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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Friday, October 06, 2006

Day 3, Lunch

12:30 p.m.

We leave the church and we're hungry. We walk up and down streets with names like “r Huchette”, “r Danton”, and “r. St Andre des Arts”. One place offers two formulas: a 10E and a 15E, each with entree, plat, and dessert. We agree, and are seated inside near a spiral stairway leading up and down. Our waiter tries to flirt with Nima, but he can’t seem to understand her accent and she doesn’t speak a word of French. I have to translate their flirtations, and I don’t do a great job of it.
For entrees, I order French Onion soup, Nima orders a simple salad. The soup is amazing, but really only in texture. I don’t know what it is about the texture, but it just seems smooth... doux is the best word for it, even if you don’t know the French. The taste isn’t even quite as good as my mother’s, but then again I’d probably say that about the lasagne in Italy and the cheesecake in New York.

For Plat, I order a filet of salmon with bearnaise sauce. It’s served with very plain pasta and a simple tomato confit. The texture of the salmon is soft and the taste is not at all fishy, but I’m not very hungry so I don’t finish. The sauce is too strong and too thick for the mood I’m in, and the pasta is completely lost on me. Nima has a sandwich.

For Dessert, Nima orders Chocolate Mousse and I order the chef’s surprise. I ask the waiter whether I should order the Profiterole or the chef’s surprise, and he urges me on the surprise. Now I can’t remember what it was, but I definitely remember it wasn’t as good as Nima’s mousse. I think it was a simple fruit tart with custard.

Over lunch Nima starts an interesting conversation.

“So, how was dinner with your friend last night?”

“Well, I guess it was--“

“Did you get… amorous with her?”

“Well, no,” I say, as I clasp my hands together, rubbing them in a way that puts my ring about seven inches from her nose.

“Have you been… amorous with anyone since you’ve been here?”

“Well, no.”

“Interesting. Do you normally travel alone, or are there people you usually go around with? You said you went to Spain, who were you with?”

“Well, let’s see, several friends, or… my spouse.” I’m not looking at her when I say this and I’ll regret it later. I have no idea what her reaction was.

“Well, that sounds like fun. Do you have any children? Are you still with your, was it, spouse?”
I show her Alex and K.

She calls Alex “a little person!” and tells me how gorgeous my wife is. Suddenly I start missing them, feeling as though I’m betraying them somehow, not by being at lunch with this girl, but by being four thousand miles away with no better reason than “I wanna go”.

Nima then tells me of her recent twelve-year relationship and how it ended. She’s in Paris, and in Europe, spending all the money she had saved for a wedding. She’s 32, trying to find meaning in her life, and looking to find herself in the Old World. Sounds familiar, only she’s not limited. Oh well. She’s a middle-school teacher with a stalker. One of her students, a girl, gave her a travel-journal that looks very nice. Nima reads me the note that came with it, a lot of poetic nonsense about how she’s the only friend the girl has ever had. I comment about how it sounds like the girl said the same thing over and over again.

“That’s not the worst of it,” she says, and hands me the book open to the first entry. It’s from the girl, and it’s more of the same.

“What do you teach?” I ask.

“Writing and literature.”

The writing is flat and cliché, moreso even than what I can remember from middle school. “I take it she’s not one of your best students?”

She smiles like a sister plotting revenge against her brother. I’ll get to know that smile well, too. It symbolizes our relationship, and all that that implies.

I tell her the plots to my two novels, and when I get to the “mystery of the lines” and how it works out, she says she’s got shivers. I believe her, too, though I don’t expect the subject to interest her at all outside of this context. I’m just flattered to have an audience--everyone at home is sick of my stories.

We get to talking about literary influences, and she confesses she’s never read Hemingway, and that it’s not on the program for middle school in Australia. I definitely agree with that decision. I read The Sun Also Rises when I was in my early twenties and didn’t get hardly any of it. I think you should only read that when you’re past thirty and have been married for several years.

