Tag Archives: French

Paris Seen in Four Days

“Oh my..” she said from the back of the cluttered vintage store. He tried to see her over stacks of antiquated books but could only see her jet black hair, forehead and bright blue eyes as they widened in excitement.

“What did you find?”

“The perfect travel guide.” Her hand reached over the stacks with a small pamphlet-sized booklet that was probably once a deep red but had, over the decades, faded into a pinkish color. He took the small book carefully and looked at the cover.

“Paris Seen in Four Days” he read aloud. “How old is this?”

“I was too excited to look!” she whispered. Now it was her turn to see his brownish eyes widen.

“Wow the map in here is beautiful. I would feel horrible traipsing around Paris with such a work of art.”

She sighed. “I agree. But it’s so magnificent, we could use it to see the city the way people did back then. Is there a year?”

He paused and with care turned the first few pages. “I don’t see any. But it’s probably almost a hundred years, give or take. How old is the metro?”

“The first was in 1900, but the majority of construction would have been in 1920,” she said with an immediateness that made him smile at her obsession.

“Well then it’s not quite one hundred years old then, it has a metro map.”

She suddenly went from a pair of eyes over the books to just the top of her head, he assumed she’d been standing on her toes.

“I think it would be so magical to roam the streets and metro with something like this rather than a modern travel guide.”

“I dunno…what if half this stuff is gone? Or streets changed names?”

“Meet me around the bookcase,” she said as her head bobbed and disappeared around the corner. He followed her instructions. Her eyes still shone bright when they met up.

“Please?” she said with multiple blinks.

“How can I resist?” he asked her as she did a little cheer and then hugged him.

 

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Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa

She slowly backed the car into a spot, then pulled up a bit, then backed up a little as he eyed up the row of artwork lined up at a yard sale.

“Would you park already!” he yelled playfully. She giggled and started pulling forward again just to get him riled.

“Hey!” he said, pretending to shove her. She laughed harder.

“It’s fine! Go on without me!”

“You know I can’t do that. Yard sale etiquette.”

She stopped the car and turned off the engine, but by that time he was already out the door.

“Come on!” she heard him say, muffled through the closed windows. She smiled; she couldn’t help but love him. She undid her seatbelt and joined him.

They were both pulled toward the same piece of art at the same time.

“Wow,” he said, picking it up. “I love this.”

“Me too,” she agreed.

The artwork was a dark blue silhouette screen print of a man with a big had, bushy beard and old-fashioned glasses. Next to the image was the name Lautrec in fancy lettering.

“I wonder who this is! I want it.”

“It would look great on our red wall,” she said as she pulled out her phone and started typing what he could only assume was the name on Google. He waited a moment knowing what she would say.

“Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa.”

“Well that’s a mouthful. Glad the artist shortened it for this print.”

She ignored him and continued. “Post-impressionist French painter, printmaker, draftsman and illustrator, wow he sounds interesting. Says he is as well known as Cezanne and Van Gogh.”

“Hmm…then why haven’t I heard of him, but I know them?”

She ran her finger up the screen. “Um…you have. We brought one of his back from Paris.”

“No we didn’t!” He thought for a moment. “Did we?”

“Yup. Look!” She showed him the phone.

“Funny. Who knew? I like Lautrec!”

“We do, honey. We do.”

He looked at the print once more then held it up to the purveyor of the sale.

“How much?”

La Nuit Française

“I’ve never seen a balloon cause so much trouble!”

“I know, right?” she said to me.

We had just finished watching the 1956 French classic Le Balloon Rouge, or The Red Balloon.

“That kid got into so much trouble!” she said. I nodded. “How did you know there was so little dialogue?”

“Someone told me.” I had come up with the idea of creating our own soundtrack to it, side two of Françoise Hardy’s Maid in Paris, then side one of the Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin record.

“It made it more fun, didn’t it?”

“Oui!”

“Dork.”

She fell back onto the couch and started staring at the ceiling. “I’m glad we didn’t sell them.”

“Even though we could use the money.”

“Money can’t replace the beauty of those records.”

Someone had just offered me a shit-ton of money for my collection of record française. Yeah right, like I would part with them.

“Yeah right, like I would part with them. I lugged half of them all the way across Montreal, and most of the others, I left clothing behind in Paris for those. They are definitely worth more than money to me.”

“Me too. They’re half the reason I liked you at first.”

“Very funny.”

