hidden by the puffs of clouds as they drifted by. "I do miss my times as a youth in Aswan, Egypt sitting on the edge of the Nile in the evening with my parents when I was often asked about my dreams. Hic! By the way, did I tell you that I am Nubian?" Robert, held up his glass, "Shaymaa, I knew that you were Egyptian, but being Nubian explains your physical stature and beauty, if I may be honest with you. ... pause .... So Shaymaa, tell me, if you please, about some of those dreams as a youth." With another sip of wine, she said dreamingly: " I always thought that I would be strolling in Paris in the evening along the Seine ... without a camel in sight - as is so common on the dirt streets where I lived in the Nubian Village in Aswan. I really never like those beasts of burden. ... hic!
Robert decided to move on at that point. "Shaymaa, we should head back to our hotel in Nice, The taxi stand is just up the street 30m". He stood and then assisted in pulling Shaymaa to her feet. As he did so, her face came next to his with her lips on his cheek. Automatically, she kissed him there. Without hesitation, he placed his right hand on her back and pulled her closer for a kiss on both cheeks. He left 30€ on the table, and they headed to the taxi stand. In 15 minutes, they were at their hotel in Nice. He paid the driver, got both room keys from the front desk and led Shaymaa to her room who was rather limp at this point. As he opened her door and handed her the key, he said "Bon nuit Shaymaa. I will meet you in the lobby tomorrow at 9 for petit-dejeuner." With a sudden movement, she turned her head to face him, reached up with both hands to gently hold his face and then kissed him passionately on the lips. "Bon nuit Monsieur" and she entered her room closing the door behind her. She headed directly for the bed and was asleep in minutes.
Robert was indeed taken by surprise by these actions of this woman that seemed to be untouchable in the few months that he had been around her in the store. So, maybe she was a bit tipsy, but still rationale he thought. As he walked to his room for the night, he had an idea that he would suggest to her in the morning.
He was in the lobby at 8:45 in the morning. Shaymaa was already there sitting near a window facing the boulevard. As he approached her he watched her expression to see any hint of her thoughts regarding the previous night. She stood to receive him with the expected la biss by each of them. Nothing there, he thought. They both sat and the waiter came over to take their order of 2 café cremes and croissants. She started: "Robert, that restaurant last night was extraordinary ... and I loved sitting next to you at the water edge with our feet in the water. That was so charming for me as I discussed my childhood in Aswan. Thank you so much for listening." "Hmmmmm", he thought to himself. With that comment, he decided to present his idea from last night. "Shaymaa, I greatly enjoyed that as well. Actually, I would like to know more about this Nubian mademoiselle ... and I would like you to know more about me, if you are willing." "Go on Robert. What do you have in mind?" "OK, first of all, we had a very successful day in checking out the 2 stores, and I am not in any hurry to get back to Paris today." "Neither am I." she quickly interjected. He continued: "Great, let us take the train back to Paris. It will provide us with 6 hours of relaxation to discuss many things ... including perhaps some business issues of course." Remembering her actions the night before, she decided to come out of her shell at this point,. With a broad smile, she faced him and said: "Robert, may one of those things to discuss be about my kissing you? I do remember that Monsieur!" Laughing lighltly, "Well! YES!, definitely that." Suddenly, she sat straight up in her chair looking directly at him. "Monsieur, I am disappointed in you" she said sarcastically. She so continued: "That's the BEST you can do?" He was clearly puzzled now. "Here it is Friday, and we are on the Rivera. I suggest we stay until Sunday and take the train back then. As a Board member, I have access to the store's suite here. And I brought my bathing suit - well at least the bottoms. Did you not notice the charming beach at Villefrance sur Mer?" She sat back in her chair waiting for his response. He was quite surprised at this offer. "Well Shaymaa, you ARE the boss. It would be insubordinate on my part to refuse your order." They both laughed as she placed both of her hands on the table for him to take in his. He did quite firmly looking at her in a very boyish way that she found to be very charming ,.. and exciting.
This was to be THEIR private FUN weekend
29. LA DI DA
La Di Da is a phrase that can be used in several ways. One use is another way of saying "whatever" in shrugging off some point or situation with which one does not wish to explore further. Another use is to refer to someone or matter that is pretentiously eloquent. It is this second use with which Shaymaa develops an additional product line for Anna's Parasols.
Robert and Shaymaa had enjoyed their weekend romp on the Rivera. There was no true sense of actual romanticism in this excursion at first. Rather each was letting themselves go as to exhibiting NO restrictions relative to the other. Starting with Friday night, the two were exploring several of the outrageous night clubs in Nice. The freedom of their soles when dancing, flirting, and engaging others in meaningless conversation continued until they returned to the suite at 2am. At that point, Shaymaa opened a bottle of champagne that was in the suite's refrigerator. She popped the cork and poured 2 flutes for them to relax on 2 chaise lounges on the deck overlooking the Quai des Étatis-Unis. The moon was full and the waves in the Med provided streaks of reflected light as they broke on the shore. For Shaymaa this was the most relaxed she had felt since joining Galleries Lafayette. As they sat on the deck there was no conversation between them as each was enjoying his/her own peace without the need to involve the other; This time was personal for each of them. In turn, they each fell asleep within a half hour.
Robert was the first to wake up at dawn with the rude whining sirens on the Blvd. He turned to face Shaymaa, and she was still soundly asleep. "My God, she is an enticing person." he said in a soft voice. He stood and went to the WC to relieve himself, and returned with another flute of champagne. Shaymaa was stirring slightly with a slight cooing. He decided not to disturb her and went to take a shower taking the champagne with him. In the shower he soaked himself for a long time with the water pulsating on his neck and shoulders to help rid him of a slight hangover. He finished and put on a robe that was available in the suite. Upon entering the bedroom to put on some clothes, he was surprised to see Shaymaa awake under the light comforter. "Well! hello Mademoiselle." She stared at him for a moment and then "Monsieur, I think you are overdressed for joining me in bed." "You are so right, Boss." As he took off his robe, Shaymaa pulled the comforter back to offer a space for him beside her thereby revealing her beige satin Teddy that was extraordinary against her Mahogany shin. "Shaymaa,! Now you seem to be overdressed." Nothing else was said until they stirred from their romancing near Noon.
Robert sat up slowly after first gently lifting Shaymaa's head from his shoulder. She stirred slightly as she subconsciously moved to hold him more tightly. "Shaymaa, I am starving, and I know that each of us could benefit from some food." Shaymaa now sat up, and quite directly stated: "Monsieur, I first need another flute of champagne." "Of course Boss". She responded quickly and firmly. "NO more 'Boss'. You are my LOVER and me yours for now." She winked, and he left to return with 2 more filled flutes that finished the bottle. Handing her the flute, he stated; "So! we are LOVERS now? One cannot project such a serious status on a single instance, me thinks."
It was not until 2 in the afternoon that Shaymaa released herself from Robert's arms waking him. "Hey you!, what about that lunch? I REALLY need some food before you think that you need another instance" He laughed and rolled out on the other side of the bed. They showered together as he generously bathed her not missing a single part. In her turn, she was more imaginative by using her front to lather his front and back. They dressed and headed for Old Town for a street cafe for lunch. In doing so, they first passed through the open-air Farmers & Fish Market on the edge of Old Town. Robert noted that he was quite a chef in his own right, and he wanted to cook that evening. As they strolled the aisles, he spotted monkfish, one of his favorite given its mild, sweet flavor without a trace of fishiness. However, he knew he need not be careful with this vendor that he knew personally. There had been instances in this same market where puffer fish had been sold as monkfish with the former containing a potentially lethal toxin called tetrodotoxin. This is a toxin that is not destroyed by cooking. Robert chose confidently, but did not explain the issue to Shaymaa who was not familiar with the fish. He did explain that when properly boiled and basted with butter, that monkfish both tasted and resembled lobster tail. Shaymaa then interjected her skills stating that she would make the salad which was to be a baby bok choy halved and covered with Gruyere slices on top of bacon pieces and slices of roasted red peppers. On top of the Gruyere there would be a drizzling of a even mixture of ketchup and mayonnaise. Lastly, each serving was broiled until the Gruyere browned and bubbled. While Shaymaa obtained several slices of bacon from the butcher in the market, Robert asked: "As an Egyptian, you eat pork?" She responded, "Robert, I am from Egypt, but I am Nubian and therefore a Coptic Christian." With all of the ingredients obtained, including an ice bag to keep the fish chilled, they headed for Old Town only beyond the square.
Once in Old Town, Robert suggested a particular street cafe known to him for both their Italian and Frech specialties. For Robert, he wanted a pasta dish and Shaymaa wanted her first taste of pigeon stuffed with a wild rice combo. She wanted to taste this delicacy in France and compare it to this very popular dish in Egypt. They finished their meal and a bottle of Rosé that was served with a bowl of 'glacons', which is traditional in the Rivera.
It was now 4:30 and little time to visit the shops in Old Town. There is one particular street to which Robert guided them given several excellent galleries that standout form the endless small shops of clothing, olives, meats, pharmacies, etc. There was one particular woman's dress shop that Robert thought that Shaymaa may appreciate. All of the clothes are made by the owner and are comfortably outrageous as to style and the wide mixture of materials - but only cotton. Shaymaa began a conversation with the owner, Madame Cavier, about the popularity of parasols that was the new wave in Paris as to 'patriotic parasols' and soon Nice/Cannes with the "FUN" perspective. Shaymaa then asked Madame to describe her market. The response was one phrase: La Di Da. Madame went on to say that she saw a need for the frivolous, pretentious visitors to Old Town. Her viewpoint was that such visitors/tourists are looking for something 'uniquely' French to take home to show to their friends/family as a remembrance of their trip. This insight would play on Shaymaa's mind until she returned to Paris, but not now with this time of personal freedom with Robert.
It was now 5:45, and both were anxious to return to the suite. Clearly there had not been enough rest to make up for the activities for the last 24 hours. Additionally, Shaymaa was interested in being served by this Monsieur as to food as well as the bedroom, in that order at this point. With produce in hand, they stopped first at a magasin de vin to obtain both a red Bordeaux and a white Burgundy for the evening. It was a 15 minutes back to the suite. Once exiting Old Town, Robert suddenly took Shaymaa's left hand and twirled her into his arms. "This excellent trip together has been amazing. But, you have seen nothing yet until I prepare our meal for tonight." "Really, LOVER!, I will hold you to that." "Perhaps you are not aware, LOVER!, that I began my career with Galleries Lafayette as a Chef in the gourmet area, One of my many specialties you will experience tonight. But I warn you, you will first be blindfolded when I present the plat" She responded shyly, "Is this the only time I will have on a blinder Monsieur?" He laughed, pulling her in even closer to him.
Upon returning to the suite, the first point of order for Robert was opening another bottle of Champagne that was available in the suite. Shaymaa headed to the shower to rinse off the dust from the day. She returned to the kitchen in 15 minutes with her wet hair wrapped in a towel and her wrapped in a silk robe that clung tightly to her body. Robert was quite busy with preparing the meal and didn't notice Shaymaa's presence at first. It was her exotic perfume, Dior Sauvage, that caught his attention. He turned to face her and dropped his thongs. Her silk robe accentuated the primary curves of her body that he had not really noticed during the previous evening, and not even in the shower. "Really! Shaymaa. Give me a break here I have to focus on the next several steps of this dinner." He broadly smiled as she released the tie that kept the robe closed. "I like that look LOVER." And with a kiss to each cheek, he rewrapped her and requested a refill of his Champagne flute. She replied, "Well! This better be a GREAT! meal if you are forgoing me right now," "It will be!" as he turned back to the stove top and swirling the monkfish in the sauté pan. "So, if you be so kind, get your contribution ready. I have turned on the broiler for your use."
The meal was accompanied by the white Bourgogne that Robert had obtained in Old Town. Once dinner was finished, Shaymaa noted that suite was cleaned by a maid, including the dishes. With that, the two went to the deck to relax as the clear sky over the Med turned from a light blue to a dark cobalt blue as the sun was swallowed by the Med. Their conversation remained light with a holding of hands across the chaise lounges. Shaymaa noted that they had not gone to the beach yet, especially the one at Villefrance sur Mer that would be much less crowded than the beaches of Nice. Robert noted that they had a train back to Paris at 3pm tomorrow and that they could most conveniently catch a cab in both directions at 10 in the morning for several hours.
After finishing the Bourgogne, they were both starting to slumber on the deck with hand holding being dropped unconsciously. At 10, the roaring of several cycles on the Blvd brought Robert back to awareness of where they were, and the time. He stood and awakened Shaymaa with a kiss on both cheeks and then the lips. "LOVER, it is time for bed." She awoke pulling him down to her. "I like that Robert. Please go ahead, I will meet you there in a few moments. I was dreaming about La Di Da designs for parasols, and I want to capture my thoughts while I can remember them." Robert didn't understand what she meant by La Di Da having not been part of the conversation at the dress shop in Old Town. But he stood and headed for the shower for a quick rinse before settling into the bed.
