|PARIS, CAFE MARLY: OCTOBER 2010|
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
The Fall of Wendy: a short story dedicated to turning 40
NOTE: THIS WAS WRITTEN IN THE FALL OF 2010 AS A 40TH BDAY PRESENT TO MY FRIEND SHAWNA. PUBLISHED FOR THE FIRST TIME ON THE DAY OF HER 44TH BIRTHDAY...
The Fall of Wendy
The film showed Wendy, handcuffed, falling into the unknown. Her eyes wide with fear as the pirates sent her to her death. Her back was to us as we watched her fall into darkness - a darkness with no end.
As a friend of a 40 year old and not quite 40 myself, I can only imagine what turning 40 feels like, but I expect it’s a lot like when Wendy stepped off the plank of that pirate ship. Scary, but perhaps beautiful if you land in the world of the mermaids…
And so we fell into the 40th birthday celebration. Both lovers of Hemingway, Shawna and I began our journey at his frequented spot Le Deux Maggots. There were indeed 2 of us on this fall, and we started with 2 champagnes. French salads are always my favorite for lunch. I love the jambon and the rich cheese under the tart mustard dressing. Of course, Shawna’s croque monsieur looked pretty good too, but really anything on the menu would have hit the spot after the ten and a half hour plane ride from LA to Paris. When best friends get together after spending months of even rarely talking, much less seeing one another, there is a lot to catch up on. And, I’m sure we entertained the people in the restaurant, though I believe that Hem himself would have been proud of the escapades we shared with one another.
Back at the hotel, we unpacked our suitcases and oohed and aahed over our goods that we had brought. Once unpacked and hung, our clothes in the closet resembled something in a small designer boutique, well edited and hefty price tags. Four nights in Paris – that should do it.
Our first night in Paris began with a performance of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at Theatre de la Ville. As a member of the Board of Directors and past employee of the organization, I am enamored with Merce and his work. Merce’s work is definitely not for the faint of heart – or the unenlightened. Shawna is a good friend to be dragged to performance after performance. We came to the theater completely dolled up in our closet finest. Dresses, heels, fur and feathers: we made quite an entrance filled with a more casual, more French audience. I kept thinking to myself ‘I’m a Board member, I can do whatever I want’. I believe Shawna was thinking, ‘They are all jealous…’
After the performance, we walked our heels, fur and feathers down the road to what was supposedly a fun and lively kind of restaurant with dancing into the night. We entered the doors to a sleepy, dark place that was no longer serving food. Drat. Shawna can live on 500 calories a day, but this more rounder version of herself cannot. Off we went to the Four Seasons bar, where I knew we could at least get some eats and most certainly some drinks. We ended the night drinking champagne and smoking cigarettes on our tres French balcon.
Now, the last time a French person blow-dried my hair (this was last summer, and I was, to be honest, 3 champagnes in), I came out with a haircut shorter than my son’s hair. But, as I truly hate to blow-dry my own hair for reasons that are too countless to list, I tried again. This time at a beautiful coiffure near our hotel. My paltry French at least had gotten me to the sink for a wash and to the chair for the blow-dry. Pretending to know everything my stylist was saying, I nodded my head and said “oui” as many times as I could. (This is similar to the before mentioned incident…) I came out smiling and looking better than when I came in, so it was a positive experience. I had told Shawna to meet me on a corner, and around the corner she came. Very tall boots, a very short dress and a monster fox collar adorned the blonde with the oversized glasses. I myself was rather prim in black trousers, a pearl encrusted collar over a tight black sweater and a wrap. I did, in my defense, have a Board meeting that afternoon. But, for now the second time, we still enlisted stares and audible gasps from people on the street. Does no one wear heels in this town anymore? Didn’t the French invent the stiletto?
