Paris Diaries: Fever
WARNING!!!! If you are deeply disturbed by accounts of non-consensual sex, do not read this post. This post contains graphic adult material.

Nothing went wrong with the flight, and I was delivered into the arms of the Sauvage, who met me at Charles de Gaulle without a hitch. Yet, I knew something was off. I couldn't quite say what-like all of the angles in a room being miscalculated by a single degree- a minor shift, but taken all at once the effect was as unmistakable as it was unidentifiable. Something was wrong, the question was what.

The Sauvage led me to a car, a different one, and we stowed my stuff. Once he began driving, I got a sense of what it was. I found myself coughing, and there was the scratchy feeling in the back of my throat. I sat in the car looking out of the window pleading, with whom or what I have no idea. "Please, no. Not sick now. Not now." I hoped it was merely wear and tear from the plane trip, but as someone who has spent most of my life coping with some sort of illness, I have a keen sensitivity to this issue. As much as I hoped I wasn't sick, I already knew that I was.

As we drove, the Sauvage explained something was wrong with his car. "Wait," I thought to myself, "Wasn't there something wrong with his car in August? It can be the same problem." One of the things that I teach my students is that the simplest answer is most often the right one.* Some stereotypes hold true. Like Frenchmen being cheap, for example. While the Sauvage was happy to pay for his daughter's gameboy and horseback riding lessons, he was limping along with the same piece of crap car, which he hadn't bothered to fix. So indeed, there was something wrong with the car. The car he was driving was his ex-wife's car. We stopped to pick up Nana-and in my post trip pre-illness fatigue I got to meet the ex-wife.

She was lovely and seemed not all upset by me. While the Sauvage basically left me in the hallway while he found his daughter, she invited me in-kissing me on both cheeks as is the custom. There was a teenage boy in the living room, whose presence was not explained. Not much point in it. Even if she did,I wouldn't understand. Like all teenagers, he was slumped on the couch watching TV with an air of melancholic apathy. Looking at him, with his jet black hair, messily swept over his forehead, all I could think was "If Proust was a teenager today, would he look like this?" The ex-wife was beautiful, her black hair swept into an chignon.While the Sauvage claimed she spoke English, she didn't demonstrate the ability-offering me a drink in French, which I politely demurred. She and I shared a similar physique. While she was dressed more in a motherly fashion, a long plain dress, and I was more the NYer (jeans and a black sweater) it was clear we were both full figured women. I stood wishing I could talk to her-not just to ease the tension-but she had the answers to a lot of questions, most notably why did you leave him after all those years? But my French was trapped somewhere out of the reach of my tired mind.

By now, the Sauvage managed to get Nana and summon me back into the hallway. He ushered me out quickly. While his ex-wife seemed to perfectly comfortable to entertain her ex-husband's strangely mute new lover, the Sauvage clearly wanted to get out. I couldn't blame him....exactly. But it seemed to me if anyone should have been uncomfortable, it should have been her. After all, it's not like he had to worry about her telling me anything. Which was lucky for him. If she and I had a common language I would have used those 5 minutes to pump her for subtly and politely as possible, of course.

Of course.

We arrived at the apartment, which looked exactly as I remembered, except it smelled horrible, particularly the bathroom. It reeked of cat piss. This was particularly confusing because the cat, Mimi Secour, had run away at the end of October following the slaughter of her kittens.

Both of my parents had (or in my mother's case HAS) an unnatural attachment to animals. My mother often to refers to her horse, the one that's getting the oil portrait, as "my brother" and my father referred to his Newfoundland the same way. While she'll curse out any even mildly incapable driver, she'll pull over and weep about a run over raccoon. Living in a farmhouse, she won't buy regular mousetraps, but "have a heart" traps. Predictably, the mice stay fat and happy in the attic over the winter. The point being I was raised with people who didn't just value the lives of animals as much as people, but I've always suspected valued them MORE.

Mimi Secour had delivered a litter of kittens in late September. The Sauvage would show them to me on the cam. Their eyes still sealed, two or three in his hand, desperately struggling to control their little heads as they mewed piteously. After the Sauvage returned from his trip to Bretagne at the end of October, I asked about the kittens. "They all died" he told me abruptly. And then proceeded to explain that he had taken Mimi Secour with them on the trip AND LEFT THE KITTENS ALONE. When Mimi returned and found her babies dead, she ran away. The Sauvage claimed he saw her from time to time, but she fled when he approached.