Shaymaa took more than a few minutes to join Robert in the bedroom. In fact, she first finished the Champagne an headed then to the bedroom. Robert was out, and Shaymaa dropped her silk robe and slid under the covers snuggling with Robert's back. He didn't even stir.
The next morning, Shaymaa woke at 8 without waking Robert. She called down to the front desk and ordered two croissants and café creme to be delivered to the suite. She put on her robe and headed to the deck to enjoy the morning sun rising over the mountain xxx that separated Nice from Villefrance sur Mer. Within 10 minutes, her order had been delivered. Once the server departed, she went to wake Robert. He was just dressing at that point in his striped bathing suite and Madras shirt. "How cute is that?" she said to him as she placed her arms around him holding tightly to him. They kissed casually at first .... and then passionately as he attempted to remove her robe. "Not now! Robert, croissants and café creme await us on the deck. I desire us to get an early start to the beach at Villefrance. My mind is rushing with my thoughts about La Di Da parasols, and I need the refreshing waters of the Med to distract me for now." Robert smiled, "I have another distraction in mind. "Not Now!, I said LOVER. First the beach, and we will return soon enough to consider your 'distraction' before our train at 3 ... pause ... So, to the deck to enjoy our café & croissants and the rising sun, and I will explain briefly my La Di Da concept."
She explained the marketing concept that the owner of the dress shop in Old City had described as to the need for tourists to return to their home with something 'uniquely' French." With her explanation, he simply said. " I like that. Now, lets go to the beach. We can find food there I am sure to get us through lunch." Within minutes, Shaymaa put on her bikini bottoms and a loose silk garment that hung from her waist to match her loose blouse without a bra. This was the Rivera, and she was into the dress code. Within 25 minutes they arrived in Villefrance via taxi. They had taken 4 towels from the suite that they would use on the pebbly beach. Robert was aware of the roughness of the beach and bought 2 straw mats to lie on at a kiosk just outside of the beach entrance. The water was brisk at this time of year, but so inviting with the pale - to cobalt blue and green patches due to the vegetation on the bottom. Once the mats were laid on the pebbles, Shaymaa without hesitation took off her blouse and ran topless to the water's edge and dived in. Robert carefully took off his Madras shirt and folded it to place it on the mat, By this time Shaymaa was already 20 meters off shore heading for the flotation devices 100m off that marked the swimming border of the beach to keep boats from entering. Her hands were in the air as she shrieked her enjoyment to being in that most refreshing water. After several hours of going in and out of the water, Robert said that he was quite hungry. Just above their location on the beach was a cafe that served drinks and a brief selection of food items. They sat at a small table there to get served. He had the chevere chaud salad and Shaymaa the cantaloupe and prosciutto salad with a half liter of rose for both that was served with a pot of glacons.
It was Noon when they finished their lunch. They gathered their towels on the beach and rolled up the straw mats which were disposed up at the street level for the use by others. With a brief walk along the sea wall, they caught a taxi back to the suite. Once there, they both dropped their clothes and showered to rid them selves of the salt residue from swimming. They had an hour before they needed to catch a taxi to the train station. At this point, Shaymaa was totally relaxed given the intensive romancing and the swimming in the Med. To be honest, Robert was a bit confused as to who this lady was. She was unlike any or his past relationships that were more conservative, more French. In short, he was concerned about going further with her other than an occasional relationship as was his normal way. What he didn't understand was that Shaymaa was beyond who she thought she knew about herself. Given their individual awakenings as to what had taken place over the last 2 days, there was no further romantic involvent at that point. Instead, they both enjoyed some more time on the deck talking about their individual thoughts regarding. various aspects of Galleries Lafayette management.
On the 5-hour train back to Paris, Shaymaa turned to Robert. "Cherie, for now we are no longer LOVERS given our individual professional responsibilities at Galleries Lafayette. Do you understand and agree?" "Yes! Shaymaa, I appreciate and accept your point .... So! How about dinner Tuesday night?", he said with a broad smile. "Looking forward to that Robert", as she grasped his thigh tightly and then his bulge with her left hand. He turned to face her kissing her passionately as his right had tightened on her left, upper thigh under her flowing dress.
This was the beginning for the continuance of romance and business in the lives of both Shaymaa and Robert, but not necessarily between those two exclusively. Time will tell.
30: Blending Cultures
Fresh back to work on Monday morning, Shaymaa had dressed in the most casual fashion yet since beginning her job with Galleries Lafayette. Her face had the 'first blush' of sun on her mahogany skin resulting from the few days in the Rivera. And there was no doubt by her employees that she had been through some sort of personality transition given the manner that she skirted around Anna'a Parasol space. She wasn't as observant or particular as to what needed to be done in arranging the clothing and the parasols after a weekend of shopping by customers.
At her desk in her cramped office there was a note that Monsieur Bodin would like to meet with her for lunch in the Board Room in the Executive Offices at 1:00. There was just a brief message hand written by Monsieur Bodin stating "Be yourself Shaymaa!" She knew that such a lunch in the Board room would include a number of executives and/or marketing personnel.
Shaymaa arrived 10 minutes early and was directed into the Board room. She was the first there and proceeded to review her sales data for the last month. Monsieur's message concerned her somewhat because she was always herself in her opinion. Within the next few minutes the other attendees were arriving that she recognized from the first, and only, Board meeting that she had attended. She had been wrong as to her assumption of attendees. It was a meeting with Board members, which she was also one, but only so recently. She didn't know these individuals on a personal level yet. There were 3 men and 2 women that were quite comfortable between themselves as they were having conversations without including Shaymaa while waiting for Monsieur Bodin to arrive.
Upon the arrival of Monsieur Bodin, all took their chairs and remained silent at that point. Monsieur Bodin began: "Honorable Board members, I have called this impromptu meeting to discuss a subject that requires your attention and consideration. But, first let's drink a toast to our wonderful company, and its presence in the culture of France that we all cherish." This was Monsieur Bodin's opening salute in all Board meetings. Each Board member had a glass of their individually preferred wine in front of them to make the toast. Only the verre Bourgogne for Shaymaa had been assumed by the staff. With the toast made followed by applause, Monsieur Bodin began. "Madame's and Monsieur's, our culture is under pressure to change to meet the demands of the younger generations that are the future purchasing power. We need to adjust accordingly to sustain the commercial ... and cultural power of Galleries Lafayette in this evolving market." No one made a sound but listened intently with genuine interest in where Monsieur was heading with his thoughts. Monsieur Bodin continued: "You all have been briefly introduced to our newest Board member Shaymaa at her first Board meeting a number of weeks ago. Without any mention to her before now, I am now going to turn this meeting over to her to discuss where she sees a significant market for our commerce. ... Please Shaymaa, the podium is yours." Monsieur sat down.
Shaymaa was stunned and hesitated before standing and moving towards the podium with her marketing data that she had briefly reviewed before coming to the meeting. As she was taking her position, Monsieur Bodin interjected: "Shaymaa, I see you have brought your marketing statistics to review with us. BUT!, that is not what I am requesting of you at this time. I wish you to share your vision that I am sure has continuously expanded since first starting to work with us." She turned to him and saw his face enlightened in the same fashion as during their first dinner in Ribeauville. She specifically noted he said "WITH us" and not "FOR us". The difference was critical for her in pursuing a corporate career. At the podium, she placed her notes on the table in front of her and paused.
"Permit me to start with the point that I am so proud ... and privileged to be a member of this Board. I am greatly appreciative of the faith that Monsieur Bodin has demonstrated in me by bringing me into the company." With that Monsieur Bodin initiated another toast to her. It would become clear soon that Monsieur Bodin liked his frequent toasts in Board meetings. "With that said I wish to expand on what I presented several weeks ago as to the FUN campaign that followed the PATRIOTIC campaign around Victory Day. I am pleased to say that Anna's Parasol has taken off excellently from its first week. With Monsieur Bodin's support in capital funding, marketing, and store placement, Anna's Parasol has demonstrated an unprecedented Income/floor space return according to the budget manager assigned to me. BUT, that is OLD news."
"What I wish to talk about now is the FUTURE news as to how the store may consider moving forward." With this said, she moved to the side of the podium to stand openly in front of the Board. She quickly glanced at Monsieur Bodin who was smiling with a quick wink. "Colleagues, I believe we can tap into several movements in our culture at this time and expand and secure our future market in an unprecedented fashion, literally and functionally. I am referring to fashion that brings style, meaning, and ... even ... patriotic pride." She noticed that all were now facing her directly and listening. This was indeed an attentive Board as Robert and she had discussed on the way back to Paris on the train.
She now casually walked to the side of Board room opposie of the windows requiring all to turn their chairs to face her., and they did. She continued: "The initial sale of parasols and garments of a whimsical nature initially, and then followed with a PATRIOTIC and FUN theme demonstrates our ability to sway at least the young buyers in style and meaning." She paused again to let her point settle and accept any questions - there were none. She then continued: "I am now promoting a new, additional theme in the offerings of Anna'a Parasols." She briefly described the La Di Da theme and its marketing thrust as she had been exposed to in Villefranche Sur Mer. She paused again and walked back to the podium. The chairs and eyes followed.
"What I have just presented provides the basis for that which I now want to introduce." She turned to directly look at Monsieur Bodin. "I believe the following is aligned with Monsieur's Bodin calling this meeting with me at the Podium." Monsieur Bodin smiled and nodded his head subtly. She turned back to the group. "I am not French born and bred, but I am becoming a French citizen, and I am dedicated to what this Republic stands for as to independence, society, and culture. I have purposely chosen to be a French citizen. I am not turning against my Nubian heritage, but rather bringing some of its aspects to this country to provide additional nuances to this rich culture in my own way. Anna's Parasol has proven to be an excellent vehicle for that." Immediately Monsieur Bodin made a toast to Anna's Parasol, soon followed by the staff refilling the wine glasses for each individual.
"So! Colleagues that is my personal story here. BUT, I am not alone and nor is my story new to your country. There are millions of French citizens and non-citizens alike that are embracing France to complement their own heritage and visa versa. Algerians are the most prevalent as we all know, but not the only ones. President Macron's celebration on October 17 last as to the Algerian population has handsomely opened the door for these individuals as a first sincere step in integrating them into the French community. Now, OUR store has the unique opportunity ahead of our competitors to take the first step forward as to the commercialization of our wares... pause ... I am NOT suggesting revolutionary changes in our marketing and offerings that could offend and turn off the 'traditional' French styles. Rather I am promoting evolutionary changes were our merchandise and marketing blends traditional styles with various cultural influences. What I am suggesting requires an additional breed, and not total replacement, of designers, suppliers, and buyers in all major areas including clothes, perfumes, furnishings, jewelry, gourmet, and YES! even wines." At this point she purposely stepped to the side of the podium as a suggestion that she was open to questions and comments. But none came. Clearly, several of the Board members were stirring in their seats and emptying their wine glasses to be quicly refreshed by the attending staff. Shymaa went on for another 10 minutes describing her perspectives as to what some of the changes could include as to Galleries Lafayette's wares. Monsieur Bodin picked on the hesitancy of the Board members to deal with Shaymaa's comments and interrupted. "Shaymaa you have indeed excelled yourself in getting our minds thinking. I think it is best that each of us take some time to think about what you have said and meet in 2 weeks to proceed further. So, if all of you will capture your individual thoughts and questions and submit them to me for consideration by Shaymaa before we meet in 2 weeks. To close the meeting, Monsieur Bodin made a final toast to new ventures.
It was 3:30 when Shaymaa returned to her office mentally exhausted. Each statement she made was in the meeting was replaying in her mind, and she sat there with her chin in her hands. She knew this was a test by Monsieur Bodin as to her stamina. But, she was also confident that he would not have set her up with this impromptu presentation if he were not confident in her abilities to perform. WHY! No questions or comments from the attendees made her somewhat uncomfortable.
At 4:48 her cell sounded. It was Robert. At first she was not willing to take his call, but her flashback to the weekend prompted her elsewise. It had only been an hour or so since she left the meeting, but the word was out about the meeting with only sketchy details, nothing definitive. "Hello" she said mildly. " "Shaymaa, I know little of your Board meeting today, and I would like to share your evening with some wine and dinner. I'm thinking you may like to talk with someone about it. You can tell me what you think about the meeting, and I will be your confidential sounding board if you wish." She responded quickly, " You already know of the meeting? Hmmmmm!"... pause ... "OK, I will meet you at Willi's wine bar at 5:45. YOU are buying Monsieur. Au revoir!" and she hung up.
