The Silent Silent Partner
"One should always be drunk. That's all that matters; that's our one imperative need." -from the prose poem "Get Drunk!" by Baudelaire

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I slept the whole day in my hotel room. I feel a bit guilty about it, but since I am given to migraines I justify my "nap" in that it cured my migraine and I could now enjoy the dinner party. Hanging with Henri is, at least, very economical as I get food, wine, and cigarettes for free. This is actually quite an incentive since Paris is very expensive. (At one cafe, a coke was 4 euro while a kir was only 2.50 euro.) In addition when Henri had fed me (the noodles and creme fraiche and sauteed onions) it was better than what I ate at the cafes ( which is saying a lot) and I hadn't done well with food this time on my own, so it meant a lot to be fed.
I go downstairs to wait for Henri and the concierge, a lovely dark haired girl, says "Are you going to stay out the whole night again?" I blush to the roots of my red hair. I open my mouth, but I have no idea what to say. Seeing my embarrassment, she quickly covered "Oh it's just, we were worried something had happened to you. It would help if I could tell the night concierge not to be alarmed." Finally I said, "Honestly I don't know, but I wouldn't expect a hasty return." She smiled and said that was ok and took my key. Henri showed up, and we went out onto the street. I was still incredibly embarrassed, but I had no way of explaining the event so I simply took his hand and walked down the street. Henri was telling me about dinner, asking me if beef "boeuf" was ok. (I guess he was concerned about vegetarianism.) I assured him that boeuf was fine. He had spent the afternoon with his brother drinking Guinness in some cafe. Of course, I find the one Frenchman who likes Guinness but at least we had something in common.
I went up to the apartment and Henri's friend Patricia, who I had met before and for some inexplicable reason thought was named Gail, was there. She kissed me and asked me how I was. We had a glass of kir and the smoking began. Henri had me taste the sauce, which I can only describe as a kind of creme-y mildly gorganzola sauce. Such a description does not do the sauce credit for it was delicious. The roast was sitting out on the sideboard, waiting to be put in the oven. Suddenly two more people came in. Now I thought, and I use this word loosely, that Henri's brother was married. I was fairly sure I had been told such a thing, but well perhaps Henri had meant his brother's "woman" and not his wife.
Sebastian, Henri's brother, was short and boyish looking and my first response was to assume I had misunderstood what Henri meant when he said "brother." Perhaps they were "blood brothers" or half brothers, but to look at these two and think they had come from the same family was almost inconceivable. Sebastian was accompanied but what was clearly more a girlfriend than a wife, called Laine. She was what I like to think of as typical French woman, her haired dyed black, her eyebrows plucked into thin lines, her lips painted a deep red. She was pretty, but not as enthusiastic as Sebastian who kissed me on the cheek without even knowing who I was. There were introductions and we all went into the living room to have more kir and cigarettes and allow Henri to prepare dinner.
Generally when I am not comfortable in a social situation or if the conversation topic is alien to me, I remain silent until the conversation turns in my direction. For example, last friday I was a birthday dinner. Most of the people at the table were PR people at one point I was surrounded by three people discussing former co-workers. Instead of attempt to break into the conversation, I simply sat and waited. Eventually one of the women by me began to ask me how I knew the birthday girl and the conversation started off. Incidentally, I was asked by an acquaintance at the table about Henri and gave a short short version to her, but then was asked by the others at the table to tell the whole story of meeting him. Instead of lying I told the truth ( as there were people at the table who knew the "real" story) and one woman loudly responded to the section where I went to Henri's apartment with "That was SO unsafe." I was very tempted to say to her "Listen, I was getting up in the morning and fantasizing about slicing my chest open with a knife. You don't even begin to know how unsafe I am on a daily basis. Going up to that apartment was actually relatively sane compared to my daily peregrinations." But I digress.
I sat silently for a bit smiling and nodding as the conversation prattled on. Laine suddenly turned to me and said in English "You understand?" I responded in French that I understood, but could not speak very well. And here I thought the whole business would end.