“It’s an interesting story,” I say. “Tragic, really. It’s something I never understood when I read it the first time. There’s a man, the main character, and he’s injured. Hem’s pretty vague about the specifics of the injury, but it seems the man is unable to, well, ‘perform’, yasee. He and Brett, that’s a beautiful lady friend of his, are hopelessly in love. Literally without hope. They kiss, they refer to the times in the past when they’ve wanted to be together, they’ve tried everything, but they only end up in frustration. So you have the contrast between the love that can’t be consummated, then the woman, Brett, who can’t love anyone but Jake. She has affairs with nearly every man in the novel, but she doesn’t love any of them, doesn’t even feel pleasure with them. You get the sense that if she could truly love Jake, she’d probably treat him just like everyone else, and she’d get the hell out of there. It makes me want to cry to think about it.”

“Definitely. I’ll have to read it now, you know?”

“I’m sure you can get a copy of it here.”

We get l’addition, and for the second meal in a row I’m tempted to grab the check and change my mind. I changed my mind with Heather because I knew her company would pay for her part. Does that make me a bad man? With Nima, I just didn’t feel like it was necessary, and that something would be implied (implode) if I did.

We walk back onto the busy street and look up and down. People are everywhere, in every class of clothes, walking in every direction. The smells of the roasting chestnuts and fresh crepes make me wonder whether or not I ate enough, but I decide to ignore it for now.

Somehow, probably via r. St Andre des Arts, we end up on the Quai des Grands Augustins. As we approach the Seine, Nima yelps. She’s just seen Notre Dame. She waves her hands again and starts to walk faster. I’m still feeling heavy from the meal, but I manage to keep her in sight. She fumbles for her camera without looking for it, approaching the grand facade. I pull out my binoculars and study the thousands of details around the entrance (630, 9A, 11A, 12A): the Gothic arch towering over the main doorway, with the central carved-stone bas relief sculptures, the telescoping arches of figures lined up head-to-toe and side-to-side. The two innermost arches are angels, an audience for the Christ on the central throne. The four outermost arches line the Saints up, each with his or her own face, body shape, and pose. I want to touch each one, to find out how they were done, what they were thinking about when their artist formed them, and at what point did they become living things carved from a rock. The imagery is so dense I imagine a series of graduate students trying, and failing, to catalog all of it.
The line to get in is short and moving quickly. A woman approaches us in a headscarf and asks us if we speak English. I say nothing, but Nima says “yes.” The lady hands her the same note the lady from the Eiffel tower showed me Friday morning, and Nima reads it before giving her some change. Then we file into the line and shuffle in, drinking in the details, discussing the handiwork, in awe at the grandeur. The statues greeting us at eye level are probably 1/3-scale figures, old men nodding at us with their eyes closed. They all have beards and simple robes. As I pass under the arch, I notice that one figure, directly beneath Christ, is a devil figure, standing next to a child. He holds a scale, a small person in each side. The lines holding the cups are fully articulated, and I start to imagine the carver, working behind the marble ropes, smoothing over the devil’s belly. How fragile is that marble? How long did it take to release it from the rest of the stone? What if you cut it too deeply?

By this time I’m well past it and into the nave. Nima stops and several people mutter under their breath. I walk up beside her... she looks like a five-year old walking into a Disney Store.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, certainly nothing like this in Australia.”

I feel guilty that I’m not as awe-struck. I’ve seen Westminster Abbey, and I seem to remember a similar entrance and similar details around the inside. I read a 1200 page book about how one of these would be constructed (The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett). I’m only able to enjoy this so much because I’m with someone who can still marvel.

“Yeah, not in Texas, either,” I say.



Anonymous euroarabe said...

no more entries? we want the rest of the story.

Sat Oct 21, 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus said...

Sorry... I've been out of town at a conference. Hey! Here's a chance to get a glimpse into my non-literary life...

Mon Oct 23, 06:08:00 AM  

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