This episode absolutely sickened me. Separating the kittens from the mother at 6 weeks old and leaving them alone in an apartment was cruel. They must have starved to death terrified. Adult cats are self reliant. While Mimi would not have liked staying in the apartment alone, I'm sure she could have saved at least a few of her kittens. Had it been me, I would have left Mimi at the apartment, taken Nana to his parent's place, relaxed a day or two, and returned to the apartment to take care of the cat and kittens. I would then pick her up near the end of break and return to the apartment. Or I would have found a freakin' cat sitter. I mean surely there had to be a teenage girl close by dying to have hours a day playing with kittens and willing to put out cat food and clean litter.

I hated him for letting those kittens die. His cavalier attitude toward life without acknowledging his responsibility for it. Perhaps it's American to value the lives of pets so much, but I almost vomited every time I remembered them mewling on the cam. I had never even held them, and I cared more about them than he did. Mimi was right to run away. She was better on her own. And I began to think that he regarded me much like the kittens, cute and fun, but not worth much effort protecting. And fairly of incapable of thinking about the long term impact of his acts on others.

Still, why then was the overwhelming stench of cat pee still in the apartment? There hadn't been a cat here in 7 weeks, yet you would think there was a whole cattery camping out in this apartment. The kitchen also wreaked of rotting food, the scraps from the last meal slowly transforming into a cure for cancer in the sink.

As I said before, some stereotypes are true. The smells of Paris aren't subtle nor are they all pleasant.Walking down the streets, one is just as likely to confront the stench of a cheese store as a delicious whiff of frais du bois at a fruit stand. And I had embraced that-a rich sensory tapestry. Perhaps it was my illness that made these smells so unpleasant as I hadn't been disturbed by them before. Maybe he was merely unaware what his apartment smelled like to an American, trained as I am to expect pleasant neutrality or perhaps some sort of room spray.

He proudly showed me their Christmas tree, which was the single saddest Christmas tree I've ever seen. If you can imagine a crappy plastic version of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, you have an idea of the despair this tree broadcast. It's pathetic sparseness was emphasized by it's obvious fakeness enhanced two two mismatched tinsel garlands and a few plain ornaments. While the French are about manicured gardens, they put little effort into their Christmas trees. The idea of 20 or even 40 dollar handcrafted or designer ornaments has not yet surfaced. Neither have concept trees, like a tree decorated entirely with powder blue ribbons and angels or only Victorian style ornaments, appeared. Unfortunately, I did see a giant inflatable Snoopy Santa above one of the stores. As always they have chosen the worst, the cheesiest, the ugliest part of American culture to absorb.

Before setting me up for a nap, the Sauvage ushered Nana into the TV room and brought a present from under the sad tree. I had bought him two pairs of Levis jeans as he had asked for. I gave them to him-all wrapped up. I had also bought Nana a fairy necklace as well as stuffing my bag with candy canes to be doled out on a regular basis. Nana loved candy, and I figured these designer (strawberry, blue raspberry, and watermelon) canes might win me a little bit of peace when she was on the verge of a diva-esque hissy. I opened my present-it was a three piece "sheherazade" outfit in bright red. It was, in actuality, a pretty decent belly dancing ensemble with gold coins at the waistband. Not what I was expecting, but it struck me as an interesting gift. Certainly it worked with my great love of dressing up, but also the symbolism was appropriate. Sheherazade saved her own life and restored the faith of her husband by telling stories. He may have thought it was just an outfit for a hot piece of ass. I thought it was something more.

I usually do.

The Sauvage let me take a nap, and I literally crashed. What seemed like only a second passed before they were shaking me awake for dinner. By this time, the illness had begun to hit full force-the coughing, the sneezing, the sore throat, and the dizziness. It was unmistakably clear I was ill. Dinner was potatoes cooked in duck fat and bison steaks (which he is particularly proud of) in a Roquefort cream as well as salad and peas smothered in butter. I struggled through dinner, barely able to eat or focus. I found this food barely palatable, the Roquefort overpowering and curdling my palate. The smell was repulsed me. As usual, the Sauvage wouldn't let me eat as little as I wanted and as soon as I choked down some meat and potatoes, he would put more on my plate. While pouring coffee, the Sauvage noticed me literally dozing at the table-eyes closed, head tilted to the side. After finishing his coffee, the Sauvage put me to bed and he retired to the TV room with Nana.

