Of course, all this happened twenty-five years ago. I don’t recall verbatim every word said, or every step I took in Paris but the essence, the feel of being in Paris, alone and lonely, free but not willingly so. It goes without saying that I would have given it all up just to see Terry again, even just for an hour. Nevertheless, life goes on and so must I. Besides, I’d exhausted every avenue, from begging and bargaining to demanding and threatening God, the Universe and Everything, so I really had no choice. If there was a reason I was still breathing and he wasn’t then it was because I still had so much to learn.
My drink with Marc, the Parisian dealer of Australian Art, was eventful. He appeared to be high on life, but he quite easily could have been high on something else altogether. As the crowds dispersed we wandered the deserted streets. He was passionate about indigenous art of all countries and made me promise to learn more about it. He could not believe that I had never been to Alice Springs and called it the beating heart of Australia. His passion was contagious but he scoffed at my interest in the Impressionists. He wrote the names of three or four museums in Paris that I simply had to visit. He had a wonderful idea; he would take me there himself. I wasn’t sure what to say. I hadn’t come all the way to Paris to see Australian art. I wanted to see Musee Picasso, Versailles, the Louvre.
‘I have a very tight schedule…I’m actually on a tour, Paris Week. They have tours and stuff…’ I said, not meeting his eyes.
He shrugged as though I was giving up the offer of a life time.
We had walked all the way to the Eiffel Tower and standing underneath that magnificent structure I felt tears on my cheeks. I had done my fair share of crying in grief and pain, but these were tears of…I’m not sure what…relief? Relief that I wouldn’t die without seeing Paris and the Eiffel Tower. It wasn’t quite joy, but it was a kind of contentment that I am not sure I had ever felt before. Obsessed with death as I was, I felt I could now die and it would be okay.
I had expected bistros and cafés on every corner but I couldn’t see any around. I hadn’t noticed any on our slow walk to the tower. The area between the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower on the Right Bank is all posh shops, apartment buildings and Embassies so on a Sunday afternoon in Summer it is a ghost town, especially when the roads are blocked off for an event like the final leg of the Tour de France.
Marc lived close to my hotel, as it happened so he offered to walk me back and perhaps grab a bite to eat on the way. I wasn’t sure I wanted to walk all that way alone so I let him tag along. After being in a relationship for so long, I wasn’t sure how I would have said no anyway, and he seemed harmless. A bit manic, but harmless. He had a habit of lapsing into French as he spoke to me, but it was nice to listen to, and I didn’t have to try to respond; he didn’t seem to care that it was a very one sided conversation.
We found a pizza place and ate at the bar. I felt very adult in that moment, standing at a bar somewhere in Paris, eating pizza by the slice and drinking cold beer with a cute, if manic, Frenchman.
‘Are you married?’ he asked, In English, out of the blue, although he could have been talking all about his wife and kids for all I understood.
‘Er, no…er…’ I never knew how to answer this question. I just shook my head.
He then proceeded to tell me a story so like the story Gilles had told hours before. The story of a marriage pulled apart by depression and sickness, Marc’s wife had taken their daughter and moved home to her parent’s home in the country. She hates the city, he said, matter-of-factly.
I thought of the quiet streets I had just walked down, the rain washed monuments glowing in the afternoon sun, the stylish apartment buildings and couldn’t understand how anyone could not love this city. I would realise in the morning that Sunday afternoon and Monday morning in Paris are polar opposites, but as they are in every city in the world.
I pulled out my money and paid the tab. Marc was mortified that I had paid for him.
‘To cover the tour guide fee,’ I said.
We left the pizza place and turned a corner and were standing on the Champs Elysees, the golden sunset casting an otherworldly glow on the cobblestones. It was breathtaking. I pulled out my camera and snapped a few frames. (It was very different back in the days when you had a roll of film with 24 shots. I had a decent camera, but you never knew until you got home if the photos would work out. That trip, I shot 12 rolls in 5 weeks. Flash forward to 2006 and I took 9000 photos in 6 months…the beauty of digital. Most of them were rubbish but you could afford to snap away with abandon, you were bound to get at least one usable shot!)
We wandered around for a few more hours and had another drink at a tiny bar behind a cinema that I tried to find in the following days to no avail. Marc walked me back to my hotel and we talked and talked, him doing most of the talking which was a novelty for me.
‘You have my business card? My gallery is not open this week so I am free to see you, or not. Whichever, you choose.’
I wasn’t sure which to choose. I loved the idea of looking at art with a fellow art lover, but had no interest in any other kind of lover. I was especially concerned about my current inclination towards attracting men with broken marriages and unhappy wives.
‘I am planning to go to museums on Tuesday…’
And he was off again, telling me which days certain museums were closed, which days were best, did I have a museum card…? I was exhausted and wasn’t sure I could take much more of the manic tour guide routine.
‘Thank you so much for all your help, Marc.’ I retrieved my guide book and tucked it under my arm.
‘I would love to take you to lunch tomorrow…’ he said.
I had little experience with being asked to ‘lunch’ and blushed fiercely. He put out his hand and I shook it.
‘Perhaps another time. I have a tour tomorrow.’