Sebastian made a show of speaking to me an English, extending a hand and saying "Nice to meet you" it was clear he didn't really know what he was saying. "You understand? That's right?" he asked in French. "Yes," I responded in the English, not quite understanding why they all laughed whenever English was spoken, "I understand." Of course I switched and repeated the sentiment in French.
So for me this evening would give me insight into the existence of deaf cousin. I always suspected that attempting to follow conversation based on facial expressions would be difficult and exhausting. I was right, even if my troubles ultimate resulted only in geisha like smiling and nodding. Sebastian, clearly the comedian of the group, made funny of my smiling and nodding by aping a Japanese tourist. To my smiling and nodding, he would press his hands together and bow several times smiling, and we would all laugh, but later I realized how funny that image really was. Your darling Bunni, the fear of the freshman class, the scourge of men everywhere seen as a meek little lotus flower.
And it was here that the hashish enhanced cigarettes began to be passed as well, only Laine abstained sticking with cigarettes. Sebastian passed me a joint and then when I went to pass it back made a big pantomime show of insisting he was a drug user. Finally he took it and pretended to cough at his "first hit." The joints from here one out were to be passed liberally, often two joints making the rounds between the four of us. We finished two bottles of kir and made our way to the table for carrot salad and pate. The salad, store bought, was bland and the pate was very rich. We began drinking red wine. Laine wanted to talk to me about my job. I was an English professor, but what did I do? Well normally I have a prepared little speech, but it was impossible for me to try to attempt it. I could have said simply that I teach reading and writing, but even in the US the response I often get is "shouldn't students already know that?" and I'm sure the Parisians would re-act in a similar way and I didn't want to get into that conversation while I was on vacation. So I lied. I told them I taught contemporary American literature, which isn't exactly true, but isn't exactly false either. Unable to say more, I let the matter end there. Laine continued by asking me if I knew any French writers, so I named the list "Voltaire, Racine, Rimbaud, Zola" "Oh," she said a bit dismissively "classic French authors." Yes well it is difficult to be on the cutting edge of contemporary French literature when you can't even figure out the ticket machine at Charles de Gaulle. The truth is I even taught French authors, but I was fairly sure that it wouldn't please them to know someone as ignorant in French as myself was teaching Candide in English. Sebastian tried to stop Laine from asking me, although whether it was because it was polite but boring conversation or because he sensed I was uncomfortable I can not be sure, but she said "No it's very interesting that she is a professor." And I'm sure it would have been if there had been a common language to discuss it in. Laine had just quit her job selling advertising time on TV to pursue "something artistic" and so as apparently the only "artistic" person in the immediate vicinity she wanted to talk to me. Laine persisted in her attempts naming American authors she loved, including Russel Banks, which she pronounced with such a hard k at the end of his name I almost didn't recognize it. I thought she might also know Rick Moody, but she didn't ( I translated Purple America as Les Etats Unis Violettes.)
The truth is I didn't want to talkbecause I was afraid of looking tres stupide, and this conversation made me extremely uncomfortable. I just wanted to blend in, not to be noticed, and the anxiety of the focused attention of course drove me to continue having glasses of red wine. The pate and carrots consumed, we were informed the roast would take some more time and we returned to the living room so that Henri and Laine could play guitar.
I should warn you that from here on out events took on a kind of Hunter S. Thompson chewing on an adrenal gland in the corner of a Las Vegas hotel room type of feel. I have pictures of the night, but the series of events is at times unclear as is my general perception of what actually happened. Up until this point Henri and Patricia kept asking me if I was alright, probably from the silence, and although it was sweet of them to show concern it only made me more uncomfortable, feeling like more of a failure, but from here on I don't remember people asking me if I was ok. Was I talking more or did it simply not matter anymore? Were we all so stoned that no one noticed that I was silent? I can't say. Nor can I say specifically the series in which certain events happened. I remember Henri sitting next to me on the couch when we were relatively alone and asking me if I was afraid to talk to his friends, I responded yes of course. When he asked why however I couldn't find the correct way to phrase "because I don't want your friends to think that I'm an idiot" and while I was working on this problem, words stuck in my throat, we were joined by the others. But I can not figure out where in the evening this exchanged occurred, before the carrots or after. And what immediately preceded it? I have no idea. So the best you are going to get from here on out is an approximation.