Shaymaa arrived promptly at Willis Wine Bar at 5:45. Robert was already there with 2 Negronis at the ready. It was clear to Robert that Shaymaa's normal composure had been shaken. He stood as she approached him, and he immediately embraced her firmly but tenderly - as would be expected of a lover. They kissed on each cheek as the two sat with her dropping the purse mindlessly on the floor. She took a sip of her drink and turned to face Robert saying frantically "What have I done? I just told the Board that their 125 years of marketing to the traditional French populous has to change. This family owned business with 14,000 employees needs an additional breed of buyers and suppliers. How brash is that by this young Nubian woman?" ... pause .... "Other than Monsieur Bodin, the Board members really don't know me and are only aware of my short experience in pushing parasols and the most casual of clothing." She took another drink empting her glass. Before Robert could say anything, she continued. "I did say that I was not suggesting a revolution in our wares, but rather an evolution by integrating clothing, food, AND even wine to attract the increasing minorities in this country"
Before Shaymaa could continue with her downward diatribe, Robert interjected himself. "Whoa! Shaymaa. Stop for a moment and look at me." as his right hand raised her chin to face him. "So let me guess what took place. Monsieur Bodin, without forewarning, placed you in front of the Board to present your thoughts as to what the store could do in moving forward. Aaaaannnndddddd, knowing of your passion, you went full force on your thoughts as to the French markets given the cultural evolution via the masses of immigrants." Shaymaa continued to look at him directly nodding the affirmative. Robert continued: "Shaymaa, the recent re-election of Macron is proof positive of the intentions of the majority of French citizens. So, you are right on my colleague" ... pause ... "my LOVE!" With that said, she placed her right hand on his left thigh squeezing it. It was at this moment that she felt a sense of companionship with this man that she had not felt before with any man.
Robert stood up and came around to Shaymaa's backside and placed his arms around her to hold her tightly. He moved slightly to her left side whispering in her ear: "Shaymaa you are remarkable and what our store needs to move forward. Monsieur Bodin clearly knows that." Robert took a long sip of his Negroni, paused, and then continued. "And, I clearly want to be part of your progress both professionally AND personally, NOW and in the FUTURE." Shaymaa turned to face him "What are you suggesting LOVE?" Robert smiled, "That should be obvious. But if not, then let us have dinner at Brasserie Gallopin to discuss further." With that, he finished his Negroni and paid l addition. They left the bar with his arm tenderly around her shoulder.' This type of touch was new to Shaymaa ... and would have been rejected a week previous.
The exquisite, classic Gallopin was only several blocks away, across from the Bourse where only established customers were seated in the rear parlor. Upon entering the brasserie, Robert was recognized, and the two were shown to a corner table in the rear parlor away from the kitchen doors - a place of distinction. Robert had surprised himself with his openness about his feelings for her, and wasn't sure how to continue the conversation he had thought about since returning from Nice. But her genuine response and touch had been very encouraging to him. So he began. "Shaymaa, I have to admit that you have really taken me by surprise by meeting a woman with your personal and business characteristics that I so admire." He smiled slightly tilting his face. "And ... your exceptional beauty, I must admit, that doesn't escape my eyes either Cherie. If you are willing to" Shaymaa interrupted him by placing a finger on his lips to silence him. She wasn't comfortable with where he was going, at least not yet. Or was she? She then said that she was starving and the day has been very challenging. I ask that you continue your thoughts after dinner." "Certainly!" and he ordered for both of them as the waiter had just arrived at their table. "Monsieur, we will start with a bottle of Joseph Drouhin Montrachet. For plats, Madame and I will share the Chateaubriand for two with Marchand de Vin sauce on the side. Additionally, bring us a double serving of Gratin Dauphinois. Glancing at Shaymaa, he continued, "Madame is quite hungry, so you can place the food order now, s'il te pait. The waiter nodded and returned to the kitchen with the menus that were meant for them. The waiter was back in several minutes with the most unique slices of bread that were quite open in texture and well crusted. Shaymaa mentioned to the waiter that she also required some sel and buerre. Minutes later he was back with the salt, buerre, shortly followed by the Montrachet. The waiter pulled the cork and offered it to Robert after inspecting it first. Robert tasted a sample of the wine and nodded his acceptance to the waiter, who then 1/2 filled both glasses. Robert noted to the waiter that the wine was a bit too chilled, and a chiller was not yet required.
NOTE: To request both sel and buerre, as well as to state that the wine was too chilled was a bit offensive to the waiter. But he said nothing and would describe these insults with his partner later that night.
The two toasted this evening together, with Robert noting reservedly that he was both excited and nervous as to some feelings that he wanted to discuss with her. "Later Robert." She smiled slightly and said "The wine is excellent", as she requested more to be placed in her glass. He continued, "Shaymaa, one thing you may not yet know about me, even after or perhaps especially after this last weekend in Nice, is that I am a bit of a romantic. Once we have finished our meal, and if your are willing, I wish for us to walk to the Seine for the possibility of an experience that you are most likely not familiar with." She took his two hands in hers and stated that she had no idea what he was referring to, but that she was so willing to consider.
The conversation changed to reviewing the time they spent in Nice staying clearly away from business issues. The meal was soon presented as the two continued to reflect on some of their enjoyable experiences the previous weekend. With the meal completed, with no desert desired by either, l addition was paid by Robert. The maitre d'hotel wished the two a beautiful evening as they exited the Brasserie for the considerable walk to the Seine. Indeed it was a beautiful evening as again he placed his arm across her shoulder.
On your walk towards the Seine, Robert noted that he needed to make a short stop at Gedimat (an extraordinary hardware store). Once at Gedimat, he asked her to stay outside as he made the purchase. Within 5 minutes he was at her side with a small bag. They continued to the Seine arriving at the entrance to the Pont des Arts. Before crossing the pont, the two stopped. "Shaymaa, this is the Pont des Arts also known as the Bridge of Love Locks, as you will quickly notice looking across it. This bridge in particular has been used by 1000's of lovers to "secure" their relationship by personalizing a lock, attaching it to the bridge, and then throwing the key into the Seine." She gasped and said "Really?" Robert continued, "Yes Madame. In this bag I have both a lock and indelible marker that I purchased at Gedimat for you to consider as our act for my following declaration." He paused as he tenderly pulled Shaymaa into his arms. "Shaymaa, I am asking you now to accept my offer for us to be together as long as we both agree to do so." Shaymaa turned slightly to separate herself from him, and then turned back to embrace him. "Robert, what you ask is so new to me, never before have I been so involved as I feel for you, especially given the short time that we have known each other. I truly want our companionship as a couple, but I really don't know the extent that I am really willing to commit to at this point. There is so much going on with me right now as to my challenges with the store. You truly know my passion, and I truly adore that. But, I cannot not yet accept what you request. I am so sorry. I require, and desire, much more time with us together." She held him closer and then stepped back holding both his hands in hers. "OK, here is my offer. Let me take the bag with me as your present for the evening with the understanding of what you are requesting. When I believe I have settled on myself and on us, we will revisit this Bridge of Love Locks to honestly complete the task that you have so romantically offered. That is, if you are still willing to do so." With that said she pulled him close to her again and passionately kissed him. "You are the Boss" he said with a smile. She quickly snapped, "I asked you before in Nice not to call me the Boss as she pinched his ass. They both laughed and headed back towards her room in the Opera Qtr.
To lighten the remainder of the evening, Shaymaa suggested that they stop again at Willis for a nightcap. She had a new idea for the marketing of parasols. Once at the bar, she ordered two glasses of green Chartreuse, avec glacons. This was to be on her tab in that she was back into business mode, albeit with the bag of lock and marker in her purse. Once served at the bar, Shaymaa turned to face Robert. "LOVE, my involvement with you, and your offer, has sparked an idea, actually two - sort of, for the parasols, oddly enough.." "Please continue Shaymaa. You have my fullest attention." Shaymaa did so placing one hand on his left thigh. "What you have brought into my life is the reality of companionship." "Thank you Shaymaa, that is what I desire with you as well." Shaymaa continued, "OK, the first thought of companionship is to offer personalized parasols for lovers that one offers to the other as a demonstration of their union. Our supplier of silk parasols in Lyon can clearly provide given their silk screening talents that they are famous for. These could be one of a kind or perhaps a wide assortment of limited production to keep it 'special'. Each store would have a finite inventory of each to keep it seemingly special while providing a significant volume for the supplier to do the designs at a reasonable cost." Robert responded immediately "Wow! Fantastic! See why I am so impressed with you? And your second idea?" Shaymaa continued, "This one is perhaps a stretch as to companionship. But. its a version of the Patriotic Parasol that has done so well on Victory Day and Bastille Day. Again with the suppliers in Lyon, we market parasols that, in some fashion to be designed, provides a French theme that is blended with other themes such as other nationalities, religions, or civil rights, whatever." Robert was shaking his head slightly. "I really don't know about that idea yet. Some market research would certainly be required in the various geographical markets of France."
For each, the romantic feeling of the evening was over. In that Robert and Shaymaa resided in different arrondissements, Robert walked her to the closest Metro station where each went their own way, but not after very passionate hugs and kisses.
BTW, Those romantics looking to leave their permanent tokens of love in Paris may consider other alternatives, e.g., the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar Senghor, between the Musée D’Orsay and Jardin des Tuileries.
Robert held back from calling Shaymaa once he reached his residence after the drinks at Willis. He now knew her well enough to understand, and respect, where her mind was likely at that point. Clearly, he thought her mind was churning on the companionship perspective for the parasol market. He also figured that she would be expanding her thoughts to offer such-oriented clothing, without him having any idea of what that could be. Indeed, he was becoming increasingly attracted to her in all ways it seems. He had been down such a path before several years prior with a Swedish Madame, who also possessed an amazing number of characteristics that he now readily identified in Shaymaa. However, cracks started to appear within that relationship within 2 months. This Karin was also a strong personality with undying perseverance and uninhibited thoughts as Shaymaa. However, she had an openness about relationships, i.e., without exclusivity, that was not acceptable to him. This particular point was extremely important to him given his knowledge of the relationship of his mother and father and their relationships beyond the boundaries of their marriage. Shaymaa had not presented such thoughts ,,,, yet. So after several glasses of red Bordeaux, Robert took a quick rinse in the shower and went to bed with his phone near his pillow. He hoped that Shaymaa would call him that evening. She didn't.
Upon arriving at her apartment that evening, Shaymaa opened a bottle of rum and grabbed a liter of Coke out of the fridge. This combo had been a favorite in her travels before arriving in Paris. She wasn't ready to go to bed. She had so many thoughts running around in her head about companionship designs. She went to the breakfast table in front of the opened French Doors overlooking a popular street, Rue des Francs Bourgeois in the Marais. This street had been closed to vehicles several years earlier that resulted in a continuous flow of the late night crowd popular to both the straight and the LBGT bars. She pulled out a particular sketchpad and several colored pencils and started designing companionship-theme parasols. The sketchpad was one that she had produced by a small print shop on Ile Saint-Louis with 50 sheets, each with 4 outlines of umbrella shapes to do her designs. Her first designs were too commonplace, too obvious, in her mind as she ripped out and discarded several used sheets. She was looking for the something unique, something symbolic perhaps. At that point two lizards were on her iron railing outside of her French doors. The male lizard was swooning the female with his puffed out throat. Here was romantic companionship that she had not thought of, i.e., romantic companionship across various species, even lizards, but could be considered adorable symbols by lovers. Over more 2 cokes and rum, she wrote a list of such couplings including love bugs, dogs, Lliama, seahorses, etc. As her mind started to wander endlessly into large mammals, she fell asleep at her table.
The next morning she awoke in her bed fully clothed from the night before. She cursed herself for falling back into the coke/rum mixture that she had purposely given up on arriving in Paris. She hesitantly got up stripping of her clothes heading directly for the shower. She turned the shower head setting to a brisk massage and concentrated on her neck endlessly it seemed before luffing the rest of her body. Her Mahogany skin glistened as she stepped under the infrared lights to dry. She briefly brushed her long, silky hair to let it dry naturally on the way to work. She pulled on her baggy linen pants and a loose cotton blouse only. She normally did not wear undergarments in that they clashed with her rich skin color under thin clothing. Unlike her French counterparts, she also did not use perfume or even deodorant. Her Nubian heritage precluded her from using any significant amount of makeup. She preferred none ... as did Robert when in Nice. She liked that about Robert. With that thought, she decided to give Robert a call on his cell before going to the store. Somehow in her mind, calling him at work was not appropriate given the state of their relationship now. She wanted to keep a distinction in her relationship with Robert as to business and personal. But wait, she thought, that was not the case in Nice, and the last several days. She was changing in her thoughts as to her personal life, That is, a personal life with Robert outside of business.
Upon leaving her apartment heading for the Metro, she called Robert. He answered. "Well!, hello Love. I expect you had a long evening thinking about the theme of companionship. Am I correct?" "Yes, Robert you guessed right ... and hence you didn't call me to say 'Goodnight" and other good things, I assume?" she questioned in a teasing fashion. "It seems Shaymaa that we both know the other quite well. So!, did any ideas come about last night? "Weeeeellll, maybe. It so happens I was over served in my apartment last night with several rum & cokes and woke up this morning somehow on my bed." "Hmmmmmm! Really? Rum&Coke can be dangerous for folks like you." "I don't know what you mean by 'folks like you' , Monsieur. But, can you please meet me again at Willis at 5:30 this evening for me to show you what I have so far? I have a really busy day to get a number of balls rolling and that is the first time I have open .... even for you." She laughed lightly. "And I really want your input." Robert responded. "Will do! See you then Cherie."
