Thursday, December 30, 2004

Of Unexpected Acts of Kindness and Clementines

It is either late at night now or early morning, depending on whether you are a "glass half full or half empty" sort of person. I am sitting here sipping a glass of a lovely unfiltered Domaine la Montagnette 2003 Cotes du Rhone rouge which I bought several weeks ago after noticing a little tag saying it had also been selected for the wine list at Jean-Ro Bistro downtown. (I figured if it was good enough for Jean-Robert de Cavel, it was good enough for me!) The last remaining brownie of the batch is close at hand now, the really good kind with two sides of chewy crust, and I am pleased to report that the wine complements its flavor very well. I am tempted to pull a clementine or two out of the refrigerator to rest on the the kitchen table and warm up for breakfast tomorrow. I must admit, I have a real jones for clementines, but their cost is tres cher. Still, I must have them. What can I say? They always take me back to Paris.

After Jef and I left the Montmartre creperie, we headed back to the Abbesses Metro stop where I noticed little flyers advertising the services of gypsy fortunetellers littering the ground. Although they were wet from the rain, I picked one up as a souvenir. Jef walked me back to the hotel from the Cirque d'Hiver and said he'd call me about our plans for Jim's New Year's Eve party the next day.

Once in my room, I collapsed onto the bed and looked at the clock. It was getting late and I had told Denis when he had called earlier that I would meet him at 8 at the little restaurant to the right of the Fontaine St. Michel. Dolling myself up a little with my new Chanel eyeshadow and spritzing myself lightly with Guerlain's new fragrance Mahora, I waited impatiently for my nail polish to dry. Checking the time again, I decided I had to head out. This time I was not going to waste my time taking two trains to get there. I had decided to take the bus down through the Marais to the Latin Quarter. It wound around through a maze of little streets, but it was fun to see the shop windows full of their Christmas displays. In fact, I had tried it out a couple of days before, just so I would know where I was going in the dark. My little evening bag wouldn't hold my faithful companion, Michelin's Paris par arrondissements. But that was OK. After all, I knew where I was going, didn't I?

The bus was crowded and I had to stand, but I was glad to be on my way. The streets were full of people, too, and I enjoyed watching them. But something was wrong. Suddenly the bus had stopped and the driver was making an announcement. We were at Chatelet and he was yelling, "Terminus"! What I hadn't realized was that on Saturday night, the regular Paris buses just stop operating at 8 pm! Luckily, I recognized the area as one that I had been to a few days earlier, looking for the Théâtre de la Ville where the Japanese Butoh group Sankai Juku was scheduled to perform. Everybody on the bus had the same problem now. I decided to follow the crowd across the bridge and soon found myself at the restaurant.

It was crowded and we didn't have a reservation, but Denis was already sitting at a table, waiting for me. He helped me off with my coat and we exchanged bises on each cheek. It seemed a little drafty, we were so close to the door. But who's complaining. I was in Paris on a date with a handsome, intelligent Frenchman. What's not to like? There was some discussion of le vache fou ("mad cow") and Denis said that restaurants were no longer serving steak tartare. He seemed especially disappointed. But soon we ordered drinks and became engrossed in conversation. Originally we had planned to have dinner and then go somewhere else to hear some jazz, but Denis was as green as I was when it came to where to go. He was not a Parisien, he said, in fact he found them rather cold. Although he worked as a research scientist at the Pasteur Institute, he lived in the suburbs and took the RER to and from work. He was single, played the violin, went faithfully every year to the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, and loved Nigel Kennedy's music. In fact that was our common thread. I had met Nigel a couple of years earlier and we had hit it off. He is a geniunely brilliant musician and a generous, passionate, intelligent human being as well. It was a huge pleasure to be invited to spend a little "down time" with him after concerts.

I was so engrossed in conversation with Denis that I cannot recall a thing I ate, but the time flew by quickly and I realized that I had to leave immediately in order to catch the Metro back to my hotel. Ironically, the RER, which the suburbanites use, runs later than the Metro, so Denis had more time to spend than I did. He walked me to St. Michel station and said he would call me the next day. We still had a jazz club to go to before I left for home!

The train came and I was relieved to see it. It wasn't very full. A short time later, when we arrived back at Strasbourg-St. Denis, my transfer point, I thought everything was cool. I could still hear the sound of trains roaring in the background as I made my way to the other platform. And then, suddenly, I realized that I was the only person left, except for a French couple sitting on a bench nearby, seemingly in the middle of an argument. They were attractive and well-dressed, trés bon chic, bon genre, but yelling at each other over the disembodied voice that echoed high above us in the tiled tunnel. I am not exactly helpless when it comes to speaking and reading French, but the voice came out of nowhere and, with it, fumbling noises, like Inspector Clouseau shuffling around a big old-fashioned desk microphone. This happened over and over again! I gathered the jist of things was that we had just missed the last train and so were out of luck. The French woman kept looking up toward the ceiling and yelling for the disembodied voice to shut up. Finally, they rose to leave and then, without warning, she started screaming. There were rats down there and she had just come eyeball to eyeball with one. I could wait no longer. "Pardonnez-moi, madame. Je suis Américaine. Parlez-vous anglais?" She did and we ran up the stairs to the street where they told me they were planning to take a taxi down to Bastille to go bar-hopping. After asking where I was staying, they offered to give me a lift to my hotel. Unfortunately, the queue for taxis was already quite long, so her boyfriend decided that we would walk. He took off at a brisk pace and seemed amused that I was able to keep up. Little did he know how many months of religiously working out at the Y had gone into my plans. Ironically, now it was all paying off.

I was relieved to be in their company, especially since I had left my map at home. Although I'd been through the Strasbourg-St. Denis station many times over the previous week, I had never been at street level and had NO idea where we were. It turned out that we were fairly close to Republique which was not too far from my hotel. We walked down the Boulevard Voltaire at a fast clip, stopping in at a little grocery store along the way. I bought a bottle of vin rouge to take back to the hotel and the boyfriend bought a handful of clementines. He handed me a couple as a gift and they insisted on walking me all the way to the door of my hotel to make sure I was safely home.

I can't remember their names, but I will always think of them as my special angels, especially after I finally took that first sweet, juicy bite of clementine.