Why was I in Paris? I don’t remember. Still, what excuse is needed to go to Paris for a couple of days? Although, as it worked out, I couldn’t have been there to delve deeply into Paris. What I saw of Paris was blurred by the speed at which a convertible sports car with me in the passenger seat traversed the city.
Driving the car was François De Lamothe, a well-known film art director (and, I’d learn later, a count, i.e., Comte, a title which he kept on the down low), who’d picked me up at my hotel and whisked me through and out of the city at such a pace, I have a recollection of one impressively large edifice which François waved one hand at breezily, and said “Oh, Nôtre Dame,” and I had a two-second glimpse before we raced past it.
The company I was keeping was elevated; my self-selected accommodations were not. My cheap hotel room, sans salle de bain, was near the Arc de Triomphe, although I’m not sure I saw that, either. Unless we sped around it on our way to somewhere.
Which reminds me. One evening before my first visit to Paris, I was in a cab with another, name forgotten, Frenchman heading south on Fifth Avenue. I pointed to the gloriously illuminated Washington Square Arch and said, helpfully, “It was modeled after the Arc de Triomphe,” and he laughed. Derisively. I didn’t get it, until I went to Paris and saw the original. “Oh,” I said.
My hotel had a lighting system which can turn a novice American into a clomping fool. The salle de bain across the hall did not have a light at all, or so I thought after feeling up all the walls for a switch, finding none and showering in the semi-dark. (You had to shut and lock the door to get the light on. You had to know to do that. I did not know.)
Such a chasm between my hotel and what I was doing outside the hotel.
I’d met François in New York, where he’d come on a visit. A couple of us at Paramount took up the assignment of showing him and a colleague around the city. This, I remember little of. But somehow I re-connected with him in Paris, leading to zooming around and out of Paris in that sports car.
We went into the country, to a film shoot at an old renovated stone farm house. François was the film’s art director, and it starred Alain Delon — whom I’d also met in New York. We had lunch with the cast and crew at a long farmhouse table in a barn. The on-set caterer did not run to American-style lunches. I sat next to François and across the table from Alain and his co-star and then romantic partner Mireille Darc.
An editor for a major publishing house once criticized several book chapters I’d submitted. He said I told my real-life stories as if I weren’t a participant in the scenes, as if I were a camera shooting from the sidelines.
After thinking about this for a few years, I came to the conclusion he meant I hadn’t reported any sexual adventures.
So let’s pause Paris and go briefly to New York, to the large screening room at Paramount one afternoon, when Alain and I had a sweet, gentle kissing session for a while. Until I said, “Thank you, Alain, that was lovely but I have to get back to work.”
It was lovely. He was exquisite at romantic, unpressured kissing. It was, oddly, not erotic. I had made a discovery: kissing a man, no matter how spectacularly gorgeous he was, was not sexy if I’d just met him.
After we got back to Paris, with a stop-over at Franςois’s small duplex apartment, which was his conception and was worthy of viewing, and a delicate invitation to make love which actually startled me, and I stumbled through a “no,” we were off again.
Must have had dinner at some point. After that, Franςois took me to Régine‘s disco, New Jimmy’s, the design of which I seem to remember François had something to do with.
As naive as I was in those dazzling circumstances, I still realized it was a sign of François’s consequence within this vibrating world that Régine herself came over to greet us. She was small in height but her head was large and her face was impressively, almost daringly homely. Her red, red hair was sizeable, too, a grand puff springing off her face.
Régine and François spoke rapidly in French. I did not understand a word. I watched the crowd moving around the dance floor.
The next time I went to Paris, I walked all over the city, saw almost everything.