That day, Shaymaa secluded herself in her small office in the morning having first scanned the sales floor to ensure that was all up to her requirements. She wanted to pursue possible symbols for the romantic companionship theme along with serious thinking as to pursuing her professional career. She broke for lunch about 1 and left the store for a small sandwich shop where she ordered a baguette layered only with a country-style pate and Gruyere cheese, her favorite. She desired it 'naked' without any butter, lettuce, tomato, and dressing. This is how her Mom would make sandwiches when she was a child - just meat and cheese. Returning from lunch, she asked her Assistant Manager, Marjorie, to join her in the office. Marjorie was surprised at the request in that she had never sat down with Shaymaa in her office. Shaymaa started: "Marjorie, I am considering a new management approach for Anna's Parasols. And, I want you to take lead responsibility for this effort under my guidance." Margorie was quite surprised at this point and simply said. "Shaymaa, I am anxious to know more, but I have only worked here a month. And, to my knowledge, you have never really considered my background. I am quite new at sales with no demonstrated management skills that may required here." "Stop Marjorie, I need not know your background before coming here. I have seen you at work with the clients and with your colleagues. You are bright, aggressive, intuitive, and, most importantly, sensitive to the needs & desires of others. You are a natural for what I see in advancing Anna's Parasols. Before I tell you more, can you give me a 1-year commitment to pursue what I am offering once I explain, and if you agree to it?" "Yes! Yes! Shaymaa." "Great! Tomorrow, you and I will go off in the late morning to the Brasserie across from the Opera, and I will provide the details for your consideration. So! back to the sales floor with you." she said with a kind smile. and a gentle squeeze of both hands. Margorie left, and Shaymaa whirled her chair around and around anticipating a new level of freedom that was aligned with her increasing feelings for Robert. Indeed, she had a number of things to discuss with Robert that evening.
Shaymaa arrived at Willie's 20 minutes before the 5:30 time she stated to Robert. Instead of sitting at the bar, she sat at a table next to the wall. She had brought 2 manila folders with her. One contained a number of sheets with her various parasol designs to show to Robert, and the bar would be to awkward. The other manila folder contain material that she planned to address with him over dinner ... well, maybe. She wasn't totally comfortable with having this second discussion yet. She ordered 2 Kir Royales that had become their opening drink when meeting, it seems. Waiting for Robert, she thumbed through the parasol sheets adding some touches to various designs with one of her artist pencils.
Robert was a bit late, but she didn't really notice as she was focusing on her designs. She had actually drunk both Kir Royales without realizing it given her concentration. Robert approached her slowly sitting down next to her and startling her. She turned to face him and gave a sound of glee awkwardly throwing her arms around his shoulders. "Oh Love, I am so glad to see you. It has been an extraordinary day for me which I want to share with you." He responded with a smile, "I see you have already SHARED my cocktail in addition to yours." "Oops, sorry for that. I got here early and started to review some drawings of parasols that I have made. Let me get another round of Kir Royales to start together." Robert interrupted, "Actually, I am in the mood for a particular Bordeaux they have here, ...And. another Kir Royale may too much for you before we have dinner." "Agreed, Monsieur." as he proceeded to get the waiter's attention.
While they waited for the wine that he ordered, he got up and went to the other side of the small table sitting down and taking both of her hands in his. "Tell me Shaymaa, what do you have to show me with all of these sheets that you have scattered on the table?" She began by explaining her thought process the night before and her settling on designs that could be used for parasols resembling romantic companionship. He could tell that she was quite serious at first, but she startled to giggle somewhat when she showed the first sheet of various depictions of romancing lizards on 4 parasol templates. Robert wasn't sure how to respond initially since he was a bit confused as to her true attitude. Robert remained silent as she displayed the next sheet of various bird couples, again on the parasol templates. Robert thought to himself, "She really is serious about this." Shaymaa started to pull out a third sheet, and Robert interrupted. "Shaymaa, I am not truly in sync or comfortable with your thoughts here." At first, Shaymaa read Robert's comment as his first rejection of her mindset. Robert could sense that his statement was having a negative affect on her. With wine now delivered and tasted by him, and then poured into the 2 glasses, he started again. "Shaymaa, first let us toast to your concept here, and give me a moment to reflect before I say anything else. I responded too quickly given this unique perspective that you have shown me." She nodded, and Robert made the toast. "Shaymaa to you and your proven, amazing Marketing creativeness ... and, by the way, to us as well Cherie." The Bordeaux was quite complex with subtle tannin with a touch of tobacco due to the Cabernet Franc contribution. Upon tasting, Shaymaa whispered "Wow!" which was a word she used sparingly. Immediately, Robert was reminded of their first night in Nice at the Company's suite. He smiled and did not comment.
They sat without any discussion enjoying the first glass of Bordeaux. As he stated, he requested some time to think about what she had presented before commenting further. Shaymaa respected that about him, and waited anxiously, but staring directly into his eyes as he refilled the glasses. Finally, he spoke. "Shaymaa, my first thought with this romantic companionship perspective of displaying animals in affectionate positions is not aligned with the conservative perspective of the family that owns Galleries Lafayette. I know this family well, and they are true to the mystique of French Romance. In my opinion, for Galleries Lafayette to bring, romantic companionship to the French market via parasols will require displays of such individuals." To Robert's surprise, Shaymaa smiled, squeezed Robert's hands stating without any remorse: "Merci beaucoup my Love, I have already considered your viewpoint. Without your knowing, you have reinforced my consideration of taking on a new venture." Robert shook his head quickly in surprise. "What are you referring to Shaymaa?" She responded with a broad smile: "Love, what I am referring to is contained in this other manila envelop that we will discuss over dinner ... and perhaps later at my place." Robert smile lightly squeesing her hands again, "Love!, once again you have managed to excite me with so few words ... actually twice just tonight by my calculations."
With that, they finished the Bordeaux as Shaymaa gathered her parasol templates placing them in their manila envelope and paying la addition. With only light conversation at that point, they left Willis and headed for Aux Crus de Bourgongne for a well-priced, traditional French cuisine on Rue Bachaumont. This street is just off the pedestrian mall, Rue Montorgueil, that is lined with affordable, but nonetheless excellent venues for late night cuisine known almost exclusively to the natives.
It was a 10-minutes walk to Aux Crus de Bourgongne from Willi's. Shaymaa did not want to discuss the other manila folder until they were well into dinner. Unconsciously, she held it tightly against her side along with the other folder that contained the parasol sketches. Mentally, she was focusing on how, and when, to introduce the two subjects that she had started to address that afternoon. During the stroll in the early evening Robert had made several comments for which she asked him to repeat since her mind was focusing on the contents of the second folder. Upon approaching the pedestrian mall that led to the restaurant's rue. Robert stopped, turned her and pulled her into his arms. "What's up Shaymaa? I think I know you well enough to sense stress, concentration, whatever on your part. Are you actually upset with my comment on romancing parasols involving animal illustrations?" "NO!, ... no, my Love. As I said, I agree with you. Actually, your comment has encouraged me to discuss one of two subjects that I want to present to you ... But, over dinner with a very fine bottle of Bourgogne - my treat!" "OK, I await that conversation with great anticipation." He smiled, swung Shaymaa around and continued the 3-block walk to the bistro hand-in-hand. Robert, as with the night before, knew not to pressure her when it was clear she did not want to be. However, he made the mental thought that he would not permit her to back out over dinner if she tried. In fact, he had a very serious subject that he wanted to discuss with her as well. But, first her.
Being such a fine evening, Robert requested the bistro's hôtesse for a table outside on the narrow cobblestone street with no vehicular traffic. Once seated, the waiter brought both the menu for food and la carte des vins. Attempting to keep it light, Robert noted that this street was used by horse-drawn carriages prior to automobiles, with a carriage house at the end. Naturally, the waiter spoke to Robert, while directly taking in the exotic beauty of Shaymaa. "Monsieur, do you wish to order wine?" Robert looked directly at waiter. "Madame! is making the decisions this evening and her French is quite good. So! Please bring us the French menus", he said firmly. "Of course, Monsieur, Madame." The waiter returned shortly with the French menus with Robert noting that the price was less for their specialty, Boeuf Bourgogne, than that provided on the English menu. Robert really resented this type of action of some Parisian restaurants. Such restaurants also often add a 'TIP' line on the card payment statement even though the French and English menus have 'service compris' noted on the bottom of the menus, but only in French.
Shaymaa, upon reviewing both the menu and la carte des vins, turned to Robert. "This is my treat Robert. I WILL decide what we will have for both of us. ... And those are not the only things that I am providing tonight that I wish you to swallow." she said with a possessive laugh. "Shaymaa, I accept your challenges, of course. So, go for it. I will sit back and watch you at 'work'. I am correct in assuming that you are asking me to 'swallow', so to speak, the text contents of the other manila envelop as well?" "Oui! Monsieur. I really love your keen sense of perception. The waiter is returning, and I am in control at this point." Shaymaa was purposely pressing her superior role here as a subconscious effort to force her to go into her desired discussion.
Turning directly to the waiter: "Monsieur, first the wine. We would like a fine Montrachet blanc that is reasonably priced." "Madame, I have just the selection. Would you like to order from the menu now?" "No, we wish to enjoy the wine first. " He returned shortly with a bottle of Latour Chassagne-Montrachet (his favorite on his waiter's income), and 2 wine glasses. He opened the wine presenting the cork to Shaymaa. She waved it off, and the waiter offered a taste to her. Before tasting, she asked him to pour a small amount into the second glass. She picked up her glass and offered the second glass to the waiter to taste. He accepted, being totally charmed by this action. In sync, they both swirled their glasses followed by considering the 'nose'. They then both tried the wine, with her providing an audible "wow!" of enjoyment. "This is extraordinary. Bring a glass for Monsieur, s'il vous plait." "Yes Madame. Thank you for this moment." and he returned shortly with an additional glass filling both hers and Robert's half way.
"My oh my!, Shaymaa, your charm is only exceeded by your beauty" as Robert picked up his glass to click hers. "You never fail to impress me Cherie." She looked into his eyes and took his two hands in hers when they had placed their glasses on the table. Let us enjoy this fantastic, perfectly chilled Montrachet before I order from the menu. I haven't had this Bourgogne since I first came to Paris."
The waiter came outside several times to service other tables and also to check on the wine consumption. On the third occurrence, he noticed the bottle upside in the wine cooler that he had brought for their use if so desired. They had been there about 25 minutes. The waiter approached Shaymaa directly. Madame, are you ready to order?" "Yes Monsieur. We will first start with an order of meilleur pâtûs croute with a side of Dijon mustard. I understand that it is a specialty of this establishment." "Oui Madame, the new owners have continued with the same sous chef." Shaymaa continue: "Also I understand that your bouef bourguignon is excellent as well as your cassoulet." "Oui again Madame." "So, we will have one of each served to the center of the table along with 2 plates." "And to your wine Madame? May I suggest a Montrachet rouge?" "No!, I desire the same Montrachet blanc. It is complex enough to handle both plats." "Tres bon, Madame", and the waiter turned to leave. "Monsieur, several more things, sil vous plait. Kindly bring a pichet d'eau avec des glaçons as well as a banquette along with sel and buerre." "Oui, Madame." On his way back to the inside, he stopped suddenly at the door and glanced back at the table thinking "Could this be the same exotic femme that my partner complained about several days ago that demanded sel, buere, and glacons.? And Bourgogne blanc with bouef bourguignon? Really! female foreigners" as he turned back to enter the bistro.
The second bottle of Montrachet was delivered. The waiter took the liberty to bring 3 glasses, and he and Shaymaa went through the same approval process with the same excellent outcome. With both Robert and Shaymaa poured glasses of wine, Shaymaa reached down to place the undisclosed manila folder on the table. "Robert inside this folder is my next business venture, I believe. I also believe it may be part of our future that is up to you to accept." "Love, I am anxious to see what you are considering for yourself .... and perhaps for us." She stood up and moved to his side of the table bringing the folder along, so as to sit next to him. She opened the folder and placed the contents on the table between them. Robert did not realize at first what he was looking at. There was a drawing of a storefront with the name of Romantic Animal Parasols above the main window. Shaymaa waited anxiously for his response. Robert took another sip of the wine and turned to face her. "I perceive you want to open your own parasol boutique so to speak." "Yes, yes, you got it Robert" Robert refilled both of their glasses not waiting for the waiter to do so. He continued, "And somehow you see that I may be part of this commercial effort?" "Well, yes Robert, I can see that possibility, depending upon your interest." "Shaymaa, permit to ask you several questions to set me straight on what you are suggesting," "Fire away, Robert." "OK! First, perhaps most important, how does this affect your position with Galleries Lafayette? Second, Do you have the capital to start? Third, How do you determine your marketing projections, your sales projections? That is, what is your 'business plan', your pro forma financial statements to pursue the necessary capital to start? Fourth, in what area of Paris do you wish to open this storefront? Fifth, what consumer group are you looking to?" "Whoa! Robert. Ok, you have already demonstrated one reason why I wish you to be possibly involved what I am doing." "Shaymaa, that was my next question as to why you are discussing this me as to my possible interest." With that Shaymaa took a long drink of the wine. She at up firmly while looking Robert in his eyes. "I will now answer all or your question, saving your last question for after dinner over glasses of chartreuse."
