Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Last Days of Paris

Paris is cold tonight. To walk through the streets requires a scarf doubled around the neck, wool gloves, boots, and a brisk walking stride. I step into the corner bistro one block from the metro entrance. It has become my neighborhood restaurant. The waiter recognizes me, and we converse in English and French.
“Ca va?”
“I am great. Et vous?”
He smiles at me. The conversation continues in English, as I have reached the end of my French vocabulary. He takes me to a corner table to write, eat, and watch. I have learned more about myself in Paris. Tonight, I realize that I am an observer. It is necessary for a writer to have a keen eye. My brown eyes study the room from the corner table. They have always watched from the corner table.
In college, I would rally my friends together for whatever mischief was in order for the night. I would put the pieces in play for my amusement and watch in the distance as the game began. I was not the player. Paris has taught me no regrets for having not played. I am proud to be the observer. For my pleasure, I have walked through the avenues and plazas contemplating the action of one of the world’s greatest cities. I have scrutinized the people, the cars, and the turning carousels. As my time in Paris draws to a close, I write my memories in hopes that my joy will last beyond my time here.
What I think about tonight as I dine alone in a bistro, is the Paris of love. I have stood in awe before the marble statues of a lover’s kiss at the Rodin museum. The white stone flesh of the life-sized monument was alive in a permanent embrace, entwined with inseparable legs and arms. I could feel the passion in the turning of the carved muscles and two hearts beating within the stone. Visitors held each other and traded kisses as they looked at Rodin’s creation. My eyes glanced from lovers Carrera to lovers real, kissing in the Parisian afternoon.
At the Pinacotheque, a small museum on the Plaza de Madeleine, I huddled in the cold for an hour to pay my respects to the Dutch visitor, Vermeer, who had traveled to Paris via the Rijks Museum. The treasure that I had waited so long to observe was The Love Letter. The young lady in a gold satin dress trimmed with ermine, puts down her lute to receive her lover’s note. To me, Vermeer is sacred, perhaps more sacred than the great gothic cathedrals that had drawn me to services each Sunday in France. I was fascinated with the lovers who gazed at Vermeer’s tiny oil painting and were moved to kiss, How appropriate to respond to the sacred with passion. The tall young man with a wispy beard who stood before the Vermeer, wrapped his arms around his girlfiriend’s waist, and drew her tightly to him. She responded by tilting her head up to kiss his mouth. I watched the two lovers embrace while the painted sweetheart waited for her love to return. Love is everywhere in Paris.
Early in the morning, I went to the Louvre to see the Venetian painting exhibition. Titian’s canvases vibrated with deep reds and soft flesh tones, dark backgrounds and glowing light. In a life-sized painting of Venus, two old men hide in the background to watch her bathe, naked and sensual. I watched her bathe as well. In another room, the painted Dianae writhed in her bed, while cupid observed her seduction. Visitors held hands and touched as they walked by one nude female after another. They looked at the paintings and kissed.
It seemed like everyone in Paris was kissing. Couples kissed on the metro. They kissed while they waited in the cold to enter the Eiffel Tower elevators, when they walked through the frozen Tuileries garden, in the circular rooms of the Orangerie, and on the sidewalk outside my apartment. Paris is the most romantic city I have seen. I am the observer. l did have a kiss; a thank you kiss for a pleasant evening of dining in a famous Parisian bistro. I shared a polite kiss, awkward and uncomfortable; a distant kiss, light and fragile; unsure if it should have been given or received at all. This is not the kiss of Paris; passionate and inseparable in embrace like the marble statues, or red and glowing like the oil of masterpieces.
The waiter has introduced himself to me. His name is Michael. The patrons at the table opposite have turned several times, smiling until they build their courage to ask if I am from the USA. They come over to compliment my computer, anything to begin a conversation. I talk to them in a southern drawl, and the portlier of the two asks for my phone number. He leaves by plane in the morning for southern France, and wonders when I will be back to visit Paris. His companion, who I am told is wealthy, laughs. His English is not as good. Michael watches. He is an observer too.
Michael watches all his patrons. He knows their eyes, their expressions, the way they walk. I tell him that I am an observer as well. He reads a story from my lap top and serves me anther glass of wine. He smiles each time that he passes and lingers between customers to discuss Obama, Paris, and love. He tells me that I am sexy, not old, and we both watch each other. I turn off my laptop to pay my bill, finish my second glass of wine, and wonder if tonight, peut-etra, if my French will improve, and two observes will stop observing.

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