I arrived in the late afternoon on a Monday at the Richepanse and told the desk clerk to expect a female companion later that evening.
The room was on the third floor, opposite the two-person elevator and just under the roof. It was an ordinary room but clean: a double bed, a wardrobe, and a small bathroom with a shower. The view was of garment-cutting lofts across the noisy street.
Expectant, edgy, needing to stretch my legs after the flight, I went into the night to explore the city I hadn't seen for years. I was not certain that D would arrive that evening -- there was a chance she could not make the connections -- and after waiting until 7:00, I decided on a brisk walk in the cool air.
I was surprised that I had remembered the central city plan, the boulevards, bridges across the Seine, the plane trees; even obscure restaurants seemed as familiar to me as they had a decade or more ago. At Deux Magots, sipping café noir at a sidewalk table, I was riveted by a trio of handsome Germans -- two young women and a man -- dressed in evening garments in the Weimar style; boisterous, giddy, on display, knocking over a tiny table of drinks and Gauloise.
On the sidewalk, young street performers earnestly did their gigs: a hollow-eyed French fakir, his long beard matted in plaits, bowed with a grand flourish before he lay bare-chested on crushed wine bottle glass, his friends, all four, adding their weights to his body. Not far away, on St. Germain, a pickup Dixieland band played American standards with brio. I gave the tub-thumping washboard specialist two francs and requested "Sweet Sue" in order to hear a tuba solo, and the tuba player beamed with appreciation. He played so well I could have remained there the evening, but 9:30 was approaching and I missed D achingly.
She was in the foyer of the Richepanse, drinking Alsatian beer. Her face was drawn, her smile apologetic. She had arrived later than expected, and the clerk refused her access to the room because our surnames differed. We kissed, held hands and finished her beer together, and the clerk understood that we were lovers.
As she unpacked, D recounted her trip; she seemed ill at ease, anxious. We both were. In all the time I had known her, I had never seen her wear a nightgown to bed. For this trip she had bought a lovely beige gown, low cut and loosely fitted, as she had lost weight around her shoulders since I last saw her.
We kissed, long searching kisses, kisses that explored each other's mouths. Often we had remarked that younger lovers too quickly glossed over kissing for fucking. Kissing is an art, an exquisite overture that we mastered and relished and lingered over lovingly. I put my tongue into the corner of her eyes. Her gown was soon neatly folded near the wardrobe.
I took her breasts, each almost in its entirety, into my mouth. Her nipples were long and brown-to-purple. They swelled and flattened; she sighed but was not comfortable. I kissed her thighs and put my mouth and tongue in the center of her split. She, in turn, caressed my penis, kissed and took it in her mouth.
We fucked and I was so full of pleasure I ached. But she could not come, the novelty and tension of this meeting that we thought never possible working against our consummation. Though played out, I knew she had to come, and so I kissed her vagina, tasting, for the first time, my own sperm. She shuddered joyously, and we slept in each other's arms.
We awoke later that night at about 3 a.m. and we made love again, and again in the morning before we phoned for our breakfast. Eating the food -- croissants, bread, butter, jam and bowls of satisfying coffee -- was a continuation of eating each another. We took great pleasure in our tastes and smells, as lovers do.
We showered together, alternately soaping our bodies and kissing. D used to chastise me for showering after making love. I was showing a sense of guilt, she would say. Perhaps she was right, though more often my acute sense of smell told me we were overwhelmingly perfumed in our lovers' juices and the sweat of love exertion. Once, at a business meeting, I could both taste and smell her; our bodies had interpenetrated themselves to the very cells.
While D was in the bathroom, I opened the tall casement windows to a rain-threatening sky. I had cleaned out my airline bag, shaking the dust and bits of paper out the window. Minutes later, I again looked out the window and saw a role of U.S. currency on the sill. I had folded up whatever American money I had, tucked it at the bottom of the bag and accidentally tossed it out the window. That I was able to retrieve every dollar, though the wind gusted from time to time, I took to be a good sign.
Dressed for rain, we walked arm-in-arm along the Seine, no direction in mind: toward the Pompidou at Beaubourg, the new museum on the site of Les Halles. The structure emerged, erector-set like, from a depressed square, all blue tubes and plastic-encased escalators strangling the inner spaces -- the hold of a ship exploded. But it was closed that day. Jugglers and sidewalk artists attracted onlookers to their displays, the only activity in the area.