In history and literature, disease often marks a turning point. Fevers tend to be a particularly transformative event from the Jane Eyre's feverish hallucinations to the heroine of Bleak House's encounter with smallpox to Caligula's "brain fever", which many blame for his madness. In Angels in America, fever is the "threshold of revelations" for several characters. For better or worse, characters, both historical and fictional, often undergo intense psychological changes when in the grips of a fever.

I fall asleep quickly to be wakened to the Sauvage trying to get me naked. "He can't actually be trying to fuck me" I thought-although I could barely open my eyes. Quickly enough, his intentions were clear and while normally I would have enjoyed waking up to kisses and caresses, I felt like I had run full force into a brick wall. I just wanted to rest. His mouth on my breasts, pulling off my pajamas as I struggled to tell him I didn't want to make love. Under normal circumstances, I would have picked the lamp off the table and smashed it in his head or grabbed and twisted his balls like I was picking ripe apples. But I barely had the strength to raise my head, never mind push an able bodied man off of me. Had my mind been clear-not hazy with fatigue or disordered by hallucinations and fever-I like to think that some sort of plan would have occurred to me. I kept telling him no, stop, I wasn't in the mood. He said nothing, easily batting my hands away when I tried to resist him. Eventually, I just lay there knowing I had one thing on my side.

The Sauvage had a heart condition and what can only be termed a heroic appetite for pot (at least two joints a day). Either element on its own can cause erectile dysfunction, together, however, in a man over 40 it takes a truly talented piece of ass like myself to ensure that the flag doesn't fail. I was hardly likely to help him in my current condition. He took me....briefly, but soon enough, without my help, he withdrew. He fell asleep without saying a word, snoring next to me. I fell into dreamless sleep.

I woke to him gently shushing me. I was moaning in my sleep, but terrifyingly found even awake I couldn't stop myself from moaning. My body was shaking, and my skin was on fire. I walked onto the freezing terrace. The wind gave me some relief, clearing my head and soothing my fever. I tried to stop the moaning, but I couldn't. The lack of control over this simple act convinced me that I was finally dying. My entire body hurt, particularly my back. Suddenly I was sure that my kidneys were failing. That's why I was so sick. Unsteadily, I made my way to my bag. It's not kidney failure, I thought. I'm delusional from fever. I need to rest and get my fever down. I took half a dose of tylenol pm from my bag and took it. Then I stood looking out at the clear night-barely able to hold myself against the luxurious cold of the glass terrace door.

Despite it all, my fever addled brain had a moment of clarity as the tylenol took effect. I wanted to be in some hotel in Venice or Florence with white fluffy sheets and mints on the pillows. Some place clean and all my own. A place where I could sleep without having to fend off a lusty paramour, chat with ex-wives, or tolerate the smell of cat pee from an absent cat. I wanted to be alone again. Blessedly alone.

I had thought once that I wanted to die in the heroine in my father's favorite opera, La Boheme. But in that moment, shaking, my skin on fire, terrified by the lack of control I had over my own body, I knew that I didn't want to die in Paris. Not in some stinking apartment. Not even with my formerly beloved Parisian Paramour by my side. He wouldn't understand my last words.

He had saved me once when I was sick. Going back to lie in the pool of clammy sweat I left on the bed, I knew this time I was going to have to save myself.

Before I fell asleep I turned the claddaugh ring, a Christmas present, heart outward. My love was no longer his.

*In medicine, this is sometimes referred to as the zebra principle, or a variation thereof. The basic idea is if you hear hoof beats, the odds are it's a horse not a zebra.

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Paris Diaries:Know Thyself and Other Airport Diversions
Outside of Apollo's Temple at Delphi was printed "Know Thyself." Like all advice, it is deceptive in its simplicity. Most people think that they do know themselves, but few actually do or assess themselves in such a way to make their self knowledge actually useful.

This phrase should definitely be written outside of every airport and train station in the country. One of the keys to traveling well is to understand how you travel. I have control issues, mainly I don't like to be at the mercy of others-not just pilots or the asshats at amtrak, but even relying on friends on me to pick me up. This probably has a direct relationship to how many times my parents "accidentally" left me at art class for 3 hours or forgot to pick me at school. Thus travelling, particularly if I have to rely on another person for part or all of the trip is far more anxiety provoking than for some of my free spirited friends. To calm my inner control freak, I need to arrive at the airport early, check in, and settle in at the gate for what promises to be a fairly long spell. Still even if fully in control, of all the elements, I will get all riled up. So I plan for this eventuality with my choice of entertainment.

