A few weeks ago, in early April, my new 25 year-old friend Rachel and I back and forth-ed a bunch of girly talk texts. We’d met at a soiree one night at some Americans’ house in the stately 16th arrondissement, around Victor Hugo, where that modern-ish fountain spurts water up to the Arc de Triomphe in the distance, if you’re standing at a certain spot, or aiming for the cafes around the leafy circle. But, as I was saying, we’d met at this party. I don’t’ remember how. There were a bunch of us there in those big rooms with the thick carpets and drapes, dining tables full of food and drinks.
Maybe I’d heard her laugh, or heard her telling a story the way she does, scoffing rifts delivered with a straight face. Maybe she’d seen me gesticulating with my hands like I do when I talk, and thought, “Now, there’s someone different.” Or was it simply that we were all making the rounds. Asking those same first questions you ask at parties in Paris, “Why are you here?” “How long are you here for?” It’s like there is a script that everyone follows. But really, it’s just that the city is such a presence in itself. We all want to know what our relation to it is.
Everyone has a different story, even if the stories sometimes mesh together so that when you run into those same people later shopping in rue Passy, you can’t remember if they’re the Dutch diplomats, the women whose husband died suddenly so she packed it up for Paris with 4 kids!, or the people who hold a patent on some salt extraction process. Stories that sound unbelievable anywhere else, start to sound reasonable here. It’s crazy.
Whatever it was, Rachel and I must have decided we liked each others shtick. After the Weinstein’s party, we started to hang out here and there. She knew Andrew. She met the kids, had some pizza with us one night, startled the girls with her madcap silliness playing charades. I kept tabs on her love life. She kept tabs on our family holidays. And in the spring we both decided we’d go to one of the big galas in town. Get all fancy. Andrew agreed to go. (He looks fab gussied up) She was going alone. On Tuesday, she buzzed.
Rach: I have nothing gala-ish to wear.
Me: Me either.
Rach: Ok. Let’s wear sweatpants.
Me: Haha. I don’t need convincing. But off to walk the dog. Text later.
This Paris life had turned out to not be so bad. We’d been sheltered from the worst of it, so far. We were constantly meeting people of all ages, from everywhere. But we’d settled into some real friendships too. And then there was the grandeur of the city as a backdrop that never lifted, only our focus shifted as the daily ups and downs played out. It could be beautifully bleak, it could feel like the grandest most coldest-hearted place in the world on a day when you’d been shoved on the metro, or cold stared by scary international spy types, but the point was, even then, it was terribly beautiful. I mean, we all got tired of the rush of the city, but we were infatuated, at least I was. Terribly infatuated. And I knew I could be obnoxious about it.
By the time, we’d started to go to these parties, we had begun to feel at home. We’d resigned ourselves, more or less, to the highs and lows of the lifestyle. It had been good to meet younger and older friends. For so long, we’d seen mostly our own age. Our own league. It was fun to have 20 year-old friends, 80 year-old friends, friends who played jazz on bridges for tips, friends who were famous and rich, all the in-betweens. Andrew and I both got a kick out of Rachel and we looked forward to the Gala, looked forward to hearing the drama of her twenty something life. I texted her later.
Me: I have dresses but I think they’re too short now.
Rach: Why’s that?
Me: They look too short. Maybe they don’t fit.
Rach: You look good in everything. Everything I own is covered in cat hair.
Me: That’s a style. Dog hair covered stuff, with rips – you pay top dollar for that. Plus, you’re young. You don’t even have to try.
We were both despairing. As the date drew near, the weather had not improved. A few times while out I’d wandered into a few boutiques, but it was cold and raining, so I’d never tried anything on. Besides, I’d decided it was better not to spend the money on a dress, as we were leaving for another holiday soon. I’d considered vintage, but hadn’t bothered to find a shop. Andrew had been working around the clock, the girls were being grouchy after school. A fancy dress just wasn’t the mood, but I didn’t want to be embarrassing in something dowdy.
Me: Took a look thru closet. Discovered serious lack of dresses.
Rach: I’m going naked.
Me: Naked a good idea plus benefit of being inexpensive.
Rach: What if it’s raining.
Me: We live in Paris. It’s always raining.
Of course, we had a great time. It was a party, after all. There was good food. A really nice dinner, as much champagne as you wanted. Across the Seine, the Eiffel tower twinkling outside the windows. Over my dark dress, I wore a long black coat I had bought at Agnes B. last winter. I piled my hair on top of my head, and had at it.