Henri took out his guitar and played a bit, and then Laine tried, but she found she had forgotten everything and handed the guitar back a bit abashed. Henri tried to teach me. He handed the guitar to me and I strummed a bit, but of course I couldn't figure out much (right right because wine, kir, and pot are really conducive to learning something that depends on manual dexterity-although it did change my adoration of Emmett Ray who often performed falling down drunk into near worship). Henri tried to teach me by sitting behind me and forming the cords, but he almost strangled me in the process. Patricia tried to play the grand piano, but couldn't remember anything and was reduced to chopsticks and other children's tunes. She accidentally put her wine glass on the top of the grand, when Henri reprimanded her for and she jokingly started playing with just one hand ( plot point).
As much as you need language for some things, travel arrangements, subway tickets, you don't need language for many other things. For example, Sebastian had two beaded bracelets, one on each wrist. Patricia admired one, and when Laine was in the bathroom he slipped it onto Patricia's wrist, but insisted she push it up past her sweater so it couldn't be seen. Henri did not see the exchange either, and well, I wasn't one to talk especially since I couldn't. At dinner, Henri made some comment I didn't understand, and the look Laine gave Sebastian was one I recognize often. It was the faintly amused but still "I can not believe your family, we are leaving as soon as this over" look. Love is not the only international language, so apparently is jealousy, sibling rivalry and familial tension.
Dinner was finally served, a nice cut of beef with the sauce and hand cut frites. The food was delicious, particularly the sauce. We finished dinner with a Bibb lettuce with a red wine and shallot vinaigrette and brie with baguette. We devoured everything. Sebastian actually some of the salad with his hands. He teased me by saying I ate like a butterfly, but whether he was mocking the delicacy with which I ate or the amount I couldn't say. The general assembly thought his joke funny and repeated his comment with little titters. After the food was gone, the plates were removed to the kitchen, Henri asked me how I was enjoying myself. I tried to call across the table to him, but he motioned I should join him. I sat with him and told him how much I was enjoying the night. And now it was true. In the beginning when I was being asked questions, when I was being wheedled I admit I was anxious and bored and after a point exhausted and hoping that dinner would be over soon so all these people would just go home and I wouldn't have to work so hard at understanding everything. But now filled with sauces and wine and let's not forget the continually circulating pot, I was filled with complete contentedness.
I thought of all the things that had to happen to bring me to that table. It had started with seeing the photograph of La Jeune Tarentine the first time I went into Eric 's apartment. And then Eric had to leave, or I definitely would not have met Henri. And then I had to meet UDR so that I could meet Nutreena who would be the motivating force behind thefirst trip. I had to lose my luggage. The Amazon had to go to St. Tropez so she could return before my visit and tell me "say please and thank you for everything." And even then, even if all those those events happened, if I taken one different turn, if I had hesitated at one crosswalk, or stopped to tie my shoe, I would never ended up at that table. And even of those tangical events, so many other events hinged on them as well, the Amazon had to be bit by a dog so that she could to St. Tropez. I had to happen to be in the coffee shop in the right moment to meet UDR. And if any one of those connections had failed? And even then, what were all the events that brought Henri there? He was on his way the opposite direction. What if it was a pressing appointment? What if he had gone home to Normandy for vacation? What if he had wanted to speak to me, but for whatever reason didn't? I thought of how many events, how many moments had to work in a seemingly monomaniacal focus to bring me to that table laughing and drinking-listening to Sebastian and Henri break into songs from their childhood, me actually managing to crack a joke at Sebastian, Patricia mugging a "pole dance" as she helped clear the dishes-to that table. And I thought "I am exactly where I want to be right now." It was a long timr since I had that thought, but in that moment, I loved the universe for bringing me to them. Henri lifted his glass to me "Mon cherie" I lifted mine in returned "Ma chere" the reigning king and queen of the dinner table.

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