At that time, the baguette, meilleur pâtûs croute, sel, buere, and pichet d'eau avec des glaçons, along with 2 glasses,were served. "First, Robert, as to my position with Galleries lafayette, it is my most important desire to maintain my position. This venture I am seeking does not compete with them as you yourself as stated as to romancing parasols involving humans. My pursuit does not threaten their market. I will approach Monsieur Bodin openly and honestly to seek his approval. I believe he will accept my position." Robert did not blink, so she continued. "Second, No, I personally do not have the capital. My brother does as well as his trust. But that leads me to your third question. Yes! I recognize the need for a business plan and pro forma financials for anyone, including my brother, who will assist me in obtaining the capital yet to be determined. I also know that I definitely need the talents of someone like you to pursue the necessary financing. Fourth, the area I am considering is on the left bank on Boulevard Saint-Germain to provide a respectful store front. There already is an umbrella shop there that, to my evaluation is in a downward path. My first thought is to attempt to buy them out as to both inventory and lease. The woman owner is quite old, and i have spoken to her several times to gain knowledge of her interests in her forthcoming retirement years. She has no family. Lastly, as to my customer base, I have seen a significant increase in the French populace as to cultural responsibilites for our environment, including animals that are just making it, or even now non-distinct."
It was at this point that the plats were served and Shaymaa returned to the other side of table.. The waiter asked Shaymaa if he should distribute portions of the two plats to the individual bare plates, one each for each item for each individual. She agreed, and he did so. "No more discussion now on what you have just seen, Robert, until we have finished this meal, and then onto chartreuse to address the final point of your possible involvement, professionally ... and personally perhaps." Robert agreed and they only talked about various us areas in Paris that the two would enjoy together. Shaymaa purposely ate all of that was served knowing that "doggy bags" were a relative unknown in Paris ... or considered an insult by restaurants. Her Nubian background did not permit her to have food not consumed, and therefore wasted.
With the meal finished, the waiter arrived to remove the plates. Even though Robert was complete before Shaymaa, it was proper for the waiter to wait until both were finished. Once the table was cleared with of the exception of the pichet and glasses, the waiter pulled out this table instrument to clean of any remnants. He then asked if any desert was desired listing the specials for that day. Both declined followed by Shaymaa saying, "Monsieur, we would each like glass of chartreuse avec glacons." "Would that be verte or juane Madame?" "Verte" she replied. As they waited for their drinks, Shaymaa started. "Robert, there are several points for which I am interested in your participation in this new venture of mine." Robert nodded sitting back in his chair to display his openness. She continued, "First, I have already stated the need for someone like you to assist me with the pro forma financials. I know of your excellence in that activity. Second, I know I will need a unique market study for this unique commerce. I also think you could assist in that directly or indirectly with oversight." The drinks were now delivered. Before she could continue, Robert moved to her side of the table and proposed a simple toast to this new venture. "Please continue Shaymaa." "Third, I would like your input on how to approach Monsieur Bodin on obtaining his approval for this side venture of mine while maintaining my position at Galleries Lafayette. I have already considered in promoting my assistant manager to handle more responsibility, but under my guidance. You know the owners, and you may have some input as to what Monsieur Bodin may need to consider for their acceptance, if necessary. Now, those are the professional needs for which your assistance could be valuable" "Yes, I understand those requests Shaymaa. But you also said that there may be a personal reason, or reasons, for my involvement." Shaymaa took a serious sip of the chartruese and then placed her hand on his upper thigh next to her. As she squeezed his thigh, Shaymaa continued first looking down at the table and then turning her head to face him. "Love!, I believe you believe as me that we have the makings of a remarkable romantic and responsible relationship. This is new to me, but I desire you in my life NOW and for the future." Robert took her hand from his thigh and placed it in both of his kissing it lightly. Without hesitation, Robert stood and then knelt down on one knee. "Shaymaa, I know that I love and respect you deeply. I wish for us to get married, and I am asking you for your acceptance."
Shaymaa realized immediately that she had led Robert too far down a path that was more complex and committed than what she had meant in her statement that she desired him in her life 'now and for the future'. She did not respond immediately to his proposal as her past went through her mind. Shaymaa had been proposed to two times before; once in Cairo and once in London during her employment there. In both cases, she was not at all prepared to accept due to the shortages she found in both individuals proposing. But, with Robert, she knew she wanted him in her life, but she was not ready to make an actual commitment to marriage. Although Nubian, therefore Coptic Christian, she had seen too many of her Egyptian, Muslim, woman that had been divorced solely based upon the male's rights without any legal proceedings in that country. Clearly, Robert as a Catholic living in France, did not have the same capability legally or within his religious beliefs. Nonetheless, Shaymaa was still not perfectly aligned with marriage.
Considering the above, Shaymaa was not able to respond immediately to Robert's proposal. Suspecting the worse after waiting an infinitely of 10 seconds or so for her response, Robert stood and took both of her hands in his. "Shaymaa, I regret for misunderstanding what you said. I guess I went too far too quickly." "NO! ... no Robert, you have nothing to regret. I meant what I said, but I didn't realize what it would mean to you given our relatively short time together." She then briefly described her background as to the other two offers, as well as the legal/Islam mores in Egypt. At this point Robert squeezed her hands tightly and said. "This is not Egypt, and I am not Muslim. As a Christian I stand behind my commitments ... and I stand behind my love for you. You are absolutely correct as to our relatively short time together, and I fully appreciate and respect that. Therefore, I 'stand down' (he said with a quirky smile) from my proposal ..... that is, for now."
Shaymaa immediately relaxed, released his hands, and placed both of her arms on his shoulders pulling him close for a most passionate kiss. "Thank you Robert. You are such an authentic charmer. I absolutely adore that about you. "So! What now Shaymaa? I have shown you my hand. When do I get to see yours?" Shaymaa look confused not understanding the analogy. "Sorry! That was a poker-related comment meaning that you now know where I am coming from. When will you show me "your hand" that I am willing to gamble on." Shaymaa already somewhat regretted turning away his proposal. She well knew that the constraints to bring the two of them together were for her to resolve.
"Robert, I have so much on my mind as to my new venture as well as my forthcoming confrontation with Monsieur Bodin on my individual pursuit. My head is spinning." pause. "I will say this, that when I lay down at night to sleep, embracing you is the last thing I remember." "Shaymaa, I really like that, and I am available tonight to make that a reality." Shaymaa took a provocative position facing him, "I accept that offer. First, I will pay la addition, and then you walk with me, hand-in-hand, back to my residence." "I like that even more, LOVE."
On their way back to her place, they purposely ignored the Metro, which would have been the most efficient means. Rather, Shaymaa led them down a zigzag of side streets occasionally with her letting go of his hands to skip like a child. She was still processing his proposal and her response before they arrived at her apartment. She was deep into evaluating her background silently. In fact, she was outright giggly at this point, which of course was confusing to Robert. He had never experienced her to be so light-hearted. As they approached her residence, she stopped to bring Robert close to her in her arms, "Robert, I truly hope you know what you are getting involved with by romancing me as you have. Tonight represents no commitment on your part ... or mine. WE are an extraordinary couple to enjoy an extraordinary evening. I know that I love who you are, and I would never invite you back to my place if you were not totally acceptable to me .... to us." "I understand completely Shaymaa. Likewise for me."
The evening was still young when they arrived at her residence. As she was unlocking the door, she turned to face Robert. "Be brave LOVE. You are entering a den of an unorthodox designer and marketer with its disorder of drawings and various materials that I am considering for my new venture as well for Galleries Lafayette." She took his left hand and led him into the front room. His first sight was the various patches of materials and drawings on the side walls. He then noticed the small table and 2 chairs next to the sliding glass doors that led to the deck. "Well! Shaymaa, I had no idea of what to expect. Actually, I hadn't thought about what to expect." "So! Monsieur, your responsibility right now is to open a bottle of Bourgogne blanc in the frig, and pour two glasses for us to enjoy on the deck. I will meet you there once I have changed into something much less, but much more comfortable ... and appropriate." She winked, and headed for the bedroom.
It took her an extended number of minutes to reappear in that she took a quick shower followed by the application of her favorite olive oil soap that she had bought in Nice. The scent was one that Robert would clearly remember from their weekend there. Robert was out on the deck with the wine and first noticed her lavender, satin teddy as she approached, quickly followed by her scent. "My-oh-my, you are definitely more comfortable ... and appropriate for this evening, I think," She actually giggled slightly again and sat next to him on the chaise-lounge looking out over the brasseries on the street below. Robert gave her a glass and proposed a toast. "Shaymaa to this night, and to what I hope is remarkable relationship between us two, whatever that be." They clicked their glasses and they both took sips. Shaymaa then placed her glass on the adjoining side table and snuggled up next to him. "I need your arm around me. It is a bit chilly out here given what I have on." He pulled her into him after placing his glass on the table." So! tell me Robert why you are in love with me." He pulled her down so her head was on this lap facing him. "Cherie, let me count the ways." he said softly and sincerely. "First, I must. say that I have had an experience with a woman that possessed so many attributes that I adore and that helped set my expectations of what I desire in a relationship. You have those same attributes plus others that I have come to adore. However, that lady had a wandering eye that is stereotypical for her culture. You are not of that way, I know. The point here is that I am not blind in seeing who you are." "Continue Monsieur. You have my fullest attention,", as she turned to kiss his left leg. "I am not about to place them in order, but here you go. You are absolutely gorgeous, creative, passionately aggressive, intelligent, super cool, charming, great company, very sexy, very physical, and possess a love for all. How many was that?" "JUST ten, LOVE" as she smirked. "I guess I should add 'occasionally silly'. " They both laughed. "Now, your turn Shaymaa. Why do you love me?" With that request, she sat up and took another sip of her wine, replacing her glass. "Well! Monsieur, I am perhaps more efficient in my numbers," "Go on Shaymaa." "You are a compassionate and honest man, with the offering of true, committed Love, I believe. You are indeed very handsome and passionate in your touch, Great kisser, I must say. You are mature, but open to taking on the unusual. Hence, you wouldn't be here, I believe. Lastly, this may be a bit self-serving, but you truly want to be with me." She nestled back onto his lap in a manner that it was clear to him that she was quite exhausted given the day and wine and chartreuse.
"Shaymaa, we need to get us to bed. It has been an exhaustive day for you including our wonderful conversation this evening." She mumbled: "OK, will you kindly lead me there ... and take off those clothes. They are not permitted in my bed." as she giggled slightly. She sat up slowly and Robert stood to pull her up. "Oh Robert, I had other plans for tonight, but I am so tired." Her teddy rose up on her legs revealing her extraordinary physique that Robert had been thinking about constantly since their time in Nice. But now was not the time for what he desired. He wanted her to be vivacious and reactive when they made love. "Maybe in the morning" he said to himself in a soft voice, as he placed her on the bed covering her with the comforter. To be sure, he stripped off his clothes and cuddled next to her back touching her softly along her legs and up under her top to her shoulders. With the familiar scent of the olive oil soap on her, he fell asleep aided by her calming, cooing sounds.
35. Wow!, Moving Ahead
Knowing it was a busy & challenging day for Shaymaa, Robert decided not to press his desires with her when he awoke first in the morning. Sometime during their sleep they had both turned with her cuddling him now with a limp left arm across his chest. He cautiously lifted her arm to get up and go to the shower to rinse off using her olive oil soap. He desired to carry that scent through much of the day. Once dry, he pulled on his briefs and then went to wake Shaymaa. It was only 7 AM, but he knew that she had to get going to handle her tasks for the day. He expected that she may not recall the discussion during the latter part of the evening. Hence, he would not bring up what was mentioned beyond her rejecting his proposal.