As we were beyond late for our lunch that I had scheduled on the meticulous agenda, we opted for the chic, see and be seen spot, Café Marly. And after the most hazardous cobblestone walk to get there, we found ourselves seated under heaters on the veranda facing the Louvre Pyramid, where I am sure the 666 glass panes represented the number of stares we would be receiving over the weekend. More champagne and food, we sat in astonishment that we were actually together in this beautiful place. Not too bad for two blondes from Georgia and Texas.
The evening found us dining in an uber-stylish hotel restaurant, Hotel du Costes. Having been to Costes before, I was sure that this time we would fit right in with our ensembles. On the more conservative side, I was in a black strapless dress and wrap – albeit the shoes were one of my more adventurous pair: very high strappy patent numbers with 3 Aztecan looking discs that reached up my ankle ending in a feather spray of organza. Shawna was without a doubt on the more daring side: a pink see-through organza top paired with a black pencil skirt with slits here and there. The piece de resistance would be the black bra that shown through the blouse.
After a relatively uneventful dinner, we entered a taxi and ordered to go to another supposedly hip and happening kind of bar, one that would suit the needs of girls dressed as such. We came upon the bar only to find yet another dark and empty spot. “Non non non. Nous allons un endroit different!” The driver barked back, “Get out!” in French, of course. After a little begging and outright refusing to get out of the taxi – we were giving squatters a new meaning – we were dropped off at a “Grand Rue”, a place where I apparently thought that 1)made sense, and 2) would be helpful. I turned out to be right, and we found a new taxi line to enter.
Now, taxi lines are a new experience for these 2 New Yorker/Southern girls. Normally, we would fight our way to the first taxi seen. We realized quickly that we needed to queue, so we walked past a long line of gentlemen who were obviously going home after having a few cocktails after a day of work. And yes, our clothes could have walked a runway, but it was dark after all and isn’t Paris the epicenter of fashion? No reason for anyone to actually turn around, with hand on hip, and stare with a face full of disbelief, confusion and a little mischief. I couldn’t help myself after having a few glasses of wine at dinner. I struck the exact same pose back at him, declaring my independence of his buttoned-up ways. Giggling inconsolably, we started to notice that a flock of men were all passing the taxi line and heading across the street. Now, it has yet to be stated that Shawna is single, and remember, celebrating her 40th Birthday. Anyone is entitled to a real French Kiss at that point, right? Needless to say, we took off, past the men in the taxi line, including the hand on hip gawker, and began to follow two men who had just passed.
Where could they all possibly be going? It must be fun, wherever it was. (I could almost hear the beating of the Indian drums in Neverland) And then… A Metro Stand. They were headed to the subway.
Now, any story about Wendy needs a Peter Pan, and in this one there are several. Not knowing it was Peter, I called out to the taller of the two men. “Can you tell us where a fun bar is?” I had completely forgotten any French at this point. I was on a mission for my friend. “Bar? You want to go to a bar?’ “Paris, you love Paris?” Yeah yeah yeah. Get on with it – show us to a bar! After a little confusion of whether they were invited to escort us to this bar, we took off, the four of us, to our first destination in Neverland.
Enter bar. Imagine yourself on a foreign planet, where everyone looks completely different than you and is mostly comprised of the opposite sex. Okay. This was fun. There was music, and definitely a crowd. There was also a sticky floor, limited wine selection: red or white, and bathrooms that I would never frequent. And also imagine that sound when the record gets scratched and the music goes to complete silence. We walked towards the bar. First off, wine! Next, seats! As the wing man, I am obligated to chit chat with the unfortunate looking friend of the man who Shawna is interested in. I decide that this is actually a very fun task, and I take on the role of an anthropologist on assignment. “Who are these French men and what do they do in life?”
The evening was a success in terms of the real French Kiss for Shawna. My anthropological studies would have to continue the next night.
