A River

I grew up near a small river. Though small, the current was swift and its embankments were high and steep. There were far mightier rivers not far away, wider, a stronger current, and more history. But this was our river. It, too, had a history. Since the early 19th century, mills and factories had borrowed the power of its flow to give thrust to their machines. In return, the mills had heavily polluted the river’s waters.

Way upstream were mighty cataracts. Further downstream it was calm where it emptied into the lake. But through our neighborhood the river took an in-between way … too fast and caustic to swim in, but in many places clear enough to see the bottom.

I loved to study the river, follow its current, watch the swirling eddies. I knew the bank on our side of the river well. The secret trails, the good copse of bushes where a 10-year old could hide, smoke and not be caught or seen. I knew the river’s course, every turn, each narrowing and widening of the banks, driving the river’s flow. The river’s course and flow never changed.  But every drop of water flowing by me was completely different than the moment before. Nothing, and everything changed. What was real? Was it  real? Did the river change before my eyes, or was it a constant?

I don’t think I ever came to a satisfactory answer.

Should I see her as a river? Accept that as she flows, everything changes? Or should I believe that the course, level, and flow are constants?

I don’t think I’ll ever come to a satisfactory answer.

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Paris Nostalgia

Based on some conversations over the past couple of days, some memories of Paris have come back in a huge deluge. This was during the time of my travels as I was leaving my teens.

The cars on the old Metro lines still had wooden touches. When the doors closed, thin, metallic bars would somersault over to latch the doors, snapping to with a bold clic that could be heard across the carriage. It was practically Edwardian they were so old.

metro21

I was on my way, hopefully to see her again. I was staying at the Auberge de la Jeunesse. We slept in dormitories of 6 or 8 beds and paid 5 francs a night if I remember correctly. It was there I had my first café au lait. In the youth hostel they served it from bowls, along with your croissant. I remember my first taste of the café as if it were yesterday. The smoothness, the richness, which contrasted sharply with the chicory-infused coffee I had been exposed to in England at my last job. This was so delicious.

I had seen her, met her, talked to her the day before. I had caught her eye. She had grasped my fluttering heart. At the first glance she reminded me of Amy, her long, dark hair and relatively short stature served to bring my angst to the fore perhaps. She worked in a record store on the Left Bank. Her name was Françoise.

There is something I need to explain here. About Marty and Gallic women. They have this “thing” … apparently. An affinity for each other. That can turn into an attraction. And then a craving. It is often a full on irresistible force. So it started with Françoise. I’ve named her Françoise because she was a virtual clone of my then favorite French chanteuse, Françoise Hardy. That’s Françoise Hardy at around this time at the top of the post. Now, I’m sure you all can get a good feel for why Marty is drawn to these femmes fatales, but exactly what pulls them Marty’s way remains one big mystery. Perhaps it was the crooked smile or the flashing soft blues, possibly the fractured way he attacked the French language. Who’s to know? Certainly this recipe was much less successful with Teutonic women during my wanderings. They were probably put off by the lack of direction and purpose. Success with them required much greater diligence. But never French-speaking women.

But back to our story. I had entered the record shop the day before and was checking out the available LPs of French artists with whom I was familiar when Françoise approached, asking if I needed some help. One look at her and she was immediately subject to full-on crooked smiles and my best possible version of fractured French.

We hit it off and now I was on my way to visit her near the end of her work shift. We would get a glass of wine, perhaps later dinner … and then who knows?

In short, the wine was good. Dinner was fabulous. I learned that she would soon have her 22nd birthday. She lived at home with her parents.

But the following day she would have off from work. And we would meet at the nearby garret shared by her older sister and boyfriend. I learned more of French music and Françoise became much more knowledgeable about the American music scene than she had been.

And I would learn to make love to a vital, nubile young French woman. Without hesitation, with no prospects of a future.  I would understand that what was offered was but of that moment. Yet it would be timeless and unforgettable.

Françoise was the first French woman I had ever bedded. Fortunately and grâce à Dieu, she would not be the last. When I left Paris 2 days later, I was on a roll.