She had no sheets on her at this point and, again, he was aroused by her laying there nearly fully exposed with her raised teddy highlighting the exoticness of her mahogany skin. "Not now Robert" he said to himself as he bent down to kiss her on her shoulder and then her cheek to wake her. She stirred at first, and then shot up to face Robert. "Wow!, It wasn't just a dream that you shared my bed." "No Love. We had a most enjoyable evening together. I brought you to your bed when it was clear that you were exhausted." "I am so sorry Robert. Did we...?" He interrupted her, "No Shaymaa, it would not have been appropriate or acceptable to me to take advantage of your exhaustion." "Robert, I really wanted last night to be special in so many ways." "I can assure you it was for me, save for me not being as close and entwined with you as I so desired." he said without holding back. "When IT happens, we will both will be fully aware and fully desiring the other. NOW! get your sweet derriere out of bed and to work. I know you have a complex day today." She pulled him into her arms and held him tight. "Hmmmm, I see you have been using my Nice soap." "Oui!, Madame. That is to remind me of you during the day." he said with a smile. "Looking at her antique, Cartier watch, she said: " Robert, I have to rush. We will continue last night tonight, if you agree." "Yes!, I wouldn't desire less."
Within 20 minutes, she had showered and dressed in a casual, yet professional outfit expecting a challenging conversation with Monsieur Bodin that day. She also remembered that she was to have a discussion with Marjorie that morning regarding expanding that young woman's possible management responsibilities. She wanted this duck lined up before she approached M. Bodin. As she exited, her residence, she kissed Robert and said, "By the way, I am now going to refer to you, outside of business that is, as 'Wow'" "Ok Shaymaa. I will follow you shortly once you are out." "Wow, there is an additional key to my residence next to the sugar bowl in the kitchen. That is for you, s'il vous plait." "Got it Boss" he said purposely to spark her spirit. She looked back at him as she pretended to slam the door in anger as to the use of that term.
Upon arriving at Anna's Parasol ahead of her staff, she did her review of the merchandise display making some minor changes from the day before. As usual, she was pleased by what her staff had done to straighten up with the store closing the day before. Onto her office she sat in her chair whirling around several times reviewing what she remembered from the night before with Robert. She did remember Robert's offer on one knee, and him graciously handling her rejection. The following conversation had faded significantly from her memory. She relished that he was in her bed that morning. That was enough for her right now. She wanted this evening to be extraordinary in their relationship so far.
Marjorie came in at 8:45 and proceeded to Shaymaa's office. "Madame, are we still on for this morning?" "Absolutely! We will leave about 11, ensuring that the rest of staff is in gear. I am thinking we will continue through déjeuner in that the French government has re-enacted le pause déjuener that does not permit lunch to be eaten at one's desk. You were probably not in the workforce when that law was relaxed due to Covit several years ago. Imagine! That law was first enacted in 1894. Anyhow. back to the floor, and I will catch you about 11." "You clearly have my interest Madam." as she exited the office. Shaymaa now turned to constructing her points to present to Monsieur Bodin at 2 in his office.
Shortly before 11, Robert presented himself at her door throwing her a kiss and proceeded to leave without saying a word. "Wait! wait!, Robert. Come in here for a moment and close the door." As he was doing so, she leaped from her chair and grasped him from behind holding him close. "Wow, I am bit anxious with how to approach M. Bodin, and I would like your thoughts on the following points, especially by unique concept in Point 8." "Ok, I love your crushing my ribs LOVE, but may I sit down?" he said with a laugh.
Once they were both seated across from each other, she pulled out a single sheet of paper with her primary points written on it. She waited anxiously as he ran his finger down the sheet. "Well! Knowing M. Bodin as well as I do, as well as his demonstrated trust in your capabilities, I would say that you need to be more lean on these points. No.'s 3, 4, & 7 are unnecessary. He already accepts those points regarding you. I believe you should be more straightforward without 'beating around the bush'. Is that not how you got his attention in Alsace?" "You are right, of course. I needed to hear that - one more aspect of your 'Wow-ness.' "Merci beaucoup!" Robert continued, "As to point 8, I think that is a remarkable idea, one which can be played several ways with M. Bodin. That is, you can keep it to yourself in your venture ... and / or .... offer it to Galleries Lafayette as a contractor to use in their marketing as well since you two have different underlying themes. It will be interesting to hear of M. Bodin's reaction." Shaymaa interrupted, "I need you to leave now for I am having déjeuner with Marjorie." With a la bise, he departed.
Several minutes later, she left her office and signaled Marjorie to meet her at the entrance to Anna's Parasol. Outside the store they proceeded down Rue Tronchet to the square encompassing La Madeleine. It was on the NE corner of this square that Fauchon, la Grand Cafe was located. Neither of them had been to this most fabulous gourmet store, arguably exceeding the offerings of Galleries Lafayette. Once seated Majorie stated: "Madame, I really appreciate this opportunity to speak with you about my responsibilities at Anna's Parasol. I have so appreciated working there given both my colleagues and the spirit of the clients that so enjoy the merchandise." "First of all Marjorie, I wish you to refer to me as Shaymaa. 'Madame' makes me feel so old and indifferent." Marjorie nodded. "Let's first order from the menu, and I will begin my discussion with you for your consideration. The waiter appeared and Shaymaa ordered the classic at the top of the menu: Wild Rabbit Terrine. Marjorie was a bit inhibited given the uniqueness of this meeting as well as the Grand Cafe itself. She ordered the Chevre Chaud salad (a sure success in any Parisian restaurant). Shaymaa finalized the order requesting a bottle of Verno Blish.
Waiting for the wine to be served, Shaymaa started. "It is not yet approved yet by M. Bodin, but I am planning to open a specialized parasol shop on Bd. Saint-Germain-Des-Pres. It is specialized in that it will deal with nature, fauna and floral, which I understand that is not expected to be of interest to the Galleries Lafayette owners." The waiter appeared the with wine, opening it, and offering a taste to Shaymaa. She approved, and the waiter poured 2 glasses. Unlike Nice, Shaymaa noticed that there was not a bowl of glacons, but rather a wine cooler placed at the side of the table in which the bottle was placed. They each enjoyed some wine, and Shaymaa continued. "If I am permitted to own my own shop and still maintain my position with Galleries Lafayette, then I will need some assistance, actually in both locations. However, for now I would like to promote you to Manager of Anna's Parasol with full responsibilities, subject to my guidance, with the exception of considering new merchandise. With you in that position, as well me getting the other store off the ground, I will not be there every day, especially on the weekends. You will be responsible for personnel assignments, etc.." Marjorie picked up her glass, took a long sip, and then laughed out loud. "Mada.... Shaymaa, I am so amazed at this offer and readily accept should you be able to get Monsieur Bodin's approval of your situation. And, YES!. I am willing to commit to at least a year as you mentioned the other day." "Ok, it is settled then Marjorie. I meet with Monsieur Bodin at 2 this afternoon to obtain his approval." With that, Shaymaa filled both glasses and made a toast: 'To my plans ... and to your involvement."
The food soon followed and the discussion went to fresh ideas that Marjorie had been naturally accumulating for several months. Shaymaa was very pleased with her. Finishing the meal, Shaymaa paid la addition and told Marjorie that she would be back to the store soon. She had some shopping to do in Fauchon.
Back in her office, Shaymaa began preparing for her meeting with M. Bodin. She went down through her list with additional consideration of points 3,4, & 7 that Robert had pointed out that morning. He was right that they were not necessary. She then highlighted additional thoughts regarding the other 4 points. Approaching 2 PM, she was ready, and she headed to Monsieur's office. She was immediately shown into the office, and M. Bodin directed her to the chair at the conference table. She was relieved that he was by himself. The secretary returned with 2 café cremès. Other than wine for the Board meetings, M.Bodin, along with chilled Evian water, only offered café crémès to his guests. He had determined over the years that concentrated caffeine contributed to the meetings' discussions. After some small talk, M. Bodin briefly reviewed the net profits for Anna's Parasol for the last two months. The various operations' evaluations were very thorough with the financials including a % of the store's overall expenses common to all spaces. He didn't know what the meeting was about. But fearing that she may be leaving for some reason, he wanted to start the discussion with his praise and great appreciation for her accomplishments with Anna's Parasol.
He placed the financials aside on the table and sat up close to the edge. "Shaymaa, what do you want to discuss with me?" Likewise, she sat up close to the table's edge, took a sip of the bottled water. "First of all, I have been so privileged to have your trust in me since the first time I joined you and your wife for dinner in Alsace. It is for that reason is that I want to test your trust un peu." as she gestured with two fingers close together and her eyebrows raised. "I wish to expand the parasol market with different themes and an unique approach. However, I do understand that my themes may not be in concert with the traditional markets of the store." M. Bodin twisted his head slightly suggesting he was somewhat confused or unable to tell where her discussion was going, "So! I want to describe 2 primary points with you, and then upon your understanding of those 2 points, to present my approach for pursuing them." Shaymaa realized that she needed to move on quickly because he was becoming even more confused. "As to the two points, I believe there may be a market for parasols that have a flora and fauna theme in addition to what Anna's Parasol has offered to date. One could perhaps view this as an environment theme of nature theme." M. Bodin interrupted her: "Hmmmm, you mean such as, aaaahhhh, various animals, flowers, nature scenes, etc." "Exactly!" she responded. He continued: "Ok, I understand your first point. What is your second point?" Shaymaa took a long sip of water to pause the moment.
Ready to proceed with the second point, Shaymaa reached into her portfolio and pulled out a sheet displaying a diagram of the skeleton parts of a parasol, less the cover. Again, M. Bodin look confused. She didn't speak immediately to permit him time to consider what he was looking at. "M. Bodin it is my idea to market parasols in a significantly different fashion. That is, the consumer will first purchase the various parts of the parasol with a different selections in handles, tips, and center rod. With that complete, then different covers can be purchased and used as desired.", she paused. M.Bodin twisted his head slightly looking over the diagram. She continued." So! For example, as to my flora and fauna designs, once could purchase a set of covers with various animals, or various flowers, or even a combination. In the case of the Galleries Lafayette, one again could obtain the parasol parts of his/her desire, and then buy sets of holiday covers, for example." "Hmmmm." was his inital response. He continued:' "You said that the store would not likely be interested in your first point of flora and fauna?" "That is my understanding. On that basis, I am planning to open my own store on Bd. Saint-Germain-Des-Pres to market the sets of cover designs that are not in conflict with the offerings here. Additionally, I will be marketing the parasol pieces with which consumer can construct their personal parasol." .... pause ... "It is also my hope that I can maintain my position here as to overseeing Anna's Parasols at the same time." She purposely kept talking to get the entire picture in M. Bodin's mind before he could reject too soon. "With that in mine, I have selected an excellent manager for Anna's that will report to me should I be permitted to stay. "lastly, if you are interested in the parasol construction kits, then I will sell exclusively to Galleries Lafayette for that market." She sat back in her chair taking a long sip of water.
M. Bodin said nothing right away and continued to look at the picture of the parasol parts. He then reached for the conference console on the table and requested his secretary to bring in his favorite Champagne and 2 flutes. He continued to look at the picture and say nothing until the secretary arrived with an opened bottle of Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Two flutes were poured and M. Bodin turned to Shaymaa stating: "Shaymaa, you and your ideas are something to toast to with my favorite Champagne. Bravo! Shaymaa." They clicked their flutes and enjoyed the fine champagne. After draining the first flute, M. Bodin refilled it, with a slight burp (perfectly acceptable when drinking fine champagne). "Shymaa, I don't know if you follow U.S. politics, but in the words of President Biden: 'Here's the deal.' I will present your promotion to the Board as to this unique situation of you within our corporation, and yet outside with your own venture. I am willing to do so for 3 reasons. First, you have brought an unique perspective to our marketing with your efforts with Anna's Parasols. And, I want that to continue, as well as the Board does. Second, you agree not to compete in our parasol market as to themes. Lastly, I love your parasol construction kit concept, and I would like to have that exclusively available to our stores other than your own venture." With that he refilled Shaymaa's flute and said "It's a deal, that is subject to the Boards approval. But that is a given and just a procedure that I must follow. Now, let's finish this bottle and you can be off to get started with all you have to do. Kindly, keep me of any issues that come about, including a location for your store. I DO KNOW the right people and can assist you with that if necessary. By the way, what is the name of your store? "Well, my current thought is 'Your Parasol'." "I do like that name Shaymaa, but I wish it to have some association with the environment or nature so as not to compete with our wares." "Excellent point M. Bodin, I will address your reasonable and appropriate request."
They each finished their champagne with both burping simultaneously ... and they both laughed as Shaymaa stood to depart the meeting. Shaymaa was barely touching the floor as she returned to her office to gather her things. She had plans she had to attend to for the evening with Robert. As she entered Anna's Parasol she saw Marjorie and gave her 2 thumbs up. Marjorie laughed out loud surprising her unknowing colleagues.
Shaymaa failed to reach Robert on his cell. So she left a message for him to come to her residence after 6. "I should be there, but if not then you have the key to get in. Kiss! Kiss!" She actually got to her residence at 5 and started to set up for their evening together. She knew Robert would be anxious about her meeting with M. Bodin, but she wanted to see his face when she told him the news ... and his blue eyes. And then onto dinner, she would prepare some of her favorites followed by an evening of romance as she imagined it in her mind since that morning.
