The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Europe

The Beautiful City

La Seine à Paris 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.

Lips 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.

Advertisements

Peace

Norwegian_woodAs I look at those pictures, at the colours beginning to fade, and those faces not yet totally forgotten, I recall those instants I never seized, all those years back, before peace reached me. And peace, I owe to you, my love, you brought me down to reality, and to acceptance of the world. Yet I cannot entirely forget that other life, those other lives. These places still impregnated of the then recent disasters, the long wars, the signs of destruction still present all around us. Europe was then still on her knees.

From time to time, an article, a book, a scent, brings me back to those years, to a youth full of longing and unhappiness. The world was young… no, it was the old world, but we were young, naive, and dangerous. The calamities of today pale in insignificance compared to what was then the daily life of our parents: the sheer poverty, the cold, the threats, and the still smoking ruins. Yet there was also hope, born from the deep soul of their hearts.

This is when I met Melissa, both of us, me more than her, innocent and ignorant. This story is that of our loss, and the strange way we found each other again, decades apart, in a world we could never have then imagined. A world of shadows. But I have first to write about the present, this fabulous mixture of the seedy and the wonderful, called modernity, although this term is now, so passé…

This coming year, after much consideration, and with your help my love, I am leaving behind those preoccupations, the business where I have made my fortune, for indulging in my long postponed passions. I will be the writer – even if unpublished – that I have longed to be since my school days, and also the serious runner, the one unconstrained by time and professional duties: freedom. Freedom to train, to spend long hours refining the person I want to be. Then there will be the long hikes in the mountains we both love: and there will be pictures, of you.

And so, on the threshold of a new year, I will start anew. Soon I will have forgotten the illusions of ambition, the jealousies, the petty envy of lesser mortals. I will live again. My close friends will be the blank page, where I will share those memories and longings I care most for, and those beautiful lenses that will help me to see the world with new eyes. Soon I will roam those streets, in the city that has adopted me, reluctantly at first, but, ultimately, without looking back.

I will, but not now, I am just observing the clear sky from my desk, that faces our garden: a pale blue sky of December, small frayed clouds already tainted pink by the early sunset. Familiar tunes float through the room. My wife, Sarah, is upstairs washing her hair. Peace.