The Beautiful City
Early morning we walk slowly hand in hand along the river. The pavements are being washed, the sky a luminous well above our heads, above the city we love. We have come to the capital city to reflect, make love, and try to forget the strange adventure that beset us with the return of Melissa in my husband’s life, our lives.
Julian is taking pictures of the left bank as we make our way towards the Tuileries. There is still very little traffic, and a few pedestrians, looking forward to the sunlit day. I feel at ease with this place, the historic buildings, the light that permeates the stones, the trees, the wandering tourists. And I know that my husband wishes, in his words, to be reconciled with his birth place, perhaps also find an inspiration that has eluded him since the day he saw Elga among the military of the Alliance: that sight frightened him more than anything that he had witnessed before.
It has been three months now and we haven’t heard from Melissa, or from Gabrielle. We are aware that things have started changing in our world: the divided country in the far East that nearly brought us to the brink of war is now trying to reconcile its two halves. The Great Power to Be appears to have taking the role of benevolent mediator, and its competitor, the Great Power, is suddenly seeking peace… But we know better than expecting a miracle. Julian has bouts of despair when we hear of massacres and demonstrators being persecuted, tortured, killed, there and everywhere. There is a long way to go, but things are moving.
We cross the Seine on the little foot bridge, its edges decorated by thousands of small locks with painted initials. A year ago there was still space for more, now we smile, we would find it difficult to fit ours anywhere along the metal fence. A couple walks towards us and smiles, the two young women looking at me, then at Julian, our shorts, our short hair. They giggle and walk past. We stop and turn towards the sun, past the statue of Henri IV on the Pont Neuf. My arms around Julian’s shoulders I kiss him, full lips, searching him. “I wish Mel would call us or at least email us, or something…” Julian says looking at me deep. “Stop worrying”, I reply, holding him tighter still, “nothing can happen to her, as we know…”
We are now walking through the small streets of the left Bank, and I know it’s a bit of a pélerinage for my husband: he’s retracing the steps of his youth. The city is around us, immortal. We buy mineral water at a small shop, ran by youngsters, the taller boy smiles at me, I could be his mother. We walk to the rue Sébastien Bottin, and Julian says the name has changed to that of the great publisher whose offices are still there. Julian takes more pictures. We walk across the boulevard, stopping for another hug.
On boulevard Raspail we stop at the bookshop and stay there an hour, browsing. The manager takes a definite interest in me, her grey eyes inviting; oblivious Julian picks up the review – a double issue about Proust – and a biography of Flaubert. I chat with the manager who gives me her card, Julian pays for his books, and we walk towards the Luxembourg. It is now a little warmer, my arm is around Julian’s shoulder, in steps we enter the garden. People are playing tennis on the courts. We find a couple of chairs near the statue of Verlaine, Julian drops his bag, we kiss for long minutes, enlaced.
Hours later, in our room, near the République, we make love till exhaustion, which does not happen for two hours. As we get showered and dressed, taking our time and teasing each other, my telephone rings: it’s Gabrielle, who invites us both for the next weekend. She gives me an address, in New York.