“Fine, that’s a lie, but on the first date it is how you lured me back to your place. French records, a little wine, you sure know how to make a girl melt.”

“You’d be surprised how often that line works. I have a nice collection of French records at my place…”

“Nice.” She frowned. “Wait, you are kidding, right?”

“Of course. I’ve never shared these records with another woman.” She looked at me. “What?”

“Never?
I thought about it and decided to come clean. “Fine, fine, I have tried. None of them appreciated them.”

“Not as much as me, right?” she said, grabbing my arm and pulling me into her arms.

“Nope!” I said as I kissed her. We made out for a bit until the needle started scratching against nothing, then returned to its arm rest.

“Should I flip it?” she asked. “Or should we maybe watch the movie again with the real audio, just to see if the effect is different?”

I smiled and picked up the remote to start the movie again. The balloon once again floated down to the little boy and I laughed as he was once again told he could not bring it on the bus, thus being late for school again.

“I’ve never seen a balloon cause so much trouble.”

Hank’s Troubles

This story is based on a real postcard I found from 1949.  Make sure you read the actual postcard at the end of the story!  Enjoy!

Maxienne was cooking frantically in the kitchen, trying to watch all four burners at once, stirring, ladling, adding ingredients, chopping others, all with little Charlie crawling around her feet.  She tripped over him on the way to the counter to chop more onions.

“Really Charlie, I cannot wait until you’re napping again.  Tu est un menace!  At least your little sister sleeps during the day here and there,” she exclaimed in her heavy French accent.

Once chopped, Maxienne rushed back towards the frying pan, slipped on some sort of wet spot on the floor, regained her balance, and dropped all but three pieces of onion into the pan, the rest falling towards the floor.  Charlie looked up at the sound of the loud sizzle as they heated.  He smiled and started looking for whatever fell.

And at that, Charlie’s little sister, Mariette, started squealing from her crib, apparently awake from her nap.  Maxienne wiped her brow with a nearby towel, sweating from the heat of a New York City August.

“Hank?  HANK?  Mon dieu!  Could you please help in here, s’il vous plait?”  She waited, hearing no response.  “Hank?”  She turned the burner under the pan down and ran into one of the five rooms in their new apartment, looked around, and realized the room was empty.

“Ah!  This place is too big!”  She ran to the next room and picked Mariette up, running back towards the kitchen, causing her to sweat even more.  As she ran by the closed door she said, “Merci, Hank.  Thank you for all of the help!”  Not waiting for a response she headed right for the kitchen, where the pot full of sauce had started to boil over and splatter onto the kitchen wall.

“Damn!” She said, lunging for the knob on the oven.  Mariette squirmed in her hands, wanting to get down.  “Fine, you want down?  You can go down!”  She rushed the three feet to their living room and put Mariette on the couch, surrounding her with pillows.  At this, Charlie started crying.  “What now?”

Maxienne turned in time to see the onions were starting to burn, and quickly pulled the pan off the stove, a little oil jumping from the pan and onto her hand.  “MERDE!” she yelled.  Meanwhile, Charlie was still wailing as if in pain, so she lowered the sauce and ran to him, swiping him up in one fluid motion, spinning right back to the stove where she quickly stirred the pasta so it wouldn’t stick.  Then, her attention turned to Charlie, she tried to investigate why he’d suddenly started crying.

Something was lodged in his mouth, and as she fished it out, he bit her.  “Damn!” she yelled.  “Hank!  Would you PLEASE come in here?  Get out here and help!”  Still no answer, she went back into his mouth, fishing out one of the chunks of onion.  “That’s it, Charlie?  That?  It’s onion…it won’t kill you.”

Charlie, relieved to have the taste removed from his mouth, still frowned at her.  “Perhaps some milk,” she said, heading for the refrigerator.  She reached above it first, pulling down a package of French cigarettes, and quickly popped the package so one jumped into her mouth.  She pulled a glass and the bottle of milk out like someone who had done it a thousand times, and he had a sip of milk before she’d even put him back on the floor.  Charlie calmed, she leaned into the burner and lit the cigarette, the beads of sweat on her face reflecting the fire.  She turned her attention back to the stove, stirred the sauce, noticing it was a bit thick.  “Merde!” she said to herself.  “Hank!  I think I burned the sauce!”  She tasted it.  “I think I can save it,” she yelled again.  Still no response.

Maxienne checked the pasta, scooping a piece out on a wooden spoon and picking it up carefully between her freshly painted nails, and threw it against the wall.  It stuck for a second before falling off.  A few more minutes, she decided.