Shaymaa wanted to shine that evening with Robert in several ways including with his spending the night. This included cooking an extraordinary dish, with excellent wine. As a child in Aswan located in 'Upper Egypt' (Southern Egypt) Shayma had be schooled in Nubian cuisine, much of which had blended with Egyptian cuisine in the last 2 decades. So for that evening, she decided to make an extraordinary French stew of veal surrounded by root vegetables in a cream base accented with fine herbs, Blanquette De Veau. All the ingredients that were required were available in the Gourmet Market of Galleries Lafayette. At 4:30 she left her office with her purchase from Fauchons that afternoon and went down to the Gourmet Market where she purchased all that she needed for the evening, including 2 bottles of Bourgogne Blanc that they had enjoyed at Willi's Wine Bar. previously Arriving at her residence, she immediately started the Blanquette de Veau using a recipe that she had pulled off the Internet. It required 2 1/2 hours of preparation and cooking. With the dish started, she chilled the wine and set the table, except for her purchase at Fauchons that afternoon. It was only 5:45 which gave her time to shower with the olive oil soap, and then dress in a very loose cotton blouse and satin slacks that clung to her waist.
Robert arrived at 6:10 knocking first on the door and then using his key to enter as Shaymaa was stepping out of her bedroom. Through his normal channels in the store, he already knew of her success with M. Bodin, but decided to wait for her announcement to him. When she saw him entering the door, she dropped hair brush that she was using to straighten her wet hair. and rushed to gather him into her arms. He retuned her embrace kissing first her forehead and then tilting her face up to kiss her lips. They held onto each other for an infinite, several minutes as Shaymaa broke into tears. Robert pushed her back slightly looking into her eyes, and then kissed the tears on both of her cheeks. "Why the tears?" She responded placing her face into his left shoulder. "I am so very, very happy with you being here to celebrate my day with M. Bodin." He again raised her face to look at her. "Yes, I heard. I am so very proud of you." She leaned into him kissing him powerfully as she held him against her. "Oh! So you know. I should have guessed given your connections in the store." She smiled. "But what you don't know Monsieur is what I have planned for tonight." He started to speak. "NO! Robert don't guess. I have to be some mystery to you, Smartypants." "OK, Mademoiselle. But, I do guess that the next steps are a fine bottle of Bourgogne Blanc and some kind of delicious meal. Is that veal I smell? "You think you know me so well. ...But you are correct." The bottle is in the frig. But first, I wish YOU to take a shower with our endearing olive oil soap, and put on some shorts and shirts that I took from your suitcase in Nice." "You Devil! So that is what happened to them. Give me 10 minutes, and I will be out to enjoy the wine and toast to your success." As he headed to the bathroom he turned back and said: "Shaymaa, you continue to be amazing to me." She winked and thought to herself that he hasn't experienced the best yet.
She first went to her attaché to obtain her Fauchon purchase and place it in the center of the table setting. With that done, she opened the oven to test the doneness of the Blanquette de Veau with a fork. Of course it had at least another 60 minutes or so, but she was becoming increasingly anxious about the evening as to it being what she wanted with Robert. She was now clear in her mind that she was beyond the flirting stage and wanted to get serious, but to what degree? Robert appeared in his shorts and T-shirt that emphasized his male body, modest yes, but very handsome for her. She directed him towards the couch as she handed him a glass of wine. "To you Shaymaa and your success today. You greatly deserve that. Again, I am so proud of you." They clicked glasses and sat on the couch, but not close together. Shaymaa wanted to maintain some distance as she discussed her next points with him. "Robert, this has been an amazing day for me. I wish it to continue so. You had asked me to marry you, and I was not ready then for that. I am now prepared to reconsider your proposal, that is if your are still so interested.", she said smiling tilting her head shyly in a polyannaish fashion. Robert stood: "You say that you are 'PREPARED'. I require more commitment than that my Cherie." "Really Robert? You are playing hard to get here?" His response was cocky in a humorous fashion: "You bet Darling. It's your turn to take the chance." he said with a smirk and winking. Shaymaa feigning a pout hesitated and then said: "Robert, will you marry me?" Robert turned his head to the side and then back to face her, He placed both of his hands on her face: "Of Course!, my LOVE. I will cherish having you as my wife." With that said, he stood and pulled Shaymaa up to him. "We are an extraordinary couple, because each of us is fully independent in our own lives, but so much more when together."
After an elongated embrace Robert asked: "So! What's for dinner LOVE? I am guessing Blanquette de Veau based upon the aroma from the kitchen" "Yes WOW, you have figured it out again. How am I going to deal with such an intuitive man for the rest of my life?" As she headed to the kitchen to check the oven, he said "Shaymaa, you and I have the ability to address ALL issues as long we are honest with each other, and we maintain a healthy physical relationship. I can tell you that the physical relationship may change in fashion as we get much older, but not in desire. We will make the necessary changes together. That is my promise to you .... and to us." She bowed approvingly and headed into the kitchen not sure what the point of changing 'physical relationship" was referring to. Robert already had some experience in such a situation.
She was in the kitchen for a half-hour completing the cooking. Robert, in turn, consumed several glasses of Bourgogne Blanc leaving Shaymaa alone to her responsibilities. He knew better than to interfere with her concentrated efforts to bring the meal together. He was looking through her CDs for dinner background. He saw a Bob Seger album that he greatly enjoyed with one song in particular that he was thinking of playing much later in the evening. For Dinner, however he inserted an B-tribe CD with calming acoustic guitar and occasional vocals.
Shaymaa said loudly from the kitchen for him to come and get his prepared plate. He did so while she opened the second bottle of Bourgogne Blanc and brought her plate and the wine to the table. It was then that he noticed the 'heart' of chocolates. He said cooly, "Is this the dessert for this fine dinner?" NOT hardly, Cherie. Dessert is a bit later." as she winked. She paused looking directly into his eyes. "WOW, we are now engaged." As they clicked their glasses together, she said: "I am so in love with you. It took me awhile to accept that I was capable of being that with anyone. BUT, you have made that possible. You are truly my WOW."
With the fine meal in front of them, there was little to be said at that time. Shaymaa's proclamation had set up what was to follow dinner. That is, after returning to the couch with each having a glass of Chartreuse avec glacons. With a light, calming conversation about their future together, Shaymaa reached to obtain his empty glass from him. She stood and pulled up Robert with both hands. "You DO want dessert, correct?" "Oui" She guided him to the bedroom. She directed him to sit on the side of the bed. She was in control. Robert readily accepted her guidance. Having not so done so since being a young female, she began a provocative dance that emphasized the movement of her hips with her arms above her. At first, she creatively removed her blouse and then released the buttons on her slacks for them to slide to the floor. As with her usual no wearing of undergarments, her striking body of mahogany was not a sexual attraction, per sé, but rather a sensual one. He said northing but simply moved to the top of bed. Indeed, she was in control, and she managed his undressing first and then sliding in next to him with caresses focusing on his legs, thighs, and chest. He then turned to face her and brought his arms around her lifting her under him while kissing her left neck line with her scent so soothing to him. No words were being spoken as each aggressivley responded to the other's caresses and desires.
It was nearly Midnight when they were awakening from their slumber following their intensive lovemaking. Robert, being the charming guy he was, turned to face her from their spooning position. "So! What's for dessert Shaymaa?" She sat up abruptly and smacked his bum. "Really? Maybe you are not as intuitive as I thought you were." They both laughed and Shaymaa started:"Last one to the shower does the dishes." They showered together, and Robert got out first to dry and then headed to the kitchen for two flutes of Perrier Joulet that he had brought with him. She then joined him at the table by the sliding glass doors. They toasted their love and their forthcoming life together as Man & Wife. Robert reached behind him to que on the CD the Bob Seger song that he had found earlier.
"Last night I saw you walking
Past my bed late at night
And the moon shone Through your gown
Such a fine memory
I think I'm gonna take it with me
And later as you were sleeping
Sleeping next to me
I felt your hair on my skin
Such a fine memory
I know I'm gonna take it with me
I'm going to take it
Far as I go
37. A Need to Compromise
It was nearly 1:30 AM when they finished the bottle of Perrier Joulet. Shaymaa had placed her flute on the table and slid into Robert's lap. Robert waited several minutes so as not to disturb her until she was asleep. He then placed his flute on the table and gently lifted Shaymaa and carried her to the bed without her waking totally. He removed her robe and placed her on her right side so as he could spoon her. He was amazed by the soft reflection of the table lamp on the mahogany skin of this woman that had proposed and was to be his wife. It had already been a long evening, and he held back his urges. Within minutes, they were both fast asleep.
Neither of them stirred until 9 in the morning. The first to do so was Shaymaa as she naturally pulled away from the unexpected presence of Robert's arms encompassing her. Instantly, she was aware of the previous evening events. She had proposed to Robert, and he had accepted. The realization of her making such a commitment was amazing to her. She had taken the first step. She started to turn from his embrace, and then back as his arms automatically held her to him. "Oh my God!, what have I done?" she stated quietly. Robert was just awakening, and her comment did not register immediately. He stirred and turned to face her. He placed his left hand on her far shoulder and gently pulled her in to kiss her forehead. "Good morning Precious, rather my Fianceé. I am correct, am I not? You did propose, and I did accept." "YES! Wow! We are now each other's other." she said with a broad smile. Robert suddenly sat up with a burst of "Amazing!", and then he turned to bring him over on top of her to embrace and kiss her lips softly but passionately. She responded accordingly with her arms tightly around him. Neither of them had anything to say for several minutes as the reality of their engagement settled into each of their minds.
Robert broke the silence. "I didn't mention it to you yesterday, but today may be an important day at the store for me. I will give you the possibly-exciting news later today. However, I have to leave now to return to my apartment for a change of clothes and some work papers." He smiled and continued, "The next time you plan to propose to me, then please let me know, and I will take the next day off." Again, Shaymaa smacked his bum, a bit sharper this time. "Get out of here Monsieur Wow. I will call you around Noon to get this engagement properly rolling. I am thinking of an appropriate plat at Brasserie Froderer, and we can start to make sense of this wonderful thing to which you and I have committed." With that Robert went to the bathroom to shower quickly, dress, and depart, having first returned to the bed to embrace and kiss Shaymaa. She was in no hurry to get to the store. She lay there thinking about a number of items that they would need to put in place for their marriage.
A little after Noon, Shaymaa called Robert's office from her office. "Bon Jour! Shaymaa. This is Julie, Robert's assistant. He told me to tell you that he would be down to your office as soon as his meeting with Monsieur Bodin is finished." "Hmmmm" Shaymaa said out loud after completing the call. What could M. Bodin want to talk to Robert about that would be 'exciting' according to Robert's comment that morning? At 12:20 Robert entered Shaymaa's office. She couldn't 'read' the expression on his face. Clearly, it was not what she expected from her now Fiancée. Robert was a bit subdued as he gently hugged Shaymaa followed by a kiss on both cheeks. Really? she thought. Just la bise? "Hello Shaymaa. I'm hungry, and I look forward to our lunch today. There is much to talk about. That is, there is much more than I knew when I left you this morning." Shaymaa, being the aggressive, straightforward woman that she is, held onto Robert's left arm as she gently pushed him to separate them somewhat. "Robert, is our engagement in jeopardy? You are not responding to me as I would have expected at this point after last night with your acceptance of my marriage proposal." Robert reached out to take her other hand in his. "Shaymaa, there has been a major change for me to consider at the store that I desire BOTH of us to consider. As to last night's engagement, I AM TRULY determined to be your husband. But, YOU and I TOGETHER need to consider what makes sense for us professionally and personally. That is all I wish to say right now until we leave for the Brasserie. Shaymaa let go of him and made an effort to not have Robert notice that she was trembling slightly at his point. She had made an extraordinary effort to propose to this man, he accepted, and now out of nowhere, something was awry. What the Hell could have happen?
With Shaymaa leading, they left the store at the entrance next to women's purses. This was the most direct route to the Brasserie, and she was a bit anxious to know what had occurred with M. Bodin. Normally the Metro would be the quickest, but she couldn't begin to question him on THE ISSUE surrounded by the crowd on the Metro. Once across Blvd. Haussmann, Shaymaa stopped and took Robert's hand to pull him purposely to face her. "Wow, I need to know NOW what happened with Monsieur Bodin this morning. I am a bit scared with this sudden issue, whatever it is." Robert paused before responding as he brought her totally into his arms and then stepped back to look directly into her eyes. He noticed a tear in each. He leaned in and kissed each tear, and spoke softly at first. "Shaymaa, Monsieur Bodin offered me the GM position for the Nice store, which is 2nd only to the Paris story for revenue. Making this move should position me as a natural successor to Monsieur Bodin when he retires in a year. That is traditionally how the owners of Galleries Lafayette manage the top officers." Shaymaa was stunned as to both the magnificence of the offer as well as what that may mean as to their relationship given the likely physical separation of some sort. Robert was sure of what was going through her mind. He waited for her first response before continuing. "Robert, that is so amazing for you." He quickly responded: "Shaymaa, I want it to be amazing for both of us. .... pause .... I have a week to accept. And, if I accept, I have 4 months before I would assume the position." He continued quickly: "So!, before you ask, I have a plan that I believes satisfies both your professional desires as well as our being married." With a broad smile as he tilted his head slightly, he said sheepishly, "Would you like to hear my plan? .... and/or perhaps, knowing you, you may wish to develop your own plan." "Robert, I clearly want to hear your plan first. I trust your sincerity in accepting my proposal, and I truly trust your judgment, especially as to the workings of the store."