One way to entertain myself is through reading. Reading in an airport is not like reading curled up in one's favorite chair with a cup of tea. While I love debating the intricacies of Richard the Third or curling up with Baudrillard's theory about sign and simulacra, I also know that by hour four on a plane, the last thing I'm going to want to read is a literary analysis of Kafka or an Umberto Eco novel about an amnesiac bookseller. International flights require books like Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon or Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine. These books aren't simple, but they certainly don't demand the same level of attention or involvement as S/Z. Furthermore I try to pick books suitable for the trip-thus Paris warrants Hemingway's a Movable Feast or anything by Zola. Truthfully, however, I usually find myself so nervous before taking off I can't focus on a sentence long enough to actually process it.

And this is where liquor comes in.

While they may have banned smoking in airports, they have not, thankfully, banned drinking. The key is to get enough of a buzz on as to be calm on the plane, but not so much that airport security has to escort you from the building.

As I said, knowing yourself is the key to successful traveling. In this case, knowing how much to drink and how quickly. Fir me 3 hours warrants at least one vodka tonic. If the pour is particularly light, then maybe two. But one is the minimum dosage.

After checking in with my e-ticket, checking my bag (it's easier what with all the restrictions these days) and charging through security, I found myself one of those horribly dismal little airport bar/restaurants close to the gate. As if the bar couldn't be depressing enough due to the flourescent lighting and the stale anxious feeling all airports seem saturated with, because I was taking the red eye, the airport, as well as the bar, was particularly desolate...making it seem more like a set for the Langoliers or the Night Flier than the beginning of a transatlantic romantic folly.

At the bar, I can indulge in one of my all time favorite airport entertainments: match the traveler with the destination. Thus I find myself betting money, against myself, that the three girls who sit next to me, who are giggly, and wearing too much make-up and far too constricting clothes to be comfortable on a plane are going to Vegas. They order the types of drinks that make bartenders cringe-lots of shaking and mixing-with little paper umbrellas and pieces of fruit on the edge. An older couple orders wine spritzers, I'm putting money on Miami or maybe, if they are feeling particularly edgy one of the Florida Keys, while I'm impressed that the bartender even knows what a wine spritzer is.

There aren't enough people in the bar for me to play the match the passenger with the destination game for very long so I find myself playing my new favorite restaurant game: What would Gordon Ramsay say. Thus when presented with over salted, cold, rubbery crap-with fries so cold that I couldn't even choke one down, I imagine him storming into the bar, shirt sleeves rolled up, "You call this shit food, do you? Do you? You lazy fuckers. Why not just present the passengers with a giant salt lick and a bit of parsley on the side if you are going to serve them this shit? And these chips? Honestly WHO FUCKS UP CHIPS? What chef actually can't make a decent chip? It doesn't even look like FOOD. It's not an embarrassment, it's a crime against fucking humanity, for fuck's sake" And then he would run his fingers through his hair and say, "It's like talking to a fucking wall, you dumb bastards. I don't even know why I'm here." And then he would stalk away.

By this time, I had wasted enough time and brain cells to get onto the plane. The vodka tonic, a single one beccause the glasses were particularly large and the pour was pretty decent, had settled me, and it was time to commence on my latest misadventure.

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Where do we go from here? : Necessary Exposition Before the Return of the Paris Diaries
Thus in the beginning of September, I received an email from the Sauvage, and I, who thought I would be ok never hearing from him again, suddenly felt like I could breathe again. Emails turned into IMs which turned into conversations that lasted for the entire afternoon, well into the night-particularly impressive considering my limited French. I bought a camera for my computer and soon we were video chatting.

When I got the cam, everyone assumed it was so we could have hot, insane, transcontinental video sex, but in those four long months he never NEVER asked me to do anything more than blow him kisses. Occassionally, he would ask to see the outfit I was wearing to work. But that was it. Period. Our cam conversation such that even a Mormon would have approved. And while some of you may find that disappointing, it reassured me that he actually did like me as a person and didn't just want some hot young piece of ass. On the other hand, it was very frustrating because flashing your tits doesn't require a giant french english dictionary.

