[ HERE IS A MAP OF BARCELONA - wouldn't import correctly ]
Their first date.
Guy pushed up his wire-rimmed glasses and cleared his throat, sitting on the corduroy couch – now clean – while Nanette filled a cup with water for the pansies he’d brought.
At this point, she thought, we can always go back.
“To mark our first date, I thought we would explore the city. I’ve brought a map – for Barcelona.”
She thought his voice sounded a little forced.
“You are so beautiful,” he said.
“Thank you. Maps for Barcelona?” she asked, walking by him, placing the cup on the nautical endtable. He looks taller in this light, she thought, but still not tall enough. I am a giant.
Being tall played very well in the scene, but not as well outside.
“You’ll see as we go.” He unwrapped his thin, checkered black scarf. Guy, like nearly every Parisian, she noticed, swaddled his neck in a scarf at the first sign of chill.
“A delightful thing,” she said, “the scarf. Every head looks better standing on one.”
She grabbed her light yellow raincoat from the couch and they left. Guy held Nanette’s elbow on the walk down the apartment’s metal stairs, their shoes clanging.
He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose again, meeting her eyes casually, confidently.
Nanette adjusted her collar, tipped her head, and blinked her long-lashes into the sun. In her mind she wondered about these steps she was taking, if they were bringing her closer to who she wanted to be or further away – or perhaps things just weren’t that simple.
Once outside, Guy pointed to a hand-drawn star on the map. “D’accord.We’re here. And we want to go-” he paused before choosing a random spot “-here. We need to turn left.”
And so they did.
She let him lead, falling easily into the stance of a traditional couple – her in public. There was something so charming in the amount of care he took to leading her, carefully avoiding the path of dogs and loud talkers.
“I’m trying to go places I don’t normally go.”
She wondered if that was to see new sites with her, or to avoid his wife and friends.
The sun was hidden behind a film of playful clouds so that it looked like a light bulb wrapped in cotton. Fast breezes twisted around them, carrying the sound of car horns.
It was risky taking this thing, this precious thing, out into the sunlight.
“I needed you in the Dungeon. I needed you to be there for me when I had so many things troubling me,” he spoke carefully. “Now that I feel a little less broken by the aftermath of the revolution, now I want to come back to life and see what I can do with reality, but I don’t want to lose her.”
“And that sums up why I don’t want to lose you,” he smiled.
“We’re using the wrong map.”
Guy stopped and fixed his eyes on Nanette intensely – the same intensity that burned him into the memory of every person he would ever meet. “Yes, we are,” he cleared his throat “We want to lose grasp of the city’s guidance system. We want to re-discover the city on our terms. This is something Asper Jorn and I did over ten years ago. Detournement. Diversions, rerouting, misappropriating. I feel the need lately to reconnect with my city on my terms, and I want to share this with you.”
“Why are you feeling … separate?” she asked, thinking: Disconnected, what’s the French word for disconnected? Have I lost him?
“Les Halles,” he answered, after a moment’s hesitation. “They’re moving Les Halles – the food market in the center of Paris, to the outskirts of the city! It is the rotting vegetables, the rats, and the traffic congestion. What it created was not the way Paris wants itself seen. Not now, not this newParis.
“It is the beginning of the end,” he continued, walking into the wind again. “Shifting Les Halles out from the center of Paris represents, quite literally, the loss of our heart. The loss of that which nourishes us. Between the increase in the cost of living and the movement of our beloved market, the bohemian battle against the bourgeois is being lost.”
“But it will smell so much nicer-”
“It is not about fragrance! Mon Dieu!”
By way of an apology, Nanette laid her gloved hand in the crook of his arm, hunching over and unconsciously adapting to his smaller stature. He looked ahead with his sharp, black eyes.
She shook her head then breathed deeply, determined to leave that moment – the moment he dared to speak to her that way (and so soon!) – and all it meant behind and soak in her first fall in Paris. Better to look around and look ahead than stay in the moment when everything changed.
People were wrapped up loosely against the mild chill, still eating bread and cheese on benches in front of manicured lawns – lawns too beautiful to sit on, blowing smoke to the sky. V-neck sweaters. Leather jackets. Scarves. Fluffy, white dogs – everywhere dogs.
She wondered what he was thinking. Then angry at herself for becoming typical.
Silently, they passed by some tourists picking through piles of canvases from local artists. Oil, charcoal, pastel, pencil, a landscape of Paris done in paper money. On the side of one of the buildings was scrawled: Pas de replâtrage, la structure est pourrie(No replastering, the structure is rotten – he translated)and Dans une société qui a aboli toute aventure, la seule aventure qui reste est celle d‘abolir la société (In a society that has abolished every kind of adventure the only adventure that remains is to abolish the society).
“I wish I had been here during the Riots,” she said.
Guy nodded his head, laying his hand on top of hers – now out of their scene, fully. Back in the thick of the crowds. “Before the strikes – despite a tripling of foreign trade – many of France’s workers earned less than five hundred francs a month! And half a million unemployed!
“We had three times as many students in 1968 than in 1962, but only twiceas much money. We are a rich country. A rich country not paying its workers or caring for its students. There had been little warnings in 1967, but no one listened.