At that, a knock came at the door.  “Hank!  I do not suppose you could get that?”  She waited, expecting to hear the door of the bathroom open, but still nothing.  “Ah!” she growled to herself in anger, quickly drying her hands on the towel hanging from her apron.  She checked the onions, quickly threw the meatballs into the pan, jumped back from the sparks of oil that spurted from the pan, and ran towards the door, drying her hands yet again while watching the future meal over her shoulder.

She opened the door to find Pete, their door man.  “Hey there, Mrs. J!  Got your mail!  Sure smells good in there!  What are you making, meatballs?  Gravy smells great too!”

“Would you like one, Pete?  They’ll still be a few minutes at least…”

“No no, ma’am.  Thanks all the same though.  Let me grab these too for you!”  He picked up the empty milk bottles from the floor by the door.  “Can I help you with anything else?”

“Can you get my husband to give me a hand?” she asked with a sly smile.

He laughed.  “No can do, ma’am.  But if there’s anything else, let me know!”

“Merci, thanks Pete!  Maybe I’ll send some down for you when it’s done?”

“Thanks!” he said as he walked away.  She shut the door and ran back to the kitchen.  Flipped the meatballs.  Stirred the sauce.  Checked the pasta.  It was done, so she grabbed the potholders and emptied the hot water into the sink, watching some ashes fall from her cigarette into the pile of noodles.  She put down the pot, took out the ashen noodles, and threw them in the garbage.  Then she took a moment to tap her cigarette into a nearby ashtray on the kitchen table and wipe her brow of sweat yet again.

She put the sauce on low in time to notice the kids were quiet, checked on them, and found them asleep in the living room.  She sighed, relaxed for the first time all day, and dropped the meatballs one by one into the pot of sauce.  She put the lid on, dropped the pots into the sink, and sat at the table.

“Hank?”

“Hank?”

She pulled out a small box of post cards and the suitcase typewriter Hank had bought her for her last birthday and took the lid off.  Carefully putting the postcard under the plastic holder, she tapped her cigarette ashes into the tray again.

“Dinner will be ready in a few, if you’re hungry,” she yelled to Hank once more.  “I’m going to write a postcard to Lil.”  Still no answer.

She relaxed a bit more, sighed, and started typing.

He Says Oui

Julie and Quinn watched the couples walk by at a pace slower than what they were accustomed to in the United States. Their breath clouding the air in front of them, they admired the beautiful view, a simple rue full of little shops like every other street they’d seen in Old City, Quebec.

“I wish we could live here year round.”

“And I don’t? That would be lovely.”

She pulled a mittened hand out of her pocket and picked his up, holding it tight. He squeezed back and she looked into his eyes. A couple passed and she returned to people watching.

Lovers walked by closer than they would walk back home, and Quinn squeezed her hand a little harder and a smile grew on her face. She rested her head on his shoulder for a moment and closed her eyes.

That’s when a distant ruckus startled her a bit, and she was not the only one. The meandering couple who moments before were full of bliss jumped a bit too and hurried away from the little courtyard-like road. The noises approached from around a corner.

“Here they come again, merde!” Julie whispered.

“Jul, they are so obnoxious. I can’t take it anymore.”

A large group of people, their loud laughs echoing against the stony storefronts, began to emerge from around the corner, headed by a rather large woman with a giant American flag t-shirt and armed with a disposable camera. She screamed at the sight of the fountain calmly pushing water into little waterfalls.

“Be positive,” Quinn whispered into her ear.

“I’m trying. It’s tough.”

“Look at the cute older couple sitting over there.”

She followed his finger towards the same fountain, where a couple, probably in their seventies, were sitting close to each other and preparing lunch. The man pulled out a sandwich and unwrapped it making sure the paper came off just right, handing the woman her half, and waited to start eating until she was settled. Meanwhile, she opened a bottle of Perrier and placed it next to her. She took her half of the sandwich; they looked at each other, and began eating. That’s when the American woman ran up to them.

“Hel-lo,” she yelled as if the elderly couple was both deaf and unintelligent. “I. Would. Like. To. Take. A. Picture.” She held up her disposable camera and pretended to take a picture. “Could. You. Please. Move.” Then she began to back up, ready to take the picture. The couple looked at each other and then, with a sad sigh, began collecting their little picnic. The loud American grunted.

“Take your time, geez. I just wanna take the friggin’ picture!”