He could moon over me on the cam for hours. It was enough for him to stare into my eyes asking me to blow kisses and asking me why he was so lucky to find me single. We would make tea and sit and have our tea together-him before bed and me after work before I commenced on several hours of non-stop grade-o-rama. He would leave me messages before he went to work so that they would be waiting for me in the morning. I would leave my computer on all the time waiting for that tell-tale flash of the IM box. It was uncommon for me to wake in the middle of the night and seeing the IM box open would dash from my bed half awake to have 10 minutes of conversation with him. It was the closest thing to living with a man I've experienced since the Idiot Formerly Known as My Fiance left.

But four months is a long time. The Sauvage told me that last night we spent together in Frehel that he would come to NYC in October. I was excited. I had never had anyone who was willing to go as far for me as I was for him. Despite the fact that I play the jaded, cynical, martini swilling, quip snapping, heartless femme fatale, the truth is I'm a romantic. But I'm a very wounded romantic. I've been promised so many things in this life by men. In fact, the second week I was with the Idiot Formerly Known as My Fiance, he told me he wanted to take me to Paris. We talked about it often-eating bread and cheese on the banks of the Seine, kissing on the Pont Neuf, exploring the Louvre. In two years, he never came through on that promise and so many others. And he's not alone. I could fill an ocean with the broken promises of men-with lost opportunities and stolen hope. How many times have I been disappointed by my own naive belief that a man wouldn't offer something unless he had the intention of actually giving it to me?

The french have a saying: that there is no such thing as a promise made in love.

Or to rephrase-essentially lovers promise a great many things, but one can not expect them to live up to their words. Only a great fool, like myself, would. Because only a great fool like myself does.

Still while I was excited for him to come, I was also fearful. I couldn't translate menus for him nor did most of my friends speak even the smallest amount of French. There were all kinds of problems-keeping him happy, making sure my friends didn't hate him, trying to help him navigate NYC and, of course, I wouldn't be able to take time off from work. How would he survive on his own the three days a week I needed to go teach my little monchichis? Predictably when October approached, he claimed that he couldn't take the time off. Yet, at the end of October, he took his daughter to Frehel for two weeks. I tried not to be angry. I tried not to be resentful. And I managed to convince myself, almost, that I wasn't disappointed, but rather that this was a relief for all concerned. A way of dodging the bullet.

And the whole time, I was rushing home to chat with him online, I was telling myself this relationship was only temporary. That I was waiting for someone else to come along. I wouldn't turn down dates or offers. Yet there were none. On the other hand, it's hard to get offers when you are spending what few free daylight hours you have sitting in front of a cam or waiting desperately for emails or IMs. If I remained faithful to him, it wasn't because of my fidelity but more because the opportunity didn't present itself and yet I simulateneously behaved in a way that would prevent those opportunities from arising.

OK that is not entirely true. There were men who hit on me-as always-but these were purely sexual come-ons. I was no longer interested in just sex. If I was going to leave the Sauvage, it wasn't going to be for what I could get any night of the week before last call at the local bar. It was going to be for something special, something real.

I would not trade a shaky love for definitive lust.

I told the Sauvage I would come to see him at the end of December for the New Year. It would be hard enough getting through so many holidays without a boyfriend in the flesh. I figured what better way to ring in the New Year than in Paris?

Yet, I hestitated. I could have bought the tickets on sale early in December, but I put it off. There were reasons. Preparing Bakerina's surprise birthday party, preparing my own, the holidays, exams. But, still, there was something in me waiting....waiting for him to say-don't come, it's over. Instead, he kept asking me when I was coming. And I kept lying and saying that I was waiting for my mother to buy the tickets (she offered to buy them as a birthday present). Finally, I had to either buy the tickets or tell him I wasn't coming.

I bought the tickets.

More disturbingly I found myself avoiding talking to him online. I told myself it was because I was so stressed, so tired. I didn't have the energy to translate. Wanted to spend what little free time I had genuinely relaxing instead of schlepping around my gynormous Larousse dictionary. Still, it was clear something in me had changed-yet when or why was unclear even to me.

But, I always put my faith in Paris before all else. I thought that this was just pre-trip jitters and once there, in the arms of my Parisian paramour that all would be right again. We would kiss in the light of La Tour Eiffel, I would remember what life and love was all about. Thus Thanksgiving, Bakerina's birthday, final exams, my birthday, christmas all quickly passed. And suddenly it was upon me again...I was going to Paris.

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