“So,” he shrugged his shoulders aggressively, “on March 22, eight students broke into the dean’s office to protest the arrest of some people from the National Vietnam Committee and within days it blossomed to include a dozen other, inter-related agendas. It was a moment like no other.
“From March to May there were over eighty cases of workers actions taken at the Renault plant alone – a plant which would join over 120 thousand other factories a few weeks later in striking! As Alain Touraine said, ‘The French did not interest their leaders.’ And the French fought back.” He was lost in his memories.
“What happened to the eight students?” Nanette asked, grateful that his paced had slowed when he began speaking.
“Oh – they were arrested and their fellow students rose up, forcing the closure of the Sorbonne – only the second time in seven hundred years! Then, on May 6, students protesting the arrest of the Nanterre 8 were beaten by impossible, brutal hordes of police. Bloody Monday.” He leaned over to light a cigarette with his free hand.
She cupped against the wind and he nodded his thanks, puffing to start the smoke.
“Then the middle class joined in, oui?” She’d read this story before.
He shook his head yes while pulling in a few small puffs. “Then everyonejoined in. Outrage over the beating of the students led to sympathy with their plight and the plight of the worker. But only after such outrageous violence! Pregnant women were beaten! Men were forced to pull down their pants so the police could beat their penises until they were nothing but bloody stumps! Over three hundred people were injured! And do you know what the students wanted?” He asked, bouncing his cigarette up and down. “Three things: Open the Sorbonne, call back the police, and release the eight students. That is all that was asked!”
Another quick wind caught the edges of the map he had tucked under the arm he shared with Nanette. He pulled it out and folded it three more times until it was a smaller packet.
She wanted to help him, as she had before, calm his mind. But they had left that space behind.
“After the beatings, 200 people gathered in protest. Posters of Mao, Lenin, Guevara, Castro, Marx, Trotsky – graffiti and cartoons and songs and political speeches filled the air night and day. After L’Ecole de Beux Arts was occupied, we made posters and papered all of Paris-”
“I’ve seen them being sold by vendors-”
Guy stiffened. “And now they will hang in the homes of people who were too afraid to leave their homes then! Now they can talk about it as if they were there.”
“That is…” She couldn’t find the word “inevitable” in her French vocabulary, and so she said: “the way it happens.”
“Yes, yes. And I want the words to live on, just not in the homes of hypocrites. But maybe there aren’t many hypocrites.” He drifted away again, his anger tensing his small body. “We were united – the factory workers, students, the bus drivers, teachers, film and television workers, gas and electricity workers, the undertakers! We set the Bourse – we set the Bourse on fire!” He shook his right fist in front of his chest.
Nanette nodded. She’d heard that the burning of the Bourse – the Stock Exchange – was the high point of the revolution, and as such, also signaled its decline. Many people, Stefan had told her, felt that burning the Bourse had taken it too far.
After the fires, De Gaulle offered a 35% increase in the industrial minimum wage and a 10% increase for the rest – in addition to other concessions – and most of the people went home. Then, a few months later, the Gaullists captured 60% of the vote. And power was restored.
“I wish I had been there,” she repeated, steering him away from the end of the story.
He forced a thin smiled and threw his cigarette to the ground. He turned to her. “Enough on that! Look at the map. Would you please guide us?”
“Oui.” Nanette’s body relaxed despite her throbbing feet. She turned her back to the wind then unfolded the map. “Turn right at the next intersection.”
A few minutes later, they turned right onto a street where Guy and his friends often met. A few waved to him from cafés. He nodded back uncomfortably.
“D’accord?”she asked, meaning: Are you OK?
“My wife Michele knows. My friends know. Everyoneknows, Mistress – Nanette.Un bordel! There should be no shame in pursuing pleasure. Michele says this, but then she acts another way.” He looked straight ahead, his tiny eyes narrowing. “She’s writing a novel about a married couple, and as you can probably guess, the husband is an unrepentant philanderer. Forget her. Let’s just walk. Let’s claim this city as ours!”
“Yes, let’s!” Nanette quickened her pace, matching his. She guided them through a series of turns, following the map as best she could. “We should turn right at the park. But since there is no park, let’s turn right the next time we see a bird standing on the corner!”
“Wonderful idea! You are getting it now! It is so marvelous to show you these things. Teaching makes it all new for me again. Mis-Nanette, sometimes you bring me back to places I thought I had lost.” He kissed her neck with cold, soft lips. Confident.
Three blocks down a group of maybe ten young men and women saw him and started shouting: “Vive Guy! Vive Guy! Vive Guy!” with their fists in the air. He raised his in return, smiling, pushing his glasses up. Half a block down he turned to them and yelled, “Vive France!”
They walked along quietly, the students’ shouts fading away, until Guy stopped suddenly in front of a set of ornate wooden doors. They were huge and thick and dark, standing a meter taller than Nanette, framed inside huge concrete columns with veins gouged out where ivy had once grown.
“These are closed at night, but open to all during the day.”