Vaguely disappointed, we walked through the Marais, one of the oldest sections of the city, which I'd not previously visited, and we looked at the outdoor greengrocers and seafood stalls. At one of the stalls, a Portuguese immigrant described the variety among the oysters on a bed of ice. Belons, he said, were the most prized, though French fishermen claim that the oysters hadn't originated in the Atlantic; instead, foreign interests were importing Belons from elsewhere and damaging the local industry.
To get out of the rain and because we were famished, we went into a restaurant, one with the sort of glass-enclosed entrance that might be converted to outdoor use in summer. I had an omelet and salad, and D tried something more daring. We drank a bottle of vin ordinaire.
Late in the afternoon, exhausted from walking, we returned to the hotel and made love. My penis was tender from the marathon lovemaking of the night before, but we managed, beautifully. That evening we went to the Latin Quarter via the Pont St. Michel. The skies were drained and the air chilly, but not so chilly that our walk was unpleasant. On St. Germain, which was crowded with young people, we pointed out the brasseries we had patronized independently.
With no reservations made, we hoped to find a decent restaurant. Near the river, in a street running parallel to the bank, D remembered a restaurant she'd eaten in with her husband. The thought of him soured her more than me but I urged her to find the bistro. It (like her former lover, I wished) was gone. Of course, only the restaurant was gone. In its stead we found another, featuring country-style cooking, with cassoulets and rough wines. We lingered over the meal and then went to bed for more lovemaking.
D had never visited Chartres. After inquiring about the train schedules and following a delicious breakfast the next day, we took a train from one of the southern stations -- Montparnasse. We had barely boarded the train when it took off: as usual I had cut the time slices too thin. Clearly, we appeared to all as lovers, D grasping my arm and kissing me. We were full of delight at the prospect of our outing.
The train quietly slipped through soft green farmers' fields, light low on the land, gray-blue skies moving swiftly above. It would rain again, I thought. D looked fresh and pink and her eyes sparkled. She was not beautiful, she was lovely. Her teeth gleamed as she smiled and told me about childhood outings.
Suddenly, among a line of trees in the middle distance, Versailles rose like an apparition. It had seemed too formal, too cold, when I first walked its great halls. But now, at a distance, it was stately and shining.
D and I love to eat. Our first order of business was to find a suitable restaurant in the town of Chartres, the cathedral's magnificence be damned or at least deferred. The obvious tourist attraction was a large restaurant in the town square, but it lacked intimacy and displayed ordinary menus.
We walked through the town streets arm-in-arm, approaching the half-hidden cathedral, withholding its dazzling sight until we had eaten. I remembered a tiny restaurant on the second floor of a centuries-old house, and we found it, a block or so away from the church. The menu, posted in the window, was agreeable and we went in.
At lunch a remarkable thing happened. A sadness came across D's face, and I reacted badly, saying something cruel or stupid, not intentional, but hurtful nonetheless. I cannot remember what it was, but it struck D and she sobbed quietly during her meal. Tears rolled down her face, and I wanted to lap them away. I wanted to comfort her publicly in that public place.
Her emotion subsided, we finished our meal and went to the cathedral. D was truly astonished. She cherished direct experience and refused to read about Chartres in guidebooks. The role of a tourist repels her, but she loves art and architecture and the beauty man can make. Though it'd been a long time since I'd last visited Chartres, I acted as her guide, deciphering, as best I could, the biblical scenes portrayed over the church's portals.
In the pews we sat awed, as much by the building as our being there. And on the narrow parapets ringing the church's copper roof, we walked in the drizzle. The slate gray sky broke to let the sun in, and we were happy again.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Our lovemaking at the Richepanse was tender and seemingly endless. There was no part of ourselves we did not kiss. My penis, fatigued and sore the first day, was fresh again. She cried out in climax as she does at the best of times. A color comes to her cheeks in lovemaking. Her eyes widen and sparkle, even as I, spent, fall into thick post-coital sleep. She smiles frequently then, a pink gummy smile; in those moments, she is an alluring open blossom.
It would be inaccurate to say she is at her most essential when she is sexed, but undeniably she becomes special to me. I do not idealize her; I know the backs of her knees, her axilla, a dark corner or two in her mind. She is real, real for me.