Oh, good cheap French wine. You’re just as nagging as bad cheap California wine. Our next morning was a little slow, but we had an event on the agenda that was not to be missed. I had arranged through a contact at home to surprise Shawna with a private tour of the Champs-Elysees Louis Vuitton. Now, neither of us are in love with the monogram bags, but the Marc Jacobs collection is always something to behold, and shoes are always an option. We arrive at the store, re-designed by architects Eric Carlson and Peter Morino, to meet our host, Remi. This adorable French-Japanese man led us through the store pointing out areas of architectural interest, and of course, the latest styles of handbags, clothing and shoes. We sipped champagne and tried on shoes, sighed at the furs and dreamed of a life where we packed in big steamer trunks for long trips abroad.
But the Espace Culturel on the 7th floor was most definitely the highlight of the tour, and for me, the highlight of the trip. This is an exhibition space created for the sole purpose of showing works of art throughout the year. This fall the exhibit is “Qui-et tu Peter?”, featuring the works of many artists and their interpretations of Peter Pan. In order to get to the 7th floor, you must take a black-out elevator with black soft cushioned walls and absolutely no light. The concept is that you are taken out of the world of luxury and reality and transported to a world of beauty and light. Slightly claustrophobic mixed with an irrational fear of going blind (like Mary did in Little House on the Prairie), my palms began to sweat. I entered the elevator and held Shawna’s hand. It was a strange sensation to have no light at all. No sense of where you are exactly. We were suspended in nothingness.
The doors opened to a fluorescent sign which read “VOUS NE MOURREZ JAMAIS”, You will never die. We followed through photography of modern day pirates comprised of finance, money and the military; a film of an artist’s interpretation of Wendy’s step off the plank; and into the world of Peter. Sculpture, video, painting, interactive – all mediums were represented. We both felt as if we had been placed somewhere else, lost through the maze of art. An endearing and beautiful French girl guided us around and explained the art perfectly, leaving just enough to your own imagination. The end of the exhibit brought us back to the You will never die sign. Tears abridged and shortness of breath overwhelmed me. A walk around the deck of the 7th floor, something not many are allowed to do, provided the air we both needed to collect our senses and thoughts of returning to reality.
We continued our day walking to Avenue Montaigne to the most wonderful and delightful boutique in the world, Nina Ricci. I had seen the collection in a magazine, so I was very excited to see it in person. It exceeded any expectations, and, yet again, I was taken back to Neverland. A land of organza ruffles and delicate lace. A land of purple satin and pink velvet. All the things that little girls are made of.
That evening we found ourselves arguing with our taxi driver about the restaurant we had chosen for dining. He was not at all impressed with our choice, “in the 10th” of all places, seemed to be his attitude. After finally agreeing to take us to this little restaurant in a historic hotel on the canal, we arrive to find a crowded, candle-lit place with a very swarthy, rugged bartender with eyes that most likely break hearts every day. Wine, food and a cigarette later, Shawna now finds her second real French Kiss with the bartender. Again, I was busy chatting with the bartender’s friend about the small structure on the canal: apparently they once had a triage of sorts to save people who had fallen in the canal. Or, at least, that was my translation of the story. Who knows? It could have been where they kept chickens for the night’s dinner.
We decided we should go back to the bar from the previous night, where Shawna could meet up with her Peter. We arrived to a packed bar where the girls were wearing bunny ears and the boys a straw hat. Hmmmm? I was wearing a silk dress with feathers on the bottom and Shawna wore a black jumpsuit and fur shawl. There go the looks again. And I’m not quite sure that the ladies in the joint were happy to see us at all. I keep thinking about the joke that I’ve never heard in its entirety, “two blondes walk into a bar”… Shawna enjoyed her new found love while I danced alone to 80s music amongst a group of drunk men and slightly unhappy women. I may have had one of the best times there, dancing alone, enjoying the music and the local vibe. I find myself alone a lot these days, but this was a different solitude. One where I went back to being a child and in my own world.