He pushed a silver button set just to the right and the doors unlocked with a timid click. Gently he opened the gigantic paneled doors open to reveal a glorious garden with lush ivies trailing up tall brick walls with rows and rows of small, square windows above. It smelled wet and mossy. Above them, leaves crinkled in the breezes. There was a trail of dull red bricks that wound through the garden, and a saggy wooden bench that was partially shaded by a tree that still had all its leaves. Through the windows they could see the high ceilings and gilded landscapes inside.
Nanette stepped over a puddle that had gathered in a dip in the bricks. Gorgeous! She opened her lungs as far as they would spread to take in the scented, heavy air. She held her arms out to the side and spun around and around – stopping to see Guy peeing on a patch of violas.
“These are the apartments of the old nobility!” he explained, pushing out a loud stream of piss on the poor flowers.
They heard a door open high above them, then: “Qu'est-ce qu'il se passe?!!”
Guy zipped up, grabbed her hand, and pulled them from the secret garden.
At the next corner a bum-of-a-pigeon was lazily pecking dirt. They turned right.
Nanette pitched the map in a trashcan. “Let’s just walk.”
“Exactly! Exactly.” He kissed both of her cheeks. “Magnifique!”
They then wound deeper and deeper into an area of the city she’d never been and he hadn’t seen in a long while. Soon they were hopelessly lost, and she realized she could really see the city– rather than just a particular destination in the city – because they weren’t headed anywhere specific. She had time to notice the baskets of flowers hanging from lightposts – all mums this time of year – and small cheese shop with the owner’s ten-year-old son manning the register in his ironed, white apron. A series of small, blue flyers advertising a film showing in an artist’s basement next Friday. And the smell. Paris smells like diesel fuel, wet grass, and – what was that smell? Oh! Chestnuts!
She looked around, there – down the street – the first of the chestnut roasters had set up his wooden stand.
“They’ll double in number by Christmas,” Guy told her, “when all your clothes start to smelling like burnt wood.”
“Guy,” Nanette clenched his arm again, “I want to know where you’re from. What did you like as a child? What books did your mother read to you? I want to know all these little things about you. What formed you? I think you were maybe a solitary child. Self-assured but small-”
“Not much has changed then,” he smiled. “I’ll tell you another day. Let’s get a pain au chocolat.”
Guy pulled her into a long rectangularboulangerie he’d spotted called L’ange Rouge. They walked past a few black metal tables to the counter in the back. The windows rattled with the slight breeze.
Guy bought them each a croissant and they ate them in a park they found a few blocks down the street. He pulled apart the chocolate layers, steam rising off the flaky pages of dough.
“Your eyes are clear and deeper than I remember,” he said.
He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, a tender, daring move.
“We can always have both worlds, right? The Dungeon when we agree to and the rest otherwise?”
“I think so!” Nanette said, feeling very near joy.
“Let’s walk more.” He stood up, his eyes avoiding a row of young French girls in red berets and blue skirts heading home from school for lunch.
She watched his delicacy, something he might ordinarily hide, and was grateful for the reveal. Charming, charismatic, confident. She remembered the alley…
A few streets later they came upon a quaint hotel with budless rose vines strapped to bamboo poles out front. She paid the manager for a room. The manager – a man with a face remarkably like a woodcarving – accepted her check then gave them a bowl of soap flakes to take upstairs.
She went ahead of him, climbing up the narrow stairs, wondering how he liked the view of her ass. Wondering how it would be, perhaps, to have boring sex, typical intimacies, domestic touches. If it would be boring, typical, domestic – as it had been with people in the past. Wondering if it turned out to be, if they could go back. He had said it and she agreed – they could go back.
The hotel room was thin and very long with a wrought-iron bed and terrible watercolors on the walls, which Guy promptly removed. “It’s more beautiful without those.”
“Yes,” she agreed happily. “And I like the way the nails stick out from the walls, waiting for something to do.”
Guy ran them a bath. And five minutes later, they slid in together – after she asked him to turn away so she could get in unwatched. Nanette looked over at Guy’s chest, the visible ribs and scant patch of dark hair in the middle. Sunken, the body of a writer. This close up, his face seemed fleshier without his glasses on. It was like she was dating two side of him, separately – the silent, awaiting energy of him in the Dungeon and the concave, controlled physical body of him here.
The dingy subway tiles reflected the harsh faux-crystal chandelier overhead. They sat on opposite sides of the smooth, white tub – the faucet thoughtfully out of the way in the center of the tub’s long sides.
“I wasn’t sure this would work,” she said, the sound of water echoing around them. I wasn’t sure, but I am attracted to you – I like the way that being with you in this structure feels like I am being daring, going outside my normal limits.
“It hasn’t yet.”
Him thinking, you are exquisite in the way you have crafted yourself.
Her thinking, again – you have never seen me naked.
“Turn around.” He scooped up a meaty bit of soap flakes, working them into a quick lather. He hesitated, not sure if he should touch her outright. “May I?”
Pleased, Nanette said yes.
He ran the foam up and down her broad, pale back. Gently: “Your freckles look like islands.”
“What?” Nanette asked, closing her eyes, sinking into the water and his body.
“Freckles,” he repeated in French. Tache de rousseurs.
“Ahhh,” she said, still not understanding.