How many times did we make love that day? I can't remember.
We searched the Michelin for a restaurant of reputation that would accept a late invitation, and settled on Boule d' Or near the Eiffel. The Metro delivered us near the Seine and not anywhere, it appeared, near the restaurant; we were late.
We phoned to tell of our delay and the owner, a comely woman, was grateful. Boule d' Or specializes in seafood and wears two stars. There is a theory that two-stars perform with more imagination and zeal, essaying for the third star. Boule d' Or lent much credence to the theory: the food was delightful, our most elegant meal by far.
By midnight a chill overtook us and we caught a cab to the hotel. The elevator was not running, so we spiraled up the etages, holding each other closely. Did we again fuck? I think so. She fell asleep naked, her head on my chest, my arm curled around her. In the night, I awakened to find her grafted to me. I feared to move, lest I wake her, and studied her face and form.
What was it that so attracted me to her? It really wasn't the physicality of the relationship, though neither of us would deny that strong force. It was, I decided, her spirit, her enthusiasms, even -- maybe even especially -- when we disagreed. She could realize her enthusiasms, which often were of the senses, and make them palpable to anyone with an iota of sensibility. Oddly, I thought, she doesn't recognize her powers. Nor would she exploit them if she did. They were simply there, like magnetic lines of force, orienting this metal sliver to her poles.
We were determined, after rising late, to see the Pompidou. The public space framing the museum was a colorful scene, a throwback to a medieval bazaar. Fire-eaters, cripples, milling students, chalk artists, and pamphleteers filled the streets. The museum confuses at first, with its tubes and conveyers. In truth, it is less a distinctive structure than an industrial conceit, a mill or a plant run wild and glossy.
But the permanent collection and the main exhibit were sound and quite arresting. Art during the Nazi occupation is seldom mentioned in the U.S., perhaps because the notion of an enemy occupation is alien to us. The massive building proved foot wearying, retiring us early to another round of love. The casement window cracked for air, the drapes barely drawn, and workers across the street buzzing, she sat astride me at the window and rode into ecstasy.
D suggested but dismissed in the same breath an evening at La Coupole. It was touristy and crowded, and the food was nothing; she'd been there before. Yet, I might like it, she added. Oddly, I'd never been there in previous visits, though I knew of it. The La Coupole of 2,000 meals a day, of Hemingway and Dali, of Josephine Baker, half-naked with a leopard tugging at a leash.
D put on a raincoat and I, the one jacket I had, of herringbone wool, and we went to the Boulevard Montparnasse. The size of three or four basketball courts, La Coupole was a refreshing roar -- fin de siècle pillars, oak and glass, and hundreds of animated diners, despite the late hour.
We were directed to the bar, D, as usual, dealing with the waiters and captains; competent, sure, a delight. We were seated, finally, abreast a comic pick-up scene: two or three women, their best years behind them, guarding, but hardly, their virtue against a motley assortment of males. They would be interesting on a bleak day perhaps, but were only amusing now.
We ate oysters and drank wine, and I ran the bill through the failing abacus of my mind, my funds, at least my francs, now low. The thought crossed my mind that the visit was at an end, but I expunged it, and I allowed myself to flow, to concentrate my being on D, and the night, and La Coupole. Afterward, we walked and had coffee at an outdoor café, the hour drawing late.
At length, we returned to another night of bliss, exhausted, yet focused on the moment. I can't really recall the night, the lovemaking. But I do recall her: her curls kinky, thick; her face, a diamond, perhaps a bit too drawn; her shoulders, angular. There was a pimple on her sternum. She peed, I listened to the wind chimes.
Arms around my neck, she came to me in all ways. I could smell the hay scent of her underarms. Nothing about us was self-conscious. We were free and free-floating, cytoplasm without walls. There were no barriers between us, except the ones we made ourselves.
Up late the next morning, we packed, ate, showered and dressed slowly, attenuating the time we had together. When the hour to depart was upon us, we rushed frantically to get to De Gaulle. There was no reason for our tardiness except the need within that wanted to stop time. The cab ride seemed endless, our siphoning up the tubes of De Gaulle confusing, but we arrived in time. We clutched, we kissed, we laughed, we departed, and I flew away, lost in an afterglow.