She rushed them, shooing them away like unwanted children at a dinner party, and then tried to take the photograph multiple times until she realized the camera must be advanced.

“Ugh. It’s so embarrassing that we’re with them,” Julie said.

“Agreed.”

“But what are we supposed to do? Quit the tour now? We spent so much money.”

Oui.”

At the sound of Quinn’s simple attempt at French, Julie smiled. She loved that he was trying, because she knew it was just to impress her. She loved the one or two words he was comfortable saying, such as this one and the other common expression, “Merci.”

He also smiled, because he knew she was impressed. She had taught him other words on the plane as they took off, but those were the ones he was comfortable saying, for now. He would try harder.

The large group of Americans filed into the nearby stores, most of them purveyors of Canadian flags, t-shirts and hockey jerseys.

“I’m dying of thirst.”

Moi aussi. Let’s get a Perrier. I’ve always wanted to try one.”

Quinn got up from the curb and offered her his hand, and she took it and allowed herself to be pulled towards a store.

Merci,” she said with a cute smile.

They walked up to the nearest store with a visible refrigerator and entered.

“Mom! MOOOOOM!” a woman in the back of the store screamed into a cell phone. “They have all kinds of shirts! They have blue! BLUE!”

Julie looked at Quinn who was already rolling his eyes.

“This is so embarrassing,” she whispered. “No wonder the world hates Americans.”

The woman continued her phone call as if she were yelling to her mom from two hundred miles away. “MOM! THEY ALSO HAVE A RED ONE WITH A CANADIAN FLAG! OH AND A GREEN ONE WITH A MOOSE! OH AND MUGS! THEY HAVE TONS OF THEM!”

Quinn ran to the drinks and grabbed a Perrier as Julie pulled out a toonie, almost as if they had rehearsed this before. The little bell hanging over the door rang in no time and they were back on the curb. They opened the Perrier and took a sip.

“It’s okay.”

Oui,” he agreed. “It’s kinda just like club soda. But the moment is so great, I can’t help but love it. Just look at this place. It’s beautiful.” He looked around and his eyes ended on her. “You’re beautiful. How do you say beautiful?”

Beaux.”

“You’re beaux.”

Merci!”

They stared into each other’s eyes and then heard footsteps, so they returned to their people watching. Another couple wandered onto the street: a boy in a longer pea coat with large buttons, and a girl in a similar coat but red. They both wore white scarves and walked in unison. At first this was confusing, until they looked closer.

“Were they sharing headphones?” asked Quinn.

Oui, Je pense ainsi, I think so.”

“That is adorable. I love this place. The couples seem so loving, the streets are so clean, it’s safe and beautiful everywhere. The only really ugly thing is the…”

His voice was drowned out by two loud Texans who exploded out of a nearby restaurant.

“I can’ beleev that stuff we jus ate, the damn es-car-got,” he yelled, spelling the word out, as if his wife were deaf. “What the hell is up wit these damn frogs? Eatin shit that I wouldn’t use as bait! And what the HELL is a loonie? Sounds like a damn cartoon!”

The end of his sentence echoed down the street a little, and the pea coat couple turned around for a second, recognized the situation, and then continued on shaking their heads.

“Maw, let’s get one of those damn Canadian flags to burn at the pig roast next week! Ain’t never had a pig cooked over a fire without some flag from a stupid-ass country! Whatta ya think?”

“Sure thang, Walter. Les do it!”

They entered a store, where their voices could be heard even once the door was shut.

Jul took Quinn’s hand and he squeezed.

“When we finally get to Paris, we’re going alone,” Julie said.

Oui.”

A Moment After a Long Day

They sat on a bench, people watching, blocks from the hotel, exhausted from the steps at Sacre Coeur.  It had been a long, beautiful day in Paris, culminating to this moment, when he glanced to the left and noticed the Eiffel Tower. His first view of it at night.  He nudged her, pointed, and she smiled and sighed a sound of pure contentment.  He snapped a photograph, trying to capture the feeling of that moment forever.

He was in Paris.

Metro, Chapitre Un

Photograph of the Metro I took in Paris.

“Be ready to push your way out if you have to.”

“Okay.”

“And watch me.  I’ll watch you.  We don’t want to get robbed.”

“Check.”

“We get off in two stops.”

“Two.”

“Then we take the green line towards Porte de la Chapelle.”

“Okay.”

“You look beautiful.”

“Merci.”