Saturday, December 31, 2011

Seb & Joce

Jocelyn answered the door, her deep-set eyes exuding the doe-eyed innocence of a girl. While she seemed quite motherly at times with Sebastien, there was also a vulnerability about her that I associated with someone much younger. Perhaps it was because she was shy. Seb, on the other hand, was gregarious and talkative, sometimes about uninteresting engineering stuff I knew nothing about and mostly about myriad ways to wine and dine his guests, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

As soon as I settled my luggage, Seb and Joce whisked me away to their favorite place, located in a nearby French village. Knowing my appreciation for Christian history, the restaurant faced an old Gothic cathedral and we watched the sun set behind the intricate carvings of the bell tower. I wanted to see the inside, but Sebastien insisted on drinking a glass of wine first. Three hours later, I still hadn’t moved and the cathedral was long closed.

Indulge me they did. We had langoustine in butter sauce with bits of bread slightly dipped in a tart crème. Then it was the most rare and tender boeuf topped with a generous portion of slightly sautéed froie gras. The consistency was amazing: a crisp outside while inside was firm and moist and savory. Tres bon! (Yes, I speak a very hindered French which I didn’t have to use, since Seb and Joce spoke excellent English).

The next day Seb suggested we go to Napolean’s chateau MalMaison outside of Paris, and I really wanted to see Fontainbleau. Indecision ruled; time was running out and then we compromised and went to a Reinaissance chateau neither of us really cared for. At every opportunity, he suggested we sit down at a picturesque café with a view or a restaurant, or any place scenic that offered wine and cheese. I realized that Sebastien was more interested in savoring life, tasty foods, and wines that lead to exotic forms of inebriation than he was in seeing any tourist site, even if he had never been there. On the way back, we stopped at a medieval monastery. While I was admiring the stonework and buttresses, he lay with his head in Jocelyn’s lap upon a park bench.

I wondered if Seb was exhausted from work, (he often mentioned his job with a grain of contempt) or if he needed the reassurance of being loved. Even though his language was rife with facts, logic, and practicality, Sebastien had soft eyes imbued with sentimentality, not unlike Jocelyn’s. Sometimes I caught a glimmer of deep emotion in them, but it never seemed appropriate to ask.

When we returned, I finally caught a glimpse of Aimeric. He had the face of a French movie star, a bit feminine with impossibly long lashes and sweet eyes. He promptly nodded at me and closed the door to his bedroom.

Later that night, Jocelyn showed me photos from an Indian wedding that she and Seb attended the prior spring. She sighed. She and Sebastien belonged to different age brackets and different life stages, of this she had no illusions. She knew he wanted a family of his own. She was ready to release him. Love meant being able to let go.

En Route to Chantilly

I was determined NOT to be impressed with Paris at first. Let me explain. By no means did I intend to turn a blind eye to the architectural beauty or the exquisite art that the glittering city offers. However, there is a difference between a universal consensus based on empirical experience and the acquiescence to a given assumption because enough people or seemingly “everyone” believed it. The power of the collective mass. Too often we give up our ability to decide in favor of what the collective mass or “everybody” thinks. What “everybody” thinks shapes reality and we unwittingly become followers even in our own lives, blind to our hearts and our intuition.

Yes, I could very well fall in love with Paris because it stirred something deep within me. Or because I was satisfied by the tantalizing layers of mille feulle, my favorite French pastry along with chou crème, a fancy word for cream puffs. But I did not want to be impressed by Paris before even getting there, merely because thousands of others sojourned there before me and “loved” it.

My friend Sebastien picked me up at the train station in his snazzy European car and picked up a traffic ticket on the way, which he endeavored to pay immediately since apparently the penalty doubles after a certain period of time. Sebastien was a pensive young corporate executive who always looked like an intellectual. I always imagined him with glasses, whether he actually sported spectacles or not. We met when he was working in upstate New York (Nyack, to be precise) through a mutual friend. He always seemed homesick for Paris. Now he was racing through avenues and winding through streets like there was no tomorrow.

We had lunch at in the Bastille area, a delectable plate of escargots and red wine, followed by a plateful of various fromages for dessert. The word cheese somehow seems derogatory when referring to the pasteurized French delicacies with the pungent smell and the thick, luscious textures that melt in the mouth. The food was amazing, but I was not in love yet. We chatted and Seb doesn’t think I am a real American since I love fromage, traveling, and food which maintained its integrity. I chose to think of that as a compliment.

Seb was living with his girlfriend Jocelyn and her son, Aimeric in Chantilly. At the mention of his partner’s son, my friend rolled his eyes emphatically. “He doesn’t go to school; he doesn’t work; he just hangs around the house.” He proceeded to explain that both Aimeric’s parents were prosperous and owned property in Paris. His father even owned planes. The boy just goes back and forth from one wealthy parent to another. Sebastien, a self-made man, had little regard for those whose fortunes were handed to them on a silver platter.

As we rolled into an elegant Spanish styled stucco home with large French doors, I was prepared to greet Jocelyn again. As well as her couch potato son.

Covent Garden