Friday, February 2, 2007

Paris Education

Paris obsessed. I know, I know. I’ve been accused many times. The decadent, delightful, tasteful and luxurious mesmerize me. The men bewitch me. Remember this?
“You have a princess neck,” he says, trying to roll his tongue around the “r’s,” soften them up to suit my American ear.
“I do?” I demur, trying for a moment to be the good girl of years past. At present, I’m very busy being maudlin and analyzing my big city life across the pond.
“One meant for a string of diamonds. Pearls on Sundays.” A slow sip of the Calvados and he continues staring.
It is some weeknight in October and I am stroking the blonde hairs on my neck and the old, tanned Frenchman next to me is thankful for the breeze off the Seine and his Cubano cigar and the forgiving light cast by “Flore’s” awning. The golden hue takes ten years off and he knows it. Without a pause, he asks me to write my phone number on his crisp, linen kerchief.
“Ahh, but you won’t answer your phone,” he says, suddenly coy.
“Of course I will.”
The Frenchman and I continue exchanging lies.
Why not? Joan Didion told me that, “I could stay up all night and make mistakes and none of it would count.”
I just can’t seem to stop the Gallic dreaming. A momentary, budget-minded reprieve: The “Americans in Paris, 1860-1900” exhibit at the Metropolitan. I needed to be indulged for the price of an entrance fee. I needed to keep my old flame alive when the January days seem as quick and as cold as the end of my 20’s. I needed the fantasy before babies, marriage and all that wonderful domestic nonsense comes into my life.
I wore comfortable shoes and a “museum dress”—a black wool turtlenecked thing that can be terribly sexy or card catalogue frumpy. Depends on who you ask. Paris seemed to like it. He looked down at me from the wall, framed in gold and filigree, and asked when I was coming, how I would paint him. In a dream of concentration, I looked to the ceiling and read,
The general effect of Paris, taken through an artist’s eye, and into an artist’s brain, is to educate that eye and brain as our American life cannot.
–Chris Pearce Cranch, 1853 
Be patient, I’m coming.

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