–Passing the hotel from [that cheesy chick-flick you love, secretly–see? I’m still not telling] on New Year’s Eve while the fireworks we couldn’t see–could only see echoes of color from in the English sky–burst behind buildings and we were breaking up and still, I loved you, I loved your height, I loved your laugh, I loved your yellow hair. Yet I did all the breaking. We dropped our champagne flutes on the sidewalk, a pretty pile of glass, and I lost a bejeweled shoe on the escalator.
–Being on my own: I remember Rue de Rivoli taking me home; I remember walking until I saw gold statues; I remember asking for things, waiters rolled eyes or patient smiles at my mumbling; I remember being ordinary, swept up in a rush of black and gray coats, elegant sweaters; I remember the young tan man in boat shoes, no socks, shorts, and a gutted fox around his neck; I remember buying decorative underwear, lace and little hooks, imagining your undoing them. I wore bangs and pet the dog and bought fresh, colorful fruit. I remember you weren’t there.
In the absence of whatever the glue was–the holding together stuff, the working stuff, happiness–have spaghetti. Brown onions and garlic, add ground beef, toss in spices (chili flakes, coarse black pepper, basil, oregano, a pinch of herb de Provence), stir together with tomato paste and ripe, diced tomatoes. There is no need for salt.
The trick is in the wine, which glugs from the bottle and into the sauce-covered meat. Let it cook off. Let it cook into the meat. Let it deepen the red to burgundy. The longer you let the meat sit in the wine in the onions in the tomatoes on the stove, on low heat, stirring now and again, tasting now and again, adjusting the spices and flavors, licking your lips with desire, belly rumbling in hunger, the better it will become.
Boil pasta. Have sex. Al dente, so make it fast, savage and clothed if need be.
Plate the spaghetti and ladle the sauce over it. Parmesan to taste.
(Eat. Be happy.)
I pressed my face to the glass at the top.
Molly pressed her face to the glass at the bottom: to avoid glare, she said. We read it together, guessing at the pretty scrawl. John Keats to Fanny Brawne:
My dearest girl–
I wish you could invent some means to make me at all happy without you.
It went on, of course: first about a trip to Italy that he was reticent to take alone, then about her “back-biting” friends, and on and on about separation. We stood in the stoney hall, decorated brightly for Christmas, and read aloud to each other–my friend and I–a love letter.
Harrod’s Christmas display window glinting spills
glitter snow beads white on the white
porcelain of a mannequin’s perfect bare
neck a shower of silver sequins across the stiff arm.
(A woman encased in black–a cape over the hair, over the feet, over the face, over everything save a net before the eyes–like the incarnation of death, a shapeless mass of secrets, a black hole where a woman would be, stares:
the mannequin meets her gaze and the woman blinks back.
What separates them I
You let me lean into your chest on the underground when it was so crowded and I was so tired and claustrophobic, too. (I imagined I was on a beach in the sun, somewhere in California.)
I do like seeing them.
My grandmother made food–peeled and seeded tomatoes, onions caramelized in mint and butter, small chickens seeped in walnut and pomegranate paste–and stacked the house with cookware. When I came to Tehran she took my wrist and pulled me into one of the boulevards because the cars would never halt on their own, she said, you just had to go.
In California she read us Amelia Bedelia and when we were older, told us of her dreams and regrets, plans and pains. But for her a narrative was not something you built out of a lump in your chest. And so, she didn’t.
Anyway, those ribbons seem almost superfluous–I know. But it means the conversation is established, the stories are being told; grandmothers don’t have to bulk up their clothing so no one finds out the great secret. And that, for me, is enough.
There can’t be anything left to say about it: Paris has been written and written and written. And especially by Americans, who adore the city perhaps more than anyone else.
So although I could write about a Parisian stucco wall or iron balcony or beautifully-dressed woman for pages, ages, I’ll keep it short, for now, and to the title:
Ah, an American in Paris–a thing to behold: awkward, well-meaning, annoying, endearing. [Per example: A Texan on the train from London to Paris 1) unloaded the suitcases of at least 5 different passengers just because it was the helpful, kind thing to do, 2) said in a rather loud voice to his bemused wife after a PA announcement in French “uuhhh…no e-speaka FRENCH! English, please?”]
It’s true Americans have brought strange things to lots of places in the world (Britney Spears, Subway sandwiches, misuse of the word “pride”). But we’ve also brought beautiful things, and one of them is Shakespeare and Company. The American bookstore in the Latin Quarter, opened by Sylvia Beach in the ’50s, was famously the study retreat and social center for Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, Pound, and others. And it continues to be an absolute gem. Sure, it is full of tourists (American and others) at certain times of the week, but often it is nothing more than a cozy library/book shop and retreat for writers. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly, the shelves are crammed with fiction and poetry, and the place echoes a lovely period of rich literary, American history.
So at least we’re balancing out the McDonald’s on the Champs-Élysées.