The last full day? How could this be? We had just arrived. Another late start, we deviated from the agenda again and went swiftly through the day. A visit to Colette, the most well-edited boutique in the world, got our spirits up as we soaked in the beauty of the mannequins and their well put together, very European styles. Shawna vetoed all of my choices that I tried on, while she went on to purchase a slinky long black dress with long sleeves. The print was a white batik resembling a skeleton of sorts. Only a girl 5’8” and not an ounce of fat can pull this dress off, and Shawna definitely pulled it off. A quick lunch and another trip to Nina Ricci (it is truly that good) and we found ourselves at our second Hemingway haunt: Closure des Lilas. We met up with Shawna’s Peter and his friend. We sat outside under the tent – I am sure that I was the only one to have drops of rain tick tock on my trench coat. We enjoyed a couple of cocktails and laughed at stories from the previous evenings at our now beloved bar. It was here that I learned how the French use the saying “a third wheel”. It is “tenir la chandelle” – to hold the candle. Apparently it is a Medieval phrase, and maybe Biblical, describing how a servant would hold the candle for the romantic couple leading them to their honeymoon room. From that moment on I became The Candle, La Chandelle. I actually didn’t get the holding part in translation, I only heard candle. So my own saying is now “I am the Candle”.
After a quick change into my leather dress, new Nina Ricci shoes (impossible platforms in crushed raspberry colored velvet) and mink vest, we were off with Peter for dinner. Shawna donned her new skeleton dress. Definitely feeling like a Candle, I joined Shawna and Peter as the three of us ate and made attempts at translating our conversation on politics. I started to see the next line of the joke: “two blondes walk into a bar and start talking politics with a Frenchman…”. Though the food was lovely, the atmosphere was lacking 1) people and 2) the joie de vivre of a last night in Paris that we were searching for. We left the restaurant.
Off we went, past the open mouths and wide eyes staring at the skeleton and the girl on raspberry stilts.
Weighing our options, we decided to brave Costes again. Certainly there would be a fun crowd on Saturday night. There, finally, we entered a bar where no one stared at us. We have come home.
The bar is packed at least four rows thick with beautiful people sipping wine and martinis, all watching the bartender intermittently light the bar on fire, flambé style. Shawna’s Peter seemed to be fading a little, unaffected by the pixie dust that both Shawna and I were sprinkling from the tips of our eyelashes due to the glitter-dusted eye shadow that we were both wearing. “He has to go,” Shawna said quietly. Oh no. Please don’t make me be a part of this. I don’t think my weak heart could take the breaking of Peter’s. He had become quite taken with Shawna, and I’m sure he was thinking that he would rather be alone in a dark corner with only her than parading around a bar with the two blondes, fetching wine. We searched for the hope of an empty table. Two men were also watching tables, looking for their own. This could be a fight to the death. And Shawna and I are professionals at hailing cabs and plucking the last shoe off the sale rack. We would win this race, no problem. And we did, with the assistance of the two men.
Now it seemed that we had a couple and three candles.
Shawna excused herself with Peter. Isn’t the guillotine the method of execution in France? The grim reaper herself in skeleton costume led poor Peter to his death. But, let’s face it. He had become a bore. She returned with a feeling of freedom and perhaps a little sadness, but ready to chat with our new friends.
After a few drinks, it was time to leave. Shawna had seen few hours of sleep the night before, so she had hit the proverbial wall of exhaustion. Not to mention that it was 3am. The trip was coming to an end. The sun was rising somewhere over Paris, and the hours were limited.
The next morning we packed up and went our separate ways. I slept dreamily all the way to the airport in the back of the car. Passing through airport security, I found myself alone in the business lounge, missing my friend and already missing Paris. I laughed aloud thinking back on stories from the week. Once aboard, Shawna and I texted each other Bon Voyage from our separate planes. One blonde to California, and the other to New York, these two Wendys were leaving Neverland. The large plane circled the rooftops of Paris. I looked down wondering if ever a finer time had been had. Perhaps, but only by Mr. Hemingway himself I’m sure.
Apparently, walking the plank to your 40s isn’t all bad afterall.