As they turned to continue down the Blvd., Shaymaa shouted out "Amazing. Déjeuner is on me. We will make this amazing opportunity work for us." However, she was already listing in her mind some previously unforeseen challenges to be considered by them for discussion at a later time. To divert her mind from further such thoughts at that point, she reflected on their intimacy the night before and held his hand even more tightly. He could sense her uneasiness.
Upon their arrival at the Brasserie, they were seated under one of the windows. "Robert, not knowing of this opportunity for you, I had already pre-ordered our meal off a special menu. When the waiter arrived, she informed him of the special order and requested a bottle of Trimbach Pinot Gris -"An Alsatian wine with an Alsatian meal." Shaymaa decided not to address the elephant in the room (holding a parasol), and started reflecting on their trip to Nice several weeks earlier. They both rememored several particulars of the Galleries Lafayette there, and their observations then as to how to better arrange the store.
They were nearly finished with the bottle of wine when the waiter returned with the dish she had ordered: Cuisse de Lapin à la Moutarde à l’Ancienne. The presentation was perfect with Robert stating: "Bunnies! Really? What are you thinking about?" He winked with a broad smile. She blushed and ordered a second bottle of wine.
38. The 'No Plan' Plan
They proceeded with their meals talking about the delights of Nice. She was careful not to mention her desire about remaining in Paris with her developing business venture. He said that he had a plan that would work for both of them, and she was waiting for him to present it. Her left leg was twitching under the table, and she shifted in her chair to stop it. Robert noticed that she was picking at her lapin and drinking her wine more aggressively. Suddenly, he sat back in his chair placing his fork on the plate. He reached across the table and took her free hand in his. "Shaymaa, I expect you would like to talk NOW about my plan." As she placed down her fork and staring at her plate, she responded "Yes, Robert. To be candid here, I am a bit scared at the moment about the possibility of a plan that will work well for both of us if I am in Paris and you are in Nice." "I understand Shaymaa. To be truthful, my plan is not perfect for the short term. But, I believe we love each other and are independently strong enough to endure some complexities until M. Bodin retires, and I am brought back in a year or so as COO." Shaymaa sat back in her chair looking directly into his eyes and taking his other hand in hers. "I am ready my Wow for your thoughts .... and YES!, I believe we love each other, and are independently strong enough to endure a lot in the short term for the long term relationship that we each desire."
The second bottle of wine was nearly completed, and the waiter came by to see if they needed anything else at that time. Noticing that they were not yet finished with their entree, but not eating, he asked if he should remove the plates. Shaymaa took the lead, "No! Monsieur we are not finished with the food nor with our life together." She said this with a broad smile looking directly only at Robert. The waiter departed somewhat confused as to the response. Still holding both of his hands in hers, she continued: "Robert. Permit me please to bring yours and mine concerns to a finish at this point. I Love you dearly and know that you would not expect me to leave either my position with Galleries Lafayette or my business venture so as to be exclusively in Nice with you." Robert nodded. agreement. She continued: "Therefore, we need NO plan. We will work with the issues as they occur. You know my strength, and I know yours. My mind is now at ease about us." "So is mine Shaymaa. GOD! how much I adore and LOVE you."
They proceeded to finish their meal. Robert indicated to the waiter to bring more baguette slices to dip into the sauce. Shaymaa adored this part of his personality that stepped beyond the boundaries French haute cuisine and got down to the essence of the meal to enjoy it to the utmost. Robert humorously excused himself as he dipped his bread into her plate as well stating that this was proper in New Orleans where he had traveled a number of times. "Really! Monsieur. I was just ready to do that for myself." They both laughed and finished their meal and the wine. Shaymaa requested and paid la addition.
Shaymaa started to stand to leave the restaurant. Robert reached out and held her hand asking her to remain seated. "Shaymaa, there is one more thing I wish to discuss with you." She tightened in her chest. 'What now?' she thought'. Robert continued: "When and how should we announce our engagement?" She relaxed. "Now that you asked the question, I should inform you of Nubian wedding traditions. First of all, Nubian women rarely marry outside of their race in that they are conditioned to only trust Nubian males, .... and often it is a cousin. Second, Nubian wedding ceremonies last for 40 days. Third, the bridegroom is expected to provide gifts, especially garments, to the bride, her sisters, and her mother. So! Robert, do any of those points interest you.?" she said with a grin. Before he could respond, she continued: "Robert, not to worry. I have been Euopeanized, so to speak. We have not talked about our individual religious beliefs so far. But, I have no strong loyality as to my religious upbringing. But, I am somewhat appalled at the practices of the Catholic Church." "No problem there Shaymaa. My family has always been low-order Episcopalians. Now as to our 12 children, I will wish them to be raised in a fashion that is in accordance with the teahings of Abraham's God., whether that be Christainity, Islam, or Judism." "Whoa! Robert. Surely not 12! I suggest 3 at most". "Agreed!, of course. Just teasing you." Robert stood reaching out to assist Shaymaa in standing. "We will discuss our engagement announcement this evening over a special dinner I wish to introduce you to. The restaurant is very near the Panthenon and offers amazing vegetarian plats." With his arms embracing her, he kissed her tenderly. "Back to the store for the two of us." They left the restaurant hand-in-hand.
39: The Announcement
Robert and Shaymaa had agreed to work until at least 6 given that they had taken an extended lunch. It was understood that Robert would come to her office, and then they would go directly to dinner without going back to either apartment. At 6:15 he arrived at her office with a package that he carried at his side. She made no inquiry as to the package expecting it was something to do with their conversation over dinner regarding how to announce their engagement. Robert enjoyed having surprises for her. With an endearing hug and la biss (in case her employees were watching), he started with "We need to take a taxi to the restaurant I have planned for the evening. The metro connections are too involved and crowded at this time. And, they are not quite close enough to where we are going." She took his arm as they exited the store to the taxi stand across Blvd. Haussmann. As they entered the taxi he told the driver "La Table de Colette près du Panthénon" The driver responded with a snappy "Oui! Monsieur". Given that destination, the driver figured there would be a handsome tip. He knew that this Michelin Guide restaurant was a bit expensive and very highly rated (21 out of 16,000 in Paris) . During the 20 minutes drive given traffic, they each discussed their afternoon avoiding any comments as to this evening's intended conversation. Purposely, Robert did not mention that M. Bodin had left a message in Robert's office as to a meeting between the two at 3 that afternoon.
Upon entering the restaurant, they were seated at one of the few garden tables. The waiter arrived and Robert ordered two Kir Royals. He then handed the package to the waiter asking to chill it quickly. Shaymaa glanced at Robert with a 'What's up?' expression. Robert understood her expression and explained that M. Bodin had requested that he meet with him in the afternoon at 3. "It so happens that Monsieur Bodin's assistance saw us at lunch today and had mentioned it to him. Monsieur Bodin guessed what was up, and he wished to discuss it with me directly. Soooooo, I told him of our engagement." Shaymaa initial instinct was to be upset because she wanted to discuss the announcement first that evening. But, then again, she calmed recognizing that M. Bodin had brought her into this phenomenal environment. Robert continued: "He greatly appreciates and adores you, and he doesn't want us two members of his management team to leave the store, just in case that is a possibility. Soooooooo, he offered to personally sponsor the announcement of our engagement in the store. Actually, he offered even more as to welcoming our immediate family. Your parents would be flown to Paris for the event, should you agree." Suddenly, Shaymaa became very still and turned from facing Robert. "Robert, as I mentioned to you earlier, as a Nubian woman it is expected that I marry within my community, including the possibility of a cousin. I am betraying that expectation because I know its insanity having moved away from Aswan and lived in Europe and Britain these last 8 years. I am proud of my heritage, but I am now 'europeanized' if you will. My brother Ahmed will at least tolerate us because he loves me, and he has a realistic 'worldly' perspective as well. But, that's it." She turned back to face him. "We will have to visit Aswan once we are married to gain my family's understanding and acceptance." "Shaymaa, you know best, and I am certainly willing to go there with you." pause "Maybe we could do a cruise down the Nile from Cairo for our Honeymoon. I always wanted to do that." "You are such a charmer, my Wow."
They continued to talk about the possible challenges of their marriage in her culture. But, Shaymaa was steadfast in her position as an independent woman and therefore not willing to bow to the now-inappropriate practices of her heritage. After several more discussion points, enough time had passed that Robert expected that his request for chilling the contents of the package had passed. He signaled the waiter, and within several minutes the waiter returned with the bottle of Roederer Chystal Champagne, two flutes, and a wine chiller. The waiter twisted the wire retainer the standard 5 turns, popped the cork, and poured the two flutes. No tasting was required for this most acclaimed of Champagnes.
"Tonight, Shaymaa we will enjoy the finest in Champagne and vegetarian dining. But first let us toast to this most extraordinary engagement of two people, as independent and courageous as we each are, to join in marriage. I love you deeply Shaymaa." "And I you Robert." They raised and tapped their flutes together before enjoying the Champagne. The waiter returned shortly with the menu for each. Robert started: "Shaymaa, you did a great job at lunch with the menu, and now, I am taking control." She smiled as she relaxed in her chair refilling both flutes.
The waiter returned to take their order. With that done, Robert started: "Are you OK with what took place between Monsieur Boden and me as to our engagement?" "Yes, Robert, of course. I owe so much to that gentleman. However, there still are a number of details that need to be sorted out. But, you have already expressed your understanding and appreciation of what I need to do in Aswan. So!, What do we need to do with your family given my heritage and the color of my skin?" Robert laughed as he took both of her hands in his. Smiling "Actually, my LOVE, my family needs some 'color' in the family tree. Seriously, my parents are very progressive and your heritage, your 'color', will not be an issue for them. I suggest that you and I go to their estate in Giverny this coming weekend and announce our engagement." Shaymaa nodded squeezing his hands. Robert continued to discuss his 2 younger siblings and their families who resided in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris.
The restaurant offers a choice of 3, 5 or 7 courses. Robert had chosen the 3 course selection because he desired a relatively short evening at the restaurant, especially given the extended lunch that they had. And, with the champagne added to the Kir Royals, he wanted to be with her back at her apartment for most of the evening. Not that it had been a problem in their past, but he wanted them both to be totally aware of their togetherness this evening.
Robert directed the waiter to bring both the appetizers and the plats together. Both offerings were extraordinary as to presentation, only to be exceeded by the sumptuousness of the taste. It seemed to Robert that Shaymaa was actually cooing as she enjoyed first the compote. He on the other hand was quick to try the extraordinary plat, of which only a few of the contents were identifiable by him. Each of the plats were nearly identical as to a complex design. He said out loud "Where do I start?" Shaymaa was becoming more amusing with her comments as she enjoyed her compote and plat. "Robert, that webbing, whatever, of blue matches your eyes." He responded: "Yes and the green of the compote matches yours." Shaymaa continued: "They go so well together. They were meant to be so just as you and I are meant to be together." The Champagne was kicking in.
Having finished the compotes, plats, and the Champagne, they both sat back to relax in the garden setting. The waiter returned with the dessert menu and cleared the table, the empty Champagne bottle, and the chiller. Robert started, "We have dessert to finish. What is your choice?" Shaymaa reviewed the dessert menu and pointed to the picture of the most appealing to her and then noting that she rather have it back at her apartment. Robert agreed. When the waiter returned, Robert pointed to the picture and simply said "C'est si bon, je finis à la maison" Within several minutes, the waiter returned with the la addition and 2 aluminum swans with each containing the chocolate extraordinaire. The concept of 'Gourmet Bags', aka doggy bags, is gaining increasing acceptance in Parisian restaurants - even the Michelin Guide ones.
With la addition paid, Robert requested the waiter to order a taxi. Within several minutes the waiter returned to say that the taxi had arrived. Within 15 minutes they were at Shaymaa's apartment. It had been an extraordinary day for the two. Upon entering the apartment, Shaymaa immediately went to take a shower to freshen up. Robert went to the kitchen to place the swans in the frigerator and to open a bottle of Chateauneuf-de-Pape rouge. Shaymaa returned wrapped in her favorite cushy robe with her wet hair surrounding her face. Contrary to his initial expectation, they both rested on the Chaise Lounge on her deck to enjoy the wine and to fade into each other's arms.
They were engaged, and their life together was now 'officially' underway.